Author Statement

This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cannery Row: San Carlos Canning Company & E.B. Gross Cannery


The Associated Oil fire, September 14, 1924.
[Monterey Fire Department]
At the southeastern end of Cannery Row, two intimately-linke canneries occupied the site that is now the San Carlos Beach Park. The earliest operation at the site was Edward B. Gross's sardine cannery, which opened in 1919 near the end of modern-day Reeside Avenue. Missing out on the World War I boom, his packing plant burned to the ground in September 1924 when an oil tank on the nearby Associated Oil Pier was struck by lightning and the ensuing fire spread to the surrounding buildings at its base. Over 55,000 gallons of crude oil and 600,000 gallons of gasoline burned in the fire, as well as kerosene tanks, and it required the Monterey Fire Department's engine to pump water for 72 hours straight to extinguish the inferno which had literally set the bay aflame. When all was said-and-done, two canneries, five homes, and six fishing boats were burned, as well as the Associated Oil pier. Two soldiers died fighting this fire. Gross quickly rebuilt his reduction plant and maintained the cannery until 1943 when he sold it to the Peninsula Packing Company. Very little is known of this later company except it was one of two owned by the company and was initially owned by G.M. Dollar and then later by G.H. Leutzinger. It continued to run until 1956, outlasting many of the other canneries on the Row.

Close-up of the San Carlos and E.B. Gross Canneries at the end of Cannery Row, October 25, 1934. [Pat Hathaway]
Immediately next door to the south, one of the largest sardine plants on Cannery Row opened up in 1927 under the name San Carlos Canning Company, named after the nearby Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. The company was founded in 1926 by local Sicilian fishermen Pietro Ferrante, Orazio Enea, and other members of the community who were tired of working for other canneries, and, despite opening on the cusp of the Great Depression, the massive facility proved both profitable and enduring throughout the Depression years. In a short time, the company became known for three sardine brands: Velera, Don Carlos, and Dixieland. However, Ferrante left the company in 1931 and sold his half to Angelo Lucido, who soon added to his holdings a tuna cannery in Port Hueneme near Oxnard. By the point, the fisherman cooperative that had originally formed the basis of the enterprise was dead and the company was entirely corporatized with Lucido owning lands under the San Carlos name throughout the state. Bombs and death threats against Lucido were not uncommon during the Depression years. Orazio Enea was later able to establish his own Aeneas Sardine Products Company from lands purchased from Lucido in 1944, but by then the damage to the fishing industry was already done. Although the San Carlos Canning Company continued to thrive during World War II, the massive depletion of sardines from the Monterey Bay led to the facility's inevitable closure in the late 1940s. Lucido briefly tried manually shipping sardines to Monterey from other fisheries in the state between 1946-7, but the endeavor failed to be profitable.

During its years of operation, the San Carlos cannery and the E.B. Gross cannery maintained a joint warehouse across the road beside the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch tracks. This warehouse was linked to the reduction plants of the Gross and San Carlos canneries via a single elevated conveyor that ran across Ocean View Boulevard. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the warehouse, the railroad installed a short dedicated spur which exited to the west and terminated immediately before Reeside Avenue. This spur remained in place into the 1960s and was likely only removed when the route itself was cut back and dismantled in 1978.

The National Automotive Fibers fire at the former San Carlos Cannery, November 22, 1956. [Mike Ventimiglia]
For the decade after the San Carlos Cannery closed, the primary tenant of the old building was the National Automotive Fibers Company, which employed around 230 people at the facility. The old warehouse caught fire on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1956, which destroyed not only the San Carlos buildings but also the Gross cannery and the nearby California Frozen Fish Company, which had been built in 1945 on the site of another victim of the 1924 Associated Oil fire. It was the largest fire in Cannery Row's history – 250 firefighters and local volunteers helped fight the blaze and the smoke was easily visible across the bay in Santa Cruz. At the time that it burned down, the San Carlos complex was the largest former cannery on the Row and was still in very good condition. Cutting their losses, none of the businesses rebuilt and the property quickly fell into ruin. The City of Monterey finally purchased the properties, cleaned up the beach area, and turned it into a public beach park in 1997.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
The ruins at San Carlos Beach Park, 2015. [Wandergazer]
214 Cannery Row
36.610˚N, 121.900˚W

The site of the San Carlos Cannery is now San Carlos Beach Park, a municipal beach open to the public. The park was opened in 1997 on the site of the old cannery and ruins of the original cannery complex survive throughout the area, with some curated via interpretative signs. The Monterey Bay Coastal Trail marks the site of the railroad right-of-way, with the site of the San Carlos Cannery's spur located just south of Reeside Avenue on the ocean side of the trail.

Citations & Credits:

  • Architectural Resources Group and Architects, Planners & Conservators, Inc. "San Carlos Park". Primary Record. State of California – The Resources Agency. Department of Parks and Recreation. In Final Cannery Row Cultural Resources Survey Report Document, Monterey, CA, 2001.
  • Chiang, Connie Y. Shaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
  • Walton, John. "Cannery Row: Class, Community, and History". In Reworking Class. Edited by John R. Hall, 243-286. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.
  • Ventimiglia, Mike. Images of America: Monterey Fire Department. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.

Cannery Row: San Carlos Canning Company & E.B. Gross Cannery

The Associated Oil fire, September 14, 1924.
[Monterey Fire Department]
At the southeastern end of Cannery Row, two intimately-linke canneries occupied the site that is now the San Carlos Beach Park. The earliest operation at the site was Edward B. Gross's sardine cannery, which opened in 1919 near the end of modern-day Reeside Avenue. Missing out on the World War I boom, his packing plant burned to the ground in September 1924 when an oil tank on the nearby Associated Oil Pier was struck by lightning and the ensuing fire spread to the surrounding buildings at its base. Over 55,000 gallons of crude oil and 600,000 gallons of gasoline burned in the fire, as well as kerosene tanks, and it required the Monterey Fire Department's engine to pump water for 72 hours straight to extinguish the inferno which had literally set the bay aflame. When all was said-and-done, two canneries, five homes, and six fishing boats were burned, as well as the Associated Oil pier. Two soldiers died fighting this fire. Gross quickly rebuilt his reduction plant and maintained the cannery until 1943 when he sold it to the Peninsula Packing Company. Very little is known of this later company except it was one of two owned by the company and was initially owned by G.M. Dollar and then later by G.H. Leutzinger. It continued to run until 1956, outlasting many of the other canneries on the Row.

