clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Lost Railroad Tracks of the Mission and Noe Valley

New, 10 comments

Remnant path of SF & SJ Railroad
From the Curbed inbox:

Since I live in the neighborhood, I've always been interested in the railroad that ran from Noe Valley and through the Mission, apparently ending up at a main track on Harrison Street. Juri Commons Park is a small piece of the old railroad right-of-way, and you can trace the path from just past Dolores Street, down to Harrison. I know it was there, but I haven't been able to find out much more than that. When was it built? Why was it built? What was it's purpose? When did it stop running?Oh dear reader, you picked a doozy. The railroad line in question was the old San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which was incorporated in 1861. Grab a drink and sit back - this story is a long one.

The original San Francisco and San Jose Railroad connected San Francisco to Palo Alto, with the first train running all the way to San Jose starting on Jan. 16, 1864. It was an immediate success for passenger travel, with two trains operating daily between the two cities. It's creators formed the Southern Pacific Railroad company, and quickly built an extension to to Gilroy. The men behind the juggernaut Central Pacific Railroad (yeah, that one) acquired the line in 1870, merging it with their own lines under the name Southern Pacific. Today, Caltrain and the Union Pacific Railroad continue to operate trains over the company's original route.

The first SF terminal was at 18th and Valencia, but soon after opening the line was extended. A passenger depot was constructed at Market and Valencia, but by 1875 a larger terminal was needed at Townsend Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets (and in 1914, a new Mission Revival style station was built at Fourth and Townsend to handle the anticipated Panama Pacific Exposition crowds). The original route , known ad the "Monterey Line," circumvented the San Bruno Mountains, turning inland. It stopped at a small station near the county juvenille detention/rehab center the Industrial School (now Balboa Park), and curved out to the Ocean View station at San Jose Ave, Sickles, and Plymouth streets. Much of the line through the Mission and Noe Valley required elevated lines, with large railroad bridges crossing intersections.

By 1907, the "Bayshore Cutoff" constructed a path through the mountain between Mission and Randall streets and San Jose and St. Mary avenues, making the trip much shorter. The original route around Bernal and out to Ocean View remained as a passenger route for Ocean View until 1932, and continued to operate as freight trains through the 1940s. Fun fact - it was also the line that transported coffins to the cemeteries in Colma.


In 1942 Southern Pacific abandoned a section of the line between San Miguel Street, 23rd and Folsom streets, and the rest was taken out for today's Highway 280. Much of the neighborhoods had built up around the railroad tracks, leaving the distinct open spaces in their absence. Juri Commons Park is such a stretch, located in Noe Valley and converted to a 120' long and 25' wide park in 1986.
· Railroads of the Central Coast--An Overview [Monterey County Historical Society]
· Chapters on the History of the Southern Pacific (1922) [Internet Archive]
· Crofutt's New Overland Tourist, and Pacific Coast Guide (1880) [George A. Crofutt via Google Books]
· Bernal Cut [Found SF]
· A Freight train thru the Mission [Noirscape]
· San Francisco's Ocean View, Merced Heights, and Ingleside (OMI) Neighborhoods 1862 - 1959 [Western Neighborhoods Project]
· Juri Commons Park [Parkscan]