Thursday, July 1, 2021

Streetcars: San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company

The Santa Clara Valley at the turn of the twentieth century had surprisingly poor roads and connections between its many towns. Although the Southern Pacific Railroad maintained the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railway route from Santa Clara through Los Gatos, Los Gatos had no other rail infrastructure and all of its roads were still dirt. The nearest towns were Campbell to the north and Saratoga to the north. All three began life as rural industrial towns but were experiencing population growth as industry shifted to agriculture. These problems finally convinced local entrepreneurs F. S. Granger and James W. Rea to incorporate the San Jose, Saratoga & Los Gatos Electric Railway Company on October 17, 1902.

A San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban car at Meridian Corner, ca 1907. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
Talk of an interurban line from Los Gatos to San José and Saratoga began in the late 1890s, when electric railway technology reached a point where it could be run affordably over long distances, such as between towns miles apart. Around 1897, rights-of-way for such a project were acquired by an unnamed Los Gatos firm, but nothing came of the plan. In the aftermath, a committee for the Los Gatos Electric Railroad was formed in late 1898 to investigate the possibility of such a line and found that one could be built for $50,000 with electricity provided for free from a San José company. As a result, the People's Electric Railway Company was founded on April 14, 1899 with a capital stock of $75,000 and 15,000 shares. This project was led by H. M. Barker, J. H. Becker, A. Malpas, P. H. Jordan, and H. T. Matthews and the estimated length of the railroad was to be ten miles. Yet nothing happened with this project, likely because it required fifty percent of the capital stock to be subscribed to before the directors could borrow from a bank.

Newspaper advertisement in the Los Gatos Mail for the new interurban railway, August 28, 1902.
Three years later, on August 22, 1902, Granger presented to the Los Gatos Town Board his plan for a new electric railroad that would connect Los Gatos to San José with a branch line to Saratoga. Moreover, the line would not cost any of the towns a cent with all revenue coming from subscribers. In order to prepare for the line, he incorporated the railroad in October alongside Rea. A. T. Herrmann was hired to survey the line and began work immediately, focusing first on the section between Los Gatos and Saratoga. On December 15, after receiving no counteroffers, the Town Board approved Granger's franchise for a railway line. The term of the contract was for fifty years and allowed for a single steel track of narrow or standard gauge to run from the town boundary at Saratoga-Los Gatos Road (Highway 9) down Santa Cruz Avenue to Broadway, where cars would be turned around. Granger immediately placed an order for equipment to build the line since construction was contracted to begin within three months of the contract and had to be completed by the end of the year. Ground was broken at Meridian Corners at the intersection of Stevens Creek Road and Saratoga Avenue in Santa Clara on January 6, 1903. The first stock of 70lbs. rails arrived in mid-February.

Recently completed gradework near Los Gatos along the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban route, 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
Soon afterwards, Granger and Rea entered into a new arrangement with the San Jose & Santa Clara Railway Company. This earlier company was incorporated in October 1889 and quickly sold to J. H. Henry of Iowa. When it opened in 1890, it was one of the first interurban electric railways in California. Granger and Rea incorporated the Saratoga Construction Company to secure the right-of-way and construct the line on behalf of the electric railway. Later court proceedings suggest that they may have been less than honest in their dealings with contractors or with the San Jose & Santa Clara Railway. To compensate for delays, the company negotiated an extension of their completion date to March 1, 1904. However, on May 5, 1903, Granger and Rea reincorporated under the name San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company, possibly to escape some liabilities they had amounted over the previous six months. The new company had an increased capital stock of $2,000,000 to account for an expanded vision of the line

San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban cars sitting outside the carbarn near San José, 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
A second groundbreaking ceremony for the expanded line occurred on the last week of May 1903, shortly after the company negotiated a new contract with the Los Gatos Town Board. It proceeded apace over the next month until eleven miles were graded and three miles of crossties laid in preparation of installing the rails. The 58,000 ties were purchased from I. T. Bloom of Boulder Creek. The first spike of the interurban railway was hammered by J. O. Hayes at a ceremony held on June 22 on San Carlos Street, just outside of San José. At the ceremony, Rea proclaimed his hope for the line to eventually extend in all directions from San José, including a line beyond Saratoga and Congress Springs to Big Basin, a dream many firms had over the years. Five miles of standard-gauge track were expected to be installed by July 1. Interurban cars were ordered from St. Louis, Missouri.

