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 This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, October 2, 2015

Lake Majella

The Lake Majella "V" that straddled the small collection yard for the quarry.
Source: Southern Pacific Railroad assessor's map, noting stations and tracks.
At the lonely end of the Pacific Grove Extension which lengthened the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch sat Lake Majella Station. The purpose of the extension was always to reach the rich glass sands of Lake Majella, although the railroad advertised that it intended to connect Carmel to its railroad network. This latter feat was never accomplished and so the tracks ended in the bogs and 400-foot-high sand dunes of the tidal swamp that sat beside Moss Bay.

The main industry at Lake Majella was high-grade glass-quality quartz crystals, i.e., beach sand. This part of the Monterey Peninsula was blessed with sand dunes and those dunes located immediately around the tidal lake were composed entirely of this valuable product. Sand was processed at an on-site quarry where it was washed, dried, and bagged. The bags were then loaded into waiting freight cars that parked upon the two spurs, both of which acted as the end-of-track. The tracks extended deep into the area to an unrecorded terminus. In later years, bulldozers pushed the sand into hoppers which fed conveyor belts which then sent the sand to the processing plant. It was an efficient system where Southern Pacific boxcars waited beside the main processing center to export fully-processed product. Over the years, the sand was exported for sanding the railroad tracks, for use in glass for reconstructing San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, for ceramics used in electrical devices, for roofing paper, for soap, and even to refill beaches elsewhere. In other words, it was a very popular commodity, which is probably why the operation continued until 1978.

The Del Monte sand processing center at Lake Majella, c. 1945. An SP boxcar sits in front of the facility, awaiting its load of sand bags for shipment out. Photograph by Julian P. Graham. (Pebble Beach Company – Lagorio Archives)
Railroad service to Lake Majella was opened around the start of 1890 and some form of sand quarrying would continue at the end-of-track until the truncation of the line to Seaside in 1978. Unsurprisingly, the primary purpose of the stop was for freight, and passenger service was limited to select local passenger trains that  first year. The stop never featured on the Del Monte line or any other seasonal excursion services. Whether there was a passenger shelter at Lake Majella in those first two decades is unknown. The Pacific Improvement Company, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, appears to have operated the sand quarry until around 1906 for use with its railroad grading and track maintenance, but following the San Francisco Earthquake, the quarry was spun-off as a subsidiary, the Del Monte Sand Company.

Lake Majella tracks, showing an otherwise unlisted spur at right beside a hopper, 1949. Photo by Art Lloyd.
1898 Hotel Del Monte map. (Monterey Public Library)
The passenger shelter that was eventually constructed at Lake Majella was of the same style as that at Asilomar, suggesting that both were installed around 1913. Passenger service beyond Pacific Grove was always informal, but the presence of a shelter suggests that there was at least limited use there, probably by the quarry employees and the few locals who lived near there. The shelter was located along the eastern spur near Sunset Drive. It was a + -shaped ("Greek Cross") structure with a square peaked roof upon which the station sign was affixed. Identical shelters in the area were at Asilomar, Brackney, and Newell Junction.

The sand dunes at Moss Beach beside Lake Majella.
Despite the industrial nature of the Lake Majella area, the dunes themselves were considered by many to be quite picturesque and became a popular place for picknickers and artists otherwise spending their days at nearby Asilomar Conference Center. Boating and fishing in Spanish Bay were popular in early years, especially since the scenic Point Piños lighthouse was within sight.  The area was also heavily wooded with pines and cyprus trees originally, although most of that was later logged out. In later years, these dunes would become a rallying call for conservationists critical of the Lake Majella quarry. Their preservation was one of the chief reasons why the sand quarrying operation at Lake Majella finally ended.

Lake Majella before heavy industry and development drained the lake and cleared the forests.
From the 1940s, the Hayward Lumber Company, which still exists at the site of Lake Majella Station, received loads of lumber freight via the railroad. They were the last customers that used the Pacific Grove Extension, receiving goods into early 1979. The abandonment of this section of track was approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission on December 29, 1978. Within a few months, most of the tracks to Seaside were pulled, although some were buried. Lake Majella only briefly was returned to nature. Not long after the closure of the sand quarry, The Inn at Spanish Bay, a part of the Pebble Beach Resorts consortium, was opened as a luxury resort and golf complex. Some of the dunes still sit uncomfortably around Spanish Bay, mostly between the resort and the Asilomar Conference grounds.

Official Railroad Information:
Lake Majella first appeared on Southern Pacific timetables in 1890 at the end of the Pacific Grove Extension.  The station was located 130.0 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Pajaro Junction, Gilroy, and San José, and it was also 0.1 miles from Asilomar. Agency books at the turn of the century listed the station as having a class-A freight platform, which means it also included a spur, but no other services were listed. This situation never changed. The spur was listed initially in the 1920 as a 51-car-length (~2,550 feet) stretch of track, however this listing disappeared in later years, possibly because the switch was more closely located at Asilomar, being just to the south of that stop. Passenger service to the stop continued until around 1940, when the stop became strictly for freight. The stop remained in frequent use until 1978 when the line was truncated to Seaside.