Close-up of the San Carlos and E.B. Gross Canneries at the end of Cannery Row, October 25, 1934. [Pat Hathaway]
Immediately next door to the south, one of the largest sardine plants on Cannery Row opened up in 1927 under the name San Carlos Canning Company, named after the nearby Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. The company was founded in 1926 by local Sicilian fishermen Pietro Ferrante, Orazio Enea, and other members of the community who were tired of working for other canneries, and, despite opening on the cusp of the Great Depression, the massive facility proved both profitable and enduring throughout the Depression years. In a short time, the company became known for three sardine brands: Velera, Don Carlos, and Dixieland. However, Ferrante left the company in 1931 and sold his half to Angelo Lucido, who soon added to his holdings a tuna cannery in Port Hueneme near Oxnard. By the point, the fisherman cooperative that had originally formed the basis of the enterprise was dead and the company was entirely corporatized with Lucido owning lands under the San Carlos name throughout the state. Bombs and death threats against Lucido were not uncommon during the Depression years. Orazio Enea was later able to establish his own Aeneas Sardine Products Company from lands purchased from Lucido in 1944, but by then the damage to the fishing industry was already done. Although the San Carlos Canning Company continued to thrive during World War II, the massive depletion of sardines from the Monterey Bay led to the facility's inevitable closure in the late 1940s. Lucido briefly tried manually shipping sardines to Monterey from other fisheries in the state between 1946-7, but the endeavor failed to be profitable.

During its years of operation, the San Carlos cannery and the E.B. Gross cannery maintained a joint warehouse across the road beside the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch tracks. This warehouse was linked to the reduction plants of the Gross and San Carlos canneries via a single elevated conveyor that ran across Ocean View Boulevard. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the warehouse, the railroad installed a short dedicated spur which exited to the west and terminated immediately before Reeside Avenue. This spur remained in place into the 1960s and was likely only removed when the route itself was cut back and dismantled in 1978.

The National Automotive Fibers fire at the former San Carlos Cannery, November 22, 1956. [Mike Ventimiglia]
For the decade after the San Carlos Cannery closed, the primary tenant of the old building was the National Automotive Fibers Company, which employed around 230 people at the facility. The old warehouse caught fire on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1956, which destroyed not only the San Carlos buildings but also the Gross cannery and the nearby California Frozen Fish Company, which had been built in 1945 on the site of another victim of the 1924 Associated Oil fire. It was the largest fire in Cannery Row's history – 250 firefighters and local volunteers helped fight the blaze and the smoke was easily visible across the bay in Santa Cruz. At the time that it burned down, the San Carlos complex was the largest former cannery on the Row and was still in very good condition. Cutting their losses, none of the businesses rebuilt and the property quickly fell into ruin. The City of Monterey finally purchased the properties, cleaned up the beach area, and turned it into a public beach park in 1997.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
The ruins at San Carlos Beach Park, 2015. [Wandergazer]
214 Cannery Row
36.610˚N, 121.900˚W

The site of the San Carlos Cannery is now San Carlos Beach Park, a municipal beach open to the public. The park was opened in 1997 on the site of the old cannery and ruins of the original cannery complex survive throughout the area, with some curated via interpretative signs. The Monterey Bay Coastal Trail marks the site of the railroad right-of-way, with the site of the San Carlos Cannery's spur located just south of Reeside Avenue on the ocean side of the trail.

Citations & Credits:

  • Architectural Resources Group and Architects, Planners & Conservators, Inc. "San Carlos Park". Primary Record. State of California – The Resources Agency. Department of Parks and Recreation. In Final Cannery Row Cultural Resources Survey Report Document, Monterey, CA, 2001.
  • Chiang, Connie Y. Shaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
  • Walton, John. "Cannery Row: Class, Community, and History". In Reworking Class. Edited by John R. Hall, 243-286. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.
  • Ventimiglia, Mike. Images of America: Monterey Fire Department. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Cannery Row: American Can Company

Original smokestack for the American
Can Company. [Pat Hathaway]
Although geographically not a part of Monterey's Cannery Row and itself not a cannery, the American Can Company facility on the absolute southeastern fringe of Pacific Grove both catered to the local fish canneries and utilised the adjacent Southern Pacific Railroad tracks to transport its goods. The area of the facility was originally Pacific Grove's Chinatown, but changes in the laws and suspicious fires had forced most of the Chinese out of the area in the 1910s. The 1920s saw a drastic increase in the intakes of fishing boats as new techniques were used to raise the sardine and tune yields. However, the can companies that imported their wares to Monterey were unable to meet this new demand. In response, the American Can Company, a New York-based national Tin Can Trust corporation founded in 1901 by Irving Fein of Greenwich, Connecticut, began construction on a large new facility just northeast of Cannery Row in Spring 1926 to create packaging materials for the myriad canneries that lines Ocean View Boulevard. Soon after construction was completed the next year, the company introduced the famed, one-pound oval sardine can that became associated worldwide with Cannery Row.

Satellite view of the American Can company complex showing all four structures, 2011. [Google Maps]
Their facility encompassed an entire industrial block just north of the Row and sat promptly across Ocean View Boulevard from the railroad tracks. The factory was divided into three large sections and a small annex, all of which remain today. The annex was a single-story concrete shipping office located at the corner of Eardley and Ocean View. The first large portion, just to the north, was a spacious area with steel columns supporting a roof lined with skylights. North of that, the second and largest was a 36-foot-hight wood-frame structure garbed in corrugated steel with large multi-paned windows on the walls. And at the end, this tapered off into a smaller concrete shipping warehouse. Sheets of tin were trucked and railroaded into the factory on a near-daily basis from the Monterey Wharf and machined into the sardine cans, which were then shipped by truck and rail to the various packing plants along Cannery Row. The plant averaged tens of millions of cans per year.

Buffer stop at the end of the old freight spur. [Google StreetView]
Railroad service to the can company probably began almost immediately, although it is difficult to determine since Sanborn Maps for this part of Pacific Grove are not forthcoming. At least one spur ran from the north along the side of the corrugated steel structure, ending at a steel buffer stop. The long freight-loading platform still remains today as a pedestrian walkway, with the wooden bumpers along the side painted but still in place. The boardwalk that is now on the ocean side of the skylit structure, meanwhile, may also have acted as a freight platform originally, perhaps catering to a long siding that ran the length of the complex, but evidence for this is less certain.

The American Can Company presence in Pacific Grove survived until 1954, after struggling for years from the sardine market crash. The company itself lived on but slowly shifted its focus to financial ventures, merging with PennCorp in 1982 to become Primerica, Inc., a publicly-traded insurance and financial services company.

