Friday, April 17, 2020

Stations: Santa Cruz Depot (Santa Cruz Railroad)

For sixteen years, Santa Cruz was but a tiny dot on the vast map of California—the home of a mission and a pueblo, but little else. Then, with the final spikes of the Santa Cruz Railroad hammered into the crossties in early 1876, Santa Cruz became a proper railroad destination. And the terminus of that route was Santa Cruz Depot just to the west of the Lower Plaza at the corner of Park Street and Division Street (today's Union Street and Squid Row). This site was selected due to its close proximity to downtown and the space that was available there. The city had no expanded such in 1876 that an entire block could not be dedicated to the depot and its yard.

The Santa Cruz Railroad depot on Park Street after standard-gauging of the lines, c. 1890.
[Harold van Gorder – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Colorized using DeOldify]
The railroad depot had everything that was required, including direct access to the Enterprise Iron Works, which sat adjacent to the yard at the corner of Division and Cherry Street (Chestnut Street). The station yard included a a two-locomotive engine house, a two-lane covered car house connected to the depot building that could support up to four passenger cars, and a covered freight house where goods from downtown customers could be stored while awaiting pickup. One of the car house tracks continued across Division Street to stop beside the Pioneers Society offices. Presumably this was to allow priority access to the first class car for company officials, some of whom owned office space in the building. The yard also included such standard features as a water tank, turntable, and a coal house. An additional track broke off to end in front of the flatiron building at the end of Pacific Avenue, where horsecars of the Red Line (later the City Railroad) could pick up passengers and take them to the Santa Cruz Main Beach. Frederick A. Hihn, president and chief investor in the line, maintained his business office upstairs in the depot, where he could oversee daily operations and ensure everything was running at peak efficiency.

For four brief years, the Santa Cruz Railroad's depot reigned supreme as the only formal railroad station within the city. But the railroad's dominance was shattered in May 1880 when the South Pacific Coast Railroad established its own station directly across from it on Cherry Street. The Santa Cruz Railroad, already struggling from cost overruns and expensive repairs annually due to winter storms, could not face the competition from a direct railroad line to San Francisco. Hihn filed for bankruptcy and the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the line and the depot in 1881.

This 1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the two Santa Cruz depots facing across Rincon Street from each
other in their final year of feigned competition. The Park Street depot (lower) has been entirely converted
to standard-gauge by this point while the South Pacific Coast depot (upper) is still narrow-gauge.
[University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
Under Southern Pacific control, the facilities on Park Street were upgraded. Throughout 1882, the tracks were standard-gauged across the network including within the yard, and the City Railroad was abandoned, with the former spur to the flatiron building truncated to a parking spur within the yard. The engine house may have been rebuilt entirely at this time to support larger rolling stock—the old locomotives were sold but switch engines were brought in to support local traffic—and the roof of the car house was probably lifted as well to support taller cars. But little changed regarding daily operations. Trains still departed from the depot following established timetables while competition with the South Pacific Coast Railroad continued. The take over of that line by Southern Pacific in 1887 did not drastically change the situation since the two lines still ran on different gauges. People who wished to transfer from one line to the other had to cross the street to the former rival's depot. A boardwalk was installed between the two to make this process easier, but demand quickly rose for a unified depot.

Double tracks down Chestnut Street after the conversion to standard-gauge, c. 1930s.
[Margaret Koch Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
By 1892, Southern Pacific was tired of the faux rivalry between its two lines and decisively moved to unify its services in Santa Cruz. At the end of Center Street near Neary Lagoon, where several lumber companies and the Centennial Flour Company already maintained freight spurs, Southern Pacific erected its Santa Cruz Union Depot. With the new station's opening on January 1, 1893, the two former stations were no longer needed and both closed down. Timetables were soon tweaked to reflect the new mile-marker location of the new depot, effectively abandoning the site of the former depots. While demolishing the buildings took a relatively short time to accomplish, the task of removing the tracks was somewhat more involved. For a decade, they remained in place. In fact, a narrow-gauge spur was extended into the yard adjacent to a standard-gauge spur. The Enterprise Iron Works and the Santa Cruz Foundry may have used one or both of these spurs during this time, but there is no other evidence that the location was used as a freight yard. Both foundries relocated to River Street in 1904, effectively abandoning the block.

Park Street flag-stop as depicted on a poorly-updated Sanborn Fire Insurance map, 1917.
[UC Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
The San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 finally prompted the complete standard-gauging of the former South Pacific Coast trackage, a process that was completed within the city by the end of 1907. This project unified all of the trackage and allowed a simplification of the tracks down Chestnut Street. Previously, two narrow-gauge and one standard-gauge track ran down the street—following upgrading, two standard-gauge tracks operated down the road, with one terminating at the former Santa Cruz Railroad depot site. Shortly after upgrading, the Union Ice Company moved its Santa Cruz beach ice house to beside the spur and Southern Pacific rebranded the location a flag-stop under the name "Park Street."

Excursion train heading down Chestnut Street out of Tunnel 8, June 24, 1939. Note the abandoned Park Street spur in the foreground. Photograph by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail]
Park Street as a stop along the line appears to have served little purpose except, perhaps, to Santa Cruz High School students who may have used the location to travel between their homes in Live Oak or on the North Coast to get to school. But only anecdotal evidence suggests this as a use and railroad timetables throughout the 1920s and 1930s show that most trains did not stop here. For some reason, the morning passenger train from San Francisco serviced the stop on weekdays, but no westbound train returned to pick up passengers. The Union Ice Company relocated again to a large warehouse near the Union Depot in 1919, leaving Park Street solely the domain of passengers. The flag-stop remained on timetables until 1939, although how frequently it was used remains open to debate. Despite the abandonment of the mountain route in 1940, the station remained in employee station books until 1942. The spur sat unused at the site, possibly as a parking spot for a tunnel maintenance car, until the mid-1950s, when the trackage on Chestnut Street was overhauled and the second track removed. Southern Pacific promptly sold off the property to developers who built a small subdivision atop the former yard.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9756N, 122.0292W

The location of the Santa Cruz Railroad's depot is now occupied by Goodwill at the corner of Union Street and Squid Row. The rail yard originally occupied the entire area behind and north of Goodwill to Chestnut Street. The remnant Park Street spur crossed into the relatively new housing subdivision at the corner of Union Street and Chestnut Street across from Green Street. There are no remnants of the old Santa Cruz Railroad depot remaining but the Enterprise Iron Works building remains at the corner of Squid Row and Chestnut Street.

Citations & Credits:
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

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