The sand quarry at Lake Majella, c. 1960. Photo by Pat Hathaway. (Fine Art America)
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.616˚N, 121.934˚W

The site of Asilomar Station is now Hayward Lumber off of Sunset Drive. Lake Majella itself is now the Inn and Links at Spanish Bay resort, with the core hub of activity located roughly within the residential subdivision on the east side of that complex. The western spur of the track paralleled Crocker Road to the east and is now visible, albeit somewhat overgrown. The eastern spur ran through the east side of Hayward Lumber. Both tracks crossed Sunset Drive with their present right-of-ways flanking the Pacific Grove Self-Storage facility and the adjacent shopping center. Both spurs undoubtedly continued directly to the Lake Majella quarry, but unfortunately the Gold Links at Spanish Bay has developed over any remaining trace of those right-of-ways.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, September 25, 2015


Down the track 1.6 miles from Pacific Grove and its relatively large freight yard was the much smaller Asilomar flag-stop, the last passenger station along the line. Unlike all of the other stops along the Pacific Grove Extension of the Monterey Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division, Asilomar was a late addition, only added as a stop when the Asilomar Conference Center first opened its doors in 1913.

A group of camp girls at Asilomar, June 1916. Photo by Heidrick Photo Studio. (State Parks)
The inside of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall, c. 1920. (State Parks)
In the late 19th century, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) began operating in the Monterey Bay area. In 1897, a group of women representing the Pacific Coast Field Committee of the YWCA decided that it was interested in holding an annual retreat somewhere in the area, choosing  the Hotel Capitola near Santa Cruz for its venue from 1900 to 1911. In 1912, Hotel Capitola burned to the ground and the women were forced to look elsewhere for a conference center. That year, a tent city was erected in Livermore for the conference, but all of that material was later transferred to a property in Pacific Grove. The Pacific Improvement Company, the real estate subsidiary of Southern Pacific Railroad, donated 30 acres to the women at a field near the beach. They were required to build substantive structures within the first ten years of the lease, and they had to pay all property taxes for the land. Julia Morgan, a female architect from San Francisco, was hired to build the conference center, while Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst) provided much of the funding and materials. The name Asilomar was chosen after a contest was held among attendees that first year. It's name means "refuge by the sea". On August 7, 1913, Asilomar was officially dedicated. Ellen Browning Scripps expanded the facility in 1916 by purchasing 20 more acres from the Pacific Improvement Company. It began operating year-round after that, although the summer was always its busiest season when the YWCA ran camps for girls and leadership conferences.

Asilomar Station shelter with luggage trolly, c. 1920. 
Naturally, the railroad came soon afterwards. The Pacific Grove Extension already passed beside the conference center, terminating just 0.1 miles away at Lake Majella and Moss Beach. Asilomar Beach was the name given to the beach next door which sat upon the YWCA land. As early as 1913, the railroad delivered passengers to Asilomar, although the precise date that regular passenger service began is not known to this historian. By the early 1920s, the station functioned as a seasonal passenger stop, although it probably offered flag-service year-round, and an occasional freight stop. The specific nature of the freight at Asilomar is not known, although it likely was related to the business at Lake Majella. Indeed, Asilomar acted as the switch for an 8-car (~400 foot) spur from as early as 1928. This spur was primarily for cars loaded with sand from Moss Beach. A D-class freight platform was also there, although no other services were offered for freight. The siding at Asilomar grew over the years, eventually maxing-out at 30 car-lengths (1,500 feet), although this was likely split between the siding and a spur, the latter of which is visible in some photographs. The spur seems to have been short and removed in the 1940s as the track-length condensed to 27 car-lengths (1,325 feet), which it remained until the line was abandoned.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall, built in 1913. (State Parks)
Passenger service was offered via a seasonal passenger agency and telephone office, although the specific nature of this station is not presently known. The Great Depression had an effect on Asilomar and the YWCA, no longer able to pay its debts, was forced to close the facility in January 1934. The Depression, though, meant that nobody wanted to purchase the facility, so the Asilomar Committee continued to maintain the grounds during these years. Passenger service to the stop continued until 1940, but the original station structure, if ever there was one, was replaced with a small generic passenger shelter in the early 1930s. With the closure of Asilomar, the shelter sat abandoned beside the tracks, the station only catering to the random passenger flag and freight. The shelter was dismantled or relocated at some point in time, although somebody has since built a recreation of the original and installed it near the station site. Railroad service past Asilomar continued intermittently until 1978 when the tracks were reduced to Seaside. The right-of-way in this area has since become a public bike trail.

Asilomar Station in 1974 with a pair of sand hoppers parked on the tracks in the distant background.
In 1936, David and Paulsen Visel ran Asilomar as a motel until 1940, after which the National Youth Authority used it as a training came. World War II caused the center to be converted into an overflow motel for visitors to Fort Ord and the Presidio. By 1947, the YWCA had regained enough funds to reopen the conference center, finally making money like it never had before. It has been in continuous operation ever since. In 1956, Asilomar became a California State Park, with its conference center leased to the Pacific Grove Association. In 1969, Pacific Grove transferred its lease to the new Pacific Grove-Asilomar Operating Corporation, a special company specifically established to keep Asilomar operating while protecting its surrounding environment. The property was more than doubled in size to provide a better conservation area around it, and now there is an ongoing program in place to maintain the dune habitat on the beach, which are now called the Asilomar Dune Natural Preserve. In 1987, the original structures at Asilomar were declared National Historic Landmarks.

Asilomar Station on the conference
grounds today.
Official Railroad Information:
Asilomar Station was located 129.9 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Watsonville Junction, Gilroy, and San José. It was also 0.1 miles from the Lake Majella end-of-track. It was established around 1913 and was operated seasonally. Freight service to the station was in place by 1926 and catered primarily to the Lake Majella/Moss Beach sand quarry. To support this industry, a siding of 1,325 feet was erected, with a shorter 3-car (~175 foot) spur built across from the passenger shelter. Originally, a passenger agency office and telephone were at the shelter. The office closed when passenger service ended around 1940 and the shelter was relocated to within the conference grounds. The station itself remained on timetables, sometimes as a full stop, often as an Additional Station, until 1978 when the line was truncated to Seaside.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.619˚N, 121.933˚W

The site of Asilomar Station is roughly where the bike trail crosses over Sinex Avenue, just outside the main entrance to Asilomar Conference Grounds. The shelter structure has been rebuilt and sits near the site of the original structure with a sign atop its roof.

