Southern Pacific Train Station Post Office, Sacramento California

Date added: September 14, 2018 Categories: California Train Station Post Office
1994 View of American Railway Express Building from front parking lot, facing northeast

The Railway Post Office and Express Building was constructed by the Southern Pacific Transportation (formerly Railroad) Company.

The Railway Express Building remained in the service of the American Railway Express Agency until the mid-1960s. At this time, a commercial enterprise, the "Hang 'Em High" pottery store leased the ground floor of the railway express building for the following two to three years. The second floor of the Railway Express Building was utilized by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company for Signal Department training classes until the mid-1980s.

The one story Loading Dock section that extends to the east was leased to a furniture outlet store for several years. The Sacramento Police Department then used the Loading Dock area as a property room up until about 1990. The Dock was utilized briefly for a community art exhibit before it became vacant. The vacant building was subject to entry by vagrants and experienced a fire in the 1990s that damaged the mezzanine and second floor on the north side of the building.

During their height of activity, the Central Pacific (later Southern Pacific) Railyards held the largest and most complete complex of industrial railroad buildings west of the Mississippi River. This completely self contained shop complex fabricated everything necessary for the production of the railroad's more than 200 locomotives, thousands of passenger and freight cars as well as steam engines, railroad ferries, cable cars, track, and a variety of machinery and engines for miscellaneous public and private enterprises. Everything from passenger car upholstery and the silver plating of dining car silver, to the railroad ferries, bolts, wheels and tracks were manufactured on this site.

The story of the Central Pacific Railroad began with the creation of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first steam railroad west of the Rockies. This railroad's first president, Col. Charles Wilson, traveled to the east coast in 1854 in search of an engineer to construct the railroad, incorporated two years before. Wilson met Theodore Judah, a young engineer who had recently built the Niagara Gorge Railroad, and invited him to the west to help build the Sacramento Valley Railroad. Judah saw the work as a potential opportunity to fulfill his dream of completing a continental railroad, and came to Sacramento.

Despite financing problems, the Sacramento Valley Railroad was completed and operating by February of 1856. The little railroad ran from the Sacramento waterfront to the town of Folsom, hauling freight out R Street to that terminus for at least 21 different wagon trains that met it in Folsom. From Folsom, the wagons went off to the mines in a variety of directions including the Comstock Lode in Nevada, and Carson and Virginia City. Railroad shops in Folsom were constructed and produced equipment for the railroad as well as for the mines.

Judah continued to survey the central Sierra Nevada and seek funding for a transcontinental connection. He finally interested a group of Sacramento businessmen, later called "the Big Four" in the project; Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins and C.P.Huntington. In 1861, the same year Leland Stanford was elected Governor, the Central Pacific Railroad was incorporated. Judah was successful in obtaining the federal passage of the first Pacific Railroad Bill, and supportive California legislation followed, giving the company the river side of Front Street north of K for shops, tracks, buildings or other uses needed for the construction or operation of the railroad, and the right of way to build on any levee, street or alley.

The Central Pacific was thus designated to be the builder of the California section of the first transcontinental railroad. In January of 1863, its officers broke ground on Front Street at the foot of K Street. In 1865, during the initial stages of the railroad's development, the foundry of Goss and Lombard near 2nd and I Streets served to assemble and make operational the first locomotive, the Governor Stanford. In this year, the Central Pacific bought the Sacramento Valley Railroad, and that railroad's Folsom shops were brought under the control and use of the new company. Until 1867, the Central Pacific improvised, unsatisfactorily, with temporary buildings and contract work. In August of 1867, plans for new shops were completed and work began on the Roundhouse. Several other industrial foundry, shop, manufacturing, and storage structures were constructed over a twenty year period following the Roundhouse construction, in order to manufacture the locomotive and freight cars, and house all of the additional activities involved in producing engines, boilers, tracks, wheels, upholstery, metal plating, etc. necessary to railroad construction and operation.

A souvenir publication of the Sacramento Bee of 1894 stated "In Sacramento is located, with one exception possibly, the most complete railroad plant in the United States. The shops and yards of the Southern Pacific cover forty-two acres and are equipped with all the latest modern machinery and appliances for the complete overhauling of locomotives and the manufacture of cars." In 1892, 5,000,000 feet of lumber were used, the foundry output was 9,125,000 pounds, 26,830 car wheels were made, and in 3 years, 400 to 500 freight cars produced. The railroad had its own copper, brass, iron and steel foundries, tin shop, plated its own silver dining car service, upholstered its own passenger cars, made its own bolts and springs, even stuffed its own cushions with hair and dyed its own cloth. The cabinet shop manufactured and veneered desks and furniture, and some of the most skillful car painters in the United States painted and lettered the finished cars. The blacksmith shop contained immense steam hammers reputed to have regularly startled downtown workers as distant as the Courthouse, Sturtevant blowers, power punches, shears, forges and cranes. The brass foundry held graphite crucibles holding 240 pounds of brass or bronze for casting.

