Friday, October 2, 2015

Lake Majella

The Lake Majella "V" that straddled the small collection yard for the quarry.
Source: Southern Pacific Railroad assessor's map, noting stations and tracks.
At the lonely end of the Pacific Grove Extension which lengthened the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch sat Lake Majella Station. The purpose of the extension was always to reach the rich glass sands of Lake Majella, although the railroad advertised that it intended to connect Carmel to its railroad network. This latter feat was never accomplished and so the tracks ended in the bogs and 400-foot-high sand dunes of the tidal swamp that sat beside Moss Bay.

The main industry at Lake Majella was high-grade glass-quality quartz crystals, i.e., beach sand. This part of the Monterey Peninsula was blessed with sand dunes and those dunes located immediately around the tidal lake were composed entirely of this valuable product. Sand was processed at an on-site quarry where it was washed, dried, and bagged. The bags were then loaded into waiting freight cars that parked upon the two spurs, both of which acted as the end-of-track. The tracks extended deep into the area to an unrecorded terminus. In later years, bulldozers pushed the sand into hoppers which fed conveyor belts which then sent the sand to the processing plant. It was an efficient system where Southern Pacific boxcars waited beside the main processing center to export fully-processed product. Over the years, the sand was exported for sanding the railroad tracks, for use in glass for reconstructing San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, for ceramics used in electrical devices, for roofing paper, for soap, and even to refill beaches elsewhere. In other words, it was a very popular commodity, which is probably why the operation continued until 1978.

The Del Monte sand processing center at Lake Majella, c. 1945. An SP boxcar sits in front of the facility, awaiting its load of sand bags for shipment out. Photograph by Julian P. Graham. (Pebble Beach Company – Lagorio Archives)
Railroad service to Lake Majella was opened around the start of 1890 and some form of sand quarrying would continue at the end-of-track until the truncation of the line to Seaside in 1978. Unsurprisingly, the primary purpose of the stop was for freight, and passenger service was limited to select local passenger trains that  first year. The stop never featured on the Del Monte line or any other seasonal excursion services. Whether there was a passenger shelter at Lake Majella in those first two decades is unknown. The Pacific Improvement Company, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, appears to have operated the sand quarry until around 1906 for use with its railroad grading and track maintenance, but following the San Francisco Earthquake, the quarry was spun-off as a subsidiary, the Del Monte Sand Company.

Lake Majella tracks, showing an otherwise unlisted spur at right beside a hopper, 1949. Photo by Art Lloyd.
1898 Hotel Del Monte map. (Monterey Public Library)
The passenger shelter that was eventually constructed at Lake Majella was of the same style as that at Asilomar, suggesting that both were installed around 1913. Passenger service beyond Pacific Grove was always informal, but the presence of a shelter suggests that there was at least limited use there, probably by the quarry employees and the few locals who lived near there. The shelter was located along the eastern spur near Sunset Drive. It was a + -shaped ("Greek Cross") structure with a square peaked roof upon which the station sign was affixed. Identical shelters in the area were at Asilomar, Brackney, and Newell Junction.

The sand dunes at Moss Beach beside Lake Majella.
Despite the industrial nature of the Lake Majella area, the dunes themselves were considered by many to be quite picturesque and became a popular place for picknickers and artists otherwise spending their days at nearby Asilomar Conference Center. Boating and fishing in Spanish Bay were popular in early years, especially since the scenic Point Piños lighthouse was within sight.  The area was also heavily wooded with pines and cyprus trees originally, although most of that was later logged out. In later years, these dunes would become a rallying call for conservationists critical of the Lake Majella quarry. Their preservation was one of the chief reasons why the sand quarrying operation at Lake Majella finally ended.

Lake Majella before heavy industry and development drained the lake and cleared the forests.
From the 1940s, the Hayward Lumber Company, which still exists at the site of Lake Majella Station, received loads of lumber freight via the railroad. They were the last customers that used the Pacific Grove Extension, receiving goods into early 1979. The abandonment of this section of track was approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission on December 29, 1978. Within a few months, most of the tracks to Seaside were pulled, although some were buried. Lake Majella only briefly was returned to nature. Not long after the closure of the sand quarry, The Inn at Spanish Bay, a part of the Pebble Beach Resorts consortium, was opened as a luxury resort and golf complex. Some of the dunes still sit uncomfortably around Spanish Bay, mostly between the resort and the Asilomar Conference grounds.

Official Railroad Information:
Lake Majella first appeared on Southern Pacific timetables in 1890 at the end of the Pacific Grove Extension.  The station was located 130.0 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Pajaro Junction, Gilroy, and San José, and it was also 0.1 miles from Asilomar. Agency books at the turn of the century listed the station as having a class-A freight platform, which means it also included a spur, but no other services were listed. This situation never changed. The spur was listed initially in the 1920 as a 51-car-length (~2,550 feet) stretch of track, however this listing disappeared in later years, possibly because the switch was more closely located at Asilomar, being just to the south of that stop. Passenger service to the stop continued until around 1940, when the stop became strictly for freight. The stop remained in frequent use until 1978 when the line was truncated to Seaside.