The vacant factory was purchased around 1957 by National Automotive Fibers, Inc. (NAFI), which manufactured upholstery for automobiles. NAFI had lost its main Monterey-area factory on November 27, 1956, in a disastrous fire that demolished the former San Carlos Cannery, where NAFI had been based. Its relocation to the recently-abandoned American Can Company facility allowed the company to remain in the region for another three decades. In 1962, the company was renamed Chris-Craft Industries, Inc., although it retained its former name as a subsidiary. The railroad continued to service this new company as it had the previous tenant, shipping finished goods out to the mainline track at Castroville. In the late 1970s, Chris-Craft vacated the facility, although it survived elsewhere until 2001 when it was sold to News Corp as a television subsidiary, the company's other ventures all having been sold off or abandoned. The large factory in Pacific Grove thereafter became the single massive Ardan department store.

The modern American Tin Cannery complex in the old American Can Company buildings, 2011. [Google StreetView]
Ardan shut its doors in 1986 and the entire complex was soon converted into California's first factory outlet center: the American Tin Cannery. The name has always been a bit of a misnomer since, although the original facility did create tin cans, it was not a cannery in the same way that the other packing houses on Cannery Row were called canneries. The American Tin Cannery existed for many years as the popular outlet mall, but declining mall attendance has seen it vacillate between various types of retail complexes, resulting in the mixed retail, restaurant, entertainment, and office facility present today. Few of the early outlets remain, although Reebok in the former shipping warehouse has been in place since the beginning. Plans have been in place since April 2016 to turn the complex into a hotel and convention center, but nothing has yet been done to realise that project.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
125 Ocean View Blvd, Pacific Grove, CA
36.619˚N, 121.904˚W

The entirety of the former can company is now the site of the American Tin Cannery retail, shopping, and entertainment center and is open to the public. Images of the can company as well as historical plaques can be found throughout the complex, while some of the original architecture remains in place beside modern commercial retail spaces. The ocean-side curb area on the southeast side of the structure marks the former site of the railroad spur that serviced the company. The former freight-loading platform now serves as an extended boardwalk running along Ocean View Blvd. The northwestern oceanside of the structure supported a freight spur, the buffer stop for which remains in place near the convergence of the two parts of the structure. The freight-loading curb continues as concrete to the end of the building, with the wooden bumper painted but still in place along the sidewall.

Citations & Credits:
  • Architectural Resources Group and Architects, Planners & Conservators, Inc. "299 Cannery Row" and "300 Cannery Row". Primary Record. State of California – The Resources Agency. Department of Parks and Recreation. In Final Cannery Row Cultural Resources Survey Report Document, Monterey, CA, 2001.
  • City of Pacific Grove. "Historic Context (1927 – 1945)". Historic Context Statement – Final.
  • Howe, Kevin. "Factory outlet may get makeover". Monterey Herald, April 7, 2008.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cannery Row: Aeneas Sardine Products Company

World War II accelerated the pace of canning operations along Cannery Row in Monterey, California, leading to a new expansion of canneries to the south of the traditional heart of the canning district. Angelo Lucido, who owned the expansive San Carlos Canning Company at the geographic bottom of Cannery Row, decided in 1941 to purchase the vacant properties of Tevis Murray to the north of his enterprise. Lucido then turned around and resold the land to interested parties, the foremost among them being his brother, Frank Lucido, and a family friend, Orazio Enea.

The Aeneas Cannery under construction, 1945. The warehouse and conveyor are not yet built. [Pat Hathaway]
The conveyor crossing over Wave Street, c. 1957.
[Robert Lewis/The History Co]
The Eneas Canning Company was founded on August 25, 1945, under the leadership of these two men. It was soon renamed Aeneas Sardine Products Company, adopting an Anglicization of the latter's surname. Enea was a Sicilian man who came to California at the beginning of the century as a salmon fisherman along the Sacramento River. He relocated to Monterey in 1906 where he worked at Booth's cannery canning sardines before transferring to Pietro Ferrante's San Carlo Canning Company. He became a free agent in the 1920s, working at various ventures and consulting with canneries until he became involved with the Lucido brothers. Construction on the new cannery was a $47,000 venture that included the erection of a cannery, reduction plant, and a 8,000-square-foot warehouse. Robert R. Jones, notorious for designing 27 canneries in Monterey was hired as the architect, with Albert B. Coats, equally notorious for building half of Cannery Row, acting as contractor. Construction was finished by the end of the year, with the warehouse being the last structure to be erected.

1962 Sanborn Map showing Aeneas Cannery and its spur.
[Architectural Resources Group, et al.]
The portion of the structure most relevant to the railroad is that of the warehouse at 299 Wave Street (now Cannery Row). Cushioned between the road and the railroad right-of-way, the warehouse was connected to the main reduction plant and cannery by an enclosed conveyor that ran across the road between the two structures and still remains in place today. Aeneas had access to a short, 100-foot-long private spur that exited southbound onto the Monterey Branch track of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This spur is recorded as still present on a 1962 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, although the cannery itself appears vacant at this time.

Aeneas Cannery (indicated with arrow), mid-1950s soon after closure. Note railroad tracks at top-left. [Pat Hathaway]
The Aeneas Company ended up being one of the last canneries built on Cannery Row and one of the least successful, owing primarily to the fact that the sardine industry utterly crashed in 1946 and continued to hemorrhage through 1947 and 1948. Aeneas scraped by for six years but finally announced the auction of its new canning complex on February 22, 1952. It was one of the first operations to shut its doors. The property was sold to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in March 1953 for $100,000. In 1974, the buildings underwent a remodelling under the direction of architect Paul E. Davis. His work on allowed both structures to be converted to commercial and business uses. Both structures are now on the National Register as places of historical interest.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
299-300 Cannery Row, Monterey CA
36.611˚N, 121.898˚W

The former Aeneas Sardine warehouse at 299 Cannery Row is now the home of Adventures by the Sea commercial suites. Businesses in the structure include Papa Chevo's Taco Shop and Breezer's bikes, while the upstairs is used as the corporate office for Evans & Johnson's promotions service. The main cannery structure at 300 Cannery Row was occupied until January 2014 by Light & Motion, a company that creates advanced lighting technologies for athletes, but now is awaiting new tenants.

