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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 99: Great Highway Railroad

Railroad tracks on the Great Highway? Emiliano Echeverria tells us when and why trains ran around Lake Merced and up Ocean Beach.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Nov 28, 2014

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 99: Great Highway Railroad Outside Lands Podcast Episode 99: Great Highway Railroad

(above) Sloat & 48th Ave, Feb 18, 1919

View west on Sloat Blvd to United Railroads 12-line streetcar #1729 at terminus at Great Highway. [1729-12-03 WB on Sloat at 48th Avenue 18 Feb 1919 URR 1729]

Podcast Transcription

WNP99 – Great Highway Railroad

Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast for the Western Neighborhoods Project. See, I forgot what our thing's called, too. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: David, we have a guest today.

David: We have a very, very special guest.

Woody: Who is it?

David: It's Emiliano Echeverria.

Woody: Echeverria? Is that how you pronounce that?

Emiliano: Echeverria.

David: Oh man. Echeverria.

Woody: I've been mispronouncing your name for 20 years.

David: Gotta trill those “r”s.

Woody: Emiliano, thank you so much for coming. How would we, David, how would we best describe Emiliano? I mean, we can't describe him, right? He's indescribable.

David: Emiliano is an amazing historian in so many different, in so many different subjects.

Woody: Right.

David: He has an encyclopedic knowledge of, I have, an encyclopedia worth of subjects. Maybe, he's the author of Encyclopedia Britannica, possibly.

Woody: No, he isn't. He isn’t. But you grew up on the West side of town, partially. I mean, at least you went to school out here, right?

Emiliano: I did some schooling here in the western part [00:01:00] of town. I grew up all over the city. But I did come to know the western part of the city very well. And I got to know some of its spots like the Cliff House, Playland area. I got to know the zoo area.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: Went to high school here a little bit but that was another story.

Woody: Right. That's a long story, we've heard. We'll do that another time. But also, I know, I think of you as a kind of an urban archaeologist before they came up with the term, right? That you were running around town, going into places maybe you weren’t supposed to go into, maybe got yourself a little permission to sneak into. I mean, would you describe yourself as kind of like an urban archaeologist in the day?

Emiliano: Guerrilla.

Woody: Guerrilla archaeologist.

David: Right.

Emiliano: Because most of what we did was not within the law, but the fact that these places were being destroyed.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: And there were relics within these places to be saved and preserved in some manner.

Woody: Right.

David: I don’t think…

Emiliano: We felt that the means justified, the ends justified the means.

Woody: Right. And the Statue of Limitations is probably way past that.

David: I think there's a burgeoning urban archaeology movement [00:02:00] today now with digital cameras and everything. I see a lot of pictures of places that people aren’t really supposed to be.

Woody: That are inaccessible, right. Well today we're going to talk about one of Emiliano's many subjects of expertise, and that is some vanished railroad lines. I guess not lines, but maybe tracks that people don't know were actually on the West side of San Francisco. Is that…

David: Yeah.

Woody: Close enough, David?

David: I mean, they were a lot of them seem to be temporary. That were put in and then taken out. Or they served a purpose at the time, and then they were removed.

Woody: Right.

David: I don't know that there are a lot that have, we can find remnants of though.

Woody: Right. So, I'll give you a good example, Emiliano. They were digging up Junipero Serra Boulevard recently for, I think, a garden or a relandscaping, and they found railroad tracks underneath the asphalt, they said.

Emiliano: Exactly where would you say they were?

Woody: It was closer down to where Junipero Serra and 19th Avenue come together. So what would that have been? Do you have an idea?

Emiliano: There was a branch that was built by the Southern Pacific [00:03:00] in the, around the middle 1890s. And it was built for several purposes. It originally was built to serve the Ingleside racetrack. To provide the transportation of horses and supplies and originally building materials for the racetrack.

Woody: And that's where Ingleside Terraces is today.

Emiliano: That's correct. And there were people from the Southern Pacific in addition to the race organizations that were involved in financing the track. And, in addition, also, another facility existed out in there, and that was the Lakmer Pumping Station. And that was part of the Spring Valley water system, originally, and later part of the San Francisco water system. That pumping station, much modernized, is actually still located there.

Woody: Right near Lake Merced.

David: It's right on Lake Merced.

Emiliano: It's on it's at the very southern tip of Harding Park Golf Course.

Woody: Okay.

David: All right, kind of near the end of Brotherhood Way there.

