Santa Fe Depot
and the Railroads

Steven Shaw

San Bernardino Railroad History

In 1875, the Southern
Pacific Railroad came into the area. Eleven years later, the Santa Fe
Railroad arrived in the area and San Bernardino became Santa Fe’s
"gateway" to Southern California. For more than a century the railroad
industry has been a major contributor to the San Bernardino economy.

(Courtesy of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society))

The first
permanent depot was a wooden structure built in 1886. It was destroyed
by fire at 11:00 P.M. on November 16, 1916.

The New (1918)
Santa Fe Depot

Construction soon began on a new
$800,000 depot featuring mission-style architecture with domes, towers,
and a tile roof. Opening on July 15, 1918, the new depot would be a
"monument to the Santa Fe and the town the railroad built."
San Bernardino Daily Sun declared, "santa Fe’s new station to be
the finest in the West." The paper gave "Credit to San Bernardino
showing importance of the Gate City as a transportation center."

(Courtesy of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society))

The new depot (including roundhouse,
shops, etc.) was the largest west of the Mississippi.
beams and recessed ceiling panels are decorated with fancy touches like
the florets around the milky white fixtures. Everything was handcrafted
for this specific job. It was
known for being marvelously
clean and neat (not like many of the eastern railroad stations). The
tiled floors and walls were polished regularly.

West End
– baggage rooms, superintendent’s office, mailroom, telegraph
office & western union.

division engineer’s office. The "onion domes" were always empty rooms,
just for looks (and pigeons).

3rd Street side
first three bays were credit union and dispatcher’s office.

East End
The Harvey House–From the 1880’s through the 1930’s,
Harvey House Restaurants flourished along the Atchison, Topeka, and
Santa Fe Railway.
The waitresses (Harvey Girls) wore neatly
pressed and heavily starched black uniforms with crisp white cuffs,
white bibbed aprons, and starched white caps. The Harvey Girls served
hot meals, sandwiches, bakery goods, and good strong coffee to the weary
travelers. The Harvey House
was opened in 1921 and closed
in the 1950’s.
Meals were served at hour-long food stops
along the Santa Fe routes on
marble-top tables and a big
horseshoe shaped counter. Chicken potpie was 75 cents.

Bernardino Depot’s Heyday

The busiest period of passenger train
travel was the mid-1920’s to mid-1950’s in the
days before
automobile dominance and popularity of air travel. A Santa Fe timetable
dated June 12,1938, lists 13 eastbound and 13 westbound trains per day
departing from the depot every 2 hours or so, with a few hours breaks
during the morning.
The trains bore colorful
Southwest-flavored names: El Capitan, the Navajo, the Scout, the Grand
Canyon Limited, the Chief, and the limousine of sleeping cars favored by
Hollywood movie stars, the Super Chief.

During the war
years, there were also troop trains and travelers would frequently see
"standing room only" full of soldiers inside the depot.
bars, boarding houses, and small businesses all thrived in the area.

The Cave Cafe, Pirate’s Den, Eichenberg’s cafe, and hotels like
the Planet, the St. Augustine, the Maryland, and the Travelers were
close by.
Everyone from presidents
to fruit packers passed through the depot.

Demise of the Depot

The new diesel
locomotives needed smaller work crews. The 1960’s saw the beginning of
the gradual slowdown as the rail industry began downsizing. Santa Fe
turned its passenger travel over to Amtrak in 1972. In 1992, the Santa
Fe transferred most of its workers to Topeka, Kansas and moved many
switching operations to Barstow. The focus now is strictly on freight

Restoration of the Depot

In 1992, San Bernardino
Associated Governments (SANBAG)
acquired the depot and property from
the railway as part of a larger property acquisition in preparation for
Metrolink commuter rail service (which began operation in October
1992). The depot itself still was not fully functional.

In the mid-1990’s,
however, SANBAG and the City of San Bernardino began to work together to
bring the 57,000 square foot depot back to life. They secured the $15
million (from a combination of federal and state grants and local money)
necessary to complete restoration of the depot.

Architect Milford
Wayne Donaldson was chosen to develop the final design for the depot.
Solteck Pacific was hired as the construction contractor and Transtech
Engineers was named as the construction management firm.

Work began in November 2002. The restoration work
included historically accurate renovations of the interior and exterior,
installation of utilities, seismic retrofitting and asbestos removal.

(Photo by Ruth Parish)

The project was
completed in June of 2004. After dedication ceremonies, SANBAG began
occupying the building on June 21, 2004. Today, the restored depot
serves Metrolink, a commuter rail service, and houses the offices of
Metrolink and SANBAG.

["The Changeling" Filmed at Historic Santa Fe Depot]

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