The Saugus train station opened June 21, 1888, the Southern Pacific Railroad having completed its spur line to Ventura in 1887 along the present-day alignment of Magic Mountain Parkway to State Route 126 through Castaic Junction, Camulos, Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula and Saticoy — where the SP also erected depots or sidings of various size.
The large, two-story Saugus train station was a combination depot (freight and passenger) that followed a "Common Standard" set of SP blueprints. It was a unique variant of a No. 3 depot. The terminus of SP's Los Angeles Division and the head of its San Joaquin Division, the depot stood at the southeast corner of present-day Drayton Street and Railroad Avenue (previously San Fernando Road). Tolfree's Saugus Eating House occupied the north side of the depot until 1916 when it moved across the street into its own building and became the Saugus Café. (The name had been in use since 1899.)
President Benjamin Harrison came through (without stopping) in April 1891, and Theodore Roosevelt is said to have been met at the depot by California governor and Acton gold mine owner Henry T. Gage in 1903. Twenty years later, Charlie Chaplin used the depot in "The Pilgrim," and in 1954 another U.S. president was scheduled to stop at the depot but the feds caught wind of an assassination attempt in time. Of course, this last one was Hollywood fiction; the movie was "Suddenly," and the assassin was played by Frank Sinatra. Saugus and Newhall were used extensively as the film locations.
Cowboys would occasionally shoot up the station as their way of greeting the trains. There were robberies, too, the most famous coming one night in 1929 when Thomas Vernon derailed and looted Train No. 59, the westbound West Coast Limited.
Passenger service ended in April 1971 and the last station agent, James "Bob" Guthrie, shuttered the depot for good on November 15, 1978. Facing demolition by the SP, the depot was rescued in 1980 through a fundraising effort organized by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, then just 4½ years old. During the night of June 24-25, 1980, it was moved two miles south to the society's home at Heritage Junction at William S. Hart County Park in Newhall, where its film career continued (e.g., "The Grifters" with John Cusack and Angelica Huston, 1989).
In recent years (this is written in 2022) there has been some confusion about the original date of the "Saugus Train Station." This is understandable.
The name "Saugus" first appears in a Southern Pacific timetable February 8, 1887, when regular service to Santa Paula began. That is when the Saugus "station" came into existence.
Huh? Didn't you just say the depot opened in 1888?
Yes, we did. Like most people, we tend to use the terms "station" and "depot" interchangeably — even here. In railroad parlance, however, a "station" is any designation in an employee timetable where a train could make a scheduled stop. The SP rulebooks defined it as a "location on the railroad designated in the timetable by name." The location might sport nothing more than a station sign on a post. All there was at the Saugus station in early 1887 was a water tank, a section house, and some remnants of the original Newhall depot that stood at the same location from 1876-1878. Soon, the railroad erected a small building for use as a telegraph and train order office. Santa Paula-bound passengers still had to change trains at Newhall.
A "depot" is a building. Think of a military supply depot. Construction of the Saugus Depot started in early 1888 and was completed in June, as noted.
According to SP historian Henry Bender, the building was officially desribed as "Passenger Depot & Eating House, 2-story 27'x28', 1-story 20'x27', 27'x44', 16'x22', and 17'x19' frame." The 2-story portion is self-explanatory. The 20x27-foot section was the baggage room, but only part of it. The baggage room is more than 20 feet long. It extends under the second floor to a point where it shares a wall with the agent's office. The 27x44-foot section was the passenger waiting room and "eating house." The 16x22 and 17x19-foot sections were the kitchen and pantry. More about those shortly.
Whether the eating house was in use on Day One in 1888 or it didn't open until 1890 when the Tolfree family became its operators, we don't know.
Who was in charge of construction in 1888? A 2022 restoration provides a clue. On the underside of an iron threshold plate in the agent's office appears the hand-painted name, "W.C. Ambrose." We know that in 1890, Mr. Ambrose was put in charge of the new Maintenance of Way division (which would have included building construction) for the portion of the railroad between Lathrop and Los Angeles.
Possibly the depot's construction foreman, W.C. Ambrose left his mark on the underside of a Common Standard No. A808 treshold at the (formerly) west door to the agent's office.
