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:


  1. Excellent. More history to enjoy in preparation for our bike tour along the rail trail.

  2. The "Fine Art America" photo of 1935 (although I feel it might be a little later, like 1937 or 1938; someone who can identify automobile styles will know) shows a spur, a refrigerator railroad car, and a loading platform. The spur looks like it might be joined to the main track on the eastern end, as the 1940 Don Ross photo shows some sloping asphalt with an area for loading trucks and the rails disappearing before extending west. The loading dock looks like the company, and not the railroad, built a ramp from some doorway that was simply cut into the building for convenience.

    The roads and parking lots through here were always a mess until the tunnel was built (around 1966); I remember having to go around an old wooden warehouse south of the Custom House just to make it to Del Monte Avenue.

    1. I was wrong about the spur, it joins the main track on the western end; I saw it perfectly in a 1923 aerial photo that I found in a book. In any case, three railcars long and it fouled the driveway.

  3. I'm looking at the 1910 Sanborn map and I see the cannery's wharf, a fish cutting room, a doorway leading into a steam drying room, next we have the cannery, and over by the loading docks it looks like a 'box nailing' room. The door to the railroad car looks more substantial than I thought, sliding out of the way for a heavy amount of traffic, but really not very big for the overall size of the building.

  4. I think Light House (or Lighthouse) Road may have been more extensive than you give it credit for. It connected (Old) Monterey with New Monterey and Pacific Grove, and while it wasn't exactly bursting with culture, it did have extensive properties at that time owned by Milton Little and his son-in-law, Harry Greene. (Greene built a mansion there in 1886-87 at what is now 361 Lighthouse Ave.) More at and


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