1940s-era phone booths installed in Iowa train station

phone booth

Period phone booths have been restored and installed inside the 1944 midcentury modern train station in Burlington, Iowa. Image by Adam Moss, licensed uner the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) – The two 1940s-era telephones at the Burlington Depot have been restored, bringing the city’s former transportation hub one step closer to its former glory.

The restoration project cost a total of $7,076. Each of four Burlington chapters of the Iowa Questers, a nonprofit organization whose members sponsor restoration and preservation projects, raised about $720 for the phone booths through silent auctions, summer socials and a tapas party. The remaining $4,000 came from an Iowa Questers grant.

To qualify for the grant, the Questers had to keep the project as authentic as possible. The telephones themselves were difficult to come by, and some local Questers suggested purchasing replicas.

“Questers are very picky,” said Christine Walter, second vice president of the state Questers board who helped the chapters complete the grant application process. “They will not give a grant if the materials aren’t original or authentic.”

Eventually, they were able to track down a pair of phone booth telephones manufactured in the 1940s in Wisconsin, the Hawk Eye reported. The phones had seen better days, however, so the Questers commissioned West Burlington resident Tony Dixon to revive them as well as the “Telephone” sign that hangs above the booths in the hallway of the Depot’s Great Room.

The walls of the phone booths were built using walnut, but, likely due to water damage caused by one of several floods that crept into the building, the back panels at some point were swapped out for cork board. Walnut isn’t easy to come by, but the organization managed to find and purchase two new walnut panels to replace the cork board.

The lighting in the phone booth also was replaced.

The restoration was completed in December, and about 20 local Questers visited the Depot on March 6 to see the culmination of their efforts as well as get their picture taken in front of the phone booths. Getting everyone in the photo was more difficult than it sounded, and several Questers knelt on the floor, which is no easy task for the retirees.

The Questers smiled through the discomfort and helped each other up off the floor when the photo shoot was finished.

“It just does your old heart good,” said Quester and retired kindergarten teacher Pat Mayle of seeing the finished work.

Quester Paula Logan was equally excited.

“I have such good memories of the Depot,” she said, recalling stopping by the depot for a treat on her way home from the dentist just up the hill in the 1960s and ’70s. “This place was a hub.”

The Questers weren’t the only ones happy to see the restoration.

Diane Sweeden, vice president of Friends of the Depot, has made it her mission to see that the depot is fully restored.

“I said this would be redone before I die,” she said, sweeping her arm in front of her to indicate she meant the entire building.

The depot was built in 1944 by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad to replace the previous train station that was destroyed by a fire in 1943. The building took on a significant amount of damage during the Flood of ’93, when it filled with 20 inches of water.

The city purchased the depot a year later, and it wasn’t long before community members formed Friends of the Depot to help the city maintain the structure and encourage ideas for its adaptive reuse.

Sweeden and her late husband, Paul, were among the first members of Friends of the Depot. Their grandson loved trains and the couple often would take him there to see the trains come and go from the station, but it was a mess.

The city and Friends of the Depot gradually cleaned up that mess, but the flood of 2008 undid much of the work.

Sweeden said restoration efforts have picked up in recent years and, so far, more than $700,000 has been put into it.

The roof has been replaced, as have the windows. The bathrooms have been restored, and new tile was laid in the women’s powder room two weeks ago. The Great Room nearly is finished, save for the terrazzo floors, which will cost about $40,000 to buff and refinish.

The Des Moines County Historical Society has donated $1,000 for a display area for artifacts, which will be installed on the wall next to the phone booths.

The Great Room is available for rentals through the American Music Festival, and eventual plans are to re-open the diner. Plans for the second story space, however, remain unclear.

Sweeden said much needs to be done with the depot’s upper level, which once served as a reprieve for weary engineers hoping to catch some shut-eye between routes. It also housed offices for postal and railroad workers. She hopes a developer will step up to take on the project.


By MICHAELE NIEHAUS, The Hawk Eye, http://www.thehawkeye.com

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