Friday, December 21, 2012

"The Old Sooty, Murky, Smoky Roundhouse"

If you were in San Jose seventy-eight years ago this week, you would have been celebrating in the streets, for the much-hated Southern Pacific main line running down Fourth Street through downtown was on its way out. Out went the freight trains blocking traffic and the worn-out old stick-style station at the top of Market Street. (The neighborhood around the station was rough enough that I've seen it described as "the waterfront".) In its place was a new mainline bypassing San Jose to the west, and a beautiful new station at Cahill Street - the current Diridon Station.

And it's possible through the old papers to read about the celebrations, but let's first recap why San Jose shoppers were having to dodge refrigerator cars when acting like good consumers.

The Southern Pacific built down Fourth Street from Julian to Keyes in the 1870's when they were first building south towards Gilroy, Salinas, and (eventually) Los Angeles. SP needed permission from the city to run on the city streets. Although they got their franchise, it was only good for fifty years. When the franchise ended in 1916, the city wanted the tracks out. SP already owned the land along a proposed new route bypassing the city to the west, but ten years of fights with the California Railroad Commission over the line ended just as the neighbors in the new Palm Haven subdivision in Willow Glen started protesting the arrival of trains near their houses. Willow Glen was against the railroad enough to incorporate in 1927 as their own city which they hoped could just pass laws banning the new train tracks. Other fights centered over the numerous street crossings: San Jose city wanted underpasses or overpasses to avoid get rid of the potentially deadly crossings they were certain would be created. The Great Depression slowed construction even as the critics were mollified with a more distant routing. Some underpasses were constructed by 1931; others only went in late 1935.

But eventually, the current routing was decided, the new station built, and it was time for the cut-over. And then the celebrations began.

I've always been interested in the Fourth Street line and in the old Market Street station, partially because of the incongruity of mainline trains running past Victorians on Fourth, and partially from my interest in the old depot (as seen in the Market Street station shelf layout I built. I'd never, however, read the newspaper from those happy days before the switchover, and I was pleasantly surprised when I finally did look.

So let's look at some of the celebration, shall we?

November 7, 1935 "Present indications are that the railroad job will be completed by the end of the year, and the old, North First Street station an abandoned building, soon to be destroyed."

Note the picture of the old station there. The train shed held only two tracks, so the passenger cars just in front of the shed must either be a third track, or cars awaiting being spotted in place. Even with two tracks, the Market Street station handled as many commute trains as Caltrain sees today, as well as several major passenger trains (Daylight, Lark, Coaster, Sunset Limited). The station personnel also handled all those trains while switching of engines and shuffling passenger cars across multiple downtown and residential grade crossings. I'd love to see how they managed to do all that without hitting cars and pedestrians hourly.

November 11,1935 The Bird Avenue underpass, eighth and last of the grade separations being built by the Southern Pacific... will be opened to traffic Thursday morning. The line still needs the bridge at Los Gatos Creek (just next to the San Carlos Street overpass) finished, though a bridge over Guadalupe Creek is just being completed. There's also an underpass at Almaden Road in the works, though it won't be done til next year.

November 16, 1935 has a photo of the new and old station compared, but the new station news got crowded out by the wreck of the Daylight passenger train in Gilroy, and the fright of a truck driver on Monterey Highway as the derailed locomotive charged at him.

November 22, 1935 Bridge across Los Gatos Creek supports its first train.

November 26, 1935 The San Jose News notes that one part of the old station will be moving to the new station: the fence that kept station patrons off the mainline tracks.

A historic ornamental iron fence between the main station of the Southern Pacific and the railroad tracks was removed yesterday, but it will not be discarded.
The fence, which has been in service for years, will be used at the new Southern Pacific station which is rapidly nearing completion. The fence originally encircled the first Southern Pacific hospital in San Francisco at Fourteenth and Mission Streets. It was originally designed by Dr. F. T. Ainsworth nearly half a century ago.
The fence was about all that remained of the hospital after the 1906 earthquake and because of its worth and design was stored away. In 1911, when W. C. Morrison was division engineer here and Peter N. Nelson of Minnesota Avenue was superintendent of bridges and buildings, they prevailed on the Southern Pacific to let them have the fence to place about the station built here in 1873... Only one bit of the fence will be missing, that which had to be cut by acetylene torches from around a sycamore tree, to save the tree."
(Wonder if that fence is still at Diridon station?)

December 9, 1935 George Clark, who rode the in the first South Pacific Coast narrow gauge train through San Jose in 1878, gets an invitation to ride on the first train over the new West Side line. Clark had also been an SP employee, losing both legs in different accidents, and having a hand crushed by a mishap with a third train.

December 9, 1935 Now that the Bird Ave. overpass is done, the last track can be laid at Home St.

