Frederick Hihn’s Santa Cruz Railroad (SCR) never became profitable after its opening in 1875, and Hihn’s 1881 split with principal partner Claus Spreckels was the last straw. Hihn declared the railroad bankrupt, and Southern Pacific swooped in to acquire the assets, including the right-of-way from Pajaro to Santa Cruz, the rolling stock, and most of the employees. SP immediately began to replace the flimsy narrow-gauge track with the heavier and wider broad (or standard) gauge in use today, which could support larger, more powerful trains. By the end of the decade, this work was complete.
Another thing SP acquired was the SCR depot at the north end of the line in Santa Cruz. The depot stood on the street now named Union, almost across the street from the Opera House and right about where the Goodwill store is now. In those days, the street was called Pine, but the name was changed to Park sometime before 1883 and later to Union. It was a handy location for owner Fred Hihn, whose mansion was only a block away. Note that this is not the “old” depot that used to stand at today’s Depot Park. Although the property was included in the SP takeover, that depot wasn’t built until 1893.
UCSC has recently finished digitizing all of the old Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps of Santa Cruz (including - for present consideration - 1877, 1883 and 1886) and added them to their online digital collection. The Sanborn maps are a gold mine for historical researchers because they show not just streets but individual structures, their uses and often their names (for commercial properties).
The Sanborn maps show the progression of the SP takeover very clearly. In 1877, there’s only the SCR depot building. Between 1877 and 1883, an expanded SCR railroad yard includes several other SCR buildings and a turntable. By 1886, however, the yard is labeled as belonging to SP. Also between 1883 and 1886, Enterprise Iron Works opened on Cherry Street (called Bear on the 1877 map – now Chestnut). It makes sense for a metal foundry to be near a railroad yard. The corrugated-metal building still stands - it and the original part of the house next door (shown on the 1877 map) are the two oldest buildings in the block. Division Street on the Sanborn maps is today’s Squid Alley.
Through all this activity, the South Pacific Coast (SPC) railroad continued to run its narrow-gauge trains from Alameda to Santa Cruz, through the Mission Hill tunnel, and on down Chestnut Street to its terminus on the Railroad Wharf. Southern Pacific completed its Santa Cruz monopoly with the purchase of the SCR from James Fair & company later in the 1880s. The SPC depot, built in 1880, was a long open-ended shed over the tracks and platform, and adjoining a small building housing the ticket office. No exterior photos were found, but narrow-gauge scholar Bruce MacGregor speculated that the shed was probably a smaller version of the railroad’s other main depots, including one in San Jose. The structure probably remained in use until the 1893 opening of the newer SP depot, when the broad-gauging of the former SPC line was completed and the equipment of the two rail lines finally became completely interchangeable.
* MacGregor, B. A. (2003). The birth of California narrow gauge: A regional study of the technology of Thomas and Martin Carter. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.
* UCSC Map Library: Digital Collections