Mission-style Depots in San Rafael symbol of Marin’s Long Railroad History

by Fred Codoni

NWP Train Station, San Rafael, 1935 © Fred Codoni

hen the North Pacific Coast Railroad initiated service in Marin County in the mid-1870s, our transportation system was revolutionized. Not only could people easily and comfortably travel throughout Northern California, agricultural products could also be quickly transported to large urban centers such as San Francisco.

Throughout Marin County numerous vestiges of the railroad’s legacy remain, a small segment of which will be resurrected when SMART trains begin running from Sonoma County to San Rafael in 2016.

Union Depot, San Rafael, circa 1909. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

San Rafael is still graced by two mission-style depots which were completed in 1929. They include the downtown depot which replaced the former Union Station and also the smaller B Street depot. Today, San Rafael’s former downtown depot is home to Whistlestop. According to railroad historian Fred Codoni, “the downtown depot has been substantially changed over the years. The south end was built in 1944 or 1945 to house the railroad’s general offices and later Whistlestop added an upper story to the building.”

Former downtown San Rafael depot now home to Whistlestop © Google

On January 17, 1929 the Marin Journal heralds the immanent construction of the railroad’s new mission-style depots, part of a larger plan to modernize the railway:

San Rafael and Ross Depots to Open on January 25

“Northwestern Pacific stations at San Rafael and Ross will be opened January 25 according to the plans of the contractors who are rushing the work as fast as possible.

The stations are an adaption of the Mission style of architecture. At San Rafael the station has a long arched arcade running along the front. Within is a spacious waiting room with half tiled walls, cement floors, comfortable seating facilities and a cigar, magazine and novelty stand.

A large office for the agent, private telephone booths and handsomely finished wash rooms complete the passenger traffic conveniences.

A large warehouse for freight and express consignments forms the southern wing of the building and this is separated from main building by a passageway from the street to the station’s platform.

Entirely new equipment has been installed in the platform including cement deck ramp and runways between the tracks. A runway from a platform across the several tracks will be used for passenger and express travel and will eliminate any danger either from the right of way itself or from the third rail. The power rail is covered by a shoulder of the concrete station platform.

These two depots are a part of the extensive rebuilding program which the Northwestern Pacific is planning for the coming year. The opening of the San Rafael station marks the first link in the new project in San Rafael. Work on the West End station will be started shortly after the first of February it has been announced and the replacement of the B Street depot will take place soon thereafter.”

Historical Note on San Rafael’s Railroad History by Fred Codoni:

San Rafael’s first railroad was the San Rafael & San Quentin, which opened between those two points in 1870. San Rafael’s next railroad was the North Pacific Coast, which built a narrow-gauge line from Sausalito through the Ross Valley to the Russian River; there was a branch from San Anselmo to San Rafael which opened in 1874. The San Francisco & North Pacific was a standard-gauge line built south from Petaluma which entered San Rafael in 1879.

Recently completed mission-style depot in Ross, circa 1930. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.



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Anne T. Kent California Room

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