Friday, March 4, 2016

Walker Street Patrons

When the Santa Cruz Railroad was first constructed through Watsonville in early 1874, it passed over the Pajaro River and then ran directly down the already-established Walker Street, much as it still does today. At the western corner of the junction of Walker and Beach Road, they erected their first freight and passenger depot. The tracks continued a short distance down Walker before turning due west into the Western Beet Sugar Company refinery, owned by Claus Spreckels. For the first two decades, no other railroad patron along Walker Street used the railroad formally for transport and only a single track ran down the road. Around 1890, the Railroad Hotel sprang up directly across Beach Road from the depot. The small hostelry expanded over the years, spreading somewhat down Walker Street alongside the tracks, which skirted the edge of the hotel grounds. A second hotel, the Railroad Exchange Hotel, sprang up around 1900 directly across from the new depot (where the current station sits today), between Beach Road and 4th Street. Like its rival to the south, it catered specifically to railroad passengers arriving at or departing from the Southern Pacific depot.

Railroad Exchange Hotel across from the depot, 1931. (Adi Zehner)
The first freight passengers along Walker Road appeared between 1st (todays Riverside Drive) and 2nd Streets at the end of the 1890s. White & de Hart Company owned a box-making factory that undoubtedly provided storage containers for the surrounding fruit packing plants. Although it seems likely that the factory used the railroad tracks, the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for this time do not show any facilities alongside the road except a sawdust shed. A feed mill also owned by White & De Hart was located on the corner of Walker and 2nd to the north, also located directly alongside the tracks and also unclear whether the facility used the adjacent route. In 1908, a south-bound spur was constructed that cut slightly into the feed mill before terminating between the box factory and storage shed. It seems likely that this spur existed from an earlier date considering the specific arrangement of the structures. The storage shed was taken over around 1907 by the California Spray Chemical Company, which manufactured pest- and herbicides for use in farming. Two chemical tanks were installed beside the shed with four acid towers nearby. The railroad tracks appear to have been removed by 1911 when the spray chemical company departed, suggesting the company was the reason for the spur to begin with. In the mid-1910s, the entire block was resurrected as a new freight area with two spurs installed to cater primarily to the Pajaro Valley Cold Storage Company. Numerous structures were erected for fruit packing and drying and refrigeration. At the southern end of the block, the California Pine Box Distributors built a small warehouse to store its boxes.

San Monte Fruit Company company photo, c. 1905. (Adi  Zehner)
Just to the south opposite 1st Street, in 1903, the San Monte Fruit Company erected a truly massive packing house, vinegar factory, and cannery just south of 1st Street. As with its neighbours, a spur track ran, this time northbound, directly beside all three structures, allowing it to cater to all of the company's products. A continuous platform ran beside the tracks between all three structures. In the 1910s, San Monte downsized and its two southern warehouses were taken over by Jones Bros. Company, which ran a vinegar factory and used the warehouse for filtering and shipping, and the Pajaro Packing Company, which ran a cannery in the warehouse.

Simpson & Hack fruit packing plant with a boxcar parked beside it, c. 1905. (Adi Zehner)
Patrons along Walker Street between Beach Road
and 2nd Street, 1920 (UCSC Digital Collections)
By 1904, the number of fruit packing warehouses along Walker Street exploded. Between 2nd and Beach Road, Charles Ford Company set up a fruit packing plant and warehouse alongside the road with additional facilities that stretched over four parcels and to Locust Street behind it. By 1908, a spur track ran directly beside this warehouse with a platform built to help in loading products. Further south along the road, Simpson & Hack maintained a relatively large fruit packing structure from 1903, although it had no other facilities on the site. In 1908, a long south-bound spur was built to the renamed Frank Simpson Fruit Company fruit packing plant. This was taken over by an unnamed Japanese fruit packing company around 1910. Before 1920, all of the former patrons in this area changed. The Ford company was taken over by Rilovich & Sresovich Company and Resetar Bros., which both operated fruit packing and drying facilities in the former Ford structures. To the south, Copriviza & Gera built a new fruit packing plant, while north of the Ford property, the Zar Brothers, M.L. Kalich & Company, and Loma Fruit Company all erected warehouses beside two northern-oriented spurs.

Alaga Bros. packing house beside Walker Street, c. 1910s. (Adi Zehner)
Across the street, two businesses popped up in the 1920s along two spurs. South of Beach Road and north of Werner Street (Martin Alley), Alaga Bros. built a large fruit packing facility across three parcels. This structure burned down in 1927. Further south, just north of 2nd Street, the United Apple Growers' cooperative had another warehouse built.

