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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:

1 comment:

  1. The caboose and mail car may be part of a collection that R.A.O'Kane assembled around 1966 as an attempt to start a tourist railroad. Closer to Prescott Avenue than Hoffman, this all sat alongside 'Al Capone's Warehouse' Restaurant located inside that red brick building. Most impressive was the old steam locomotive that slowly rusted in a partly disassembled state. This was Pickering Lumber Corporation #1, a 3-truck Heisler that was built in 1913, retired in 1951, acquired by the Pacific Locomotive Association in 1975 from Mr. O'Kane, and moved up to Fremont. In 2009 the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad made a trade for it, and flat-bedded it up to Tillamook, Oregon where it now is being restored. It had nothing to do with Monterey, having spent most of its time in Standard (California), but from 1966-1975 it was a most interesting sight.

    The 'Warehouse' Restaurant was a fun place to eat spaghetti, sit in thematic décor, and watch old silent movies. And, of course, Barbara Kelly used to sing down there (some audio of her performances can be found online, like "House of the Rising Sun," if one searches for Barbara Kelly and the Warehousemen), until she was murdered.

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