A Japanese-style cottage at Nippon Mura outside Los Gatos, ca 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
Construction of the line was relatively straightforward. The initial route connected San José to Saratoga via a track that ran down San Carlos and Stevens Creek Road, turning at Saratoga Avenue and continuing the length of that road to Saratoga, a total of 11 miles. This route was done around September. Another 4 miles of track extended along the Saratoga–Los Gatos Road to Los Gatos, turning at Santa Cruz Avenue to terminate at Broadway, across from the Southern Pacific Railroad station and beside the Hotel Lyndon. This section was due for completion no later than May 1904.

The Hotel Lyndon at the end-of-track of the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban, ca 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
Fights with the San Jose and Santa Clara line, however, were inevitable. In September 1903, a dispute arose over access to Campbell. The interurban, as part of its next phase of expansion, had planned to build a reverse route up Santa Cruz Avenue to Winchester Boulevard through Campbell, and then continue in a relatively direct path back to San José, thereby creating a giant trapezoidal square. But the San José line also had plans for a route to Campbell. Meanwhile, access to the Southern Pacific depot in San José was vitally important. When the track down North Market Street was first installed in October, a third rail was placed so that the streetcars of the San Jose & Santa Clara Railway could operate. But on November 25, under pressure from its financier, Germania Trust Company of St. Louis, the interurban tore out the third rail and cemented the tracks. The matter appears to have been resolved out of court.

The Southern Pacific Railroad's main station on Market Street, 1907. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
The initial interurban network opened for regularly scheduled service on March 19, 1904. The time to Los Gatos from San José via Saratoga was thirty minutes. The interurban line also supported a mail and express car, that ran daily. As an additional option, tourists to the Bay Area could take a special observation car, that ran passengers across 104 miles of track throughout the Santa Clara Valley, including the interurban line, for $1. During harvest season, interurban cars hauled leased boxcars out to orchards to haul out fruits to local canneries. The Los Gatos interurban intended to continue with its plans to build a route back to San José via Campbell, and also wanted to build a short extension to Congress Springs in the hills above Saratoga.

The San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban station at Saratoga, with the maintenance car parked beside it, 1904. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
However, trouble arose on April 2, 1904, when it was revealed that the interurban had failed to pay its contractor, George W. Elder, and his crews for the last two months of construction. Following fisticuffs in San José, Elder led a boycott where his workers barred people from boarding the interurban cars. The interurban claimed that the funds were withheld for a set period of time to ensure the quality of the right-of-way. The matter did not distress Granger, who was pressing on with his plans to extend tracks to Campbell. Several miles of easements for the line were secured by the end of April and crossties for the grading work arrived on July 2. Meanwhile, on July 10, the branch line to Congress Springs opened to traffic.

Colorized postcard of a San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban car on the road to Congress Springs, 1906. [San José Public Library]
Behind all of this outward progress, backroom deals were being made that would fundamentally change the nature of the company. In early April 1904, Rea convinced the board of directors to sell their stock in the interurban company to local banker and investor O. A. Hale. Granger opposed the deal and was forced out. As a result, he moved to Santa Cruz to found the Union Traction Company. Hale, meanwhile, became president of the company on April 9. The first association between Hale and Southern Pacific was mentioned in the Stanislaus County Weekly News on May 12 and such occurrences became more frequent over the next year. While it seems clear that Southern Pacific did not directly purchase the interurban line, its agents were in control and coordinating its future with the railroad.

Colorized postcard of Rinconada station at Kennedy Road and Main Street on the Campbell line of the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban, ca 1907.
Despite the corporate takeover and several unresolved legal issues, the interurban pressed on with its plans for a track to Campbell. Installation went smoothly down Main Street in Los Gatos and then Los Gatos Boulevard and Bascom Avenue. At Camden, the track turned northwest to cross Los Gatos Creek, before turning due north for Campbell. In October 1904, crews conducted a night installation of track through an orchard that paralleled the Southern Pacific Railroad's tracks between Camden Avenue (San Tomas Expressway) and Campbell Avenue. They were forced to do this when the property owner reneged on a right-of-way agreement. The tactic succeeded and interurban cars were running to Campbell from Los Gatos by November 24.

A San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban car running down Market Street in San José with mounted policemen in the foreground, 1907. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
The war over downtown San José finally resolved on January 23, 1905 when the City Council voted in favor of the interurban line. It was granted a route around the city along San Carlos Street, Market Street, San Fernando Street, and Sunol Street. It was further granted permission for a line down Bird Avenue in order to connect with the tail of its Campbell route. Over the next several months, a zig-zagging line of track was completed between Campbell and San José, finally completing the intended circuit. The track paralleled the Southern Pacific track north to Campbell Avenue and then turned east until Union Avenue. At Union, it turned north to Hamilton Avenue and then east until Meridian Avenue. At Willow Street, the track turned east again and continue to Lincoln Avenue, turning north until Coe Avenue. It finally continued up Bird Avenue until meeting the other end of the line at San Carlos Street.