Emiliano: Now, this railroad line was ultimately extended all the way to the Park and Ocean Line, just a little bit north of H Street, Lincoln Way, [00:04:00] within Golden Gate Park along the beach. Which at that time had almost no trees or anything in the way. And what they did was, the, this line was ultimately built to supply supplies and building materials for the California Midwinter Fair that was held in Golden Gate Park.

David: Interesting. So, they built this spur line from the old SP main line that came up kind of where 280 is today.

Woody: Right.

David: And it turned off and went across Park Merced and Harding. the Harding Park Golf Course, and then up the beach.

Emiliano: Yes, and if you're familiar with that part of town, you may note that the Lake Merced is separated by, it's separated, divided actually by a causeway, and part of that causeway was built for this railroad line. For those of you familiar with the old road that was the boundary between the zoo and Fort Funston at one time, it's no longer used. It was built in 1922, but that road was the site of the right of way which connected that location from the Harding Park [00:05:00] Golf Course to the Great Highway. And the train line then ran along the embankment of the Great Highway. That's why you have an embankment on the Great Highway.

Woody: Why, it's kind of a berm, right?

Emiliano: Yeah, that embankment was originally built for that railroad line.

Woody: So, okay, let’s just go back, because I'm trying to get my geography straight.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, originally, the Southern Pacific has a steam line or a train line that goes…

Emiliano: Right, pure train line. Just a class one railroad line.

Woody: Okay.

Emiliano: It runs through the Outer Mission District and the Ingleside, and ends up in the 3rd and Townshen area. That's what they call the old route, which was abandoned in 1942. But up until 1942, it is the main, up until 1942, it's one of the major links. to San Francisco. And this route was abandoned as a main line in 1907 when the Bayshore Cut Off was built.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: But the line still was used for freight and other movements up until the, well really up until the 1960s.

Woody: Right. So they, and I remember, because I did some work on Ingleside Terraces for when they had the racetrack, in the [00:06:00] 1890s, they created a spur that kind of curves up, goes north to where Ingleside Terraces is, so people can go to the Ingleside Racetrack, right?

Emiliano: That’s correct.

Woody: As a passenger.

Emiliano: In fact, what, Southern Pacific was not going to hedge their bets. There was a competing electric railway that wanted to get a franchise along Ocean Avenue to the racetrack. But they, Market Street Railway got the franchise. But at the same time, they ran that rail line there. So, they were running both streetcar service and first-class rail service to that racetrack. And interestingly enough, the streetcar line, which originally had ended at Excelsior and Mission, was extended out to the racetrack in two and a half weeks.

Woody: I know!

David: Two and a half weeks?

Woody: They did! On the mud and the dirt, they like, just extended the streetcar line all the way up.

Emiliano: Of course, they had 300 men doing the work.

David: That's not the Central Subway?

Woody: No, it's not like the Central Subway. So that Ingleside spur, though, that is where the Lakmer spur [00:07:00] drop…

Emiliano: Branches off of that.

Woody: Okay.

Emiliano: In other words, what you have is, you have a branch that goes off of the SP line, and then one part goes to the track, and the other part goes to Lakmer.

Woody: Goes west to Lakmer. Now what, can you tell me what the Lakmer pumping station was pumping? What is the purpose of it?

Emiliano: Well, the Lake Merced is a part, is an auxiliary reservoir in the San Francisco water system. When the Spring Valley Water Department had purchased what had been the ranch of Laguna de la Merced, from its previous owners, and they had then that land around Lake Merced was a watershed. And, in fact, that there was an emergency pipeline that was built from Lake Merced to San, to downtown San Francisco to help put out the 1906 fire.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: So, Lake Merced has always been a water source. It's a water source now. Lake Merced originally was an inlet of the ocean. It was an estuary. Laguna de la Merced. That's why it was called Laguna de la Merced. Laguna Merced, not lake. Because the, if you go through the [00:08:00] zoo, there's a little canyon in the zoo.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: That was the connection between Lake Merced and the ocean.

Woody: We did a podcast about how that broke open one time.

Emiliano: In 1853.

Woody: And that how the…

Emiliano: Water dropped. Yeah.

Woody: And that, it's just amazing. The pumping station…

Emiliano: Okay.

Woody: What is it pumping?

Emiliano: It's water for the water department.

Woody: Okay, so it's actually a pump to send water down to the water.

