Rail depot named to historic register

Photo: Robert Eliason

Every day, hundreds of people funnel into 7250 Monterey St. in downtown Gilroy, with luggage on their backs, in their hands, or on wheels behind them. They then spread out to various destinations throughout the Bay Area by train, bus or taxi before many of them return to the transportation hub by the end of the day.

With the exception of a 20-year period that began in the 1970s, such a scene has been common in the area for 150 years.

There is also a lot of waiting around to be had. But fortunately, passengers of the last 100 years have had a roomy place to take shelter in as they wait for their rides.

That waiting area has become even more significant recently.

The Gilroy Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, built in 1918, was named to the National Register of Historic Places in July, and on Jan. 18, members of the Gilroy Historical Society and city leaders commemorated the achievement by dedicating a plaque on the building signifying the achievement.

Connie Rogers, president of the Gilroy Historical Society who worked with a grant writer on the application, said the building, while not architecturally significant, qualified for the National Register because of the role it played in Gilroy’s formative years.

NEW STATION The Gilroy Southern Pacific Railroad Depot,
circa 1920. Photo courtesy of Gilroy Historical Society

Passengers lobby state

The depot’s beginnings stretch to 1868, when the Santa Clara and Pajaro Valley Railroad began constructing a line that ran from San Jose to Gilroy. In 1870, Southern Pacific Railroad purchased the line and built the original Gilroy depot that same year.

The capacity of the original station, coupled with Gilroy’s fertile soil, made the recently-incorporated city an attractive spot for farmers. But at the same time, passenger service was growing in popularity, thanks to the 1901 completion of the coastal rail line to Los Angeles.

The depot built in 1870 was too small for passengers, and people began taking notice.

“By the early 1900s, Gilroy residents started to complain,” Rogers said. “They said, ‘we deserve and need a better, bigger station.’”

After pleading to Southern Pacific for a new station, which fell on deaf ears, a group of Gilroy citizens lobbied the State Railroad Commission in Sacramento and successfully advocated for a new building. A new building was commissioned for $10,000, with the final cost coming in at $14,000. That translates to roughly $256,700 in today’s dollars.

With much fanfare, the Gilroy Railroad Depot was dedicated on April 30, 1918 in a rowdy celebration that drew 6,000 people, three brass bands, and reporters from regional newspapers. The Gilroy Advocate noted the new depot offered “spacious waiting rooms.”

For the next five decades, the depot continued to serve as a way station for rail travelers. But trouble loomed for rail service as America began falling in love with the automobile.

Service reductions in Gilroy began in 1929, and the engine house closed in 1934. The final service to the station was the Del Monte to Monterey, which ran until April 30, 1971.

The depot closed in 1972, and was boarded up and cut off from the rest of the world after a fence was installed around the perimeter.

IT’S OFFICIAL Connie Rogers and Roland Velasco reveal the new plaque. Photo: Robert Eliason

Revitalization

By the mid-1980s, a citizens’ advisory committee for downtown Gilroy revitalization recommended the Gilroy Railroad Depot and the surrounding property become a multi-modal transportation hub.

In 1992, Caltrain began providing service from San Francisco to Gilroy. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority purchased the depot site in 1993, and leased it to the City of Gilroy for $1 a year.

After being abandoned for two decades, the depot was in a sorry state. The roof sustained extensive water damage, and the ceiling above the waiting room was in dire need of restoration. Renovation costs were estimated at $950,000.

Half the cost was secured with transportation grants solicited by the City of Gilroy. About 700 Gilroyans petitioned the city council to support the remaining balance of the renovation cost, which it eventually did following a “contentious” vote, Rogers said.

In December 1998, the depot re-opened as a multi-modal transportation hub, served by Caltrain, long distance Greyhound buses, VTA buses, Monterey-Salinas Transit, county shuttle buses from San Benito County and taxis.

Today, it is currently the terminus for round-trip weekday commuter trains to San Jose and San Francisco, and the more than 200 local and regional bus trips of VTA.

“It’s functioning quite well as a multi-modal transportation center after a lot of work,” Rogers said.

She added that the plaque unveiled on Jan. 18 recognizes the city for its efforts in bringing the depot back to life.

“We were able to restore something 100 years old that is not only functional, but an important piece of Gilroy’s ability to attract new businesses and customers,” Rogers said.

Historical information provided by the Gilroy Historical Society.

Gilroy now has eight buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in addition to the row of cedar trees along Hecker Pass Highway.

Old City Hall, 7400 Monterey St.

The Carnegie Library (now Gilroy Museum), 195 Fifth St.

Christian Church, 160 Fifth St.

Wheeler Hospital, 650 Fifth St.

Holloway House, 7539 Eigleberry St.

Live Oak Creamery, 88 Martin St.

Miller Red Barn at Christmas Hill Park

Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, 7250 Monterey St.