The Southern Pacific Railroad Company, in the course of its efforts to create more railroad ridership and freight uses, became a major promoter of the West throughout the country. The Company began to promote the West as early as 1870. In the 1880s, the Southern Pacific built the Del Monte Lodge near Monterey as a promotional destination for visitors from the East. The Southern Pacific built other hotels in major centers throughout the state in the next few years to promote travel and tourism. In 1888, promotion campaigns sent "California on Wheels" trains to the mid-west to exhibit California's products.

In 1890, as part of a continuing effort, Sequoia National Park was formed with strong support from S.P. who saw it as a tourist opportunity. Ten years later, the S.P. helped bring Yosemite Valley into the National Park System. In 1898, the railroad began publication of "Sunset Magazine" as part of a campaign to bring settlers to the West. The aim was patently to promote and glorify the West in an effort to persuade Easterners to visit and colonize the still thinly settled region served by the Southern Pacific.

In 1906, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific formed the Pacific Fruit Express Company, with a fleet of 7,000 refrigerator cars. As an adjunct to this activity, S.P. joined in an educational campaign with University of California agronomists to operate special demonstration trains designed to improve the standards and production of the agricultural industry.

Between 1901 and 1916, "colonist fares" from Chicago and the Missouri River brought nearly 800,000 settlers to the West over Southern Pacific lines. Emigrant trains were established to bring poor California-bound settlers across country at low fares in short times. Special rates were given to colonists who traveled and settled together. Following rate wars of the late 1880s, the S.P. and Santa Fe railroads ran thousands of "Zulu cars", with one member of a family traveling with livestock, pets, farm tools, furniture, etc. and the remainder riding in passenger cars at low rates. In one year alone during this era, S.P. moved 120,000 new arrivals into Los Angeles.

An article from the Sacramento Union in October of 1921 describes the Railyards as a "Steel City." Headlines proclaim, "Unheralded, Unknown to Sacramento, Greatest Industry of City is Doubled". The article states that the shops had expanded to more than a score of mammoth buildings, more than doubling the size of the complex in less than a decade. Nine new buildings were added in less than four years at a cost of over $700,000. Nearly 3,000 men were then employed at the shops, with a monthly payroll of $500,000. The shops produced 15 new locomotives, and overhauled and repaired an average of 350 locomotives every year. About 800 passenger cars were repaired annually, in addition to the construction of several hundred new freight and passenger cars. Construction of a new planing mill and gray-iron foundry were imminently planned, as well as new fire protection and oil supply systems. All scrap iron and steel was saved, sorted and recycled in the Rolling Mill and forges, and apprentice classes of 200 students were held. California and the city prospered.

The first railyards buildings served the railroad well during its early years of growth. While some building took place between 1890 and 1900, the next strong period of construction appears to have occurred during the 1910 to 1925 period. The era coincides with Sacramento's era of "City Beautiful" expansion and apparent prosperity throughout the state. The new Southern Pacific Depot and American Railway Express Building were completed in 1926. By that year, 86 passenger and freight cars passed through the Railyards daily.

After the boom of the 1920s and 1930s, post-war rail activity fell. Reflecting this situation, few new buildings were built on the site between 1945 and 1955. Some new but prefabricated industrial structures were installed during the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1990s, the construction of new buildings has been limited, involving primarily some maintenance and remodeling activity and the installation of small prefabricated metal buildings to meet shop needs.

The shops also manufactured and maintained large scaled equipment and machinery other than for the railroad itself. They overhauled and constructed new engines and boilers for steamboats and ferries, and mended huge steamboat engine shafts. The Central Pacific also built all of the cars and equipment for the San Francisco Market Street Railroad (cable car) line in the early 1880s, several cars of which were used continuously until the early 1940s. In 1930, the railroad completed the ten million dollar Martinez-Benicia bridge across Suisun Bay.

The current Depot and Express buildings, although not part of the initial establishment of the railroad, were important in their own era, which was one of considerable significance and success. The growth of passenger service was important, but the railroad was a key participant in the tremendous agricultural development of California's rich farmlands. Its freight and mail transportation was a critical growth factor in the years prior to the establishment of California's highway system.