Citations & Credits:
  • "Aeneas Sardine Packing Company Cannery". National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.
  • Architectural Resources Group and Architects, Planners & Conservators, Inc. "299 Cannery Row" and "300 Cannery Row". Primary Record. State of California – The Resources Agency. Department of Parks and Recreation. In Final Cannery Row Cultural Resources Survey Report Document, Monterey, CA, 2001.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Curiosities: Skee-Roll at the Boardwalk

Deconstruction of the various substructures that compose the current
Skee-Roll Arcade building, August 2016. [Google Maps]
September 5, 2016 marks the close of a chapter in Santa Cruz history. For over 123 years, a small, unassuming structure at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been in continuous use, the only remaining part of the Neptune Casino complex that Fred Walker Swanton built in 1904 and that burned down in an epic fire on June 22, 1906. Repaired, extended, repainted, and remodelled more times than one can calculate, the Skee-Roll Arcade building that has for so long greeted visitors on the east side of Walkway 2 is finally being demolished by the Santa Cruz Seaside Company in order to erect a new, state-of-the-art facility. For many reasons, this is a very good thing, but by its demolition, the Boardwalk loses the last connection it has to a tragic but defining moment in the history of the Santa Cruz Main Beach.

The Neptune Plunge in the late 1890s. At far right, the hot baths and powerhouse structure can be seen above the sands.
[Images of America: Santa Cruz, California]
The Neptune Plunge and powerhouse seen from the Electric Pier, 1904.
In Fall 1903, Swanton began construction on a large, Moorish-style entertainment center at the bottom of Cliff Street that he named Neptune Casino. In reality, what he built was an amalgamation of new and old seaside structures. His company, the Santa Cruz Beach Cottage & Tent City Corporation, purchased the large Miller-Leibbrandt Plunge, a large pool that treated vacationers to heated salt water pumped straight from the Monterey Bay. The building itself had replaced the Dolphin Baths, one of the oldest bath houses on the Monterey Bay, in 1893 when John Leibbrandt, who owned the adjacent Neptune Baths, joined forces with Ralph and A.E. Miller. It was probably in 1893 that the structure that would one day be the Operations Office and Skee-Roll Arcade was first built. Swanton's Casino did not appear in its final form until 1904, just west of the Miller-Leibbrant Plunge, which was renamed the Neptune Plunge and received a Moorish facelift, while the final structure in the complex, the Skate Rink, was built in Spring 1905.

Sanborn Map showing the "Tub Baths" building at right, beside the Neptune Baths (center) and Neptune Casino, 1905.
[UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Construction on the second Casino complex, early 1907. The
old powerhouse and baths are visible at far right at the base of the pier.
Confirmation of the Skee-Roll Arcade building's early existence is provided by the Sanborn map above and a number of extant photographs of the first Casino complex, where the structure is visible at the extreme right (see right and below). The map shows the small structure at the bottom of the "Pleasure Wharf" (actually called at that time, the "Electric Pier"), across from an early steam-powedered merry-go-round, a tiny aquarium, and a tin-type portrait studio. By this year, 1905, the structure had already been expanded once. The older section, on the trackside, was the two-story powerhouse and boiler room for the Neptune Plunge. The water tanks were stored just to the east, and the water was pumped through the building in order to heat it before passing underground to a steam laundry room and then into the main pool. Two tall water heaters were kept in the room beside a large petroleum-based boiler. The water pumping through the pipes also fed two dynamo turbine engines that supplied power to some of the structures in the complex. Meanwhile, the ocean side of the structure served as a single-story venue called Hanly's Salt Water Baths, which featured hot tubs that were warmer than the pool.

Postcard of the Neptune Casino complex with the powerhouse structure at far left (with a smokestack), 1904.
In June 1906, Swanton's venture 1904 investment burned to the ground, destroying Neptune Casino, the 1893 Plunge, and the Neptune Baths which had been relocated across the street and repurposed as a restaurant. Two structures did survive, however: the powerhouse/Hanly Baths and the Skate Rink, which was redesigned as the long-running Fun House attraction. Swanton reincorporated his organisation as the Santa Cruz Beach Company and began work on a new entertainment complex in Fall 1906. He hired famed architect William Henry Weeks to design the facility, which was completed in time for the 1907 Summer season. Weeks may have also been responsible for a short annex that was added to the ocean side of Hanly's Baths, which was in place no later than 1917.

Sanborn map showing the second complex, with (from left) the Casino, Plunge, Hanly Baths, and Fun House, 1917.
[UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Hanly Baths beside Walkway 2, early c. 1920s.
[Images of America: Santa Cruz, California]
The oceanside hot tub facility became known as Hanly's Salt Water Baths in 1902, which probably marks the date the extension was added to the powerhouse. Mary Jane Hanly was an English nurse who offered, in addition to the baths, paediatric, medical, and message services at the facility. She continued to operate her tub baths at the Boardwalk until 1924, when she moved to a new building at the intersection of Bay Street and West Cliff Drive. Her new location eventually became the city's first hospital, originally as Hanly Hospital, and then later as Sisters Hospital once the Adrian Dominican Sisters took over the facility. As seen in the photograph at right, circa the early 1920s, the structure received a facelift to better match Weeks' architectural style, although this did not happen immediately since photographs from the late 1900s still show onion domes on the structure. The shadow of the annex structure can also be detected, although the specific design of this structure cannot be confirmed during this period due to a lack of available photographs.

The east side of the second Casino complex with the Hanly's Baths at left (with smokestack) and the Fun House at right.
Skee-Roll Arcade in the early 1930s. [Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]
It is this annex that would eventually become Skee-Roll Arcade and it is likely that it served such a purpose from nearly the beginning. In the earliest years, the building was probably used for a few simple carnival-style dexterity games, but as the boardwalk was extended to the east, it likely became exclusively a skee-ball arcade. Skee-Roll, or more commonly skee-ball, was invented in 1909 by J. Dickinson Este in Philadelphia. Skee-ball alleys became popular across the country after the first one opened in 1914. The Boardwalk's alley opened in the Hanly's Baths annex around 1918 under the management of concessionaire Ed "Doc" Reicher.

Postcard of Skee-Roll Arcade in c. 1958. Note the smokestack still visible on the back building. [Major Pepperidge]
Skee-Roll Arcade remained virtually unchanged for most of its existence. Doc Reicher introduced skee-roll into the county and continued to run the arcade for the next sixteen years. In 1934, he sold his entire operation to Charles J. FitzSimmons, whose family ran it for thirty years until Charles retired. It was FitzSimmons who replaced the original skee-ball machines with the industry standard Philadelphia Toboggan Company machines, a few of which survive at the Boardwalk today. A young Charles Laurence Canfield, son of Santa Cruz Seaside Company president Laurence Canfield, purchased FitzSimmons's concession and founded C.L. Canfield Concessions in 1965, continuing to operate Skee-Roll Arcade as a part of his operations until 1994. In that year, the company was merged into the Seaside Company and renamed the Games Department.

