Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pacific Grove

Sanborn map of Pacific Grove, showing the freight yard and station, 1905.
Pacific Grove is the end of the Monterey Peninsula, a jetty of rock battered to pieces by the relentless Pacific Ocean. Its shoreline is rugged, filled with tide pools and seaweed and, with the exception of a few select beaches, is generally inhospitable. However, it is also beautiful. The Native Americans thrived off this point until the Spanish rounded them up and banished them to nearby Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Few populated the point for the next fifty years until Chinese populations began settling there in the 1850s. They were eventually forced to relocate when white settlers moved to the Pacific Grove area in the 1870s. Until that time, the Pacific Grove interior was mostly used as a large cattle pasture.

The entrance to Pacific Grove, c. 1900. (Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Research Library)
In 1875, a group of Methodist church leaders leased the point from David Jacks on behalf of the newly-formed Pacific Grove Retreat Association. In 1880, Jacks sold the property to the Pacific Improvement Company, the land-owning subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This purchase hinted at a new direction for Pacific Grove. The railroad company had just recently purchased, replaced, and expanded the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad right-of-way which ran initially from Salinas and, under SP-control, from Castroville. Although the line ended at Monterey Station, near Fishermen's Wharf, the fact that the railroad had purchased the entirety of the point suggested big things were in store for the future. Thos things included the erection of the Hotel Del Monte, the creation of 17-Mile Drive, which circumnavigated Pacific Grove, and the eventual extension of a railroad line to Carmel, passing directly through Pacific Grove.

The Pacific Grove freight yard with the remains of the Bodfish Dairy at the top right (in 1906,  a baseball diamond). The
depot itself is obscured at the far right. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company piles are in the foreground. (Pat Hathaway)
The latter occurred in 1889, when the line reached Pacific Grove on August 1 of that year, thereby prompting regularly-scheduled passenger and freight service to the point. The line was extended to Lake Majella, just to the south of Pacific Grove, but it never continued to Carmel. Pacific Grove Station was built slightly outside of town along the coast near Lovers Point. The Bodfish Dairy was located immediately beside it and used the station to export cattle and dairy products to the markets of San Francisco. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company, co-owned by Frederick Hihn, operated a large freight yard at the station opposite the depot and this enterprise, as well as the sand quarry at Lake Majella, provided the primary income and impetus for the extension track. To support the busy branch line and the local trains, a small roundhouse was added at Pacific Grove beside a turntable. Bertha G. Fox was hired as the first stationmaster of the depot. In 1892, passenger service became more formalised with regular excursion trains running each weekend year-round and thrice-daily local trains running between Lake Majella and Castroville. The small staff of the railroad mostly lived in homes within walking distance of the station and a second commercial district in Pacific Grove opened on the adjacent streets benefiting from the nearby rail traffic and the tourists enjoying the bathhouse at Lovers Point.

Pacific Grove station on a moderately busy day, c. 1905. (Pat Hathaway)
In its heyday, around 1905, the station consisted of the mainline and three long sidings, with a crossover between two of them directly across from the depot. The lumber yard sat beside the northern siding, while the depot sat along the southern siding along Briggs Avenue. The immediate yard limits began on the west side of 17th Avenue (now Ocean View Boulevard). The depot structure itself was a single-story, Victorian-style station that was rather unique in style compared to other Southern Pacific structures. While it included the characteristic bay windows and long freight annex like the others, this station had a much higher peaked roof as well as many more windows than was common among SP depots. An impressive two-line station sign also sat above the ticket window's eaves in contrast to the usual single-line sign, like what sat at the end of the depot's roof. A freight platform was installed adjoining the freight warehouse with the closest track running up directly beside it. In later years, the peaked roof lost some of its adornments but remain conspicuously taller than most other single-story stations.

