Unpublished letter to the editor submitted to the Bakersfield Californian, 31 August 2010
In January 1942, a much-anticipated renovation of the 19th-century Southern Pacific Depot neared completion in East Bakersfield.
Stripped of its former ornament to "clean up the building," the "famous landmark" was restyled after an early proposal to construct an entirely new depot had been abandoned. With its exterior walls resurfaced, the extensively remodeled and newly unembellished station was ushered into the wartime era as a re-envisioned interpretation of the Late Spanish Revival style of architecture.
The Spanish Revival style became fashionable in Southern California after the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 in San Diego, and could be expressed in highly elaborate or far more spartan variants. It was not uncommonly eclectic in appearance. The use of the semi-elliptical arch on the East Bakersfield Depot was just such an atypical adaptation. In its more minimal forms, the Spanish Revival could also appear somewhat modernistic.
Described misleadingly as "Streamlined Modern" by the press in 1941, the plans for the East Bakersfield remodeling actually retained the steeply-pitched Richardsonian roof of the original polychromed brick depot. Consequently, the change in outward appearance was dramatic and simplified, but not radically modern with the earlier roof still in place. In fact, the resurfaced elevations shared strong similarities with the Spanish-style corporate identity adopted by Southern Pacific in Pomona and Alhambra, although the mission-type roofing tiles used in Los Angeles were not used on the East Bakersfield structure.
The railway company's Bay Area architectural department had designed the two new Southern California depots in 1940-1941, and the subsequent remodel in Bakersfield. The 1941 redesign of the East Bakersfield depot produced a laudable mixed-idiom transformation of the old building, and is attributed to Southern Pacific architect John Henry Christie, AIA (1878-1960) and his San Francisco staff.
Born Johann Heinrich Christiansen, and naturalized as an American citizen in 1899, Christie immigrated to the United States as a youngster from Breklum, Germany during the mid-1880s. His subsequent American education included formal architectural studies in Pennsylvania. As did countless American architecture students of his generation, he traveled for study and training in Europe as a young man. While abroad he completed architectural apprenticeships in Hamburg and Kiel, before returning to make his home in Oakland.
Christie began his career at Southern Pacific as a junior draftsman in 1904, working under renowned civil engineer John D. Isaacs (1848-1929), and received his certificate to practice architecture in California on May 1,1913. Rising through the ranks in the company's architectural department, he became a senior designer after the retirement of Daniel J. Patterson (1857-1926). Elected to membership in the American Institute of Architects in 1926, Christie was nominated by eminent San Francisco architects Albert John Evers, FAIA; George Frederic Ashley, AIA; and Sylvain Schnaittacher, AIA.
After almost 43 years with Southern Pacific, Christie retired as chief architect on October 1, 1947, but continued a private practice in Orinda, preparing plans for a $100,000 complex for Grand Lake Lutheran Church in Oakland during the early 1950s. Among his celebrated works for Southern Pacific are depots in Palo Alto, San Jose, and most notably Los Angeles, where he is credited with architects John and Donald B. Parkinson, R. J. Wirth, and H. L. Gilman for the superb design of the Union Passenger Terminal.
Taken in context with those distinguished architectural properties, the East Bakersfield Southern Pacific Depot appears eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The East Bakersfield Depot can be appropriately nominated under Criterion C of the National Register Criteria as representative of the work of John Henry Christie, and characteristic of the late-era architectural styles favored by Southern Pacific for passenger facilities built after 1939. If historically rehabilitated to reflect the merit of its 1941 renovation plan, the local depot would become a fitting addition to Bakersfield's permanent portfolio of historic buildings.
John Edward Powell
John Edward Powell studied design, art history, and architectural history at Stanford University and Stanford-in-Britain. He completed graduate work at Stanford University, California College of Arts and Crafts, and the University of Idaho, Moscow. He later sojourned for sabbatical studies at Haystack Mountain School, Deer Isle, Maine. His research has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation, the California Council of the American Institute of Architects, and a 2005 Governor's Award in Historic Preservation. He formerly taught part time in the fine arts program at Bakersfield College.