The Vault and Skee-Roll (externally-named Prize Center), c2013.
The false front façade for Desperados, 2009.
Since the 1960s, other game machines began appearing in the arcade, but the development of ticket-dispensing games around 1978 signalled a change in the make-up of the arcade, eventually pushing the skee-ball games to just a corner of the room. In 2008, the arcade was closed for the first time and was replaced by Desperados Western Shootout, an interactive theatre-based shoot-out game. The entire exterior was changed, as well, with an Old West façade placed over the 90-year-old Weeks-style architecture. During this time, the name Skee-Roll moved to the Great Auto Race location two doors to the east. The Desperados attraction failed to attract sufficient revenue and shut down in September 2010. It reopened as Skee-Roll once again in Spring 2011 with only four skee-ball games still inside, two of which were originals.

The rear of the second Casino complex prior to the 1911 construction of the Casa del Rey Hotel.
The powerhouse is visible at far left beside the Plunge.
Meanwhile, the oldest part of the structure, the old powerhouse beside the railroad tracks, began its slow evolution into the Boardwalk Operations Office. By 1917, the space was being used for storage, its function as a boiler room ending with the destruction of the Neptune Plunge it once serviced. The boilers for the new Plunge were installed more covertly under the building, although the holding tanks remained on the east side of the old powerhouse and the structure may have continued to be used for some Plunge-related services. When the Santa Cruz Seaside Company was founded in December 1915 to replace Swanton's bankrupt corporation, it was a disorganised and relatively uninvolved company and remained so until Laurence Canfield took over in 1952. Thus, this structure was probably not used by the company until the 1950s at the earliest. Doc Reicher was probably the first to use this building as offices, although it was undoubtedly FitzSimmons who first built the somewhat rickety second-floor concessions offices on the east side of the building. Canfield Concessions and, later, the Games Department continued to use these offices until early 2012 when they relocated to the new Haunted Castle building.  The remainder of the second floor, built with more consideration, was probably completed in the late 1950s when the Operations Office finally moved to the building. Multiple rooms upstairs and downstairs were subdivided creating a functional and modern work environment. A portion of the old Hanly's Baths building was also carved away and converted into a Nurse Station for injured guests. Indeed, this portion of the building was probably converted quite early and may be the last functional remnant of the original baths. Operations, the Nurse Station, Occupational Health & Safety, and Ticket Sales & Parking all relocated to the Haunted Castle in early 2012. The Receiving Office, the last operations unit in the structure, moved in 2014.

Aerial view of the powerhouse building (on left) and the Fun House (right) in its most complete state, 1965.
[UC Santa Cruz Digital Collection]
Between 1931 and 1943, the former entrance to Hanly's Baths was boxed in, creating a longer passageway between the street and the boardwalk proper. This was little annex probably added by FitzSimmons since it was under him that the Boardwalk added Pokerino and Bing-o-Rino ball-rolling games. Usually considered gambling machines, these games became staples of first FitzSimmons's and then Canfield's games operations at the Boardwalk. The winners of these games were given tickets that could be redeemed for prizes and many of the tickets survive today, unused. This gallery was entirely sealed off from its neighbor except for one door at back – the old Hanly's Baths main entrance door – and a employee door into the larger arcade. This arcade remained separate and in place until 2008 when it became the lobby for Desperados. When Desperados closed in 2010, it was converted into The Vault Lazer Maze Challenge and remained that until the building closed in September 2016.

The trackside view of the former powerhouse building, with the former Foods and Rides Offices and Whiting's Games buildings at left, June 2016. [Google Street View]
Secondly, two entirely new annexes were added to the east of the building and attached by various means to the main structure and to the Fun House. By 1943, this merger was complete and there was a fluidity between the seaside façades of the structures that ran from Walkway 2 to the end of the Fun House. Both structures were already in place by 1928, as can be seen on an aerial flight of that year. The portion closest to the former Fun House may have originally served as an expansion not to the powerhouse building but rather to the Fun House itself, although that connection was certainly severed by 1973, when the Fun House was demolished, if not earlier. Its street side was made of plain panelled wood with a low second floor for offices, while the ocean side featured an Art Deco façade. The interior of the building was eventually split down the middle. The westernmost half was further subdivided perpendicularly, with the trackside part reserved in later years for the Area 2 Rides Offices, an employee lounge, and restrooms, and the seaside part primarily the home of the Great Auto Race game (also called Roll-A-Ball), which was operated by Canfield Concessions from 1965 onwards. When Desperados was built in 2008, a tiny version of the Skee-Roll Arcade replaced Roll-A-Ball and the latter game relocated to beside the Milk Bottles carnival game, where it still remains. In 2011, a new carnival game was installed at the location, Stinky Feet, which remained in place until the demolition of the building in 2016. All the offices, meanwhile, moved to the new Haunted Castle building in early 2012 and the area was converted into the Boardwalk Party Room

The Clown Toss game in action, 2014.
The other part of the building, that closest to the former Fun House, was the original site of James O'Connor's shooting gallery, which began operations in the mid-1920s. O'Connor used live .22 caliber bullets to shoot moving targets downrange. In 1946, he sold the operation to Joseph Ross Whiting, who founded Whiting's Games. When his son, Edward, took over the company in 1972, he replaced the shooting gallery with the significantly safer midway game, Clown Toss, which continued in an unchanged state until the demolition of the building. Ed sold his assets to the Seaside Company in January 2014, which then took over daily operations. The former Whitings corporate offices, which sat behind and above Clown Toss, were subsequently abandoned.

The short-lived 3D Fun House which operated on the Boardwalk from 2000 to 2002. Roll-A-Ball can be seen beside it.
[Santa Cruz Seaside Company]
Fright Walk, which replaced the Fun House in 2003.
The second annex, squeezed between the two others, showcased an Art Deco style on both sides of the building, although the reason for why the streetside differed stylistically so drastically from its eastern neighbor is not unknown. It is the narrowest annex, too, and its addition necessitated the truncation of the adjacent powerhouse and baths buildings. The structure was divided into a large rectangular room on the oceanside with two small offices on the backside, suggesting that this was originally designed as a store for a concessionaire, although which is unknown at this time. From 1982 until 1999 it was utilised as the Pirates' Den Arcade, the Boardwalk's first formal box console gaming arcade that was designed to complement the theme of the new Jack Flint's Pirate Ship ride across from it. The Boardwalk's Food Services Department was likely formed around this time as well and it moved into the former concession offices in back. In 2000, Pirates' Den was replaced with the 3D Fun House, a loony attraction that was as much scary as it was fun. This prompted a redesign in 2003 as the Fright Walk, an attraction that remained in place until the end of Summer 2016.

