Streamline Moderne Mystery: An Answer form the Streamliner

front-cover-copyAs I mentioned in my second post, I was following up on a lead that suggested The Streamliner might have an issue with information on the Nyssa train depot. The Streamliner is a quarterly publication of the Union Pacific Historical Society (UPHS). The UPHS is a group of enthusiasts, engineers, and historians dedicated to the preserving and promoting the history of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Streamliner has in depth articles on some very specific facets of UP’s history. For instance, I purchased Vol. 24 No.4 (pictured right), which dedicates half of its pages to covering the rise in wood chip traffic in the 1970’s. While that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the article is well written, gives supporting research, and is illustrated with original photography. Check out the UPHS webpage, and browse back issues of The Streamliner for sale. If you have even a slight interest in trains you can find an issue that will interest you; I’m even thinking about picking up the current issue which focuses on the railways food and diners. All issues and more can be purchased here.

The reason I bought the issue, of course, was to learn more about the beautiful Streamline  Moderne Nyssa train depot (it’s no coincidence that this magazine is called The Streamliner). I won’t repeat the full contents of the article, encouraging the interested party to instead buy it. But I do want to related some of the new details that I learned from the magazine.

Thanks to the expert eyes of John Signor, we can now safely say that this was indeed a Union Pacific Depot. All the evidence you need is shown above, where you can clearly see the faded brick outline that distinctive UP shield. The front of building was a waiting room and front desk, and the rear was used for storing freight. All images I found prior to this were focused on the bulbous front end of the building. While from an aesthetic standpoint this is fair, but you miss out on the full picture.

Looking at the rear, you first notice the freight doors and the single goose-neck barn light over each. You also miss the fact that the sans-serif “NYSSA” is doubled on the rear facade. The close-up reveals the fading in the brick base that suggest there was once a ramp and platform that wrap from the back around to the West side. You also notice that the building had an addition to the rear freight section! No record of this addition was found, but it is clear from the image that there is a slightly less elegant, though consistent, addition. And the bricks used weren’t glazed!

The article also include some original sketches by Matt Zebrowski to give an accurate feel for the depot. You can really see the train-like design in the above. This also details the scope of the addition.

The article also included these great photos directly from the Union Pacific Historical Collection. This also provides a great insight into the building’s history. The building was actually completed in 1941 rather than in the 30’s as my first post asserted. The artist’s rendition for Union Pacific shows that this was a project that clearly indicated UP’s commitment to a future in Oregon. We can see the original rear end was just as beautiful as the front. We also see the original platform was present on the West side. Inside we see a comfortable waiting room. And the sign indicates that two passenger trains serviced the station: The Portland Rose and the Pacific Limited.

While the architect is still unknown, the real mystery is why is this in Nyssa, OR? I thank the author of this article for giving some insight into that. Nyssa is located just North of the Snake River, which was used as part of the Oregon Trail. In that sense, Nyssa was the gateway to the Oregon Trail, as it was the first place that pioneers entered modern day Oregon. Nyssa marks this by having their official motto: “Gateway to the Oregon Trail.” It’s collinearity with Boise and Portland and its thriving sugar industry made it ideal for backUnion Pacific to run their trains through. But as the rail line was expanding it made an effort to advertise as the railway for modern pioneers (see right), it promised to connect the Pacific coast to the rest of the Union. This need for a symbolic connection with the Oregon Trail combined with the fact that they already operated here made Nyssa the ideal candidate for the futuristic depot. Simultaneously through historical meaning the depot signaled that UP was the gateway to Oregon and the Pacific and the futuristic Streamline Moderne style signaled the railway’s prosperity and commitment to the future. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and makes the Nyssa depot all the more meaningful. But the reality of time and change, means that that sentiment, as true as it was, was impermanent. The depot stands now unused surrounded by crumbling concreted and obscured by a nondescript warehouse. An imperfect copycat addition mars it rear end. This is not to say that the depot was a failure, to the contrary it provided the community with loving memories of a rail-line that valued them. Nyssa citizens see that building every day and are reminded of past prosperity. It may yet serve the community again in future prosperity.

 

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