When eager riders of the new West Line disembark at the Union Station stop this weekend, they may be surprised to find that the station itself is two blocks away. Of course, Union Station is off-limits right now, since it's being transformed into a multi-modal transportation hub, complete with restaurants and a hotel. But when the historic structure finally reopens in 2014, visitors will find another surprise: The model railroad layouts in the basement — true hidden gems — have reached the end of the line.
The Denver Society of Model Railroaders has had its 6,500-square-foot Colorado Midland Railway layout in the basement for close to eighty years; it's the oldest and one of the largest O Scale (1/4 inch = 1 foot) model-railroad layouts in the country. Right next door is a relative upstart: the 33-year-old Platte Valley & Western Model Railroad, a 2,000-square-foot layout. The clubs that ran the layouts held frequent open houses so that the public could play with the trains, and both of the developers vying to take on the Union Station project had promised to keep a home for the popular attractions.
After a final open house in late 2011, the clubs shrouded their layouts for what they assumed would be a three-year hiatus. But earlier this month, reps of the Union Station Alliance, which ultimately got the Union Station job, gave the PV&W its "marching orders," says club supervisor Tarry Harrison.
Club members have been looking for a spot where they could rebuild the layout, but have been quoted prices of up to $12,000 a month for rent — "and we're lucky if we get $120 a month in donations," Harrison says. "Layouts such as ours exist because of the largesse of other people." They'd talked to their neighbors, the DSMR, about a spot next to its Union Station layout, but "that club declined to share," he reports.
Then again, it now looks like the O Scale layout will be leaving, too. Asbestos has been found in the basement, and remediation will be extensive enough that the two model train clubs must go...permanently. "In an effort to renovate the building and to create a safe environment for future patrons, we must ask these train clubs to move from the building," the Union Station Alliance announced on Monday. "In an effort to show our ongoing support of the model train clubs, we are working with the clubs to find acceptable space for storage and potential permanent exhibition space." One possible location is the Colorado Convention Center; another is the National Western Complex. Harrison is certainly open to other suggestions, too.
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But even if the railroad clubs find new homes for their layouts, Union Station might not be the only loser: The national Model Railroad Association had been looking at bringing its national convention to Denver in a few years, a convention that would have brought 16,000 model-railroad fans — and their money — to town. "Now that we're getting chucked out the door, that's on hold," Harrison says. "We just want to do what we love to do: play with trains."
Scene and herd: The shootings at Civic Center Park shortly after the 4:20 celebration on 4/20 cast a real cloud on the proceedings. Still, we couldn't help but notice the smart preparations the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation had made to keep the area as pristine as possible, including barricades and humorous signs. "This Grass Is Good Stuff. Help Us Keep It That Way," read one. And another: "Don't Tread On Me. No, Literally...This Section Is Closed. Please Keep Out." And until the stampede of stoners after shots rang out, celebrants were fairly respectful of the requests.
Whether it was their good behavior or the fact that festivities were canceled on Sunday, the park weathered the event pretty well — despite Councilman Charlie Brown's concerns that the grass would be destroyed. "The grass is good," says Parks and Rec spokesman Jeff Green. "We're not concerned about the turf there."