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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, February 15, 2013

Los Gatos Station & Depot

The 1925 update of the original 1878 passenger depot at Los Gatos.
(Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
The South Pacific Coast Railroad's venture over the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1878 set many precedents and established many towns. On the northern edge of the mountains, most of the towns already existed to some degree, but the railroad brought life to them in new and unexpected ways. This was no more true than for the small logging village of Los Gatos, where the SPCRR established their primary northern station before the ascent into the hills. Located just 55 miles south of San Francisco via Alameda Point, the town thrived under the influence of the railroad.

Los Gatos Hotel in 1890. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
Painting of the original pre-1840 adobe house.
(Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
The town of Los Gatos began many years earlier as a Mexican rancho. Founded in 1840 as El Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos (Corner of the Cats), the area was known for its high quantities of bobcats and mountain lions. The first adobe structure in the area was built prior to this time somewhere within today's Vasona Park. José Hernandez and his nine sons owned and lived on the property into American times.


Modern Los Gatos dates to 1854 under the direction of James Alexander Forbes, who built a flour mill along Los Gatos Creek. Around this small mill, the town began to grow. In fact, a spur to the mill in 1878 would help make flour one of the town's earliest rail exports. In 1861, John W. Lyndon, began buying land across the creek from Forbes. His "10 Mile House" became the center of the town and was renamed the Hotel Los Gatos when the South Pacific Coast moved it across the street, to the corner of Main St. and Santa Cruz Ave. to allow the erection of the town's train station. When that building burned down in 1898, the impressive Hotel Lyndon replaced it and stood until 1963. Other the years, Lyndon owned and financed many other buildings in the growing town.

Hotel Lyndon in the 1930s with multiple rows of tracks visible in the foreground. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
Benjamin Harrison speaking at Los Gatos, 1891.
(Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
With the completion of the Mountain Route in 1880, Los Gatos became connected to a thriving freight and passenger network, with all sorts of goods passing through the town including fruits, vegetables, and wood. Tourists flocked to the growing town, as well. President Benjamin Harrison stopped by in the town on May 1, 1891, while on a rail tour of California. Theodore Roosevelt later followed the same route in 1903. The 1899 Station Book states that Los Gatos supported a telegraph agency office, an "A" class freight station, and a platform to the left of the tracks as heading from the north. Although Los Gatos itself was not a freight-heavy station, it often served as a holding hard for materials passing in both directions down the line, and there were numerous small businesses located in the town wishing to use the line as a freight service.

Broad gauging of the line began in 1899 and reached Los Gatos the next spring. The 1906 Earthquake would eventually force the completion of the broad gauging over the mountain, but with a three-year delay. For many years, Los Gatos maintained a third rail on their track to support traffic from Santa Cruz, but it is unknown when that rail was finally removed.

A celebration on April 15, 1900, for the arrival of the first standard gauge train. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
In the early 1900s, Los Gatos also sported a single trolley line through the middle of town which then headed north to Saratoga. The trolley lasted until at least the late 1910s and possibly later.

Postcard of the Los Gatos-Saratoga Interurban Electric Railroad (Trolley). (Courtesy Santa Clara Public Library)
Unlike the rest of the Mountain Route, passenger service continued after the line closed in 1940. Saturday service was the first to end in 1953 and the remaining passenger service ended in 1959. Freight service ended slightly before 1959 or possibly earlier since the line terminated before Lexington Reservoir, which opened in 1952, thereby ending any major freight operations in the area. From the February 2009 Ferroequinologist (courtesy Duncan Nanney): 
On Sunday, January 25, 1959, the Central Coast Railway Club and the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce combined to sponsor a round trip excursion from Los Gatos to the San Jose depot and back.  The event was marked by a spike pulling ceremony, marking the end of the line that originally extended over the mountains to Santa Cruz.
The depot building itself, now in its fourth major remodel, was demolished in 1964 and turned into Los Gatos Town Plaza Park. It has been suggested that the line be rebuilt and reopened to Light Rail service, but the costs would be high for relatively low usage.

The Los Gatos Depot as it is demolished, 1964. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
For those wishing to follow the railroad right-of-way from Los Gatos Station north, the path is very straightforward. Heading from the Plaza, north, there is an almost unobstructed path through parking lots to Vasona Park. Just before Andrews Street, a large building finally blocks the path, and on the opposite side, Industrial Way begins. This entire path through the parking lots and industrial way is the right-of-way. At University Ave, the tracks crossed the road and paralleled University on the right within Vasona Park (and its reservoir). It continued to follow University until the road dead-ends at Lark Ave., at a site briefly known as Bulwer. The right-of-way continued until it meets the existing tracks just beside Winchester Boulevard at a site known once as Vasona Junction.

The following are other photographs of Los Gatos Station and its surrounding tracks:
Los Gatos Depot in 1882 during South Pacific Coast days. The station house, at left, is the original structure before it
underwent the first of its three remodels. (Courtesy Bill Wulf)
Los Gatos Depot in 1935 with men loading telephone poles. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
Box cars parked on a spur at a nearby cannery (Courtesy Bill Wulf) 
Los Gatos Depot in 1910. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
A Southern Pacific train awaiting a bus from Santa Cruz at the now end-of-track at Los Gatos in 1941, with the Mountain Route having closed at the beginning of the previous year. (Courtesy Bruce MacGregor)
A train awaiting passengers at Los Gatos Station, 1947. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
The last Saturday service train to Los Gatos, 1953. Weekday commuter service continued until 1959,
at which point traffic was routed north from Vasona Station. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
Citations:

  • Edward Kelley, Images of Rail Railroads of Los Gatos (Arcadia Publishing 2006).
  • Los Gatos Public Library
  • Southern Pacific System: List of Officers, Agencies and Stations, 1899.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Derek!

    Regarding this last photo, the train is aimed
    towards the end of track, not outbound towards
    San Jose. Secondly, the line between Los Gatos
    and Vasona and the passenger trains which ran on
    it were not ended until 1959. Short mention of
    this is in A CENTURY OF SOUTHERN PACIFIC STEAM
    LOCOMOTIVES on page 418.

    ReplyDelete