Over eighty years ago the first railroad passengers disembarked onto the brick paved platform of the Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway Depot in Lubbock. Freight trains stopped on a second track behind the passenger train to have their cargo unloaded onto an elevated wooden platform, then carried through overhead doors into a large freight room. Designed by prominent Fort Worth architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick, in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style, this was the largest and most elaborate of the depots built along the Lubbock-Estelline branch of the Burlington Railroad’s Fort Worth and Denver City line. With ornate carved limestone detailing, paneled wood doors, and clay tile roofing, the new building was evidence that Lubbock was not the same frontier town it had been a few years earlier and, perhaps, a precursor to other surprises to be found on the Texas South Plains.
In the years following its opening, the depot became less a forerunner of things to come and more an example of what neglect can produce. Abandoned by the railroad in the early 1950s, it became a warehouse for various businesses and then a salvage yard. The building was converted into a restaurant in the mid seventies, one of the first successful examples of adaptive use in the city. In 1979, the Lubbock City Council designated it the first Lubbock
Historic Landmark, and in 1990 the depot was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A few years later it became the anchor and namesake for a multi-block entertainment area, the Depot District. Following the closure of the restaurant in 1997, the City of Lubbock purchased the building. Newly renovated, restored, and expanded, it recently reopened as the Buddy Holly Center, a facility housing an extensive collection of Buddy Holly memorabilia, changing arts exhibits, and a gallery showcasing West Texas musicians.
Today, new surprises await visitors approaching the building atop a restored wooden freight platform. To the west, the clay tile roof, limestone details, and thick brick walls of the old depot remain beyond a brick paved courtyard where trains once parked. On the east side of the platform, a new wing contains a lobby, memorabilia exhibits, and support spaces. Drawing on the depot’s architectural vocabulary, the design of the addition incorporates brick, stone, and clay tile roofing, though providing improved environmental and security controls necessary for the artifact collection. While the old building features a stone and brick frieze with a series of paired decorative pilasters, the new addition’s frieze is punctuated with projecting steel Stratocaster guitar forms, a reference to Buddy Holly’s own guitar exhibited inside.
The Buddy Holly gallery itself is shaped like a guitar, defined by curving, piano-finished cherry wood exhibit cases on three sides and a gloss black display wall on the fourth. Exposed steel trusses with an industrial feel support the roof, contrasting with the elegant finishes of the exhibit cabinets. These structural components allude to the exposed steel beams in the waiting rooms of the original depot.
North of the lobby in the wing that once held freight are office spaces and a gift shop. A new ramp connects the raised floor of the addition and administrative spaces to the lower west wing. On the south side of the ramp, windows open out to the courtyard. On the other side, large sheets of unframed glass have replaced the overhead doors, providing both light and views into the gift shop.
High-ceilinged spaces in the west wing that were formerly public waiting rooms and the trainmaster’s office are now galleries for changing exhibits of contemporary art by artists from across the nation. The original west windows were retained to maintain the historic integrity of the facade, but are blocked by freestanding display walls that allow indirect light to extend around the perimeter of the walls. The original west entrance lobby also remains, in this case as a more intimate space with gallery wall surfaces above original built-in oak benches. No longer sidetracked, the old depot is once again a destination, with both memories and surprises. Architects: Heather McKinney, Architects, in association with Driskill/Hill Architects, Lubbock Exhibit Casework: Southwest Museum Services, Houston Steel Art: Steve Teeters, Lubbock Authors: Gary W. Smith, AIA, Facilities Manager, City of Lubbock; Sally Still Abbe, Planner