Ortho California Spray Chemical Company plant beside the railroad track, c. 1910. (Adi Zehner)
To the south, on the southern side of 1st Street, G.A. Moorehead built his own fruit-packing plant alongside the same spur. That spur was shortened in the 1910s and a new spur was installed that catered to Moorehead's former structure, owned by Martin Brothers in 1920, as well as another facility which had sprung up around 1910: the Ortho California Spray Chemical Company. This factory was founded by Charles Silliman, and apple grower, in order to create a pesticide to kill the coddling moth. The company was sold in 1931 to the Standard Oil Company. In the late 1910s, the facility had expanded greatly over its parcel with a warehouse installed immediately beside the spur. To the north along yet another spur, the B. Pista Company built its own series of fruit packing houses.

Southern Walker Street just before
the Pajaro River, 1908.
(UCSC Digital Collections
Right at the edge of the Pajaro River, heading south, the first of these Walker Street spurs was installed, around 1903, oriented southbound on the west side of the tracks, to cater to the Big River Company power plant, which was an oil-fueled facility which powered some local businesses. The reason for the spur was probably because a long embankment running from the railroad bridge made use of the main track for freight impossible here. In around 1906, the company became the Big Creek Power Company. Just across the street, the Watsonville Light & Power Company kept a gas plant, which powered the street lamps in the city, among other things. It, too, likely used the tracks for the import of kerosene or whichever gas they stored on site. By 1920, both of these structures were owned by the Coast Counties Light & Power Company. Slightly to the north, on the west side of the tracks, the Quong Sung Lung Company built a fruit evaporator around 1908. An independent spur was erected beside the factory by 1920, although it seems to have lost its name, though the maps do note it was operated by Chinese.

Between 1911 and 1920, a massive extension spur extended down Walker Street, across Kearney, and to places never before reached by the railroad. At the northern terminus of the spur, on the west side of Walker Street, the railroad reached an unnamed fruit packing company owned by Chinese. The property stretched down Ford Street with housing for workers out back. The primary spur, which ran down the eastern side of Walker Street, terminated at the Stolich Bros. fruit packing warehouse. Just south of it, opposite 5th Street, the tracks also ran beside L.F. Lettis's fruit packing house.

SPINS map from 1973 for the Walker Street and Beach Road (Wall Street) spurs. (George Pepper)
Unfortunately, information regarding these spurs and businesses between 1920 and 1973 is not available to this historian, but a Southern Pacific SPINS map from 1973 does give a snapshot of what changed along Walker Street in the intervening years. Firstly, all of the spurs south of 1st Street were spiked by that year, although the tracks remained owned by G.P Martin, J.M. Bulaich, H.J. Heinz, and Speas. Secondly, the triple track that ran down the road in the 1920s appears to have been reduced to a single track at some point. The track that ran on the east side between 1st and 2nd Streets was owned by the Pajaro Valley Cold Storage Company, which had been first opened on the site in the 1910s. Continuing north along the east side, between 2nd and Beach Streets, the Mann-Vallentine Cold Storage company and a Neilson warehouse occupied the block. Opposite these, three separate spurs catered to Gallo Wine, Scurich Cold Storage, and Buchwald Cold Storage. Continuing down Walker Street passed the depot, two very short spurs catered to Lease Plumbing and George Barsi, while the end-of-track terminated at a place where it could cater to Berman Steel, Sambrailo Paper, and Bachan Fruit Company. By 1998, only Americold Corp and New West Foods still had functioning spurs along lower Walker Road, and Berman Steel and Wats Canning Company along the upper portion. Although many of these companies likely never used the spurs that they had access to, one can determine immediately that Walker Street was, or at least had been recently, a major freight shipping center in Santa Cruz County.

Official Railroad Information:
Considering the entire Walker Street track was a private freight area, only Southern Pacific zoning maps such as the SPINS used above from 1973 document official railroad information for the region. Timetables and agency books record nothing of this except for the depot. Another SPINS from 1998, two years after the Union Pacific takeover of the line, helps clarify the situation at the end of the millennium.

Geo Coordinates & Access Rights:
From 36.903˚N, 121.755˚W to 36.911˚N, 121.767˚W

Although all of the properties today remain private businesses, closed to the public, the tracks themselves are quite visible across Walker Street. Virtually all of the spurs present in 1973 remain in place, some paved over but many partially visible. The mainline track still runs directly down the middle of the road and is occasionally used by the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway. All of the spurs along the street are now spiked and their junctions removed, so there is little chance any will be reactivated again. However, many of the original 1910s warehouses and structures remain in place along the road, giving a further snapshot of what the freight district probably looked like back in the 1920s.

Citations & Credits:
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps, 1888 – 1920. UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Company, SPINS "Watsonville Jct." 1973. George Pepper collection.
  • Zehner, Adi. "Remembering Watsonville..." Group Facebook photos and commentaries.

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