Historic Structures

Southern Pacific Railroad Train Depot, Lodi California

Date added: August 6, 2021 Categories: California Train Station

The Lodi Southern Pacific Passenger Depot (SP), completed in 1907, was an asset to its city and the city's Railroad Reservation throughout the early half of the twentieth century. Lodi originated as a railroad proprietary town, and the Railroad Reservation was Lodi' s center from its inception in 1869 until the early 1950s, when the city's focal point became the new "civic center" located west of the reservation . Constant on the reservation property through its prosperous years were passenger and freight depots, sheds (for lumber and/or fruit), and park areas.

By 1906, Lodi started efforts to revamp Lodi's government, its infrastructure, and its physical appearance. One facet of these efforts was to build a new passenger depot to replace the 1869 SP passenger depot, which was considered to be too "squatty" and "a bad impression" to strangers that would come into the growing, successful town (The Lodi Sentinel June 21, 1906). [According to S. B. Axtell, the owner/publisher of the town's newspaper, The Lodi Sentinel, efforts to get SP to replace the old passenger depot began as early as 1879 (The Lodi Sentinel July 14, 1906).] With approximately one year's worth of press and construction, the 1907 Lodi Southern Pacific Passenger Depot became an outstanding representation of Lodi's desire to incorporate into a city.

The town's efforts first seemed attainable when, on April 6, 1906, key SP management personnel, W. R. Scott, the Division Superintendent, O. H. Farley, the Resident Engineer, and Road Master W. H. Burgess, came to Lodi to survey the Railroad Reservation property and to discuss details regarding the plans for a new passenger depot, as well as for a new freight depot. At the end of that meeting, SP declared that a new passenger depot would be built near where the old freight building stood and a new freight depot would be built on the site where the 1869 passenger depot stood. It was reported in The Lodi Sentinel that SP had budgeted $8,000 for the two new depots and $2,000 to fill and grade low areas on the reservation. Plans also called for the grounds to be developed with "square block lawns and flower beds with walks and driveways to the new freight depot" and for stationary sprinklers to be installed along the west side of the new freight depot (The Lodi Sentinel April 7, 1906).

Work on the new Lodi depots was delayed due to SP's needed attention to emergency work in San Francisco caused by the April 18, 1906 earthquake and fire. The San Francisco fire destroyed SP's architectural plans, including those to be used for the Lodi depot. The plans were redrawn by August 1906 when construction on the Lodi passenger depot began.

Most major railroads, such as SP, used standard architectural plans for their depots. "Common standards assured greater efficiency by saving architectural and planning costs, permitting the railroad to 'simply pick the depot that was appropriate for each new stop from the standard designs then current"'. SP made extensive use of both one- and two-story standard-design depots. They chose their one-story "Standard No. 23" plan for the new Lodi passenger depot.

All SP Standard No. 23 depots were constructed in the Colonnade-style. The Colonnade-style was developed by SP's architects to create an attractive passenger depot that was suited for mild climates, especially California's. The style "used a series of Tuscan columns placed at regular intervals, a colonnade, to support an ample overhanging hipped roof. This made a roofed passageway (and arcade) around three sides of the depot where patrons could wait for their train. Typically, the arcade was 14 feet wide, often with a wider waiting area at one end. Under the overhang, the depots have a rounded bay, an architectural feature unique to this style. They also had a dormer or two, usually shed roofed, to break the expanse of the roof above the arcade".

There were a total of 29 Colonnade-style depots built by SP throughout the west, including variants using wooden arches, stucco and/or brick cladding/facing. Only four of the 29 Colonnade-style depots, Lodi, East Oakland, Elmhurst and Redwood City, were built using SP's Standard No. 23 plan; of these four, reportedly only the Lodi and Redwood City passenger depots are still standing.

On Tuesday, August 28, 1906 SP began construction of the new passenger depot. The contractor for the passenger depot at this time, identified only as Mr. Cook, was a former Lodi resident with 18 years experience with the SP construction department. Mr. Cook claimed that both new Lodi depots would be the "handsomest of any town between Sacramento and Oakland" (The Lodi Sentinel August 30, 1906). The Lodi Sentinel reported that the new passenger depot was to be 76 feet, 11 inches by 24 feet with a solid cement foundation, and would be built 50 feet north of Pine Street, adjacent to the railroad tracks and directly west of the old freight depot (The Lodi Sentinel August 30, 1906).

Although there were delays in getting the dirt fill and a steam shovel to level the Railroad Reservation grounds, the construction crew proceeded to finish the concrete foundations for both new structures by the middle of September 1906. They began structural framework on the passenger depot on October 27, 1906, completing it in December 1906 (excluding paint and interior furnishings). A new contractor, a Mr. Mathewson, worked during this portion of the project. The leveling and landscaping of the Railroad Reservation grounds was completed by the June 22, 1907 opening of the new passenger and freight depots; Lodi was incorporated as a city just six months before.

A newspaper in Stockton, as well as The Lodi Sentinel, commemorated the opening of Lodi's new depots. Page three of the June 22, 1907 Stockton Daily Evening Record announced:
At last the Southern Pacific Company has moved into its new quarters. Both freight and passenger depots are well fitted to serve the public. The passenger depot presents a pretty appearance, especially at evening when the electricity brightens it up. A number of 16-candle powered globes are on the outside, which throws considerable light on the railroad track and pathways in front and back of the depot.
and proclaimed that Lodi had "one of the prettiest [passenger] depots and surroundings that can be found anywhere in the State" (Stockton Daily Evening Record June 22, 1907).

The most enthusiastic ovation for SP and the new passenger depot, as well as the whole revamped Railroad Reservation area, came from S. B. Axtell as written in The Lodi Sentinel:
This is a red letter day in the local history of the Southern Pacific Company.

The old passenger depot, which has done valiant service for so many years, is to be abandoned by the Company, and the agents and assistants will move their paraphernalia into the elegant new structure, which stands half a block north.

Likewise the freight depot, which has echoed the thread of husky freight handlers, ambitious yard men and impatient freight train crews, will be supplanted in favor by the new building which stands a few yards south of the old passenger depot.

This event has not been unprepared for. Busy workmen during the past four months have erected the new buildings, filled in and leveled the grounds, graded and graveled the driveways and changed the dusty walks of old to solid asphaltum.

The Southern Pacific Company does nothing by halves. When once the work of improving the property in Lodi was taken up it was rushed along to completion and no expense was spared tward [sic] having everything first-class. One crew of workmen followed another, and throughout it all there was that evidence of systom [sic] which has done so much for the success of the Company which has made California what it is. For the Southern Pacific Company is managed in a businesslike manner, and harmony, justice and strict method is evident in every department, from the Oriental section crew on the most remote division, to the office of the President and managing officials.

The new depots, passenger and freight, are modem in detail. The passenger depot is fronted with a large cement court, and the comfort of the passengers is looked to in many ways. It stands at the eastern edge of Lodi's north park, which, as old residents will remember, was given over to town uses until such time as the company might want it. And surely the town is heartily glad to have the railroad again take possession of it for depot purposes, for with the erection of the [passenger] depot the park is also improved throughout, the bandstand removed to another location in south park, and the ground leveled and put in order.

The pond of water which stood each winter on the railroad reservation is a thing of the past. It will never appear again. It required hundreds of carloads of earth to fill in the depression, but the work was faithfully done and then a clean dressing of gravel given as a top coating.

Henceforth the passenger who approaches Lodi will see the depot grounds well kept, with grassy plots and palms in existence, and the buildings modern and up-to-date.

Well done, Southern Pacific Company! [The Lodi Sentinel June 22, 1907]

Both old depots were removed from the reservation property. The 1869 passenger depot was relocated on a property on West Pine Street. This depot served as a temporary library from 1907 until 1910 when a new library was built to replace it on the same West Pine Street property.

The construction of new depots, as well as incorporation, were catalysts for other affairs in pre-1950s Lodi. New SP tracks were laid once the fill and grading were completed on the Railroad Reservation. Development was spurred on both sides of Main Street, including the addition of several fruit packing sheds to the west side (Railroad Reservation side) of the street. Municipally owned utilities services prospered. To publicize its success in the freight industry and especially the export of its famous Tokay grapes, the city held its first Lodi Tokay Carnival on September 19, 1907.

To honor the momentous event of the 1907 carnival and the city's self-proclaimed standing as the "Tokay capitol of the world", the mission-style Tokay Arch, designed by Stockton architect E. B. Brown, was constructed on the Railroad Reservation property before the carnival opened. The plaster-coated arch was, located to the southwest of the 1907 passenger depot and arches over Pine Street at the west boundary of the reservation property .

The Tokay Arch further enhanced the Railroad Reservation by providing a grand entry to the city at its, then vital, railroad-associated center with new passenger and freight depots. The Tokay Arch, which was listed on the National Register and as a State Landmark in 1980, and the 1907 passenger depot are the only extant historic buildings that can be linked to the once vital Railroad Reservation property.

Lodi and its railroad facilities thrived until after World War II when the end of wartime restrictions and the beginning of postwar prosperity signaled the end of the city's railroadcentered success. In 1950, SP altered the 1907 passenger depot's interior "to modernize the building and to accommodate changes in the building's use". This was followed by the decision of the city to create a new Lodi civic center to the west of the Railroad Reservation. The reservation was determined as "dividing the town between east and west, is an obstacle to efficient traffic flow".

In the early 1970s the Lodi freight depot and platform were abandoned and demolished. By that time the 1907 landscape features, "with the exception of two palm trees," had disappeared. The passenger depot was closed in 1987, along with 19 other SP stations closed within a five-year period. SP's request for a demolition permit from the city was denied "when opposition surfaced among councilmen, the public, and the historians and preservationists". Later, after a fire had been started in the passenger depot, its windows and doors were boarded over.

By the mid-1990s, a downtown revitalization plan was proposed and included plans for reuse of the 1907 passenger depot.