The San Antonio and Aransas Pass railroad built a large wooden depot in 1884 at the intersection of S. Alamo and S. Flores, current site of the Salvation Army Store. On May 30, 1898, the depot was the scene of the departure of Teddy Roosevelt and his Roughriders as they headed for Cuba. In 1925, it was bought by the Southern Pacific and service to the old wooden depot ended. The SA&AP depot was demolished in 1939.
Somewhat later and still remembered fondly by many in the neighborhood was the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Depot, more commonly known as the Katy Depot. It was built in 1917 at the corner of S. Flores and Cesar Chavez Blvd., current site of La Quinta Inn & Suites.
The Katy began life in the late 1800’s in Fort Riley, Kansas and built lines into Indian Territory, subsidized by the government’s gift of land along such frontier routes. By 1873, the railroad reached the Texas border at what would become Denison, named after a railroad official.
San Antonio, meanwhile, a bustling town of about 30,000 people, was desperate to attract the most prestigious sign of real progress back then – passenger train service. Finally, after years of effort, on February 16, 1877 the first passenger train arrived and half the city turned out for a huge parade kicking off a two-day celebration to mark the occasion. It was the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio railroad’s Sunset Route that connected San Antonio to points east and west, linking El Paso with the Mexico Central route to Mexico City and the Southern Pacific to Arizona and California.
By the time the Katy line reached San Antonio in 1900, the city was the commercial center of the vast South Texas region and the largest city in Texas. For a while, Katy trains shared the Southern Pacific depot on East Commerce, but the line was determined to make its presence known and hired architect Frederick J. Sterner to design what became an outstanding example of the Spanish colonial revival style. His façade almost duplicated the two bell towers of Mission Conception. Behind the twin towers was a two-story waiting room with a 38 foot vaulted ceiling with elaborately carved oak beams, a tile floor, solid oak benches, extensive use of bronze, marble and other lavish trim. The overall effect was quite like that of a church, some saying all it needed was a pulpit or altar for services to be held in the waiting room.
The exterior featured terra cotta moldings, Spanish tile trim and carved stone door. The architect even ordered some of the roof and trim tiles to be deliberately broken to give the new station an antique or historic flavor. It was the Katy Depot that twice welcomed Franklin D. Roosevelt to San Antonio.
Although the Katy railroad was one of the area’s most popular lines, passenger service fell into serious decline in the 1960s, and the Katy was among the victims. The once plush Texas Special between San Antonio and St. Louis stopped service to San Antonio in 1964. Many wanted to save the depot, considered one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Texas, but it was not to be. The Katy depot was razed four years later. Only the carved stone doorway was saved and is now a large window decorating part of Los Patios shopping complex on the city’s north side.
- Bill Cogburn
Sources: SAPL archives; San Antonio Express-News; March 25, 1984; San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad, by Hugh Hemphill, author of San Antonio On Wheels and The Railroads of San Antonio and South Central Texas