Friday, March 18, 2016

Kearney Street Extension Spurs

As the Western Beet Sugar Refinery north of Watsonville Depot shut its doors in the early 1900s, other businesses began popping up along the spur that once supported the processing plant. Kearney Street itself was extended across Walker Street in the late 1900s, running parallel to the Southern Pacific Railroad's Santa Cruz Branch as it headed west. The Hihn-Hammond Lumber Company was one of the first of these opportunistic operations that settled on the bulk of the site in late 1911. However, at the end of Kearney Ext immediately beside the still-present Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad tracks (which marked the original end of the street), a new Chinese-owned apple drier opened up shop. Similarly, two small fruit packing houses opened on the south side the street between the fruit driers and Walker with platforms at the back suggesting an undepicted freight spur that ran off the old Western Beet track to parallel the Santa Cruz Branch.

Carralitos Fruit Growers Inc., warehouse beside the tracks in Watsonville, c. 1916. (fine art america)
Franich Bros advertisement, c. 1920s. (Boston Public Library)
By 1920, the realities of this upstart freight yard were fully known. The Chinese driers were replaced with a large fruit packing plant owned by W.H. Ewell with evidence that it used the Southern Pacific track behind the house. Opposite the Pajaro Valley tracks to the west, the Watsonville Ice & Cold Storage Company maintained its very larger cold storage structure, although it is not clear precisely which street catered to its non-rail needs. On the other side of Ewell's packing house, Corralitos Fruit Growers Inc. erected a massive packing house with a platform at back. And then to the east heading toward Walker Street, four more packing houses were built with rear-railroad access owned by Casserly Fruit Company, P.M. Resetar, Franich Bros., and L.C. Bachan. Across the spur tracks just before Walker Street, Hihn-Hammond kept a small freight storage building connected to its local freight office. Further down the main spur across Kearney Street Ext, Garcia & Maggini Company operated an expansive fruit packing and drying plant, with adjacent storage shed, all of which had rail access via the former Western Beet spur behind them. At the very end of the spur, along Ford Street to the north, Crown Fruit & Extract Company operated a cannery, fruit packing house, and pitting room that straddled the spur track all the way to its terminus.

Bachan Fruit Company advertisement, 1920s. (Smithsonian)
An undated map from the late 1930s or 1940s suggests that the freight yard was not significantly changed from the 1920s. The packing houses, beginning from the western end, included the Dong Packing Company, the California Fruit Evaporation Company, Ivancovich & Lucich Packing Company, and the Lettunich Bros. Packing Company. Thus none of the owners from twenty years earlier appeared on the spur any more. Around the former Beet spur, none of the packing houses were listed but the track still terminated at the renamed Crown Cordial & Extract Company.

Due to the scarcity of records available to this author, the next layout of the track yard is from 1973 and shows a greatly reduced freight presence along Kearney Ext, although the trackage has expanded significantly. Along the street, only two patrons remained: Modesko Cold Storage and John Inglis's cold storage. At the western end of the freight zone, Martinelli's kept a warehouse beside West Coast Farms, although whether either of these were directly accessible from Kearney Ext is not presently known. Across Kearney Ext to the north, only the Watsonville Canning Company remained as a formal freight stop.

M.N. Lettunich & Son packing label, c. 1920s. (ebay)
A massive reduction in trackage around 2003 had little impact on the already much-reduced freight area along Kearney Ext. In 1998, only Watsonville Canning Company still maintained a presence along the spur and it remained a patron even after 2003. Today, Terminal Freezers is the only facility along this still-connected technically functional spur that could use the track. The parallel spur that runs behind Auto Care Towing is largely buried. The spur has also been truncated down so it no longer reaches to the Del Mar Seafoods warehouse, which was once the Crown Cordial factory. The other spur that once paralleled the mainline behind the fruit packing plants on the south side of Kearney Ext. has long been removed and the businesses there no have freight access via platforms out back, as had been the case into the 1950s, if not later. It seems unlikely in the coming years that service will return along the spur even with recent developments.

Official Railroad Information:
All of the details above from after 1920 are from Southern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad SPINS zoning maps of the Watsonville Jct. freight area. These maps note specifically what freight customers could use which sidings and spurs at the time the maps were made.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.908˚N, 121.764˚W

Kearney Street Extension is a public road and can be explored freely. The spur runs along Walker Street from between Watsonville Depot and Kearney Ext, at which point it crosses Kearney and cuts between two large warehouses. This track is on private land and trespassing is not permitted, although one may look down to nearly the end-of-track. All of the businesses on the south side of Kearney Ext were once packing houses and many on the north side were as well, so walking down this street provides an adequate glimpse of what the fruit packing industry looked like around 1920.

Citations & Credits:
  • Sanborn Insurance Company maps, 1908-1920. UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, SPINS. "Watsonville Jct. Zone 4: Sheet I". 1973. California State Railroad Museum.
  • Union Pacific Railroad, SPINS. 1998, 2003. George Pepper collection.

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