Concept art for the new design of the entrance area, replacing the older structures in July 2017.
[Santa Cruz Seaside Company]
Since 2006, there have been growing whispers that the old buildings would finally be demolished and replaced with something spectacular. Over the decades, the piecemeal structures had become leaky and creaky, and they were very haphazardly maintained with questionable safety standards. Except for the seaside attractions and games and some overflow ticket booths installed on the track side, the Boardwalk essentially abandoned the building when all of its operations offices were centralised in the Haunted Castle in February-March 2012. The old building had always exuded a low-quality air about it, lowering the standard of the entire Boardwalk, and the trackside façades were ugly, inconsistent, and generally something the park wanted to remove. Still, the buildings persisted until designs were finalised for a truly magnificent, $12 million new entryway which, for the first time ever, will give the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk a real entrance (the relatively new entrance beside the Carousel notwithstanding). The Vault Lazer Maze and a new Fright Walk will both return beside other midway games and a new food venue, but gone will be any trace of the oldest buildings on the Boardwalk. Celebrating their 124th summer seasons, the former Neptune Plunge powerhouse and the Hanly's Baths buildings truly need to be demolished and removed, but their importance to the history of Santa Cruz County should not be so readily forgotten.

Citations & Credits:
  • Beal, Chandra Moira and Richard. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The Early Years – Never a Dull Moment. Pacific Group, 2003.
  • Gomez, Phil. "Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk getting a makeover", KSBW.com. August 31, 2016.
  • Machado, Gay. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: A Century by the Sea. Ten Speed Press, 2007.
  • "New! Boardwalk Main Entrance & Plaza Project". Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, 2016.
  • O'Hare, Sheila, and Irene Berry. Images of America: Santa Cruz, California. Arcadia, 2002.
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Arcades & Games Department staff, especially Barbara Phillips, Sue Hottel, Sylvia Castellanos, and Anilu Reyes.
  • Santa Cruz Seaside Company. Corporate archives.
  • University of California, Santa Cruz. Library Map Collections and Aerial Photograph Collections.
  • Whiting, Ted, Jr. Personal correspondence.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Old Mission Portland Cement Company Extension Railroad

By 1909, roughly three miles of a narrow-gauged, private-use railroad was graded and perhaps even built, ostensibly for the use of the San Juan Southern Railway. However, the financial difficulties that crippled and ultimately bankrupted the San Juan Portland Cement Company equally killed any further work on the short-line track that was aimed at the lime quarries south of San Juan Junction. No locomotive ever operated on this track and it was among the properties purchased by the Old Mission Portland Cement Company in 1912, at which point the railroad lost its name and disappeared from history. Sort of.

Old Mission Portland Cement Company map showing route of track south of San Juan Junction. [QuarriesandBeyond.org]
The US Geological Survey map for 1915 shows that a narrow-gauged track meandered quite a distance south of the cement plant to the Gabilan School in Rancho Cienega del Gabilan. By 1917, a significant spur was also built to the south of the cement plant, backtracking uphill to the top of the plant's refuse pile so that loads of rejected material could be easily disposed of.

USGS Map showing the cement plant line, 1917.
By 1918, when the new cement plant was finally operating at full capacity, it seems that the narrow-gauged railroad, too, was a part of the operation, meaning that construction was completed after all, although who finished this route is unknown. The railroad meandered for four miles along a route that hugged the western side of the canyon, with at least one large trestle required to span a gulch. Although the track never made it to the San Juan Southern's goal of Underwood, it seems like that the track reached Thomas Flint's Flintsville ranch, which was just about at the four mile mark. Along the route, the train also passed a number of small farms from which additional revenue likely was shipped. Whether additional miles of track were built between 1918 and 1928 is uncertain, but in that latter year a further 3.5 miles may have been added to the route in order to mine a new quarry. However, the 1939 USGS map does not show any further track added since the 1917 map

This new private railroad run by the cement plant included at least seventeen wagons and a steam locomotive, the latter of which operated out of an engine house located immediately beside the cement plant where it shared space with the California Central's single standard-gauged locomotive. The railroad crews generally worked the narrow-gauged lines but were cross-trained to shuttle the standard-gauge locomotive to the Southern Pacific tracks at Chittenden when necessary. Unlike the standard-gauged track, which forked twice around and between the cement plant structures, the narrow-gauged track terminated just once beside the eastern-most towers where its engine house was located.

The railroad continued in use when the Portland Cement Company took over in 1927, but, like the rest of the cement plant, all operations halted in 1929 when the Great Depression killed the cement industry along the Central Coast. By the time the plant reopened in 1941, all the narrow-gauged track was gone, likely removed alongside the rest of the California Central line in 1938. Trucks ran along the old right-of-way and continued to do so well into the 1970s. Traces of this road still exist today, now used by farming vehicles and restless cattle wandering the old cement company grounds.

Access Rights:
Permission to access this old route is only with permission by the owner. However, one short section of track is available at the Gibilan School where the old route passes over San Juan Canyon Road (G1) about three miles south of the track that is still visible in the road at San Juan Junction and The Alameda.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clough, Charles W., and Bobbye Sisk Temple. San Juan Bautista: The Town, the Mission & the Park. Quill Driver Books, 1996.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second Edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.

Friday, August 12, 2016

San Juan Junction

The end of the line for both the San Juan Pacific Railway and the California Central Railroad was at San Juan Junction, 7.8 miles south of the Southern Pacific Railroad track at Chittenden. San Juan Junction was a rather fanciful name that referred to the junction with the narrow-gauged San Juan Southern Railway, which was supposed to travel an additional thirteen miles down San Juan Canyon but, due to economic problems, only ran three miles and never was used. The California Central kept the name, however, because they did succeed in building and using four miles of that line narrow-gauged line, continuing construction of it all the way to 1929, the last full year the railroad operated. But there was no transfer yard at San Juan Junction. Instead, there was a moderately-sized Portland cement plant installed at the site.

Unassembled parts stored at the San Juan Portland Cement site awaiting construction, 1908.
Construction on the San Juan Portland Cement Company refinery and kilns began in August 1907, immediately after the San Juan Pacific was opened for through traffic. Within days of completion of the railroad, carloads of machinery for the refinery were brought in and dumped beside the tracks at San Juan Junction. The track was extended an additional 0.3 miles to a gravel site south of the Junction and the material there was used for ballast along the line. At the Junction, a parallel spur was installed opposite the cement plant so that, when the plant was built, it would be straddled by tracks on either side for maximum efficiency. By September, all the machinery was in place, but nothing had been installed yet. Work had already begun on the San Juan Southern Railway right-of-way, with three miles of track placed by October. And then panic struck the stock market and all work on the cement plant and the railroad was halted. Unfortunately, most of the company's stock value plummeted since it was bound to the Ocean Shore Railroad scheme and the San Juan Pacific began its free-fall. The San Juan Portland Cement Company went bust before it had even warmed up the kilns.