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pacific Grove

Sanborn map of Pacific Grove, showing the freight yard and station, 1905.
Pacific Grove is the end of the Monterey Peninsula, a jetty of rock battered to pieces by the relentless Pacific Ocean. Its shoreline is rugged, filled with tide pools and seaweed and, with the exception of a few select beaches, is generally inhospitable. However, it is also beautiful. The Native Americans thrived off this point until the Spanish rounded them up and banished them to nearby Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Few populated the point for the next fifty years until Chinese populations began settling there in the 1850s. They were eventually forced to relocate when white settlers moved to the Pacific Grove area in the 1870s. Until that time, the Pacific Grove interior was mostly used as a large cattle pasture.

The entrance to Pacific Grove, c. 1900. (Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Research Library)
In 1875, a group of Methodist church leaders leased the point from David Jacks on behalf of the newly-formed Pacific Grove Retreat Association. In 1880, Jacks sold the property to the Pacific Improvement Company, the land-owning subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This purchase hinted at a new direction for Pacific Grove. The railroad company had just recently purchased, replaced, and expanded the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad right-of-way which ran initially from Salinas and, under SP-control, from Castroville. Although the line ended at Monterey Station, near Fishermen's Wharf, the fact that the railroad had purchased the entirety of the point suggested big things were in store for the future. Thos things included the erection of the Hotel Del Monte, the creation of 17-Mile Drive, which circumnavigated Pacific Grove, and the eventual extension of a railroad line to Carmel, passing directly through Pacific Grove.

The Pacific Grove freight yard with the remains of the Bodfish Dairy at the top right (in 1906,  a baseball diamond). The
depot itself is obscured at the far right. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company piles are in the foreground. (Pat Hathaway)
The latter occurred in 1889, when the line reached Pacific Grove on August 1 of that year, thereby prompting regularly-scheduled passenger and freight service to the point. The line was extended to Lake Majella, just to the south of Pacific Grove, but it never continued to Carmel. Pacific Grove Station was built slightly outside of town along the coast near Lovers Point. The Bodfish Dairy was located immediately beside it and used the station to export cattle and dairy products to the markets of San Francisco. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company, co-owned by Frederick Hihn, operated a large freight yard at the station opposite the depot and this enterprise, as well as the sand quarry at Lake Majella, provided the primary income and impetus for the extension track. To support the busy branch line and the local trains, a small roundhouse was added at Pacific Grove beside a turntable. Bertha G. Fox was hired as the first stationmaster of the depot. In 1892, passenger service became more formalised with regular excursion trains running each weekend year-round and thrice-daily local trains running between Lake Majella and Castroville. The small staff of the railroad mostly lived in homes within walking distance of the station and a second commercial district in Pacific Grove opened on the adjacent streets benefiting from the nearby rail traffic and the tourists enjoying the bathhouse at Lovers Point.

Pacific Grove station on a moderately busy day, c. 1905. (Pat Hathaway)
In its heyday, around 1905, the station consisted of the mainline and three long sidings, with a crossover between two of them directly across from the depot. The lumber yard sat beside the northern siding, while the depot sat along the southern siding along Briggs Avenue. The immediate yard limits began on the west side of 17th Avenue (now Ocean View Boulevard). The depot structure itself was a single-story, Victorian-style station that was rather unique in style compared to other Southern Pacific structures. While it included the characteristic bay windows and long freight annex like the others, this station had a much higher peaked roof as well as many more windows than was common among SP depots. An impressive two-line station sign also sat above the ticket window's eaves in contrast to the usual single-line sign, like what sat at the end of the depot's roof. A freight platform was installed adjoining the freight warehouse with the closest track running up directly beside it. In later years, the peaked roof lost some of its adornments but remain conspicuously taller than most other single-story stations.

The lightly-used depot on July 14, 1947. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Passenger service to Pacific Grove began to suffer after World War II, when the incomes of war veterans and their spouses made it easier to purchase automobiles and plane flights. Reflecting this trend, the depot shut its doors on September 16, 1957. Five years later, on July 12, 1962, the last scheduled passenger train departed Pacific Grove on a heading for Castroville. From this point forward, Pacific Grove was a freight-only stop and most of its services ended. The depot structure itself caught on fire in July 1962 while it was being dismantled by the Southern Pacific. The fire formally allowed for the structure to be condemned and the remainder was fired a second time as a part of a fire-prevention training exercise by the Pacific Grove Fire Department. Many of the tracks were pulled at this time, although one was left behind.

The depot after undergoing minor renovations, April 2, 1950. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
In 1962, the Monarch Pines Homeowners Association established a rather large mobile home park atop the majority of the former railroad freight yard. Although a single track remained behind for another 16 years, the stop ceased functioning in any capacity at this time, lacking anything other than a station sign. When the railroad finally left in 1978, the remaining track was paved over and still remains there today beneath the asphalt. Railroad service has never since been extended to Pacific Grove and is unlikely to be extended again in the future. By following the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail to Lovers Point, the unnamed road that continues marks the site of the station yard. The entire area is now a residential community, with the homes between Mermaid Avenue and Briggs Avenue all erected in the years since the stop was removed. The right-of-way is still owned by the Union Pacific Railroad (successor to SP), and the freight yard is now a private development.

