LIVERMORE -- A 120-year-old building that once helped link the city to the greater Bay Area and beyond via the Southern Pacific Railroad is itself moving on down the line -- if only a few blocks.

The Livermore City Council in April approved using a $2.5 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to move the historic railroad depot on South L Street to a spot near the Livermore Transit Center and restore it to its original condition. The city is kicking in $500,000 in general fund money.

"Being a historic structure, it's important to preserve this for the city," said Eric Uranga, Livermore's assistant community development director. "We're just trying to figure out how to move it now."

Anna Siig and Gary Drummond, members of the Livermore Heritage Guild outside the old Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in downtown Livermore, Calif. on
Anna Siig and Gary Drummond, members of the Livermore Heritage Guild outside the old Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in downtown Livermore, Calif. on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. The city of Livermore is embarking on a $3 million project to relocate and restore the building built in 1892. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

Built in 1892, the distinctive yellow-tinged and blue-trimmed depot was an active train station until the early 1960s. The Southern Pacific tracks through downtown were removed in the '70s, but the building stayed put.

The estimated $3.125 million relocation and restoration project coincides with the 40-year anniversary of the Livermore Heritage Guild -- significant because the depot and the guild are deeply intertwined. In fact, the guild was formed in 1973 for the sole purpose of saving the station from demolition.

One of the guild's founding members, Anna Siig, recalls the preservation battles well. Every time Southern Pacific petitioned the City Council for permission to tear down the station, she said, the guild filled the meetings to fight it. The council decided to save the depot, but the next day, Siig said, demolition began anyway.

"They were banging away inside," Siig said. "They did make them stop, but there was a lot of damage done."

Siig recalled running into the station in sandals, yelling "unkind things" to the crew and bloodying her feet in the process. The bulldozers never arrived, and the guild helped restore the depot before turning it over to a developer. Over the years, it has been home to a restaurant, a title company and offices for Livermore Downtown Inc. The city eventually purchased the building for $560,000.

Siig said she has mixed feelings about the project. While she would like the station to stay where it is, she's pleased it will be preserved.

"It's been such an important part of downtown," she said. "I like things to be in their original location when possible ... but as a second choice, I think it's great."

Heritage Guild President Jeff Kaskey said the depot's relocation was part of the Lucky shopping center redevelopment in 2009. Seeing a chance to put the station "back where it belongs" near active rail tracks, Kaskey presented the city with a spot by the Transit Center and Altamont Commuter Express station and was surprised to find the funding had recently fallen into place.

"This had been a plan waiting around for money to show up," Kaskey said.

The city originally received the MTC grant in 2010 for a downtown housing project, but that project didn't qualify under federal Congestive Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program guidelines. Attention shifted to the Livermore Village and Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center plaza, but the state's dissolution of redevelopment agencies sidelined those projects.

Following the MTC's decision to extend the grant deadline to 2014, the city settled on the depot project in March, and the MTC approved the grant swap for the project earlier this month.

"Our award was for the land-banking on a multifamily housing project on Chestnut Street," said MTC spokesman John Goodwin. "That (project) was ineligible, so the onus was on the city to find an eligible project and do the swap."

Kaskey sees potential for a railway museum or commuter coffeehouse.

"It makes public transit more fun," Kaskey said. "It's been in a state of arrested decay for years, so I'm excited to see it properly cared for as something that residents can enjoy."

Similar relocation projects have been completed at the Niles and Centerville train stations in Fremont. Uranga said city officials will take public input on what the restoration should look like and how the depot could be used in the future. The city, Uranga said, is starting to study the logistics of moving the building. A final plan will likely go to the council near year's end.

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.