Santa Fe Depot, San Diego, 1969

1969 was a different time, and San Diego was a different city. Often called laid back or sleepy – even as City officials touted it as “City In Motion.”

It is very likely plans were on the drawing board as early as 1969 to get rid of the Santa Fe Depot. By 1972 a full pitch battle was on to save the depot from demolition.

It was Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) that stepped in to save the Depot from demolition. It was a call to action the preservation group had to put out, not once, but twice.

The depot opened in 1915, approximately coinciding with the biggest of events in San Diego History, the opening of the 1915  Panama-California Exposition 

As with the domed towers at the Panama-California Exposition, the Santa Fe Depot tower domes have a Spanish style zig-zag pattern of yellow blue tiles.

The Mission Style architecture was designed by the firm Bakewell and Brown, out of San Francisco. They built San Francisco City Hall the same year.


The 55 foot wood beam ceiling shelters travelers entering and exiting the depot.

The YMCA building in the distance remains. MTS buses look different. And the Art Deco bowling alley across the street is long gone.

Originally the front arch was entered through a forecourt lined with arches. As so often the case, the demand for parking ruled the day in 1954 when the forecourt structure was demolished.

There had been interest in rebuilding this structure in recent years. But the current alignment and configuration of today’s railroad tracks has been deemed incompatible with such a project. So the old forecourt will remain only a memory or echo from the past.

Old Oak Benches Remain On Duty To This Day


Gone are that style of passenger car as well as the structure beyond it.

An antique luggage cart that no longer sees service.

Private Train Cars were once parked outside, along-side the depot.

They Cyrus K Holliday was once owned by the Sefton Family and their San Diego Trust and Savings Bank. In the following decades San Diego Trust and Savings went away and the Seftons relinquished the train car as well, as it resides somewhere else on tracks far away.

The train yard itself is much different and busier today. There’s the Trolley line, The Coaster line, and Amtrak.

A view towards the south. Police headquarters (now a museum, shopping and restaurant venue) in the distance. The power building is one the left. The Swift Company building, long gone.

And best shot for last. San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot is one of the largest and best loved train depots in California. A jewel that celebrated its 100th Birthday in 2015, and still as beautiful as ever.

Dan Soderberg
I am Dan Soderberg, award winning documentary film maker and phototgrapher specializing in architecture, historic preservation and nature.

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