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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Watsonville Junction Spurs

The freight yard that formed just south of the town of Pajaro along the Monterey County side of the Pajaro River became over time a major hub for local freight shippers. The Santa Cruz Railroad built its original narrow-gauged switching yard at this site around 1873, but unfortunately no maps or photographs of the yard exist from this time. Indeed, the first available map of the yard does not appear until 1892 in a Sanborn Fire Insurance map. This is nine after the Santa Cruz Railroad tracks were standard-gauged and eleven since the Southern Pacific took over the fledgling company. In those early years, there was no wye or turntable at the yard, meaning that all rail traffic coming from Santa Cruz County headed toward San Francisco or was switched at the small yard. From the mid-1880s, the Loma Prieta Milling & Lumber Company (later just Loma Prieta Lumber Company) installed a large lumber yard directly in the middle of the yard. Their planning mill sat on the eastern end while the stack of lumber ran along two spurs that headed eastbound, flanking the Santa Cruz Branch mainline. The Loma Prieta yard relocated to Beach Road in Watsonville in the late 1890s and the Southern Pacific completed the wye that had been left undone two decades earlier. No other businesses moved into the centre of the yard again. Over time, the number of sidings and spurs grew drastically, with nine mainline and siding tracks in 1920 reaching a maximum extent of sixteen parallel tracks in 1973. Only one business appears to have operated within these yard limits by 1973: Watkins, which sat on the west side beside Salinas Road near the last site of the Watsonville Junction passenger depot.

Jackson and Besse & Sill grain warehouses between Railroad Ave and the freight yard, 1892. [UCSC Digital Collections]
Further to the east, beyond the merger of the tracks, two patrons known only as Jackson's grain warehouse and Besse & Sill's grain warehouse and potato bin (leased by the Southern Pacific) occupied space beyond the passenger and freight depots in 1892. The track that ran to the northern lumber spur ran directly in front of these structures, while two more tracks, which merged to form the Coast Division mainline, paralleled that spur track. These all occupied what is today the stretch of Railroad Avenue between Kents Court and Waters Lane. By 1902, Henry E. West used both structures as grain warehouses, with the potato bin now a produce bin (still leased from SP). By 1911, both of these would be taken over by Southern Pacific for storage purposes and they were demolished in the mid-1910s when the yard was expanded. This business has since disappeared, although the track remains in place.

SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading Company complex (formerly Smuckers) beside the freight yard, c. 2011.
In 1902, a new spur appeared on the northern edge of the yard, breaking off from the Santa Cruz Branch. This catered to Unglish Bros. fruit driers which operated its cannery between this track and Railroad Avenue, just west of modern day Kents Court. This cannery was also removed in the mid-1910s when the yard was expanded and it relocated to a location on Main Street in Watsonville away from the tracks. In 1918, Unglish Bros. was labeled as the largest fruit dryer in the world. What occupied the five spurs that were added to this area after 1935 is unknown, but all were vacant by the time the Southern Pacific Railroad produced its 1973 SPINS map of the freight yard. However, a sixth spur which still crosses over Railroad Avenue today near Kents Court was still active by that time. In 1973, it catered to the small California Farm Products warehouse, as well as the much larger J.M. Smucker Company facility. Although the track has been paved over and is currently inoperable, it remains in place running the length of the warehouse which sits on the north side of Railroad Avenue. Smuckers closed in 2004 and now the entire complex is occupied by SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading Company. SunRidge is an exporter of health foods that has operated since the mid-1970s, while Falcon Trading Co., a subsidiary of SunRidge, was founded in 1977 and specialises in trail mixes.

Western Fruit Evaporating Co. advertisement selling Matiasevich apples.
Aerial photograph of the Watsonville Junction freight yard, 1935.
[UC Santa Cruz Library Aerial Photograph collection]
Pajaro Station became Watsonville Junction in 1913, but the site was still in its infancy. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the local agricultural businesses sprang to life, and by 1973, an entirely new freight area had opened up, cradled between Marinovich Avenue on the east and Salinas (originally Monterey) Road [G12] on the west. As early as 1931, one long spur curved alongside Monterey Road and forked at the end, but over time it developed into around seven separate spurs branching from a root and catering to a number of businesses. Along the eastern side, the railroad catered to, via four spurs, the Marinovich and Matiasevich companies, both derived from local Croatian fruit packing families. Marinovich Cold Storage was founded in 1946 by J. G. Marinovich and continues to exist in the area, although the original owners have since sold it. On the western side, via five spurs, the railroad catered to Atlantic Richfield Oil Company (ARCO) and Smuckers (on the same spur), the Swiss chocolate firm Nestle, and J.J. Crosetti, an Italian lettuce grower who purchased the Levy-Zentner company in 1935 and turned it into a vegetable wholesaler. His son, J.J. Jr., eventually merged his company into California Giant Berry Farms, which he helped found. He died in 2015.

Today, the track still passes through this entire two blocks of packing houses but most of the businesses have changed hands. The owners of the large Marinovich facility cannot be determined but Matiasevich is now owned by Southern California Seafood, although they have paved over most of the track by this point to create Matiasevich Lane. On the west side of the block, SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading own the former Richfield Oil and Smuckers site; the Monterey County Agricultural Office owns part of the Nestle facility, although it is not clear who owns the other half; the Crosetti lot is now occupied by Dibwani Motors, a new car dealership. Of the spurs in this area, only the former Matiasevich spurs still remain in place, which suggest it was the last firm to cease using the track in the area. Although the main spur through this area remains in place, it does not appear to be used at present.

Official Railroad Information:
Due to their nature as freight yards, only the 1973 SPINS chart shows the detail for this area in any official capacity. Other SPINS exist but are not currently accessible to this historian.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
From 36.899˚N, 121.746˚W to 36.897˚N, 121.741˚W

Railroad Avenue, Lewis Road, and Salinas Road are publicly accessible and views of the entire freight yard can be seen from anywhere along them. Likewise, cars may drive down Marinovich Avenue and Matiasevich Lanes, although access to the properties themselves are only with permission from the owners.

Citations & Credits:
  • Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1892-1920. University of California, Santa Cruz Digital Map Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company, SPINS, 1973. California State Railroad Museum collection.
  • University of California, Santa Cruz, Aerial Photograph Collection.

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