The sand quarry at Lake Majella, c. 1960. Photo by Pat Hathaway. (Fine Art America)
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.616˚N, 121.934˚W

The site of Asilomar Station is now Hayward Lumber off of Sunset Drive. Lake Majella itself is now the Inn and Links at Spanish Bay resort, with the core hub of activity located roughly within the residential subdivision on the east side of that complex. The western spur of the track paralleled Crocker Road to the east and is now visible, albeit somewhat overgrown. The eastern spur ran through the east side of Hayward Lumber. Both tracks crossed Sunset Drive with their present right-of-ways flanking the Pacific Grove Self-Storage facility and the adjacent shopping center. Both spurs undoubtedly continued directly to the Lake Majella quarry, but unfortunately the Gold Links at Spanish Bay has developed over any remaining trace of those right-of-ways.

Citations & Credits:


  1. The sand plant was reached by using the western branch at Sinex Avenue. It lost elevation as it crossed Sunset, but would climb as the track split to go on both sides of those buildings made of wood and corrugated steel. Once past the those buildings the tracks would join and then split again to form two holding tracks that could handle maybe seven freight cars apiece. The 1949 Art Lloyd photo shows these two tracks, they both ended only a few dozen feet from the intersection of Majella Road and 17 Mile Drive. The curved track to the right went to a second area of activity where hoppers would be filled with sand, rather than finished product. The two holding tracks may have had enough of a grade to allow employees to use the hand brakes as a way of moving the boxcars down to the buildings in the Julian Graham photo; otherwise there might have been some cable around for tractors to pull, or maybe some winch. Ignoring the conveyor belt machine in the foreground, the color photo of around 1960 shows Sunset Avenue in the distance on the left, the tall first set of buildings in the middle, and the area where sand was moved into hoppers on the right.

  2. The 1949 Art Lloyd photo shows the #2921 (a 'twelve-wheeler' that is seen on the Inspiration Point Tunnel page) backed into one of the tracks that always hold boxcars, with a passenger train that is ready to leave (this took planning as the last siding is at Asilomar, and the last place to turn the engine was at the Pacific Grove station). This track would be the only spot in Del Monte Properties where a public road was near, so I expect people were bused to this location and walked the thirty feet to board. No structure was here; it would be by special arrangement on that fine day.

    The tall elevator, the road, and the pit for dumping materials were all gone and forested over in the next few years; the open style of hopper was never used in later years, either. I have no idea what material was being brought, or for what.

    The event could be the Bing Crosby Pro/Am; this would be in January, and that man walking is wearing a sweater under his jacket. But it could be April with those illuminated shadows, the dust in the air, and the lack of a hat on the man's head.

  3. The photo of the 2921 shows the March 13, 1949 railfan excursion that ran from Oakland to Monterey/Asilomar by way of Niles Canyon and Milpitas. It was organized by the C-NRHS. This and other branch excursions are listed in my forthcoming book on the Monterey branch.

    1. Here is a movie of that that fan trip.

      The was recently released by the California State Railroad Museum Library.

      The video is two movies, the 2nd one is on the California Western.

  4. Here's a 1938 map superimposed (georeferenced - blue outline) over recent Google Earth imagery. You can see the S.P. spur, the sand plant and North Moss Beach (Asilomar State Beach).

    Lake Majella was located behind where Pacific Grove Self Storage is now, between the 13th green and 14th fairway at Spanish Bay.

    Georeferenced Lake Majella Image

    1. Greetings, all... I realize this is a rather old thread, but I have only just come across it. The link to the map image just above is no longer working. I managed to find an online version of the georeferenced map, and offer it here (link pasted below). The transparency can be adjusted with the slider in the top right corner. In addition to nicely showing the locations of Lake Majella and the sand plant relative to Spanish Bay, one can also see the exact location of the PG station (right in the middle of the current mobile home park).

      Yesterday a friend and I walked the section of trail, the former right-of-way, that starts just outside the PG gate and ends at Del Monte Avenue near Egan, in the middle of the golf course. Because we didn't have time to walk the full distance out and back, we left a car at each end.

      Map link:

  5. I think that I've seen the Lake Majella shelter (this site should untangle the mess caused by reusing the name for the sand plant) in a photo of the Asilomar shelter looking south straight down the track. The photo is credited to Phelps and remains in a book and not online as far as I can tell. The LM shelter simply duplicates Asilomar by being a Greek-cross design (which we knew) and being located on the west. One-tenth of a mile is about right (500ft) and still in the forest where Haywood Lumber eventually settled; so not across Sunset Drive or next to the 'lake'. The photo seemed a little more recent than the 1930s due to a modern PGE pole (very tall and gathering lines from different directions), and the trackside item could have been just a low railcar on a siding, but it sure looked to be a duplicate shelter only a short distance away - shape, darkness, indication of a roof.

    As mentioned above, there may have been another structure in another location between 1890 and 1913 which corresponds better with early maps that place the stop near the lake, but I just don't think 0.1 miles would reach as I've always placed the 'lake' in the sandy, marshy area south of Sunset Drive (maybe 0.2 miles away).

  6. This publication claims that the Asilomar shelter was near the intersection of Crocker and Sinex Avenues.


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