Old Mission Portland Cement Company corporate logo.
In January 1912, the Old Mission Portland Cement Company took over operations of both the refinery and the railroad, the latter being rebranded the California Central. For five years, the Old Mission Route was rebuilt with higher-quality materials. Meanwhile, loads of new construction equipment was shipped to San Juan Junction so that the new company could build the long-awaited refinery. San Juan Junction became a true junction at this point. The single standard-gauge locomotive shared space with the company's narrow-gauged unit in the engine house, and the same crews operated and maintained both locomotives on the site. The cement plant thrived for much of the period from 1918 to 1929. In 1927, the organization was merged with the Pacific Portland Cement Company. But the Great Depression made quick work of the entire operation. Broke and without customers, the cement plant and the railroad closed shop. The refinery was gated and abandoned, its pair of locomotives – one narrow-gauged, one standard – left to rot in the engine house. In 1937, the standard-gauged engine had one last run on the old, weed-infested line, but that was simply to ship it out of the county where it operated in Gerlach, Nevada, for its owner, the Pacific Portland Cement Company. The tracks were pulled in early 1938 and San Juan Junction became little more than a dream of a bygone era.

Add caption
The cement plant had a second life, however. Reopened in 1941 due to war demands, the renewed cement plant continued to operate using trucks into the 1970s. It finally closed because the owners were unable to meet new California state air pollution control requirements. The site was eventually stripped of all of its machinery and has since returned to its original owners who use it as a cattle pasture.

Official Railroad Information:
San Juan Junction was at mile marker 0.0 on the San Juan Pacific Railway line. As with the rest of the route, passenger service was offered at the station three times daily for the first year that it operated, after which all passenger service ceased. All service stopped by June 1909.

Limited freight service for the purpose of building the refinery resumed to San Juan Junction around 1914, and then formally reopened in 1916. From this point, irregular freight service from San Juan Junction continued until the refinery closed in 1930. The engine house (and presumably a turntable) was maintained at San Juan Junction until the tracks were pulled in early 1938.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.831˚N, 121.531˚W

Last remaining tracks of the California Central, embedded
into San Juan Canyon Road at The Alameda.
[GeologyCafe.com]
The site of San Juan Junction and the cement plant are unfortunately not accessible to the public. Heading southbound on The Alameda out of San Juan Bautista, continue on San Juan Canyon Road (G1). At that intersection, tracks are still imbedded in the center of the road, the last vestige of the original San Juan Pacific and California Central tracks, which was not removed for convenience's sake. For the next 0.4 miles, the old right-of-way is on the west side of the road in what is now reclaimed pastureland. As the road turns slightly to the east, the road to the cement plant and San Juan Junction appears. The site of the old depot is now a paddock of some kind immediately beside the road, leaving little evidence of the original structure behind. The cement plant itself is barricaded and the land is used for grazing cattle. Google Maps shows that the site of the cement plant remains visible, albeit heavily overgrown. The old narrow-gauge right-of-way continues to the south out of the facility.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clough, Charles W., and Bobbye Sisk Temple. San Juan Bautista: The Town, the Mission & the Park. Quill Driver Books, 1996.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Perazzo, Peggy B. "Stone Quarries and Beyond". Pre-captioned images above.
  • Robertson, Donald B. Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, vol. 4: California. Caxton Press, 1986

Friday, August 5, 2016

San Juan

Three decades after the Spanish friars of the Franciscan Order had founded their first mission in the Alta California region of Nuevo España, they decided that a small outpost tucked away in a sparsely-inhabited tributary valley of the Pajaro River would serve as an excellent waypoint for pilgrims, soldiers, and missionaries traveling up and down the King's Highway – El Camino Real. In November 1795, a small group of explorers and friars spiked a cross on a site at the mouth of a deep valley and proclaimed the place San Juan Bautista after Saint John the Baptist. It took two years for a physical church to be completed at the site, with it officially dedicated on 24 June 1797. In 1803, construction began on the current adobé and redwood structure, and it was completed in 1812 becoming the largest of all twenty-one missions in the Spanish system. The mission largely prospered on its bluff that overlooked the floodplains of the San Juan Valley. Many supporting structures were built around the core mission complex, while farmers and ranchers from various backgrounds settled in the surrounding region to work for the Franciscans. Although the mission suffered during the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath, the church continued to operate without a break.

Drawing of Mission San Juan Bautista, c. 1830. [California Missions Resource Center]
The secularization of Catholic Church lands in 1834 greatly reduced the scope of the mission, but locals continued to patronize the church each week and it never closed as so many other missions did. When the United States took control of California and gold was discovered soon after in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the tiny hamlet of San Juan Bautista quickly grew. Prospectors travelling between Monterey and the interior passed through the town, with many settling after striking rich and others never leaving, opening businesses to sell wares to the passersby. The village became a mid-sized town with multi-story buildings in the main plaza, general stores, hotels, restaurants, and feed stores. A fire destroyed much of the town not long afterwards, depriving it of some of its glory, but it was the railroad that really turned the tide against San Juan.

The Plaza Hotel across from the mission, 1893. [fine art america]
In 1870, the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Hollister, a town just a few hours' wagon ride away from San Juan Bautista. With the end of prospectors, the relatively recent fire, and a lack of available land in the valley, many shifted their attention away to this new site, hoping to capitalize on the railroad which still intended at this time to continue south into the San Joaquin Valley. The town never died, but it barely grew after this point and in many ways never recovered from the fire and loss of the railroad.

San Juan Station, late 1908, with a passenger train sitting out front. [McMahon & Hendershot]
1915 USGS map showing the town of San Juan Bautista, although notably
no railroad station appears at the junction of the road to Hollister (bottom).
In 1907, the town's prospects rose again. The Southern Pacific Railroad had been considering a route between their station at Betabel and San Juan Canyon for nearly thirty years as a short-cut to the San Joaquin Valley. Other rivals had also partially surveyed routes in the area in half-hearted attempt to defeat the Southern Pacific transcontinental monopoly. The plans of the San Juan Pacific Railway were no different: they wished to connect to the Ocean Shore Railroad and other proposed lines in a trans-California route that would one day span the nation. But in the meantime, the San Juan Portland Cement Company wished to open a refinery in the hills just outside of town. They fronted the cash to form the railroad in order to expedite the construction and shipment of goods. The new route would loop around the eastern side of the town with a station established along the main road to Hollister just below the mission. Around August 1st, the track to San Juan Bautista was completed and a long siding was installed to cater to local businesses such as the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, which intended to build a yard beside the tracks and harvest nearby forests. The route formally opened on October 1, 1907, and San Juan Bautista had its very own railroad at last.

