Friday, July 17, 2020

Stations: Santa Cruz (Ocean Shore)

If the Ocean Shore Railway was a thing of dreams, then its plans for its depot in Santa Cruz was the Emerald City. And it proved just as ephemeral. When the company was incorporated, it did not anticipate the type of opposition it received from the Southern Pacific Railroad. Despite cooperating to a degree in the parallel construction of the Coast Line Railroad (SP) and the Southern Division of the Ocean Shore Railroad from the northern city limits of Santa Cruz to Davenport, no such politeness could be found within the city. Both Southern Pacific and the Cowell Lime Company did their utmost to block the railroad's entry into Santa Cruz and succeeded spectacularly.

The Ocean Shore Railway's West Cliff Drive shelter overlooking the Southern Pacific Railroad's yard in Santa Cruz, c 1906. [Louis L. Stein, Jr. – Colorized using DeOldify]
When it was incorporated in 1905, the Ocean Shore intended to build an impressive trestle viaduct from the hill above Neary Lagoon across the Southern Pacific tracks, Blackburn Terrace, West Cliff Drive, and Pacific Avenue to eventually reach Cedar Street, where a large freight yard would be located between Center Street and Cedar and from Lincoln Street in the north to the Santa Cruz Union Depot in the south. Fred Swanton captured this visionary idea in the panoramic painting below, published in 1907.

Enlargement from a panoramic painting of Santa Cruz showing in the center the Ocean Shore Railway's proposed viaduct over the Southern Pacific yard and onto Cedar Street, 1907.
The finishing touch would have been a massive cathedral-like passenger depot on Pacific Avenue. Had it been built where planned, it would have occupied both sides of Cathcart Street on the west side of Pacific Avenue from the University Town Center building to the Catalyst. Chief Engineer J. B. Rogers described the proposed depot to the Santa Cruz Sentinel in November 1907:
"The building will certainly be better than any building now existing in Santa Cruz, I assure you. We desire naturally to make our station the center of the city if possible and to make it a revenue producer. No I can not tell whether it will be a steel structure, stone, brick, or of what material it will be, but I am of the opinion that it will be at least four stories high. That will allow three stories for office purposes above the ground floor, which floor will be used as the station. Yes, the electric trains will run right into this building, on the first floor, and up to Pacific Av. The station waiting rooms, booths, etc., will undoubtedly take up the entire ground floor, so that there will not be a single bit of the Pacific Av. frontage blocked off and rented for business purposes. A large amount of the railroad business will undoubtedly be transacted in the upper stories of the depot building."
The company purchased much of the required land for this project but all of its attempts to cross the Southern Pacific yard were blocked.

Sketch of the Ocean Shore Railway's right-of-way in Santa Cruz showing the proposed viaduct entry into the city and the planned steamship pier on the waterfront, 1906. [Jack Wagner]
By the end if 1905, the Ocean Shore had erected a temporary 8 foot by 10 foot wood frame shelter on the hill above the Southern Pacific yard immediately adjacent to West Cliff Drive. The purpose of this structure was two-fold. First, it allowed passengers from the Santa Cruz Union Depot to more easily access the Ocean Shore's trains by simply walking up West Cliff Drive and around to the shelter. Second, it provided access to the Santa Cruz Main Beach, which hosted the popular Neptune Casino and Plunge until both burned down in mid-1906. Whether there were plans to keep a permanent shelter at the site or whether it was simply a temporary structure built in the interim while awaiting the construction of the main depot on Pacific Avenue is unknown, although the track beside the shelter was originally intended to continue onto a new steamship wharf between the Cowell Wharf and the Railroad Wharf.

The first revenue train leaving the Santa Cruz passenger shelter at West Cliff Drive, June 1906.
[Randolph Brandt – Colorized using DeOldify]
Beside Bay Street, under which the Ocean Shore's right-of-way passed, the company maintained its passenger agency depot. It was situated at the northeast corner of Laguna Street and Bay Street and it appears in miniature in a single aerial photograph taken in 1906 by George Lawrence. The structure was small and simple, resembling in many ways the cottages used by Fred Swanton's Santa Cruz Beach Cottage & Tent City Corporation. Passengers would purchase tickets for the train here and presumably board either at the West Cliff Drive location or near the freight house located midway between Gharkey and Santa Cruz Streets off Laguna.

Enlargement of George Lawrence's aerial photograph of Santa Cruz, focusing on the Ocean Shore right-of-way with the small depot beside Bay Street at center-right. Note the Bay Street railroad overpass at far right.
The financial upheavals of the Ocean Shore Railway between the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and  1911 led to the reincorporation of the company was the Ocean Shore Railroad Company. This marked a change in strategy for the company including the abandonment of some of its structures. At Santa Cruz, it meant the cutting back of the line to the small depot on Bay Street with the track beyond that point likely abandoned. All transfers with the Southern Pacific Railroad would now pass through the more even grade at Rapetti/Orby, where the San Vicente Lumber Company maintained its large mill. The end of the line on West Cliff Drive remained mile marker 0.0 but the station had decisively shifted. Stanley Steamer autobuses were brought in to connect the line between Swanton and Tunitas and tickets for this and other services were available at the Bay Street depot.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map for 1917 showing the Ocean Shore depot over the right-of-way on Bay Street.
[University of California, Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Over the following nine years, passenger service came to a crawl as the Ocean Shore continued to fail to connect its separate lines. Eventually, autobus transportation and the better efficiency of the Southern Pacific trains, which could reach San Francisco directly via two routes, meant that passenger service was simply no longer required. Nonetheless, the Ocean Shore maintained such service throughout the duration of its life as an active railroad. In 1920, the company ceased operating as a railroad and the local track was taken over by the San Vicente Lumber Company, which had no need for passenger depots or shelters. The ultimate fate of the Bay Street depot is unknown but it was likely moved and converted into a home as such was the fate of many such structures.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Beach Shelter: 150 West Cliff Drive, 36.9629N, 122.0257W
Santa Cruz Station: 221 Bay Street, 36.9606N, 122.0284W
Santa Cruz Passenger Terminal (?): 512 Laguna Street, 36.9592N, 122.0290W

The site of the passenger shelter is now occupied by the Westcliff Townhomes on West Cliff Drive, just before the truss bridge over the railroad tracks. The shelter would have been on the bluff just behind the buildings, which is now occupied by gardens. The passenger depot on Bay Street is either gone or heavily modified into the private residence that now occupies the site. The likely site of the passenger terminal further north along Laguna has certainly been replaced with a new building if there ever had been a building there to begin with. Curiously, the homes on 512 and 520 Laguna are oriented toward the right-of-way rather than the road even though the buildings appear to have been built in the 1960s.

Citations & Credits:
  • Bender, Henry E., Jr. "Ocean Shore Railroad." Unpublished, 2017.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Hunter, Chris. Images of Rail: Ocean Shore Railroad. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Nurkse, Peter. Personal correspondence.
  • Wagner, Jack R. The Last Whistle: Ocean Shore Railroad. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books, 1974.

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