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San Francisco’s magnificent Mission Revival-style Southern Pacific station was demolished in the 1970's as the railroad began to exit the passenger service business. The site, on the southwest corner of Third and Townsend streets became, of all things, a recreational-vehicle park. SP built a replacement station—more of a shelter, really—a block away at Fourth and Townsend, that serves as the current depot for Caltrain service to the Peninsula.

Southern Pacific Announces Plans for Depot

Half Million Dollar Terminal to Be at Third and Townsend.
Artists rendering of proposed 1912 Southern Pacific terminal in San Francisco.In an official announcement made yesterday by the Southern Pacific through Charles S. Fee, passenger traffic manager, plans for the new depot at Third and Townsend streets are made public. The passenger station is to be started at once. Actual work on the new building and terminal facilities will be started about March 15th, and by December of next year it is expected that the new depot will be completed.

Following is the official statement made by Charles S. Fee yesterday:

“There has been some talk in the public press of bringing passengers down to the neighborhood of Market and Beale streets instead of stopping them at Third and Townsend streets, but the public can appreciate that this is not practicable, as it would be impossible for such a scheme to be completed in time for the exposition in 1915, and, if it were, the plan would so greatly add to the congestion which is almost certain to prevail at the foot of Market street as to cause it to become a source of public criticism and irritation, besides throwing upon the local [streetcar] traction lines on Market street, a burden which should be avoided. The present plan averts this congestion while disturbing no local conditions.


“As a matter of fact, there are no plans for a Lower Market-street terminal, for the reason that so far as can be perceived at this time the great volume of the passenger business entering the city, probably 75 or 80 percent at least, will always be handled through the terminal provided by the State at the foot of Market street. It is evident to the close observer that the proposed new terminal at Third and Townsend streets, with its greatly increased facilities, will accommodate a great and important area which is building up rapidly and will unquestionably improve materially with the completion of the Twin Peaks tunnel.

“The increase in local peninsula traffic, but more especially the growing popularity of what the Southern Pacific now very aptly terms the ‘Mission line,’ starting from this city within sight of the old Mission Dolores and extending a few hundred miles beyond the old Mission San Juan at San Antonio, has been such to force immediate and favorable consideration of the plan just adopted. To the Eastern visitor traveling in California the old missions of Dolores, Santa Clara, San Jose, San Juan Bautista, Carmel, San Carlos, San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Buenaventura, San Fernando, San Gabriel and others equally famous appeal with irresistible force, with the result that today the travel over this portion of the Southern Pacific lines has increased to a point that will justify a mission type of passenger station on the site of the present station that will be in keeping with the route itself and at the same time provide the greater facilities that will evidently be required with the constantly increasing popularity of the line. Such a gateway to the missions will be altogether appropriate and prove a constant source of interest to the traveler.


“The immediate inauguration of work on this plan commends itself strongly to the operating and passenger traffic officials of the railroad company in that ample provision can be quickly provided in addition to the market-street Ferry Station facilities provided by the State, thus insuring convenient, safe and expeditious handling of the large Panama exposition travel, whether it seeks entrance by way of Oakland Pier or via the Mission line.

“The new Townsend-street Station will mark a new departure in Southern Pacific architecture here—a mission station built of re-enforced concrete with stucco finish, and roof of tile, with mission towers. As already indicated, the choice of this type of building is part of a plan to link San Francisco more closely with the romance and sentiment of the settlement of California, an historical asset of this city, which has never been adequately utilized. The handsome mission building into which the Mission line will bring the traveler to the city from the south will serve to accent this for the tourist, and do justice to that attractive feature of California. In addition to the architecture of the building, the note will be carried into the interior of the building by fine mural frescoes of mission scenes. The erection of an art structure like this, where a conventional building would serve all practical purposes, is as much in response to demands of public sentiment as of business. In California this particular combination has been proved to minister to both.


“The station building proper will cover a ground area of 140x100 feet. The building will be two stories in height...on the first floor will be located the waiting-rooms and the main entrance to the waiting-rooms will be from Third street, with another entrance from Townsend street. From the waiting-rooms will be open compartments for telephone and telegraph service, news stand, women’s retiring room and men’s lavatory. In the latter there will be both free and pay service, a system in vogue in Eastern passenger stations and now applied here for the first time. Opposite the main entrance the waiting-rooms open upon a concourse leading through gates to the track platforms under umbrella roofs. There will be five of these platforms, serving eleven tracks, six more than the station has at present. In addition to these tracks there will be four supplementary tracks south of them, with a separate ticket office, forming an extra station through which excursions and special trains may be handled separately, a convenience especially advantageous in the case of football games, aviation meets and other events down the peninsula. South of the waiting-room and leading from certain train platforms a spillway will discharge passengers to Third street without contact with departing travelers. South of this exit will be the baggage-rooms for incoming and outgoing baggage. The second story of the building will house the division offices.


“The improvement of the terminal means an expenditure of upward of $500,000. A part of this will be expended in the development of the railroad yards to provide permanently for future traffic. The tracks and other yard equipment will be made adequate for all demands. The whole yard will be remodeled from Third to Seventh. The main-line trains will no longer approach the station along Townsend street. The main freight shed now on Townsend street will be moved south to make room for several approach tracks over the company’s property. These approach tracks will not be used for service of what is called ‘dead equipment,’ as is now the case. There will be independent coach-yard tracks to carry coaches to the cleaning and storage yards near the Mission bay shops on private property.

“A complete electric pneumatic interlocking system, such as handles the complicated movements at Oakland pier, will be installed. All of which means a terminal at Third and Townsend streets which will handle perfectly whatever burden may be laid upon it by the development of several years to come, while at the same time it provides for the immediate necessities of an exposition city.”


The railroad announcement caused considerable comment yesterday by local real estate men. Under former plans it was supposed that the passenger station and elevated approach of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad in Chicago had been accepted as a standard system of construction for the proposed depot. The main building was to face Market street and a viaduct upon which passenger trains would run into the heart of the city was to have been at least twenty-five feet high and to be constructed of re-enforced concrete.

The Southern Pacific is understood to own a strip of land 137 1/2 feet wide and through a block from Steuart to East [Embarcadero] street about 137 1/2 feet south of Market street and opposite the Ferry building. Part of this land is in the name of Margaret Morgan.

During his recent visit to San Francisco Chairman Lovett of the board of directors of the Harriman lines dropped the information in a confidential way that there would be no terminal of the railroad for Market street. The “confidential information” leaked almost immediately.

For two or three years the Southern Pacific has been buying property between Third and Townsend streets and Market street. It was tacitly understood that the new terminal would be located at the foot of Market street, facing the Ferry building, a junction of “tide and rail” It is generally known among real estate men, however, that two or three property owners have been holding out for a price which the railroad company decided was excessive. It was not long after this decision was reached that the “confidential statement” of Judge Lovett that the new depot would be located at Third and Townsend streets, was given publicity. It was thought then by agents that the statement was politic and made for the purpose of “prying loose” the high-priced owners.

When asked yesterday as to the disposition of the lower Market street plans, Charles S. Fee said that the Third and Townsend streets terminal is for an immediate necessity. He intimated that further building might be done, but the plan he gave out yesterday is all that can be made public now.

San Francisco Chronicle
November 25, 1912

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