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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, November 7, 2014

Opal

At the southern end of 47th Avenue near the cliffs overlooking old town Capitola, the Santa Cruz Railroad once again met up with the Pacific Ocean. Since the Santa Cruz Main Beach, it had slowly been moving inland, but the cove created by Soquel Creek eroded the land away, returning the train to the cliffside. How the area got the name "Opal" is unknown, though it seems to have come from the railroad.

A USGS Map from 1912 showing Opal at the bottom-left corner.
The track coming from the bottom is the Union Traction Company
trolley line from Santa Cruz.
Little information is available regarding this station or the nearby housing subdivision, though the railroad station came first, installed by the Southern Pacific Railroad at the bottom of 47th Avenue at its junction with Portola Drive around 1901. The station was 4.1 miles east of Santa Cruz and 116.4 miles south of San Francisco via Parajo Junction. Opal provided access for the railroad to the freight pier and Capitola. The sidings and spurs at Opal were extensive, measuring 4,943 feet—nearly a mile. A heavy industrial yard was located at the top of the cliffs to the north of the tracks, with at least three long spurs running along side the tracks. This yard was maintained by Frederick A. Hihn's Loma Prieta Lumber Company where it kept a large lumberyard, planing mill, and hay barn. The spurs were extended by 400 feet in 1912. A freight station and a supply shed were both located along the northernmost spur. The stop was removed from timetables in 1931. For many years, Opal was the only formal stop between Santa Cruz and Capitola, with Seabright, Twin Lakes, and Del Mar only footnoted seasonal flag-stops. Opal was a freight-only stop with no flag service ever noted, thus passengers could not use the stop, even after the nearby residential subdivision was installed.

The residential subdivision was developed north of the switch after World War I in July 1923 under the direction of Kathryn McGeoghegan, widow of Eulice Hihn. McGeoghegan later lost the property in a foreclosure to Frank Blake in 1931. Blake sold 40 acres to Harry McBain in 1936 and he chose to use the name of the old railroad stop as an impetus to nreame all the streets of the neighborhood after precious gems. Thus, Crystal Street, Emerald Street, Garnet Street, Jewel Street, Opal Street, Ruby Street, Topaz Street, Jade Street, and Diamond Street all create what locals refer to as the "Jewel Box". The original subdivision was between 45th and 49th Avenues, but expansions to the neighborhood after World War II continued the themed-naming. The freight yard was abandoned in the 1930s but buildings from it may have contributed to some of the homes in the Jewel Box.

Today, Jade Street Park sits atop the old Opal freight yard, with the Capitola Community Center nearby, even though the subdivision is technically a part of the City of Santa Cruz. The streets are still named for precious jewels and the tracks still pass to the south of the subdivision, but trains no longer stop there, at least not currently. Santa Cruz County owns the right-of-way now and may someday reinstate a stop in the area, though probably not at the park.

Citations:
  • Donald Clark, Place Names of Santa Cruz County (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2002).
  • Carolyn Swift. Historic Context Statement for the City of Capitola. Capitola, CA: Capitola Community Development Department, 2004.

7 comments:

  1. you mean city of Capitola

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    1. Nope, I mean Santa Cruz. Legally, the Jewel Box is a part of the City of Santa Cruz despite being further west than much of Capitola.

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  2. https://www.propertyinsantacruz.com/opal-cliffs-real-estate.php

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  3. Hi Derek, great website. I found a siding (on google maps) in Capitola near opal that I couldn't find any mention of here, and I was wondering if you knew anything about it. It is very short, it crosses under a chain link gate and terminates in a paved area. It is right across from 1115 Thompson Ave, Santa Cruz, 95062.

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    1. Ethan, that is a spur that was until recently used by the lumber store across Thompson Avenue. I do have it included on my map (accessible from the tab at the top of the page) but I have not written an article on the stop yet. I remember seeing a lumber train parked there back in 2010, so it has only been out of use for a short time. It's actually the only fully-intact spur between Santa Cruz and Watsonville that I know of!

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  4. Thanks for the info. Is there any freight traffic at all on the Santa Cruz line these days?

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    1. Just a little bit in Watsonville. There is currently a washout at the 5 mile mark so no traffic can go past that point until it is repaired. The primary customer is Big Creek Lumber.

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