Tracing Tracy Territory: Solving the case of the SP depot
by Sam Matthews / TP publisher emeritus
Mar 19, 2010 | 6161 views | 1 1 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The demolition of the wood-frame Southern Pacific depot that stood for years where Central Avenue crosses the Bow Tie area was completed in March 1962.   Press file photo
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If you have at least a smidgen of interest in the fate of old Southern Pacific train depots, this is the place.

First off, the question of what happened to the wood-frame building that was the S.P. depot from the early part of the 20th century until 1962 has been nailed down: It was demolished in March 1962.

Second, the steel building on the east side of MacArthur Drive that replaced the old depot in January 1962 has also been demolished — just this week.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported that the old Southern Pacific depot might have been moved out to Larch Road in 1961. The building that has served as a church since then appeared as though it could be at least part of the depot building. Certainly, the possibility couldn’t be ruled out, I noted.

Now it’s been ruled out.

The old Southern Pacific depot was not moved to Larch Road in 1961, but was demolished in March 1962.

Dennis Maddox, a docent at the Tracy Historical Museum, found the answer while looking through newspaper clippings and photos of the S.P. era in Tracy.

“As soon as I saw the Tracy Press clipping of the photo of the old depot being torn down in March 1962, I knew it answered the question you raised in your column a week ago,” he said.

Dennis, a onetime pressman with the Tracy Press, made a copy of the photo clipping and gave it to me. I found the negative in the Press archives. The results appear with this column.

The caption under the photo said that in addition to the demolition of the old station, the S.P. planned to tear down or sell other, smaller buildings in the old yard area that was abandoned in the summer of 1961, when the new yard east of town was opened.

The only exception to the “sell or demolish” policy was the S.P. clubhouse, the mission-revival-style building that was home to visiting S.P. crews from Oakland. It wasn’t torn down until the 1970s.

One of those smaller buildings in the old yard area was obviously moved in 1961 to Larch Road by the Rev. Clem King and his wife, Carrie. It was Carrie, the retired teacher and first director of the Larch-Clover Community Center, who reported that the church building had been moved from the old S.P. yard area and could have been the depot. An inspection determined that yes, it could have been the old depot — at least part of it — but that couldn’t be nailed down for certain. The clipping of the demolition photo has solved the mystery.

If not the depot, the church building on Larch Road was definitely one of the buildings in the S.P. yard area. It might have been the office of the road foreman of engines located near the roundhouse, but that also is far from certain.

When the new S.P. yard was opened in July 1961, the old station, thought to have been constructed in the early part of the 20th century, remained in use while the new 4,500-square-foot steel depot building was built just east of MacArthur Drive. The new depot building was put into use in January 1962, but some communications equipment remained to be moved out of the old depot building, and demolition was delayed. That March, it was demolished.

It’s a bit surprising, at least in retrospect, that no effort was made to save the old depot building. Although historically important, the old depot structurally was a nondescript S.P. wood-frame building, so saving it wasn’t high on anyone’s list of priorities in the early 1960s.

At least we now know its fate. Case closed — well, almost.

In reporting the fate of the old S.P. depot, I decided Thursday to go over to its replacement steel building east of MacArthur and see just how much of it the Union Pacific, successor to the S.P. in this area, was using. In addition to housing S.P. freight, trainmaster and crew-dispatching operations, the building had served as a passenger depot until 1971, when the final San Joaquin Daylight pulled out of Tracy.

And there, as I drove up, a backhoe was pulling the final remnants of the building into a pile of rubble. They were tearing it down! Now that was a surprise.

Next to it, a portable building installed last summer was surrounded by a chain-link fence with no access without a code.

So I checked with Joe Morris, a Tracy “rail” since 1968, to find out what was going on. Joe, who had been part of the two-man switching crew in Tracy until last year, said demolition of the steel building was started Monday and probably would be completed Friday, or, at the very latest, early next week.

“Only a small part of the building was in use for a long time,” Joe said. “And homeless people were breaking into it until we welded the doors shut.”

A small portion of the building was used by the lone two-person Tracy switching crew that moves boxcars to and from local businesses each day. There was also an office for the California Northern, a short line that runs a train down the west side to Los Banos and back each day.

“The U.P. decided it would be better just to use the portable building, which is air-conditioned and not bad at all,” Joe said. “This tells you something about what has happened to railroad activity in Tracy. There’s not much left.”

Two old depots have crumbled — one just this week — but the handsome new Tracy Transit Station has risen in the same general area. Now, if high-speed Altamont “Corridor” Express trains someday start using the new depot — er, transit station — railroading will take on a new life where it started in central Tracy in 1878.

Madam ambassador

Tracyites attending performances at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts probably saw the sign above the entrance to the main theater indicating its name as the Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Theatre.

Eleni is a member of the Tsakopoulos family, a major Sacramento developer and owner of the Tracy Hills project south of town. The family also was the largest contributor among those who provided more than $1 million in private funds that augmented city redevelopment money to restore the Grand to its present glory.

Anyway, Eleni was recently sworn in as American ambassador to Hungary. She had been nominated to the post in the fall by President Obama and confirmed later by the Senate.

A few days after being sworn in by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Eleni presented her credentials to Laszlo Solyom, president of Hungary.

It’s no secret that politics play a role in many ambassadorial appointments. Eleni is well connected as an early supporter of Clinton’s 2008 candidacy for president and, later, after Obama emerged as the Democratic candidate, as a backer of his successful campaign for president.

Politics aside, Eleni doesn’t lack the credentials for the ambassador’s role. A Dartmouth graduate with an MBA from University of California, Berkeley, she has been heavily involved in domestic and foreign policy issues for a number of years. Her husband, Markos Kounalakis, is publisher of the Washington Monthly.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or

by e-mail at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 15, 2012
Sam, it's still possible that the Larch Road building is, in fact, the old S.P. station. David Firth noted that they are bulldozing the structure; if anything, they may be carefully taking it apart piece-by-piece -- unlike the "new" station, which was ripped to shreds.


Railtown Tracy:

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