The complete San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway network as of mid-1905. [Journal of Electricity, Power and Gas]
With the network complete, Hale made plans to expand out to the north and south. His next goal was to extend tracks north from Los Gatos to Cupertino, Mountain View, and ultimately Palo Alto where it could meet again with the Southern Pacific line near Stanford University. Meanwhile, he was also making plans to extend the interurban line south to Hollister and, eventually, Capitola, where it would connect to the Union Traction Company's streetcar network.

Colorized postcard of a San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban car on the only substantial bridge along the line, near Saratoga, ca 1904. [San José Public Library]
At this point, The Journal of Electricity, Power and Gas did a review of the line and provide several additional details highlighting the company just shortly after the end of its independence. It noted that the company owned nine passenger cars and two freight cars, all electric, as well as five unpowered passenger cars. The company's carbarn was located at the corner of Sunol and San Carlos Streets, on the Saratoga line. Cars that left San José at the hour went to Saratoga first, while cars that left on the half hour went to Campbell first. The interurban shared a short stretch of narrow-gauge track with the Almaden Branch of the South Pacific Coast Railway, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, between Bascom Avenue and Winchester Boulevard. This arrangement required cars to stop for up to ten minutes at either junction to ensure that the track was clear for the interurban car. Because the interurban line used existing roads for most of its route, it only required one substantial bridge, located along the Saratoga line. Smaller bridges, however, were necessary, especially on the Congress Springs branch.

A San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban work crew fixing a power line somewhere along the route, 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
The curtain was finally pulled back on the San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway on December 21, 1905, when Hale founded the Peninsular Railroad Company. On the surface, this great scheme was intended to connect San José to San Francisco via an interurban railroad. Yet it is clear that Hale intended for the new company to absorb the Los Gatos interurban. Branch lines were intended to reach to Los Gatos, Big Basin, Oakland, and Alum Rock. In his grandest vision, Hale hoped his interurban cars would span the entirety of the South Bay. In reality, the Peninsular was a ploy to allow Southern Pacific interests into the domain of the Los Gatos interurban. The railroad wanted a cutoff between Vasona and Mayfield near Palo Alto, thereby bypassing San José entirely. But to do so required the outright annexation of the interurban railway.

Map of the route included with the weekly newspaper timetable showing the eleven official stops along the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban line, 1908. [Los Gatos Mail]
Although now undeniably a part of the Southern Pacific machine, the Los Gatos interurban line continued to operate under its own name for several more years. Indeed, Southern Pacific used its franchise rights and separate liabilities to build the Mayfield Cutoff covertly as a double track interurban line, although it was an open secret that one of the tracks would be for trains rather than interurban cars. Construction on the new branch began in June 1906, two months after the San Francisco Earthquake. The first section built beginning in June was between Mayfield and Cupertino, which meant that the line began disconnected from the rest of the network. Construction progressed slowly. While construction was still ongoing, Hale died on July 20, 1907 from appendicitis. His successor as president of the interurban and the Peninsular Railroad, Jere T. Burke, worked as a lawyer for Southern Pacific.

A Southern Pacific passenger train approaching Vasona Junction from Los Gatos, March 11, 1939. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – Colorized usind DeOldify]
By September 1907, work on the new branch line from Vasona to Mayfield was progressing rapidly. The new route, as well as the Mayfield Cut-Off, opened to regular traffic on November 5. Oddly, even though the interurban track was constructed under the auspices of the Los Gatos interurban, it was never added to its timetable and only ever ran as a part of the Peninsular Railroad. The company immediately shifted its focus to double-tracking the rest of the interurban network while Southern Pacific focused on repairing and upgrading the railroad route to Santa Cruz, which it hoped to use as a new thoroughfare in tandem with the Mayfield Cut-Off (officially the Los Altos Branch). A poor financial market from late 1907 through 1908, however, delayed all projects and may have suspended any proposed expansions to the interurban network.

A King's Daughters outing at Congress Springs with San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban cars, 1907. [De Anza College – Colorized using DeOldify]
On June 30, 1909, five years after Southern Pacific interests acquired the Los Gatos line, the San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company and the San Jose & Santa Clara Railway were formally consolidated with the Peninsular Railroad. Burke remained president alongside other Southern Pacific shareholders and the capital stock of the newly-reincorporated company was set at $12,000,000. The last timetable under the name was published in the Los Gatos Mail on March 21, 1912, nearly three years after the company ceased to exist. After that date, the Los Gatos interurban faded into memory and the Peninsular Railroad went on to rule the South Bay for the next twenty years.

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