Official Railroad Information:
Pacific Grove Depot, April 28, 1940. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Pacific Grove first became a station in August 1889 when the Pacific Grove Extension of the Monterey Branch was constructed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The station was located 128.3 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Pajaro, Gilroy, and San José. It was also 1.7 miles from the Lake Majella end-of-track. In 1899, the station had full telegraph and telephone services, as well as a passenger and freight agent, a class-A platform, and a stock yard chute for the nearby dairy. The chute was removed in 1908. In 1928, the station featured full freight and passenger services as well as an extensive pair of sidings, one running 26-carlengths (~1,300 feet) and the other 19 (~950 feet). At this time, the station had a bulletin board, official clock, a water tower, fuel for the engines, a turntable, and a phone (BKWFTP). By 1937, oil replaced the more generic fuel at the station. Around 1940, a train order registry replaced the traditional bulletin board. Service to the station declined in the early 1950s to a point where the train order registry was no longer necessary, while the locomotives no longer required on-site fuel services either. Finally, in the early 1960s, everything at the station disappeared from employee timetables except for the telephone. Passenger service formally ended on July 1, 1961. Freight services at the station formally ended in late 1978 after which the line itself was abandoned.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
A train at Pacific Grove station, 1937. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
36.626˚N, 121.920˚W

The site of Pacific Grove Station is everything between Ocean View Boulevard and Del Monte Boulevard along the unnamed residential access road which acts as the trunk of the Monarch Pines Mobile Home Park. The depot site itself is to the left of Briggs Avenue on the south side as it crosses this road. All the area is now private residences and trespassing is prohibited, although the streets can be freely accessed.

Citations & Credits:
  • Beebe, Lucius. The Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific Railroads.
  • Seavey, Kent. Images of America: Pacific Grove

Friday, September 11, 2015

Forest Avenue

1917 Automobile Blue Book showing the Monterey area, with Forest
Avenue visible at left acting as the trunk of 17 Mile Drive.
The Pacific Grove Extension of the Monterey Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division had hardly been in operation for two years when the small Forest Avenue stop closed its doors. Eponymously named after the nearby Forest Avenue, the station was established probably in 1889 to cater to the local tourist industry and the nearby residences. It appears to have failed in both regards, however, as the stop was removed from timetables in 1891.

The Pacific Grove Retreat Association, which founded Pacific Grove in 1875, used the beach for many of its functions. The Methodist association already drew people from all over the state, and the extension railroad made it much easier for them to access the area. Placing a passenger flag-stop at Forest Avenue directly adjacent to the beach was a natural decision. The Del Monte Hotel accessed the area, too, since Forest Avenue formed a part of the loop that created 17 Mile Drive.

A freight train passing beside Forest Avenue (not visible at right) toward Monterey, 1937. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
In 1893, just two years after the closure of the station, the PGRA erected a small bathhouse and a short wharf at the beach. Although the railroad station did not last, in all likelihood due to the extremely close proximity to the Pacific Grove depot (it was less than 0.1 miles to the northwest), the location remained popular. William Robson built in 1892 a large commercial building across the street. It later became a grocery store with the Ancient Order of United Workmen and a law office operating on the top floor. The point itself, originally called Point Aulon (Point Abalone in Spanish), remains a popular tourist destination today, even without many of the structures that long littered its rocky terrain.

Lovers' Point Beach and surroundings, c. 1902. (Photo by Clara Sheldon Smith – Viki Sonstegard)
Official Railroad Information:
Excerpt from a panoramic image of Pacific Grove, 1906. The railroad is
at right, with the bath house behind the beach slightly.
(Photo by George Lawrence – Caption by Peter Nurske)
Forest Avenue first appeared on public timetables as an Additional Station in June 1890, although the stop itself likely dated to the opening of the Pacific Grove Extension in late 1889. The stop was located midway between Pacific Grove and Cypress Park, roughly 127.5 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Pajaro, Gilroy, and San José. It was among the first new stations to be removed from the timetables, disappearing by June 1891.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
High waves hitting the Lovers' Point bath house, c. 1900. (
36.625˚N, 121.916˚W

The site of Forest Avenue station is at the end of Forest Avenue in Pacific Grove, along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. A parking lot on the south side of the tracks likely marks the station site since a cliff is immediately opposite the lot. It is unlikely that any station structure or platform was present at the site considering how short-lived it was, and certainly nothing survives today if there was anything.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Cypress Park

Guide to Monterey and Vicinity, c. 1890.
Located roughly 0.8 miles northwest of Hoffman Avenue inside the limits of Pacific Grove sat for a brief time the Cypress Park railroad stop, which catered to the adjacent Cypress Park residential community. The Southern Pacific Railroad erected this top along its new Pacific Grove Extension in late 1889, probably with the intent that it would attract businesses and residential subdivisions to the area. The stop was located along a small point midway between Point Alones (Point Cabrillo) and Point Aulon (Lovers' Point). For the first year of its existence, the stop offered a full schedule of passenger services, however by 1891 all scheduled stops were removed. The purpose of the stop appears to have been to attract prospective homebuyers to the area, but for whatever reason, the stop failed early on, perhaps due to its proximity to the much larger Pacific Grove depot. The station was completely gone from Southern Pacific records by 1899. Because of its short lifespan, it seems unlikely that the station offered any facilities or services other than, perhaps, a short passenger platform. In any case, nothing survives of the station today except a small grove of cypress trees along the right-of-way beside Berwick Park (city ordinance 218 renamed the park from Cypress Park).