The lightly-used depot on July 14, 1947. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Passenger service to Pacific Grove began to suffer after World War II, when the incomes of war veterans and their spouses made it easier to purchase automobiles and plane flights. Reflecting this trend, the depot shut its doors on September 16, 1957. Five years later, on July 12, 1962, the last scheduled passenger train departed Pacific Grove on a heading for Castroville. From this point forward, Pacific Grove was a freight-only stop and most of its services ended. The depot structure itself caught on fire in July 1962 while it was being dismantled by the Southern Pacific. The fire formally allowed for the structure to be condemned and the remainder was fired a second time as a part of a fire-prevention training exercise by the Pacific Grove Fire Department. Many of the tracks were pulled at this time, although one was left behind.

The depot after undergoing minor renovations, April 2, 1950. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
In 1962, the Monarch Pines Homeowners Association established a rather large mobile home park atop the majority of the former railroad freight yard. Although a single track remained behind for another 16 years, the stop ceased functioning in any capacity at this time, lacking anything other than a station sign. When the railroad finally left in 1978, the remaining track was paved over and still remains there today beneath the asphalt. Railroad service has never since been extended to Pacific Grove and is unlikely to be extended again in the future. By following the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail to Lovers Point, the unnamed road that continues marks the site of the station yard. The entire area is now a residential community, with the homes between Mermaid Avenue and Briggs Avenue all erected in the years since the stop was removed. The right-of-way is still owned by the Union Pacific Railroad (successor to SP), and the freight yard is now a private development.

Official Railroad Information:
Pacific Grove Depot, April 28, 1940. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Pacific Grove first became a station in August 1889 when the Pacific Grove Extension of the Monterey Branch was constructed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The station was located 128.3 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Pajaro, Gilroy, and San José. It was also 1.7 miles from the Lake Majella end-of-track. In 1899, the station had full telegraph and telephone services, as well as a passenger and freight agent, a class-A platform, and a stock yard chute for the nearby dairy. The chute was removed in 1908. In 1928, the station featured full freight and passenger services as well as an extensive pair of sidings, one running 26-carlengths (~1,300 feet) and the other 19 (~950 feet). At this time, the station had a bulletin board, official clock, a water tower, fuel for the engines, a turntable, and a phone (BKWFTP). By 1937, oil replaced the more generic fuel at the station. Around 1940, a train order registry replaced the traditional bulletin board. Service to the station declined in the early 1950s to a point where the train order registry was no longer necessary, while the locomotives no longer required on-site fuel services either. Finally, in the early 1960s, everything at the station disappeared from employee timetables except for the telephone. Passenger service formally ended on July 1, 1961. Freight services at the station formally ended in late 1978 after which the line itself was abandoned.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
A train at Pacific Grove station, 1937. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
36.626˚N, 121.920˚W

The site of Pacific Grove Station is everything between Ocean View Boulevard and Del Monte Boulevard along the unnamed residential access road which acts as the trunk of the Monarch Pines Mobile Home Park. The depot site itself is to the left of Briggs Avenue on the south side as it crosses this road. All the area is now private residences and trespassing is prohibited, although the streets can be freely accessed.

Citations & Credits:
  • Beebe, Lucius. The Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific Railroads.
  • Seavey, Kent. Images of America: Pacific Grove


  1. Wonderful. Just returned from a cycling trip along this route. Nice to know what had been there.

    1. Nice to see the blog growing, here are a few points of correction:

      1. The Ohlone Indians that were prominent around the Monterey peninsula were not "rounded up and banished", this misinterpretation was taken from the website:

      The Spanish explorers and missionaries that came to the Monterey peninsula had a purpose of introducing Christian religion to the native people.

      2. The Chinese never moved to Monterey where the fishing industry needed them.
      They instead settled in Pacific Grove out of necessity, all other fisherman of different nationalities (Italians, Portuguese, Greek...) forced them out of the area. The Chinese fisherman became adept at squid fishing, doing so at night when most other fishermen tied up their boats for the night.

      3. It was called the Hotel Del Monte, it was never the Del Monte Hotel.

      4. The Pacific Grove depot was a non-standard design on the railroad. The SP commonly used a standard design (26 total depot plans) for a depot depending on the size of the town and freight/passenger needs. Pacific Grove was a non-standard design similar to the Chico depot. The P.G. depot closed its doors on Monday, September 16, 1957. It caught fire on July 12, 1962.

