Next stop for historic train depot: foreclosure

Group pursues restoration even as poor real estate market claims another victim

Paul Brown turns the key and yanks on the handle of the weathered wooden door. It sticks and protests briefly before giving way, and Brown steps inside the Grand Junction Depot — and back into the city at the turn of the 20th century.

Follow him into the main room, and you’ll find the original oak benches and ticket counter, the door to the men’s bathroom still hanging on its hinges and reproductions of the old stained glass windows lining the west side of the building. One of them depicts the Colorado Midland Railway, the company that operated the railroad through town at the time.

Brown has a personal interest in this place. As a teenager 50 years ago, he bought tickets here for the eight-hour train ride to Denver. He’s now chairman of the Friends of the Depot, a group striving to generate money and interest in restoring a station that refugees from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake passed through days after the station opened.

But it’s his professional ties to the depot that mark the latest turn for a place that has been sitting idle for at least the past 20 years as a host of owners and community members have tried and failed to resurrect it.

Mesa County’s public trustee will watch from afar as officials prepare to foreclose on the historic train station.

The 103-year-old building at 119 Pitkin Ave. is the latest victim of a sagging real estate market that has claimed hundreds of other Mesa County properties whose owners were unable to keep up with payments on them.

“The downturn in the real estate market has just totally killed us,” said station owner Lynn Greenwald of Fort Collins, who once expressed interest in converting the station into a brew pub and restaurant. “We were using money from another source to keep this dream alive, and we can’t do it anymore.”

Greenwald declined to go into detail about what caused the property to go into foreclosure.

But she suggested her family’s attempts to develop property on the Front Range have stalled.

“Probably what we should have done was go ahead with (the station renovation) and not wait and do it on the cheap, but we thought it deserved better than that,” she said.

Greenwald said she purchased the 9,200-square-foot train station in 2004 for approximately $740,000. She said she paid a $75,000 down payment and for four years made payments on three different loans related to the purchase.

The property, which has been for sale for more than a year, will go to auction in December.

Garfield County will process the foreclosure so Brown can avoid a conflict of interest.

The move comes four months after Friends of the Depot sponsored an open house to give the public a chance to see the historic building and drum up support for restoration efforts.

Brown said the group raised roughly $2,000 in new memberships from the more than 400 people who turned out.

Friends of the Depot used a $20,000 grant to hire an architectural firm to conduct a structural assessment and determine what it would take to restore the station. Results of the study are expected by November.

“There’s nothing in it for me, except that for this building to fall apart would be a real shame.

It really would be,” said Brown, whose interest in the depot was sparked about a year ago as he and his wife ate breakfast one morning at the adjacent Pufferbelly Restaurant and noticed the for-sale sign in front of the building.

The property needs a significant amount of work. The yellow brick exterior appears to be in good shape, and the roof was retiled in recent years. Except for a few original furnishings, the interior has been gutted. A second floor that was added in the 1930s was torn out in the 1990s. Brown said new utility lines need to be installed.

In addition to a brew pub, there has been talk of turning the building into a quilting museum.

Given its historical use, Brown said he’d like to see it become a railroad museum. He envisions a gift shop and the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau opening a satellite office, too, to draw in visitors arriving by train.


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