- Associated Press - Sunday, September 11, 2016

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) - If the walls could talk, the stories they would tell would span more than a century.

The words would reveal how each brick was stacked in 1907, how trains arrived in and left the Aberdeen at such regular intervals that rural farmers set their watches by them, and how an excursion meant riding in a passenger car to a football game in St. Paul, Minnesota, the American News (https://bit.ly/2cIBhjF ) reported.

If the walls could talk, they would share how a man met his now wife dancing at The Depot Club during the 1970s and how a Northern State University alum put himself through college by bartending.

And they would sing the songs of the numerous bands that once took the stage within the building they create.

Those stories are just some of the reasons why architect Tom Hurlbert saw so much potential in the former Minneapolis St. Louis Railway Depot despite that most considered the historic building to be in disrepair.

“To lose it would have been unfortunate because it is so connected with our history as a transportation hub. You start to lose this and then what is the Hub City?” Hurlbert said.

The depot was the last of four established in Aberdeen and the first to close, Hurlbert said. He estimates it had about a 50-year depot life.

“And it’s had such a unique history after that, too,” he said.

The depot was home to several different bars for at least a decade following its closure. It became The Depot Club in 1968. It changed hands - and names - at least three times before 1980 when all club activity ceased, according to American News archives.

And although it sat vacant for the next decade, the building’s story certainly wasn’t over.

Small businesses came and went in the space, just as the trains did before them.

Hurlbert bought the depot in January 2015.

“I had it on my radar for some time,” he said.

But he kept asking himself, “Who can I get in there?

“And then I just thought it had to be me. I think I might have been its last option.”

The building was very dilapidated when Hurlbert took ownership, he said.

“It was one of those buildings that you look at and wonder if it’s past the point of no return,” said the founder and owner of Co-op Architecture. “But I think we got it just in time.”

Tearing down the building had at least been thought of by at least one former owner as recently as 2013. But because the depot is a historical landmark, the demolition was never approved.

For Co-op’s needs, permission was required from the South Dakota State Historical Society and the city. That’s because the baggage area was razed. It was a little bit less architecturally significant, Hurlbert said, and the walls were in bad shape.

“That area was a compromise. The idea was if we could tear that down, we would do our best to restore the rest to its historically accurate past,” he said.

Doing so wasn’t an easy task.

The floors were settling, the walls were cracked, challenges such as water damage were uncovered and almost everything needed to be updated.

Now the west end of the depot houses Co-op’s offices with the main entrance on 11th Avenue Southwest.

Hurlbert’s desk sits down a few steps in the former boiler room turned lounge. The upstairs has been completely revamped into an employee break room with a full kitchen and conference area, as well as a private bathroom.

The east side of the building is the actual depot, which had a totally different look prior to renovations, Hurlbert said.

The drop ceiling was removed, blocked windows were uncovered and replaced, and just like in the office area, original exposed bricks wove in and out of plaster, begging to tell their own stories. It was a design and historic quality that didn’t go unrecognized by Hurlbert.

“We could do more repairs, but there’s something to being able to see the story of the building,” he said.

Eventually, Hurlbert hopes to lease the east side of the building. He has visions of it being home to a creative entity, but said it could also be used for a craft beer or wine vendor or a sandwich shop, among other things.

But not just anything.

“We’re going to be pretty selective about the tenant,” he said.

Until then, the space will house some events, including an open house on Sept. 8.

Hurlbert started Co-op Architecture in Aberdeen and Sioux Falls in 2012. Since, the firm has been involved in some of Aberdeen’s largest projects, including Mike Miller Elementary School, the new public library and work at the two colleges.

“For us to invest here only made sense,” Hurlbert said. “There’s just been a ton of stuff going on in Aberdeen, and we’re lucky to be a part of it.”


Information from: Aberdeen American News, https://www.aberdeennews.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide