Friday, July 24, 2020

Car Stops: Pacific Avenue Carbarn

Horsecars were all the rage in Santa Cruz when the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad Company was incorporated on April 5, 1876 by the management of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. The original route connected with the railroad line near Mora Street north of the city and then continued down River Street, turned down Pacific Avenue in front of the St. Charles Hotel, and then continued down Pacific Avenue to the Railroad Wharf, where it reconnected with the Santa Cruz & Felton line. However, the arrangement was always intended to be temporary and in March 1877, James P. Pierce took over the company and severed its connection to the Santa Cruz & Felton. This meant that the narrow-gauge horsecar line needed to relocate its horse stables from the shadow of Mission Hill to its own property elsewhere along the line.

A Pacific Avenue Street Railroad horsecar passing the company's horse stables on Pacific Avenue, late 1880s.
[Bill Wulf – colorized using DeOldify]
Competition for properties around the Lower Plaza was fierce so Pierce wisely decided to move the stables to the south. Local streetcar historian Charles McCaleb situated the new stables on Cathcart Street, but they were actually located at the corner of Sycamore and Pacific Avenue closer to the beach and at the extreme fringe of the Santa Cruz freight yard.

Annotated Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad horsecar stables and barn
at the corner of Sycamore and Pacific Avenue, 1886, with speculative trackage.
[University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
Locating the company's stables near the freight zone actually made a lot of sense. Since the line began as a part of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's main route, a track already passed through the backlot of the Olive & Foster lumber yard beside Pacific Avenue, meaning that easements for the land already existed. Although the arrangement of the tracks can't be known with complete certainty, it seems that a siding from the main track passed through the car house where three or four cars could be locked up at night, while another two or three spurs broke off to head into the stables, where the horsecar line's horses, hay, and vehicles in need of repair would be stored and cared after. The track likely unified again behind the stables and then passed into Olive & Foster's yard.

A Santa Cruz Electric Railway streetcar passing the former horsecar stables on Pacific Avenue, 1895.
[Preston Sawyer – colorized using DeOldify]
Pierce ran the horsecar company until May 18, 1887, when he sold to a group led by E. J. Swift. Unfortunately, Swift died in 1889 just as the company was planning an expansion and the company struggled over the next few years to find its footing again. In 1891, a rival company, the Santa Cruz, Garfield Park, and Capitola Electric Railway, was founded with the intention to build an electric streetcar line throughout the West Side. This quickly expanded to the Lower Plaza—the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad's domain. With few other options, the old horsecar line gave up its franchise on August 6, 1892 and was taken over by the new electric line. A new company, the Santa Cruz Electric Railway, was formed on August 23, 1892. By the end of March 1893, the entire line was upgraded and appended to the electric streetcar system and the old carbarn and stables on Sycamore and Pacific were abandoned in favor of the company's preexisting facilities elsewhere.

Another Santa Cruz Electric Railway streetcar near the old horsecar stables, c 1900.
[Harold van Gorder – colorized using DeOldify]
Photographs from the mid- to late-1890s still show the old horsecar barns abandoned on Sycamore Street with no new trackage turning toward them, suggesting they were long out of use. The erection of a fence behind the carbarn further gives evidence of their lack of use during this time. Meanwhile, a new short spur was installed at the Union Depot in mid-1893 to cater to train passengers, suggesting the company maintained no other presence in the area. The consolidation of the various local streetcar companies under the Union Traction Company in October 1904 finally prompted the rebuilding and massive expansion of the former horsecar facilities on Sycamore Street.

The new Union Traction carbarn on Sycamore and Pacific showing a streetcar and repair vehicle in two bays and the passenger waiting area and office at the corner, 1905. [Randolph Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]
Annotated Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Union Traction Company carbarn and passenger depot
at the corner of Sycamore and Pacific Avenue, 1917, with speculative trackage.
[University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
The new structure was erected in early 1905. The 1917 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows in detail the arrangement of the carbarn. Situated parallel to Pacific Avenue, it originally had six long bays for parking streetcars overnight. Cars entered from a short line along Sycamore Street. In the first few years, the barns doubled as a repair shop and had one-foot-thick concrete walls, four fire hydrants (one on each corner), a 400-foot-long fire hose, and a 500 volt motor room. Outside the house, to the west, were a small oil house and a transformer house beside presumably two spurs.

The engine room in the Union Traction Company's carbarn on Pacific Avenue, 1907.
[Bill Wulf – colorized using DeOldify]
Carpenters working in the extension to the Union Traction carbarn on Sycamore Street, 1908.
[Bill Wulf – colorized using DeOldify]
These were enveloped following the 1906 earthquake, which collapsed a wall of the barn, by an extension that included a paint shop, mechanics shop, woodworking shop, and blacksmith shop, with the two spurs remaining at the far end of the facility and continuing out back. On the Pacific Avenue side of the carbarn, Union Traction established its primary Santa Cruz passenger depot and corporate office. It included a waiting room, office, storage area, and dressing room for staff.

The Union Traction car stop at the Union Depot (right), 1907. [Randolph Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]
After a brief few months under the control of the Ocean Shore Railroad, Union Traction was bought by the Coast Counties Power Company, a PG&E subsidiary, in July 1906 and began its recovery from the earthquake. The carbarn was expanded in March 1907 to allow for the local construction of streetcars. At the same time, the tracks were upgraded to standard gauge and the single narrow-gauge track down Pacific Avenue was replaced by two standard-gauge tracks. Meanwhile, the carbarn lost its status as a passenger depot when a brand new Mission Revival-style passenger depot was built at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Center Street directly across from the Southern Pacific's Union Depot in 1907. This provided much closer access for arriving passengers and eliminated the need for passengers to take wagons or buses to the depot on Sycamore.

The Union Traction carbarn on Pacific Avenue following upgrades, 1907.
[Randolph Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]
For the next nineteen years, the carbarn and Union Depot stops remained in daily use ferrying cars and passengers across the county. But the advent of the automobile and its spread throughout the 1910s led to the abandonment in the early 1920s of branches to Laveaga and Capitola. By April 1925, Union Traction was prepared to throw in the towel but it was not until August that permission was granted for the franchise to wrap up in downtown Santa Cruz. On January 14, 1926, the last schedule streetcar ran down Pacific Avenue, almost exactly fifty years after the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad Company was founded. The carbarn was sold in early 1927, possibly to be used by the Auto Transit Company for storing and maintaining buses. It later became a Chevrolet car dealership lot. The fate of the Union Depot car stop is not known but it was gone by 1977 at the latest.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36,9671N, 122.0246W
555 Pacific Avenue

The site of the Union Traction Company carbarn is now occupied by a mixed residential-commercial complex at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Sycamore Street. Meanwhile, the Union Depot streetcar depot is approximately in the location of the Homeless Garden Project store beside Depot Park. No remnant of the former streetcar line survives.

Citations & Credits:
  • McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz, CA: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 2005.

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