A passenger train along the coast near Cypress Park, 1947. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Official Railroad Information:
Cypress Park first appeared on public timetables in late 1889 as a regular passenger stop with service offered on all local passenger trains. Whether it appeared in employee timetables or agency books at this time is not known to this historian. The station was listed in 1891 but no passenger services were listed. The stop disappeared from all company records before 1899.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.62˚N, 121.91˚W

The site of Cypress Park is located along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail at the end of Monterey Avenue. Berwick Park, which sites beside the former right-of-way today, was previously Cypress Park, and the trees standing along the trail gave it that name in the late 1880s. No remnant of the actual station facilities survive, although none probably existed in the first place. The coastal trail and the park is open to the public.

Citations & Credits:

  • Southern Pacific Railroad documents.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hoffman Ave.

Hoffman Avenue began its life as began most of the stops along the Pacific Grove Extension of the Monterey Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division. Established at the end of 1889 when the extension first opened, the stop originally offered full-service catering to the coastal community that inhabited the intersection of Hoffman Avenue and Ocean View Avenue. But that service tapered off within a year and the station lingered on timetables and in Agency books as little more than a flag-stop. It was classified as a type-D station, which in 1899 meant it provided service to those who flagged it. While the area was undergoing rapid development at the turn-of-the-century, there appears to have been little need for a full-fledged railroad station on Hoffman Avenue.

Following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, things began to pick up pace along Ocean View Avenue. City ordinances had forced the fishing industry to move from the crowded and smelly beach beside Fisherman's Wharf to this road, where the wind would pull out much (though certainly not all) of the bad odors. On St. Valentine's Day, 1908, the first major cannery—the Pacific Fish Company—began operations here. Growth was slow and decidedly low-budget in those first years, but increased demand prompted by World War I overcame all boundaries. The sardine industry in Monterey boomed and became the city's biggest industry, with over 1,400,000 cases of sardines shipped out in 1918. Many private spurs popped up in this period to cater to these canneries, but none of them were ever listed in Southern Pacific records because they were privately-owned and their cargos were registered at Monterey Depot. The stories of the individual cannery spurs, therefore, belongs elsewhere.

Throughout this time, the little Hoffman Avenue flag-stop struggled on through a rather unusual history. It disappeared from Agency Books completely in 1909 after being upgraded to a B-class station in 1907. The "B" status meant that the station included a freight platform and a siding or spur. The disappearance of the station would usually mean that it was gone permanently, except it continued to appear in employee timetables for another two decades. This suggests that the stop may have ceased its freight purposes entirely and became exclusively a flag-stop. Since it was the only flag-stop along what was nicknamed Cannery Row (the road would later be permanently named that in 1958), it undoubtedly catered to the workers that commuted to their job. Unfortunately, little is known of this stop and there was probably nothing at the stop worth photographing for posterity.

Gas explosion at the Carmel Canning Company, 1946. (Press photo)
The fishing industry began to crash in the Great Depression. By 1937, all traces of the Hoffman Ave. stop was gone from both public and employee timetables. Apparently any use people had for the stop dried up as unemployment skyrocketed. Although prosperity briefly returned to Cannery Row during World War II, the high demand for sardines caused by the conflict depleted the Monterey Bay and destroyed the industry once and for all. The canneries shut down, passenger service along the Monterey Branch slowed to a crawl, and the branch line was finally cut back to Seaside in 1978, permanently severing Hoffman Avenue from the mainline track.

Custom House Packing Corporation fire, 24 October 1953. Photo by William L. Morgan (Monterey Public Library)
For the record, the primary structure on the south side of Hoffman Avenue was owned by the Carmel Canning Company. It was opened in 1918 and shut its doors in 1962 when Ben Sendermen, its owner, decided to retire. The cannery was notorious on Cannery Row for exploding in 1946 when a boiler overheated. The owners repaired and reopened. Meanwhile, the structure on the north side of Hoffman was the former Custom House Packing Corporation, operating between 1929 and 1952. The original structure burned down in 1953. It was rebuilt by the Carmel Canning Company soon afterwards and continued to operate as a cannery until 1962. Another fire hit the buildings in 1967 after they had been abandoned for five years. The skywalk between the former warehouse (on the south side of the road) and the cannery (on the north) was built in the 1970s replacing a much smaller original conveyor bridge. The third story of the building was built in 1971. Post-fire modernization converted it first into an office complex and then into a retail center and restaurant. The precise relationship between the Carmel Canning Company and the Custom House Packing Corporation is currently unknown.

Official Railroad Information:
The Hoffman Avenue station first appeared on timetables along the Pacific Grove Extension in 1889. It was listed as a full stop with scheduled service in 1890 but that schedule was removed from public timetables afterwards. During this time, Agency Books listed the stop as a class-D freight stop. It was upgraded to a class-B, implying the addition of a siding or spur and a freight platform, in 1907, but then the stop was removed entirely from Agency Books in 1909. What its status in employee timetables during this period is not known to this historian, but it was listed in 1928 at 126.9 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Watsonville Junction, Gilroy, and San José. It was also 3.0 miles from the Lake Majella end-of-track. At this time, it was exclusively a passenger flag-stop. By 1937, the station was removed from all timetables and the stop disappeared permanently. The branch line continued to pass over Hoffman Avenue, catering to the various canneries in the area via private spurs and sidings, until the branch was truncated to Seaside in 1978.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.615˚N, 121.900˚W