Emiliano: It's basically, it's, Lake Merced is now used for the most part to supply water to the high-pressure fire system in addition to the bay.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: The water is, I don't know how drinkable Lake Merced's water actually is, but it is part of the auxiliary reservoir system. I know that there, the water department's talking about reopening wells in the Sunset district and they may end up using water from Lake Merced as well for that purpose.

Woody: Right.  So you bring a, you bring a train spur line out there for what reason? Why is that?

Emiliano: Well, you know, the pumping station in those days, electricity was [00:09:00] not in general use everywhere. So, the pumping station initially was fired by coal. And because that was what powered all the, powered the pumps and everything was with these coal engines. They were converted to oil burning in the early 1900s along with a lot of other places. It was converted to oil in the early 1900s. So, but they still needed the oil to be hauled over there. And that service actually lasted well into the 20th century. We'll get to that.

Woody: Right. So, they bring the spur because they need to deliver coal and then oil to, to provide the energy for the pumping station to work.

Emiliano: And to supply, and to also provide for the Ingleside race track.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: The branch is built concurrently for both purposes.

Woody: Okay. Now when does the Lakmer branch end up being extended to do this whole Ocean Beach run to connect with the Park and Ocean.

Emiliano: Michael de Young. was, was the California, was in charge of the California exhibit at the Chicago [00:10:00] World's Columbian Exposition.

Woody: In 1893.

Emiliano: In 1893, he comes back from San, to San Francisco from that venture and says, and looks at San Francisco at that moment. San Francisco at that moment is in the middle of a depression. The Panic of 1893 has hit San Francisco very, very hard. So, de Young figures, this would be a way to help boost the economy. There's a lot of people out of work. And this would be a lot of, a good way to get some work going, to get the economy going.

Woody: De Young’s idea is to have what becomes the California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park.

Emiliano: That's correct.

Woody: He gets all the money people and power people in the city together.

Emiliano: But there's a problem.

Woody: But there's a problem.

Emiliano: It's in the middle of nowhere.

Woody: Golden Gate Park in Concert Valley.

Emiliano: There’s no way to provide heavy transportation to Golden Gate Park from the rest of the Southern Pacific network. Because quite frankly, you've got a lot of hills. [00:11:00] Cable car lines, urban, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Woody: And you need permission from the city, like you said, a franchise.

Emiliano: They need permission to lay the track. Now, they got permission to lay a track. It was a temporary permit. This particular stretch of track running from roughly the Lakmer Pumping Station up to Golden Gate Park. It terminates in the private right of way of the Park Ocean Railway in Golden Gate Park about a hundred yards or so north of Lincoln Way. It comes in and slides into the track, the, one of the tracks of the Park and Ocean. There's a crossover right near there, so they could switch direction.

Woody: David, can you tell us real quick what the Park and Ocean was? And we talked about this in the podcast.

David: Yeah, so the Park and Ocean, which we mentioned earlier, which ran from Haight and Stanyan, out H Street, which became Lincoln Way, and then went through the Park kind of behind the soccer field now. And by, and in front of the windmill and ended up in the area in the Richmond district that would become Playland, kind of Balboa and [00:12:00] La Playa.

Woody: And this was in the, this was before all of this, right?

Emiliano: 1893.

David: It was kind of a way to get out there because there were a couple of road houses and the Cliff House was out there. So, it was just another route to get out to the amusement areas, although there really wasn't a whole lot, there wasn't the amusement area that would grow there.

Woody: Right. So that's already in place. So, Emiliano, you're telling us that SP figured out a way to basically have this Lakmer line come up and hook up with the already existing Park and Ocean line.

Emiliano: Exactly. Okay. And so, and because the Park and Ocean line ran locomotives and steam dummies as well, the tracks were heavy duty enough to accommodate a standard 440 engine hauling 9 or 10 freight cars. There was never passenger service to the Midwinter Fair by this rail line. The only people who ever traveled on the rail line were people who were employed either by the railroad or, you know, tended to the cars of the exhibit. But there was never open to passenger use.

David: Well, I have a [00:13:00] question. I mean, right now, the way to get from around where we're talking about 280 to Golden Gate Park is to go straight up 19th Avenue. And I don't, I mean…

Woody: Why didn’t they do that?

David: I realize the 19th Avenue wasn't a six-lane highway at this time.

Emiliano: Yeah.

David: But, yeah, why did they belly way out to the beach and then hook up to go the other way.

