Friday, April 3, 2020

Stations: Santa Cruz Depot (South Pacific Coast Railroad)

There was a time once where the city of Santa Cruz had two separate depots for its two separate railroads. The South Pacific Coast Railroad was the late-comer to the game. Incorporated in 1876, its route through the mountains from Alameda Point to Santa Cruz was only completed in May 1880. At the time, the viewpoint of the local railroad companies was that proximity to the Lower Plaza at the intersection of Mission Street and Pacific Avenue was the key to attracting customers. It was here that Santa Cruz had most of its hotels and it was also the business heart of the city. But steam-powered trains were not allowed in the Lower Plaza, so both the Santa Cruz Railroad and the South Pacific Coast chose to locate their city depots as near to the plaza as feasible.

The only known photograph of the South Pacific Coast depot at Santa Cruz, 1880s.
Colorized with DeOldify. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
By late 1879, the Santa Cruz Railroad had already staked out the prime real estate of Park Street (today's Union Street) and claimed all of Cherry Street (upper Chestnut Street) for its City Railroad horsecar line. To make matters more annoying for the South Pacific Coast, the Santa Cruz Railroad also had a right-of-way down Chestnut Street to Neary Lagoon. The Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad, which the South Pacific Coast took over earlier in the year, maintained its right-of-way under Mission Hill and down Rincon Street (also upper Chestnut Street) and Chestnut Street to the beach, following along the northwest side of the road, parallel to the Santa Cruz Railroad for most of its stretch. This meant that the company was restricted to locating its Santa Cruz depot to some place along the north side of Rincon and Chestnut Street, which gave the company very few options.

The South Pacific Coast Railroad depot during its prime, 1883.
Excerpt from a Sanborn Fire Insurance map. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
The solution the South Pacific Coast Railroad was both bold and desperate. Just outside the east portal of the Mission Hill Tunnel (Tunnel 8) was a small undeveloped meadow that merged into Cherry Street to the east and Rincon Street to the south. The entire area covered no more than 8,500 square feet, a tiny footprint for a metropolitan depot, even if said city was comparatively small. Nonetheless, the railroad had few other options so quickly erected a depot on the site, using the area further to the south at the end of Chestnut Street for its engine house, turntable, and other facilities.

The South Pacific Coast depot at Santa Clara, 1880s. Colorized with DeOldify. [Source unknown]
The final design of the resultant depot is unfortunately unknown, although the only extant photograph taken from the site suggests it had architectural embellishments like some of the other city depots along the line. The location was surrounded by the steep sandstone hillside of Mission Hill, with the simplistic tunnel portal just to the north, often framed by hanging ivy. The situation along Cherry and Rincon Streets is unknown, but the railroad likely spared no expense making the depot look spectacular, especially since it sat directly across from the depot and yard of the financially-troubled Santa Cruz Railroad, which the South Pacific Coast likely wanted to drive out of business.

The location of the South Pacific Coast depot with a double-headed special passenger train heading toward the Union Depot, June 24, 1939. Photograph by Wilbur C. Whittaker. Colorized with DeOldify. [Jim Vail]
The depot at Cherry Street continued to operate even after the Southern Pacific Railroad leased the line in May 1887. The Santa Cruz Railroad across the street had been acquired by the behemoth in 1881 due at least in part by the increased competition from the South Pacific Coast. Despite running both lines, Southern Pacific waited until January 1, 1893 to unify the depots at a new location further to the south. In the interim, both depots continued to be used selling standard-gauge tickets at the Park Street depot and narrow-gauge tickets at the Cherry Street depot. They maintained separate staffs and even sat on different divisions during this time. With the union of the depots, though, both Cherry Street and Park Street were abandoned. The section of depot that spanned the tracks were removed relatively quickly, but the portion to the east remained until at least 1905, when it last appeared on Sanborn insurance maps.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9762N, 122.0299W

Nothing remains of the former South Pacific Coast Railroad depot on Cherry Street. The land was subsequently sold and sat vacant for many years. Within the past thirty years, the entire tract has been sold and a home and parking lot erected on the parts not occupied by the railroad tracks and tunnel. Presumably the perpetual right-of-way restricts further development of the trackage area while the rest is now privately-owned.

View of the tunnel portal and site of the Cherry Street depot, c. 2012. Photographer unknown.
Citations & Credits:


  1. I love to read about Santa Cruz history and so I thank you for this post. ~ A friend of Brianna's ~

  2. Park Street continues to show up on the Coast Division timetables of the
    1930's at Milepost 78.4. In the 3-21-37 issue, # 144, Train 34, the morning passenger train from San Francisco stops on flag here. No other trains do.
    Why there is service in only one direction I do not know.


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