The site of Hoffman Avenue's stop is half-a-block up from Cannery Row on Hoffman Avenue where it intersects with the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. The Culinary Center of Monterey, a former cannery now attached via skybridge to a small shopping center, marks the nearest cannery to the stop. An old mail car and a caboose sit on the former right-of-way atop retained tracks about 100 feet to the north from Hoffman Avenue. The Caboose is a small store while the mail car is the now-closed Cannery Row Welcome Center. These may mark the site of the stop's siding or spur.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Light House Road & Sard

Booth's Cannery beside Fisherman's Wharf, c. 1910. (Sanborn Map)
The Pacific Grove Extension of the Monterey Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division was first constructed in 1889, with a new end-of-track installed at the sand quarry at Lake Majella. Initially, much of the area through which the railroad passed along this branch was sparsely populated and the railroad, for whatever reason, decided to place regularly-spaced flag-stops along the extension on its way to Pacific Grove. The second such station, after Custom House, was called Light House Road. While the precise location of this stop cannot be determined with certainty, since it was only an Additional Station and never a full-fledged stop, it can be guessed that it sat along a 0.1 mile stretch of right-of-way that paralleled today's Lighthouse Avenue near Fisherman's Wharf. At the time there was little built in that area, but the small McAbee Beach below the right-of-way did serve as a place for fishermen to moor their boats. Regardless the purpose, the station did not last and disappeared as early as 1891 from all company records, it's place in the history of the Monterey Branch generally forgotten.

Booth's Monterey Packing Company, c. 1905. The railroad tracks can be seen passing behind the cannery. (See Monterey)

By 1896, things in this area were picking up. The fishing industry in Monterey was growing rapidly and a man named Frank E. Booth, a former cannery owner along the Sacramento River, decided to establish the first cannery in the town. Not entirely sure what he was doing, Booth began by canning salmon at a small facility in town. This haphazard cannery burned down in 1903, possibly due to arson by disgruntled workers who wanted him to can sardines. In response, Booth purchased the waterfront property of H.R. Robbins, a San Franciscan who had built his own cannery beside Fisherman's Wharf in 1901 but failed to make a profit. Booth doubled the size of the cannery and expanded the types of fish he canned. His new venture was called the Monterey Packing Company.

The back of the Monterey Packing Company in 1940, just prior to demolition. The railroad tracks in the foreground may mark the location of Sard station, or that may have been slightly further down track. Photo by Don Ross.
(WPA Federal Arts Project / San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)
Booth's methods were crude and not overwhelmingly healthy, and the stench from his cannery led the town to mandate that all future facilities be built downwind along Ocean View Avenue, a place that would become known as Cannery Row. Although his facility was now much larger, his canning ability was still wanting. In response, Booth hired Knut Hovden, a professional fisherman, to reform his facility and improve its machinery. To expedite the canning process, he invented a soldering machine that would quickly seal the cans of fish and automated the cooking and cutting process. Booth also hired a fleet of Sicilian fishermen to catch the fish for canning. Within a few years, Booth owned a second cannery. He shipped 70,000 cases of cans in 1912 alone. The Monterey sardine, the especially long species of sardine native to the Monterey Bay, was first exported to Asia by Booth in 1915. Booth doubled the size of his cannery again in 1910, expanding it out over the water beside the wharf, while also expanding the wharf itself to support the increased demand for fish. Demand for Monterey sardines soared in 1914 when the import of French sardines—the most popular type at the time—were halted by France due to World War I. This quickly allowed the Monterey Packing Company to become one of the premiere fish canneries in California. It also sparked a cannery-building boom along Cannery Row, with many of the new facilities founded by former employees of Booth. Booth expanded his operations to throughout California and Oregon, eventually operating five canneries in Centerville, Monterey, Pittsburg, Reedsport (Oregon), and San Francisco.

Fire at sea, with Booth Cannery at left, 14 September 1924. (Dan Freeman)
The Monterey Packing Company—and indeed all the canneries in the area—reached their height between 1918 and 1928. The Southern Pacific Railroad, which had a right-of-way directly beside Booth's facility, noticed this rise in popularity. When precisely railroad service began to his cannery is not known, but by 1928 a special station was registered on employee timetables just for Booth. The name of this station was Sard—presumably short for Sardines. It was the only formal station between Monterey and Hoffman Avenue. The timetable did not mention any siding or spur, but it did allow passenger service and freight, the latter of which was probably facilitated via a freight-loading platform affixed to the back of the cannery. It had two scheduled passenger stops per day, and all freight must have been negotiated as it was not included in the freight schedule. The stop was very short-lived, disappearing probably in 1930 following the economic crash that sparked the Great Depression.

Booth's Cannery beside Fisherman's Wharf, c. 1935. (Fine Art America)
The cannery struggled through the Depression just like many of the others, but the return of tourism to the area meant that the cannery, located beside the wharf, became an eyesore to tourists while it also fouled the water and the air. The Monterey Packing Company cannery beside was finally shut down in May 1941 after the City of Monterey denied its lease renewal. The cannery burned down in December 1941, during demolition. Nothing remains of it today. The Monterey Bay Coastal Trail passes directly through the former property, paralleling Lighthouse Avenue as it heads toward Cannery Row. 

Official Railroad Information:
The Light House Road flag-stop appears to have been a very short-lived station, being listed on the initial Pacific Grove Extension timetable in 1889 but gone from the Southern Pacific Officers, Agencies & Stations book by 1899. It was listed in public timetables in 1890 as a permanent "Additional Station", although only in the capacity of an unscheduled flag-stop. It does not appear on either 1889 or 1891 public timetables. It's precise location is not known, but the only place where Light House Road (not Lighthouse Ave.) and the right-of-way meet is along a 0.1 mile stretch beginning just west of Fisherman's Wharf.
The Monterey Packing Company at its maximum extent, c. 1940.
When Sard first appeared in timetables is not presently known to this historian. It was not listed in the 1926 Agency book, nor the 1930 book. It was present on the May 6, 1928 Coast Division Timetable at 126.0 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Gilroy, and San José. It was also 4.0 miles from the end-of-track at Lake Majella. Sard offered both freight and passenger service but had no on-site facilities and no listed siding or spur (although it may have had a private spur). It was gone from timetables from 1937, although it may have disappeared earlier.
Distance view of the Booth Cannery and Fisherman's Wharf, with the
railroad tracks passing in the foreground. (Fine Art America)

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.604˚N, 121.894˚W

The site of Sard Station is immediately beside north of where Lighthouse Avenue emerges from the tunnel. It can be most easily accessed via the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. While some of the cannery's foundations remain in the water of McAbee Beach, no sign of the stop survives.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Custom House

Just 0.2 miles to the northwest of Monterey Depot, comfortably sitting at the foot of Old Fisherman's Wharf, a flag-stop by the name of Custom House took residence. The station first appeared in late 1889 immediately beside the Old Customhouse along the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch extension to Lake Majella. The track originally terminated at roughly the location of Custom House, only extending to the Pacific Grove area in August 1889. In an effort to promote this new trackage, the railroad listed it under a separate header called the "Pacific Grove Extension", although the idea did not last for more than a few years. Custom House, along with Cypress Park, may have been stations added specifically to improve the footprint of the extension in timetables. While there was extensive passenger service to the stop in the first full year of operation (1890), by 1891 no passenger service was listed at the stop and it probably was abandoned within a few years.Oliver Collection. J. K. Oliver, photographer. Credit: Monterey Public Library, California History Room
Custom House station site in 1897 showing four people waiting for the train.
(Photo by J.K. Oliver / Monterey Public Library)
Another view of Custom House during the failed 1897 constitutional convention. (Photo by Charles C. Pierce)

The Old Customhouse immediately beside the Pacific Grove Extension track, c. 1900.
The importance of the stop aside, the customhouse itself was one of the most important places in California's history. The so-named structure was built by the Mexican government in 1827 beside the Port of Monterey and just below the presidio. It was a Spanish colonial adobe structure with two square two-story turrets at the ends of a long single-story hall. Balconies at the ends and alongside the ocean-side of the building gave wide views of the port and the Monterey Bay. For 19 years, the customhouse served as the primary import station for Alta California, where customs duties were collected by foreign ships trading on Mexican soil. Thomas O. Larkin expanded and improved the structure in 1841 to a state that roughly corresponds to its look in the photograph above, replacing adobe walls with wood paneling. The site's most famous event occurred on 7 July 1846, when Commodore John Drake Sloat lowered the Mexican flag and replaced it with the United States' stars-and-stripes, thereby declaring California a territory of the United States of America. Since Monterey was the capital of the Mexican state at that time, the customhouse represented one of its primary governmental centers.

The customhouse c. 1890 with Captain Thomas G. Lambert and his wife, the residents of the building
from 1868 to the mid-1890s. (Aztec Club)
The customhouse in 1902, with streetcar tracks in the foreground.
The U.S. government took possession of the building and continued to use it until 1868. For the next 25 years it became a private residence until becoming abandoned in the early 1890s. The structure began to deteriorate but the appearance of the adjacent railroad tracks in 1889 may have prompted the structure's reevaluation. Indeed, naming the Fisherman's Wharf stop after the structure alone may have been an act of recognition that this building was important. What the stop was used for, if anything, remains a mystery. Whether it was primarily a freight stop for the wharf and its patrons, or a stop to access the downtown area, it never became popular. The stop disappeared by 1898. However, the structure attracted the interest of locals who wished to improve the waterfront and restore historical structures.

Southern Pacific special X2581 running beside the Old Customhouse on 22 July 1951. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Abandoned and increasingly dilapidated, the customhouse underwent a long-overdue restoration by the the Native Sons of the Golden West at the turn of the century. In 1901, the state commissioned a broad restoration project to reclaim deteriorating historic structures across California. The restoration of the Old Customhouse, as arguably the most important such structure in the state, was completed in 1917. In 1929, it became the first California State Historical Landmark, although it did not receive a plaque until 1 June 1932. In 1930, the State Division of Beaches and Parks took over the property and opened it to the public. The structure still stands immediately beside the former railroad right-of-way, a part of the Monterey State Historic Park established in 1970 (the building itself became a national landmark in 1960). When open, the customhouse is the home to the park's museum and administrative office.

Official Railroad Information:
From late 1889 to roughly 1895 the stop was located between Monterey and Hoffman Avenue, approximately 126 miles from San Francisco via Castoville, Pajaro, Gilroy, and San José. Passenger service to the station disappeared in 1891, after which the stop probably went into permanent disuse.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
The Old Customhouse today. (Ezio Armando/Flickr)
36.603˚N, 121.893˚W

The site of Custom House is located on the oceanside of the Old Customhouse along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, which marks the path of the old railroad right-of-way. The station site itself was probably immediately at the base of Fisherman's Wharf, on the northern edge of the customhouse. Since there was probably never any structures associated with the stop, nothing remains of the stop to be seen today.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, August 7, 2015


Map of the Monterey station and yard, 1913. (USGS)
The city of Monterey was not always the bustling hub of tourism it is today, but it always has been an important part of California's Central Coast. Discovered by Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602 and founded in 1769 by Gaspar de Portolà, the city served as the capital of Alta California from almost the beginning. The name probably derives from the city of Monterrey in Nuevo Léon, México, which itself was named after Our Lady of Monte Rey, the mountain in question being named after Saint Louis IX of France (San Luis Rey de Francia). Francisco priest Junípero Serra established a permanent settlement there the following year within the bounds of the Presidio of Monterey. In 1777, the city became the capital of all of California (Baja and Alta) and remained that way until Alta California was ceded to the United States. On July 7, 1846, the US flag was raised over the custom house and the city's history as a part of the United States began.