Emiliano: Well, there's a very good reason for that. Railroads do not mix well with hills. When you're an engine of so much horsepower, even, or double heading, you're hauling, you know, a bunch of cars. That's a lot of pull. Most railroads don't like to go over 5% in terms of their grades. 19th Avenue is a little bit steeper than that. The idea of the, it was easier and quicker also. You didn't have to tackle a hill. You just put up a berm on the sea, on the, above the ocean and just run a track on its flat track and make some time on that track. You can run a train from the [00:14:00] junction, the Ingleside Junction down there by 280. You could get that thing probably up to the, to Lincoln Way in 15 minutes.

David: Very interesting because…

Emiliano: There's nowhere you can stop. There's nowhere to stop. There's nothing there to stop for.

David: Right. It’s very interesting because, you know, all my life I've driven a car, and I don't really notice the hills. But in the last few years, I've been riding my bicycle quite a bit. And I'll tell you, that everything you're talking about now rings so true when I'm riding my bike from Noe Valley out to, out to the beach. And I end up going the same route. I go the same route.

Emiliano: Think of driving your bicycle as a two-wheeled locomotive with one human power and imagine how much extra effort you will make taking your bicycle up 19th Avenue as opposed to flying on down the Great Highway.

David: It’s a pretty simple decision, really.

Emiliano: Well, that's why, that’s why they didn't take the two closest points of the straight-line route, because they know they could get that thing up to Lincoln and 48th, get it onto the Park and [00:15:00] Ocean track, and then the Park and Ocean locomotive could haul it all the way, right up in it. And then there were spurs that went into thePpark as well. At around 10th and 11th Avenue, there were spurs that went into the Park. And that was where the cars were brought in, where the supplies.

Woody: So, this was really used just to build the 1894 Midwinter Fair, right? This is to bring supplies and building materials and…

Emiliano: It supplied the fair throughout its run.

Woody: It did. So, it brought in, so the fair's open, people are attending it, it's still bringing materials in.

Emiliano: Brings, and also supplies, just for the fair. I mean…

Woody: Cotton candy!

Emiliano: Food, ice cream. Just all the freight that is involved in keeping the thing running, you know. The souvenirs that are being sold. All of it has to come in.

David: You'd think that they could use for that sort of thing?

Emiliano: You didn’t have trucks. You don't have trucks then. And hauling, and roads weren't good. They're terrible. Just sand. I mean, have you ever tried to haul a wagon through the sand out there?

Woody: It was a lot easier.

David: I was going to say, I mean, for lighter freight, it [00:16:00] seemed like they could use the electric lines.

Emiliano: There were no electric lines out there at the time at first. And beside that, the electric streetcar lines were not authorized to haul freight.

Woody: Right. There were rules about that.

Emiliano: There was a state, the state had rules about that.

Woody: So this never carried any passengers. It was only to supply materials. Was there a temptation, Emiliano? I could see how this would happen. The fair happens, they put in these temporary lines to, to supply the materials to build the fair. Was there a temptation to say…

Emiliano: There was talk.

Woody: Hey, we already have this track, why don't we keep it in?

Emiliano: Well, now you bring up an interesting point here, because when, one of the things that happened right after the Midwinter Fair closed was that the Market Street Railway bought the Metropolitan Railway. So, the Market Street Railway, right after the fair, buys this company, which had been really hotly competing with the Market Street Railway, but they were made an offer they couldn't refuse. So, they went with it. Okay. Well, the thing was, the Metropolitan Railway had a [00:17:00] dormant franchise that they had never built on. And this franchise was supposed to basically go out Laguna Honda and Dewey Boulevard and out Taraval Street to another line that was going to run up 48th Avenue to connect to the amusement areas being built up by the Cliff House. Talk starts show, showing up that The Metropolitan, the Market Street Railway is going to take that railroad track and they're going to slide it physically over to 48th Avenue to grab that franchise. Now this franchise had been granted in 1890 and had not been built on. So, as far as many people were concerned, it had passed its statute.

David: It expired. Yeah.

Emiliano: So, it's, this is 18, this is, you know, so this is, so the papers start coming out with, watch it kind of thing that there's going to be some shenanigans happening here. As it turned out, the railway in February of 1895 yanked it all out.

Woody: They took all the lines on Ocean Beach out.

