Discover The New Park Coming To The Railyards’ Roundhouse

A rendering of the Central Shops Plaza at the Sacramento Railyards

Discover The New Park Coming To The Railyards’ Roundhouse

July 3, 2024 | By The Railyards

The Central Shops district at the Sacramento Railyards is set to see some of the most remodeling, renovating, and imaginative changes transforming the area into a multi-use urban landscape. One historic spot, the Roundhouse, is set to see a brand new park plaza, utilizing the historic nature of the site while still allowing for new public activities. Dive into the history of roundhouses and the plans for this new space.

What's A Roundhouse?

For non-locomotive fanatics, most might know a roundhouse as the iconic Chuck Norris martial arts move. However, it actually was a staple in the railyard industry, allowing the expedited and organized servicing of trains from anywhere. 

The United States had about 3,000 roundhouse sites, though many were rebuilt as locomotives grew larger. The first roundhouse in the U.S. was likely built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Mt. Clare in Baltimore. Early roundhouses were fully enclosed, especially in cold climates. As locomotives became too large, they were replaced with "donut" shaped structures with open turntables. Some, like the Boston and Maine's East Somerville roundhouse, were full circles with up to 52 stalls.

Roundhouses were integral to locomotive terminals, especially for railroads with many engines. Cities with major railroad terminals, such as Chicago, Boston, and Cleveland, had numerous roundhouses. Chicago alone had over 75 during the early 1900s. Most roundhouses were demolished in the 1950s as railroads switched to diesel-electric locomotives, which required less maintenance. Some were repurposed, but many were abandoned or demolished.

Today, a few notable roundhouses remain in use:

  • The Long Island Rail Road's engine house in Queens, New York, still serves its original function. 
  • The largest surviving roundhouse is at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina. Built by the Southern Railway in 1924, it has 37 stalls. 
  • The B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore houses the restored 1884 roundhouse of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, known as the world's largest 22-sided building. 
  • In Aurora, Illinois, an 1856 roundhouse restored by NFL player Walter Payton now hosts a microbrewery.

Turning the Past Into A Park Plaza

The design intent of Roadhouse Park Plaza is to blend aspects of the historic original structure with new elements that residents can enjoy while honoring the site's historic nature.

Some key aspects of the upgrades include using the Roundhouse's footprint to connect the West End and Central Shops Districts, maintaining open sightlines, and incorporating human-scale elements to ensure comfort. The plaza will also feature limited tree planting, shade structures, and seating designed for social interaction.

The Railyards also plans to host community events and cultural performances at the markets and create open space for markets of all types. Through these spaces, you will be able to explore connections both visually and physically to other iconic Central Shops, including the Erecting and Machine shops.

Through those connections, you'll also be able to experience Powerhouse Court and Market Plaza, two other park plazas repurposing the historic staples of the Sacramento Railyards.

The Central Shop Shift

As you can tell, the Central Shops are going to see some major modifications in the coming years, but the Roundhouse is only one piece of the puzzle. Check out our other stories on the Central Shops and what awaits you at the historic Sacramento Railyards. 

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