      I have been writing an extensive history of the Monterey branch and its trains for a book. This will cover the lines history, the predecessor Monterey & Salinas Valley Rail Road, as well as depots and current status of the line.

    2. Thank you, Dave. I've corrected the latter three points somewhat, noting that the Chinese only moved when white settlers came into the area, that it is the Hotel Del Monte (I don't know why I switched that around!), and fixed the dates for the depot (my sources were wrong). I didn't get the Ohlone information from but rather other histories I have read concerning the Native American-Franciscan relationship, multiple academic articles on the subject, and my own experience volunteering at a dig site at Mission San Diego. I will retain my interpretation that the AmerIndians were "rounded up and banished". Perhaps "imprisoned" is a better term. I have never been a supporter of benevolent evangelism and what the Franciscans practiced was not benevolent, it was aggressive submission to the Catholic faith.

      Nonetheless, your input and corrections are greatly appreciated and encouraged.

    3. The 2913, pulling the freight in the 1937 Whittaker photo, is the same 'twelve-wheeler' that pulled the "last train out of Boulder Creek" in 1934 (see the BC page). Forty-foot covered hoppers were the usual for Lake Majella, but they hadn't been designed yet, apparently. I think that I once read a depression era hobo's account of Santa Cruz operations using these same earlier cars; workers would have to stuff rags into the undercarriage to stop gravel leaks.

  2. Thank you for the memories! My mother commuted on the Del Monte Express to Oakland to visit her sister and my father likewise for business in the City. Sometime in the 1960's, the Monterey Airport offered more convient service but my grandparents stuck with the "rails" coming all the way in from Carmel Valley. We were "local" just in Monterey.

  3. Derek, not being a railroad expert, I won't pretend to question Rail and Train info, however my family owned the home at 675 Mermaid Avenue that appears in the 1937 photo and I watched the trains from 1933 until 1960 when my part of the family moved up the hill. The windows showing in that photo were my bedroom windows in 1937 and our children's room in the 1950's. I think I can make a correction and maybe add something. First, Briggs Street was south of the depot and was a loop street going around a pair of pine trees that show in the earliest two photos but do not appear in the later photos. Second, The sand from the Asilomar plant was never in covered gondolas in the early days. The three cars shown in the 1937 photo are what we called "sand cars." I don't know how they were filled, but they were emptied by doors all along both sides of the car. Open gondolas were sometimes used and during wet weather they used box cars with solid wood fences across the open doors about 3-4 feet high to hold in the sand using 1"x 12" planks. Before World War II, the US Calvary loaded their horses from the PG depot using a wide ramp that existed at the East end. The "cattle cars" that they loaded into were only about two feet away from the depot platform which they covered with planks. The property along Mermaid Avenue was all privately owned from about 1928 and was 40 feet deep from Mermaid toward the railroad right of way which might explain why the lumber wasn't stacked all the way to the street in the aerial photo. I'm pretty certain all the Loma Prieta Lumber Co. holdings were on the S.P.R.R. Right of way. The line was three feet behind our house. If I know anything else of value, I'd be glad to respond to queries. As children we knew most of the train crew members by their first names and the freight crews let us ride out to Asilomar and back a few times. Usually the sand trains backed out to Asilomar and I can remember riding in the caboose and blowing the whistle at the cross streets since the engine was at the wrong end of the train. We traveled on the Del Monte often because we had family in "The City" and the San Jose area. We also used the baggage car as our own private post office. When my mother didn't want to walk up to the post office, she would send me around the front of the engine to knock on the baggage car door where I would hand our mail to the baggage clerk. There was also a mail slot in the side of the car for mail that was already stamped. Question, When did the turntable disappear? The round house (not really round) was gone by about 1940. The main reason for my contact is to find who owns the rights to the Wilbur C. Whittaker photos. I would like to get some better quality copies if they are available.
    I'm gad I found your site.

    Jerry Hurlbert


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