Mission San Juan Bautista at the time the San Juan Pacific Railway first came to town.
Passenger train returning from Chittenden, c. 1907.
[McMahon & Hendershot]
Presumably, a railroad structure was built to cater to passengers awaiting the three passenger trains that ran daily in either direction between San Juan and Chittenden. However, the financial difficulties that quickly consumed both the cement plant and the railroad may have halted any permanent structure since no known photograph exists of such a depot or shelter. By May 1909, San Juan Station was a lost dream. The railroad went bust. When the California Central began running regular freight runs along the Old Mission Route in 1916, service to the Loma Prieta yard continued, but for how long is unknown. Most trains headed without stopping for the cement plant and any passengers would have to find other means of getting to the nearest Southern Pacific station. It is unknown how long trains serviced the Loma Prieta yard, but general freight service past San Juan continued through 1930, after which the tracks lay dormant until they were pulled in early 1938. The mission continues to look out over the San Juan River floodplain, but nothing remains of the station, tracks, or right-of-way that sat so briefly in its shadow.

Official Railroad Information:
San Juan appeared on the first public timetables for the San Juan Pacific from mid-1907 through May 1909 as 1.3 miles from San Juan Junction and 8.7 miles from Chittenden (although, in reality, it was closer to 6.4 miles from the latter). It was listed as having three passenger trains in each direction daily. Records for the California Central Railroad are more difficult to find but there was no known service to the former stop after 1909.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.841˚N, 121.532˚W

The precise site of San Juan Station is not entirely certain but it was most likely on either side of modern-day State Route 156 near Nyland Drive or Groscup Way. If it was on the north side, it occupied the same location of today's San Juan School. If the south side, it sat in the open lot between Groscup and the highway. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company lot was most likely the large grass field on the south side of the road east of Groscup. Most of this area can be explored to a degree without breaking any trespass laws, but nothing of the station or right-of-way survives in this immediate area.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clough, Charles W. San Juan Bautista: The Town, The Mission & The Park. Sanger, CA: Word Dancer Press, 1996.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • McMahon, Joseph, Carla Hendershot, and the Plaza History Association. Images of America: San Juan Bautista. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Prescott & Beet Dump

The location of the Prescott family property along the right-of-way,
San Benito County map, 1891 [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Not long after California became a state, the Prescott family moved into the San Benito Valley on a small ranch within the former San Juan Bautista Mission rancho. William Sims Prescott Sr. was an English-born settler who journeyed to California to work in the lumber industry of the Santa Cruz Mountains and, later, in the New Idria Mines. Once in the state, he met Catherine Hobson, a Canadian woman, and the two of them settled down in the San Juan Valley, becoming locally famous for constructing the first artesian well in the region as well as the first orchards. They raised a son and a daughter, William Sims Jr. and Emma, on their ranch along the San Benito River in the late 1850s. Emma eventually married John C. Skinner and moved to San Francisco, where she died in 1922. William, meanwhile, became the family patriarch when his father died in 1878. William married Elizabeth Maria Prather of Tennessee in 1885 and together they raised four children on the ranch.

William quickly rose in prominence in the local community, especially once he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1902 for District 2 (San Juan Region). He kept this position into the 1930s. It was during the mid-1900s that plans were put in place to run the San Juan Pacific Railway between Chittenden and San Juan, a project that required Prescott's permission in order to begin. Unsurprisingly, when the San Juan Pacific began operations in 1907, a stop named "Prescott" appeared on public timetables at a location near the Prescott family property.

In reality, the location probably only ever served as a freight stop for the Prescott family and their neighbors. The farms in the region largely grew sugar beets for Claus Spreckels and other various vegetable products, which collectively justified a small freight stop in the area. As visible on the 1891 map above, a small T road intersection at the southwest corner of the Prescott property later coincided with the location of the railroad stop, meaning that local farms could use established roads to get their goods to market without having to drive into San Juan or up to Canfield or Chittenden. The railroad installed a 700-foot-long siding at the stop to park wagons for loading of sugar beets. Farmers, seeing the potential of the site, added a large beet-dumping platform there as well to expedite the process.

Although passenger service ceased in 1908, freight traffic continued intermittently all the way to 1930 when the California Central unofficially ceased operations. During the California Central period, Prescott was renamed "Beet Dump" but the purpose of the stop remained the same – local farmers could deliver their goods to the site for loading on passing freight trains. The name implied that sugar beets were the primary product with their destination doubtlessly the large beet refinery in Salinas. The tracks remained on the property until they were finally scrapped in early 1938.

Photograph of prominent San Juan citizens including, from left-to-right, William Prescott, Edward A. Pearce,
Luis Raggio, Ernest CC Zanetta, and George Abbe, c. late 1930s. [Marjorie Pierce]
William and Elizabeth Prescott lingered longer. William suffered a heart attack in 1943 just before his 58th wedding anniversary, but he survived two more years before passing away June 15, 1945. Elizabeth survived him by eight years, dying January 31, 1953. Both are buried at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery near the burial places of their mothers. Their property is entirely farmland today.

Official Railroad Information:
San Juan Pacific Railway timetables noted that Prescot was 2.3 miles from San Juan Junction and 1.0 miles from San Juan [Bautista]. This placed it 5.7 miles from Chittenden and the Southern Pacific mainline track. Few records exist from the California Central period but what does seem clear is the stop lost its name and simply became known as "Beet Dump", a reference to the old beet-loading platform constructed there around 1908.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.860˚N, 121.542˚W

The site of Prescott is one of the few locations along the San Juan Pacific right-of-way that can be guessed with almost complete certainty. The right-of-way crossed modern-day Prescott Road at the entrance to today's True Leaf Farms – Church Brothers Produce facility. This facility without doubt sits on the site of the original "Beet Dump", which was itself the successor to Prescott. In fact, a tiny grass-covered and undeveloped stretch of right-of-way still sits across the road from this facility and the driveway of the facility was once the right-of-way. Access to True Leaf Farms – Church Brothers Produce is restricted to employees. Nothing visible remains of the railroad in this area and trespassing should not be attempted.

Citations & Credits: