At one time the Southern Pacific was San Luis Obispo’s leading industry. It was literally and figuratively the engine that drove the area’s growth for decades after it arrived in 1894.
Almost 80 years later the depot had to go. By the 1970′s the automobile whittled down the importance of rail traffic. Even the newspaper that lobbied for then lauded the arrival of the iron horse could not be bothered to give the story more than the corner of an inside section. As railroad employees watched a 25-ton-loader bit into the historic depot building reducing it to scraps. The old depot stood just south of the current building.
According to the historian interviewed at the time, Louisiana Clayton Dart, at the peak six or seven passenger trains arrived daily in addition to the freights. Hundreds of employees collected Southern Pacific paychecks. Today the Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight are the passenger trains serving San Luis Obispo.
Old SP depot at end of the line
By Jack Magee
San Luis Obispo’s old Southern Pacific Railroad depot is being moved to a new location–the county dump off of Edna Road.
It was smashed into kindling Thursday afternoon, to be replaced–ironically–by a parking lot for automobiles.
Asked if there had been any effort to preserve the frame and stucco building, Mrs. Louisiana Clayton Dart, curator of the county historical museum said “Not that I know of.”
“I knew it was for sale and if not sold was to be wrecked.,” Mrs. Dart went on.
The old wood depot was built shortly after the first train came and was one of four bungalow type buildings with wings added later. According to then depot communications manager Sammie A. Free efforts to convert the building to restaurant fell through because of high insurance rates. The building had a waiting room and ticket office heated by a coal stove but the building had sat vacant for at least three years. The small depot from the burned down Ramona Hotel was moved to the Dallidet Adobe grounds.
The current depot was built in 1941 or 1943 (my sources don’t agree) and has been remodeled at least once.
The town got sentimental about the railroad and created a special historical district after most of the landmarks were demolished. Original depot, gone. Roundhouse, gone. Turntable, gone all at the behest of the Southern Pacific. They were a little slower removing underground relics. When a new housing development was located over a former oil bunker the red faced company had to clean up the property they had sold to a developer.
The only original example of the original type of depot remaining in the county is in Oceano. Paso Robles remodeled their building in a more updated style but at least they did not send the whole building to the dump.
Train fans have something to look forward to The first Central Coast Railroad Festival is scheduled for October 8-12, 2009. Organizers want to make this an annual event. There will be a few rail related posts over the weeks leading up to the event.
Photo by Wayne Nicholls