December 20, 1935

The San Jose News leads with a photo and article on the last run of Train #108, the 8:30 a.m. arrival from points north to San Jose State. Train 108 was a 7:00 am run out of San Francisco, and although the timetables I've seen only show it running to the Market Street station, the news of its loss certainly shows the train ran further south to the San Jose state campus. The last train had 175 passengers, all of whom would be having to bus in from the new Cahill St. station come next term.

December 28, 1935 On December 28, we learn about the events planned for the grand day. They were appropriately grand, as grand as you'd expect from thirty years of waiting: a special train from the old Market Street station to south of San Jose, and then a return back to the new Cahill Street station, speeches, boy scout with flags, the Star Spangled Banner played by the Southern Pacific Band, and a luncheon back at the Hotel De Anza.

Buried on page three were the human interest stories about the workers moving from old to new station, and some reporter must've had a great time reporting "the new, elaborate, modern station… has its advantages, but to many of them the old, sooty, murky, smoky roundhouse has developed a sentimental attachment that is difficult to get away from." C.F. Quinn, ticket clerk looked forward to the new station, but reminisced:

The ticket room here is nothing to remark about, but it has served its purpose very well and I guess I'll miss the old tin ticket rack here and people yelling from three places at once for information about train schedules.
There's also a full history of the relocation thirty years in the making, including some half-insane suggested plans to elevate the main line above Fourth Street. I imagine trains full of sugar beets and other messy and open cars would have added some excitement to the lives of downtown residents.

The Merchants' Association secretary, William Baylor, sticks to the positive with "the railroad has given San Jose an excellent Christmas present. The whole project has put our railroad facilities in wonderful condition and in line with the times."

Charles Crothers, president of the realty board, in constrast goes negative. "Just as we were ashamed of the old station we will be proud of this beautiful new one, which is a fine building." Ashamed? That old building looked awfully cool to me!

December 30,1935 The big day. Today's paper isn't in Google's archive, and tomorrow's paper only mentions the switch to the new line in an editorial:

San Jose's big day has come and gone. Yesterday was cold and uncomfortable on the outside, but in the thousands of hearts of local people there glowed warmth and pleasure that at last the quarter-century-old project of railroad relocation was being completed, and not only if Fourth Street being cleared of trains but a station is being put into use that combines modern beauty with the utmost safety and convenience...
With the last few days of rain and cold, it's not hard to imagine what the ceremonies must have felt like to the participants.

If you want to see what the ceremony looked like, find a copy of Prune County Railroading, and check out page 72, where there's several photos of the special first train on the route (correctly approaching Cahill St. station from the south as we saw in the schedule of festivities), along with a couple staged shots of SP officials with the crew for the first train and speaking to the crowd.

(Update: Actually, Google News Archive does have the issue, but it's listed as part of the December 29 issue. Read more about that issue in a later blog post.)

December 31, 1935 Today's issue leads with the concrete indications of change - an action photo of the tracks at Monterey Road being pulled up. The Monterey Road crossing was particularly dangerous and the site of many a fatal accident. The main line here ran east of Monterey Road all the way to downtown, but just south of Oak Hill Cemetery, the lines cut over to the west side of the highway at an oblique angle. Even though the line switch had only occurred hours before, the line had been broken at Fourth and Julian and Monterey Road by afternoon. The industrial areas south of town (such as the Barron-Gray cannery and American Can) now could only be reached by a spur off to the new line.

January 1, 1936 And on January 1, 1936, it was all completely over. The San Jose News reported

Fourth Street flagmen, like the trains which they flagged, have been eliminated, with three exceptions, by the Southern Pacific relocation. Flag stations at Fourth and Virginia, Martha, and Keyes Streets will remain for the present, being in use in the industrial section, but these may be replaced with automatic wig-wags.
Approximately 30 men, many of them aged, who formerly warned the public of the approach of trains at crossings between Julian and Reed Streets, must now be placed in other railroad departments, according to Roadmaster S. R. Cupples. Many of them will be placed on the pension list.
The station houses will be moved in some cases. Others will be wreched.

I'd love to see what Edith Daley thought, but Google never scanned the late December, 1935 newspapers from the Evening News. (Even if they did, Edith was the San Jose librarian by then, and probably wasn't available for such articles.) Time for a trip to Main Library, perhaps, to see how the other newspapers handled the big day.


  1. The December 30 paper has multiple pages and articles on the new depot and the line relocation. History San Jose has a bound original.

  2. Hi, Ken,

    Thanks for the pointer - another reason to visit History San Jose.

    Suddenly I'm wondering what the press was like when the 1873 Market Street depot opened!

    1. Robert,
      Let me know when you like a tour of the HSJ archives.

      As I recall, the Market Street arcade trainshed and depot was opened in 1884 which was in response to the SPC narrow gauge depot on the Alameda.

      There was an earlier trainshed built between the SF&SJ depot and freight shed west of San Pedro Street in the 1860s. Clyde Arbuckle had a image of its construction.