Emiliano: They took all the [00:18:00] lines, all the track from the junction with the Park and Ocean line. They remove it all the way out to the Lakmer pumping station. And that's where the line pretty much stays with the, concurrent with the branch to the Ingleside track until 1905, when the Ingleside track is closed and that part of the branch is taken up. So, all that remains is the line to the Lakmer pumping station. And that remains until 1930. What happens in 1930 is that electricity arrives. And the pumps are powered, the old pumps, the old machine engines are put on standby for a bunch of years. They sit there almost unused for a bunch of years, waiting for the next power failure.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: When they could be fired up and keep the pumps going if they had to.

David: Fire the furnaces back up.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: But those things were pulled out in the ‘40s, ‘50s, I believe.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: Finally, the building is, in fact, the Lakmer pumping station is a different building now. They just shrank it down to, you know, just an electric, [00:19:00] you know, three or four hundred horsepower electric motor that drives the pump.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: That's all they do.

Woody: Okay, so, it seemed like it was public and maybe political pressure that just, I just didn't let that scheme, if it was a scheme, come off the ground of like, trying to put a…

Emiliano: I think there was more suspicion than actual.

Woody: Right. Planning would happen.

Emiliano: Than actual scheme there because, quite frankly, it would not have been to the Market Street Railway's advantage to run a line on 48th Avenue.

Woody: There was nobody there yet.

Emiliano: There was nobody.

Woody: To ride the line.

Emiliano: It's like, no, you mean what are you gonna do? All the crowds are gonna go from Ocean House and you what would later be the Tait’s at the Beach location.

Woody: Yeah.

Emiliano: No, the heavy commuting that went on between the Cliff House and Ocean Beach house.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: I just don't think happened.

Woody: Right.

Emiliano: So I just, and the amount of time and money it would've taken even to just drag those tracks over two blocks.

Woody: Right. I bring it up because there was an ad that I found in the California Historical Society of Baldwin and Howell trying to sell houses out there and lots.

Emiliano: They were Sutro’s agents.

Woody: And they show a map of like, here's where the streetcar line is going to come in very soon, going north [00:20:00] south right here to serve Oceanside. And it never of course came off.

Emiliano: That's a metropolitan line.

Woody: Yeah, but it never was built.

David: But we still do have some remnants of these lines. I mean, that causeway was one thing.

Woody: The berm at Great Highway.

David: The berm at Great Highway though.

Emiliano: It's been, and that road is that the remnant of the road that ran between, on the southern end of the zoo and the bridge is still there. I think the little…

David: And that's like, that was, I guess that's part of where Zoo Road is now.

Emiliano: It's the Old Zoo Road.

David: Yeah.

Emiliano: It goes off from Zoo Road. It's the original end of Zoo Road.

David: Yeah.

Emiliano: And then it go, went up to the Great Highways, a little two lane affair.

David: Right. Goes behind, that was the place in the ‘60s, goes by the recreation center for the handicapped and then into an area that's sealed off that's part of the zoo. It's kind of, it's right where we restored our restored the Earthquake shack.

Woody: Earthquake shacks. Yeah. Yeah. Well, this has been great Emiliano. Thank you for giving us this overview. David, I think we actually have some historical photos of the Lakmer pumping station.

David: Yeah, we have that. We have an aerial of that zoo road that, that old road where…

Woody: Maybe we can put a couple of those up on the website.

David: Yeah, absolutely.

Woody: So people [00:21:00] can take a look at 'em. And I know we're gonna have Emiliano back because we have not tapped 1% of 1% of the stuff he can talk about for us. Thank you so much for coming out.

Emiliano: It’s been a lot of fun, and we're certainly looking forward to doing much more of this.

Woody: Yes, for sure.

Emiliano: Thank you.

Woody: And David people, what should they do? You always tell them what they should do. This is the 99th podcast. I think you should tell them one more time.

David: Get outside!

Woody: No!

David: I hope you've been listening to this on your iPad while you're running out in the sunshine.

Woody: That's not what you tell them to do. 99th podcast. You've forgotten.

David: Okay.

Emiliano: Well, I would say this check out the Western Neighborhoods Project website, there are so many stories, so many articles, so many interesting photos. If you think you know a lot about San Francisco history, I will almost bet you money that you'll learn something new from the Western Neighborhoods Project.

Woody: That’s great Emiliano.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And what should they do while they're doing all that?

David: They should become a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project and make a donation to help support this noble venture that we have.

Woody: Terrific. [00:22:00] Okay. We have our hundredth podcast next week. So get ready David.

David: Oh, we got something special planned.

Woody: Do we?

David: Not!

Woody: Okay. Well, I'll see you next week and we'll find out.

Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org.

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