Southern Pacific Sunol Depot Returns
By Henry E. Bender Jr.
Until the Fisher Bros. house-moving firm of Manteca moved it back home shortly before sunrise on Sunday, November 22, 1998, the old Southern Pacific depot had been gone from Sunol, California, for over half a century. The move, requested in 1995 by the Pacific Locomotive Association and the town of Sunol, was paid for by Alameda County.
Since 1941, the depot had been about 0.6 of a mile west of Sunol, on a tree-shaded plot between Niles Canyon Road and the Union Pacific (ex-Western Pacific) Oakland-Stockton line near that railroad's truss bridge crossing of Alameda Creek. It was moved there in 1941 to be a restaurant. Later it became a home and was rented out until 1997. In 1992 Alameda Countyís Water District acquired the property and after noticing the home's septic system was leaking, evicted the man who lived there. The Pacific Locomotive Association and Sunol city fathers then started working with the county to get the historic but empty building moved back to town where PLA members were committed to restoring it.1
The Sunol Depot was built by Southern Pacific as a standard One-Story Combination Depot No. 7 - a standing design built between 1884-1886 Ė and is most likely the final example of this design left standing. For the past 57 years, it had itís freight room placed at a right angle to the passenger and office portion. Now (in 1999), it is only a few yards from its original Sunol site, and is being reassembled into its original form.
SP's Combination Depot No. 7 came in two "flavors" - one with a straight gable roof and one with a hipped freight-room roof with its edge three or four feet above the gable roof ridge of the passenger-office portion. Sunol's example has the two-level roof, as did the prototype Combination Depot No. 7, which was built in April, 1884 at Stege, California (two miles south of where Richmond was later established).2
SP sent notice on December 13, 1940 to the California Public Utilities Commission that they intended to abandon the Sunol station building, and on March 10, 1941 they notified the PUC that the abandonment had been completed3.
SP retired and removed the Stege depot in 1950. The Sunol depot is the last remaining SP one-story depot with the two-level roof. Others of this rare form were once found at Puente (renamed the City of Industry in 1958), San Gabriel, and Tropico (renamed Glendale in 1918). The Puente and San Gabriel depots were built in 1886, according to the January 1, 1887 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Herald.
|In 1986 SP's line was still intact albeit severed on the east side of the pass due to a mudslide. SP used SW1500 2601 to train management as their hedge against a looming strike.|
Southern Pacificís line from Niles through Niles Canyon, Livermore, and Altamont Pass to Tracy was completed by the first Western Pacific Railroad (which was a Central Pacific subsidiary by then) in September 1869. It was the first railroad connecting the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento and the Transcontinental Railroad, which had been completed at Promontory, Utah Territory, four months earlier.It became a secondary main line in the years after the Oakland-Sacramento line via Port Costa and Benicia was built in late 1879. The second Western Pacific line (now Union Pacific) was built paralleling the SP line in 1908-1909.
On September 13, 1982, the ICC allowed SP to abandon the railroad between Niles and Tracy after SP acquired trackage rights over the parallel [2ndl Western Pacific between Niles and Lathrop. SP didn't stop using the line immediately, though. In January and February 1983, the track was blocked by mud slides at numerous places between Niles and Altamont. In March, 1983, a massive mud slide near milepost 57 covered almost 400 feet of the SP track (as well as the parallel WP track). SP never reopened its line.
On November 1, 1984, SP began using itís trackage rights between Niles Tower and East Pleasanton for their East Pleasanton Turn. The SP rails crossing Altamont Pass were taken up in January, 1986. The welded rails through Niles Canyon were removed in February and March of 1986, but the ties and tie plates were left in place The track through Pleasanton was removed in 1989.
Niles Canyon Scenic Railroad
The line between Sunol and Niles has been rebuilt by members of the Pacific Locomotive Association as the Niles Canyon Scenic Railroad. The PLA moved their locomotives and cars from their former operation at Point Molate/Castro Point (near Richmond). On June 7, 1986 volunteers spiked down the first rail.
There are still picnic grounds in Niles Canyon, but there's little evidence that trains once brought weekend crowds from Oakland and San Francisco. Between the 1870s and 1930s, pleasure seekers would board passenger trains for Niles Canyon. At least ten picnic grounds and amusement parks awaited their patronage, with many at or near stations named in the timetable. Only one station, Brightside, actually had a passenger shelter, while others featured nothing more than a station name on a sign post.
Fern Brook Park announcing its name with a sign just above its entrance, and was the best known park in the canyon. Ice cream, as well as draft beer, were sold there and even John Philip Sousa and his 35-member band were known to have performed for the visitors at the park. Other picnic grounds in the Canyon were Sims Place, Stonybrook, Joyland, Idelwild, K&M, Cobble Crest, Rosewamer, and Old Dan Flakes Place. The names are just memories now but reflect the pleasures and simplicity of the times.
Sunol, too, was a destination for city people.
In the 1880s there were four hotels in the tiny town. The Hazel Glen Hotel,
on Kilkare Road across from the depot, advertised itself as one of the
"largest and most commodious hotels in the township, and constructed on
a scale of magnificence unsurpassed in the county outside San Francisco
or Oakland." All of the hotels eventually burned down and they are all
nearly forgotten now.