- June 30, 2016
Winter Park said goodbye to a piece of city history on June 1 as demolition workers tore down the 52-year-old Amtrak train station in Central Park – abandoned by the heavy rail system in favor of the new SunRail station next door.
Winter Park City Commissioners Steven Leary, Tom McMacken and Sarah Sprinkel, City Manager Randy Knight and U.S. Congressman John Mica sported hard hats as they took the first few swings at the faded structure, chipping away at the front pillars with sledge hammers and pocketing broken slabs of rock as keepsakes.
An excavator vehicle made quick work of the building afterwards, pressing down on the roof with its long mechanical arm and leveling the station to a dusty pile of rubble in less than 20 minutes.
“The old [station] was quaint and great for its time, but the new station is something the community can be proud of,” McMacken said.
It’s a farewell to the station that commuted Winter Park residents for more than five decades. The station saw its first passengers in 1962, when five and dime stores lined Park Avenue and locals parked their Ford Fairlanes and Chevrolet Impalas on a downtown street then made of asphalt. Park Avenue Elementary sat where the SunTrust bank sits today, while the sidewalks were clear of the winding maze of restaurant tables and chairs.
Residents were just starting to mark their calendars for the annual Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival – only in its third year at the time.
The 1962 station also meant the extension of Morse Boulevard from Park Avenue all the way to U.S. 17-92, giving residents a much needed route to travel east and west, according to records kept by the Winter Park History Museum.
Debbie Komanski, executive director of the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden, fondly remembers walking Park Avenue as a child at the time, frequently stopping by Hogue’s Five and Dime to see the small pet turtles for sale.
She remembered the station built that year along Central Park, but admitted she wasn’t sad to see the station go. Komanski had already grown attached to the one it replaced: the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad station built back in 1912.
“The one that just left didn’t have a lot of sentimental value to me,” Komanski said.
“That was never the station of my childhood.”
But the now retired train stop did hold value for resident Peter Schreyer, executive director of Crealde School of Art. He still remembers back in 1978 when he traveled on vacation from his home in Switzerland to see the east coast of the United States.
Schreyer took the train from Washington, D.C. all the way down to Orlando, passing through a quaint town with trees and small shops before reaching his final stop.
“It kind of looked like the layout of a model train underneath a Christmas tree,” Schreyer said.
“I just always saw it as so cool that Winter Park has a train station for a small town. You could get on the train and go all the way up the east coast.”
The charming city called Winter Park would become Schreyer’s new home a year later as he emigrated from Switzerland to the city of culture and heritage. He continued to take the train on day trips to Tampa with his young daughter, creating fond memories at the station.
It’s unfortunate that the train stop was torn down, Schreyer said.
“The station looked really bad in the past few years, but that’s only because of neglect – no one took care of it,” Schreyer said. “It’s just like a lot of things in America: it doesn’t get taken care of that well, it gets really bad and then it’s decided, ‘It looks really awful; we’ve got to tear it down and build a new one.’”
“[My daughter and I] had a sentimental connection with it. I guess I was one of the few people who liked the old station.”