Unlike many other places in California, Monterey actually lost some of its prominence post-annexation. The city ceased to be the capital of California, replaced in quick succession by San José and Benicia before finally settling permanently at Sacramento. The town remained relatively small and isolated, with its fishing industry providing its primary income. Numerous piers and wharves pierced the adjacent Monterey Bay, supplying shipping and fishing services. It was beside these that the railroad first established itself in Monterey.

The narrow-gauged Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad first entered the scene in 1874, cruising in a fairly direct path from Salinas. It allowed local farmers, fishermen, whalers, and other merchants to finally get their products quickly to market via the Southern Pacific Railroad mainline in Salinas. Conveniently, the arrangement worked so well that the Southern Pacific purchased a bankrupted Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad in 1880, soon realigning the branch line from Salinas to a junction at Castroville.

The original Monterey Station depot building with adjacent freight warehouse, c. 1890.
The railroad tracks ran directly alongside the shore just in front of the entrance to what is today Fisherman's Wharf and Municipal Wharf #2. While no tracks ran down the short wharf, a relatively large freight yard was built that stretched along five block-lengths of city streets. A siding ran the length of this area while additional short sidings and spurs supported the station. Wharf #2 at that time was the Pacific Steamship Company pier, much like Gharky's Wharf in Santa Cruz, and it catered to steamships that travelled up and down the coast. The heart of the fishing industry was slightly to the east of the station in a district that today is known as Cannery Row. It was there that cargos were provisionally loaded onto waiting box cars to be organized at the Monterey depot (in later years, they would be packed and loaded for shipment on-site behind the canneries). The Union Ice Company kept an ice house between the pier and the station for use by refrigerator cars.

Men returning home from World War I, c. 1919. (The Wharf Marketplace)

For many years, the Southern Pacific kept the original simple depot structure of the M&SVRR. It was composed of a single rectangular shack with a few windows and a few doors cushioned between the mainline track and its siding. On the platform behind the station, the freight depot stood, a windowless wood-paneled barn. Neither were impressive so it was not surprising that the Southern Pacific sought to replace them with one of their cookie-cutter standard-guage structures. The new building included telegraph services, a passenger and freight office, and an on-site agent available any time. The structure grew, too. By 1940, it had expanded into quite an impressive facility. One third of the building was a two-story agent station, ticket office, telephone and telegraph office, and living quarters. The remaining two-thirds were used for freight storage and supplies.

Monterey Depot on a busy day in April 1940. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)

In the 1910s, the fishing industry exploded in growth and dozens of canneries opened along the railroad right-of-way between Monterey Station and Pacific Grove. Monterey Station became a major stop along the line, but freight stops sprang up along the branch to cater to the individual canneries, with the largest freight yard established in Pacific Grove, where the trains could be turned around. Thus, Monterey was never the largest freight yard on the line nor did it have the largest yard space. Its spurs and sidings fluctuated from as little as 650-feet of spur space (in addition to its siding) in 1907 to over 6,000 feet in 1937.

A passenger train waiting outside Monterey Depot, c. 1950s. (Dave Hambleton)
World War II destroyed the tourism industry in Monterey, with the Hotel Del Monte purchased by the US Navy, and the fishing business ended suddenly at the same time when the sardine schools disappeared from overfishing. In response, the railroad depot was partially demolished with the two-story section removed entirely leaving only the much smaller, single-story portion remaining. A patio was added along the track side of the building to shelter waiting passengers. This small station no longer included an on-site resident and seems to have been mostly used for storage, although a small agency office was maintained at least some of the time.

Monterey Depot, much reduced in importance exactly a decade later, April 1950. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Passenger service along the Monterey Branch had been dwindling since 1941 but it finally ended in April 1971 when the last Del Monte train passed beside Monterey station. Freight services, continued for another seven years, ending at last in 1978 when the branch was reduced to Seaside. Tracks still pass beside the station today, but they are paved over by the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail. The depot building remains behind, a railroad station miles away from the nearest track. For many years it was abandoned and decaying, but it has recently been repurposed by The Wharf Marketplace as a permanent farmers' market.

Official Railroad Information:
Monterey Station beside the mainline and a spur in 1974. (Dick Leonhardt)
The Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad established the first station at the base of the Pacific Steamship Company pier in 1874. This structure was replaced in the 1880s after the Southern Pacific Railroad purchased the line. By 1899, the station included telegraph service, a freight and passenger office, an A-class freight platform, and a 13-car (650-foot) spur. The spur was reduced throughout the early 1900s but the total yard trackage increased to 5,500 feet by 1930. At this time, the station was located 125.7 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Gilroy, and San José. The maximum size of the trackage was 6,100 feet reached in 1937 before the size began to shrink. In 1963, the yard size was down to 1,470 feet of trackage and it remained this size until the station closed in 1978. Passenger service had ended in 1971.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.60˚N, 121.89˚W

Monterey Depot still stands today at the base of Monterey Municipal Wharf #2 (with Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse at its base) and beside the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail. It serves as the home of The Wharf Marketplace and is accessible during normal business hours.

Citations & Credits:
• "The Wharf Marketplace".