It was left in place in 1958 when green wall paint dripped under it, and again in 1984 when some off-white wall paint dripped under it. It's still there today.
(We put it back after discovering and photographing it in 2022.) Click to enlarge.
Today's visitors to the depot in Hart Park will find a kitchen downstairs. This was never a kitchen during railroad time. The real kitchen was upstairs in the northeast room. With an entry door off the public waiting room (walled shut long ago), it's theorized that the current downstairs kitchen might initially have been a hotel lobby, and that the upstairs bedrooms were lodgings for overnight guests. Back then, there was no dining car service aboard trains, so hungry passengers had to disembark and dine in the depot restaurant. Miss the last train out, stay the night.
The first "for sure" use of the current kitchen was as an equipment storage room. In 1962, when Bob Guthrie became the station agent, it was converted into a bedroom for his 10-year-old son, Ed Guthrie (Hart Class of 1970), who lived there until he went into the Navy. Bob and his wife, Arminta, and their four girls slept upstairs. After 1980, the Historical Society turned Ed's bedroom into a kitchen.
As built, there was no separate freight room; passenger luggage and express service were handled in the baggage room at the south end of the building. (All references to north-south-east-west are geographical and relate to the depot's original orientation at Saugus. At Hart Park, the depot sits on the opposite side of the tracks, so the directions are reversed.) Eventually, an 8½x28-foot carbody was used to handle freight before Saugus got a dedicated freight room.
The eating house had a full bar, a brick-walled basement, and used imported flow-blue china from England (W.M. Grindley & Co.'s "Duchess" pattern, manufactured from 1891-1914). The diner occupied the entire space from wall to wall between the depot's waiting room, which was narrower, and the later freight room. Directly outdoors on the track side (front) of the building was a roll-up canvas awning to shield patrons from the blistering afternoon sun; a sign reading "Dining Room" that extended perpendicularly from the exterior wall; and at various times in its life, a roof-mounted sign reading "Restaurant" above the awning. Out back (to the north) was an attached kitchen and pantry which did not quite span the full width of the depot. They were enclosed by lattice fencing which did span the full width.
Not only was there no hotel in Saugus when the depot was built; there was no town of Saugus. The location made sense for the railroad, though: It was at the "wye," or Y intersection, where the Santa Paula Branch Line met the main line out of Los Angeles. The area would come to be known as Saugus Junction, but not until about two decades later. That's when Ore W. Bercaw arrived.
Ore (pronounced "Orry") was something of a one-man show. In December 1906, he took over as the Southern Pacific station agent at Saugus. It's what brought Ore and his young bride, Anna Marie, to our valley. He promptly built a general store across the highway and moved the post office into it. The post office had been located inside the depot, with the station agent automatically serving as postmaster. Over the next few years, Ore would add a hotel, ice house, garage, ice cream parlor and his own family home to the new business district. He helped finance the first Saugus School by contributing $100 of the total $300 cost. (Saugus Café co-owner Martin Wood did the same.)
Back in 1891, the Post Office Department (later USPS) had designated the local branch office as "Surrey," named for the county in England. The first postmaster was Alexander I. Fraser. Historians have more work to do to compile a complete list of Saugus station agents, but for now, we'll deduce that Mr. Fraser was that person in 1891.
A review of postmaster compensation sheds some light on the economic impact Ore Bercaw had on the area as he developed the town. Compensation was based on volume. Surrey postmasters' annual pay fluctuated between $164.60 and $198.96 throughout the decade prior to Ore's arrival. For 1907, the first full year across the street, Ore received $227 for handling the U.S. mail. In 1909 the figure was $625, and in 1911, when he opened his hotel, the department paid him $840. He was still the postmaster in 1915 when the government finally followed the railroad's lead and renamed the office "Saugus" for Henry Mayo Newhall's birthplace. In 1921, the Saugus postmaster cleared $1,000. Note that the rate of increase slowed considerably between 1911 and 1921. The town didn't grow much after that — not until after the Second World War.
Ore's tenure as Saugus station agent needs further investigation, but the Bercaw family would run the store opposite the depot for 57 years. The Historical Society placed Ore's original wooden desk on display inside his old depot office.
Whose idea was it for the Saugus Café to move out? By the second decade of the century, everything on the railroad was getting to be "more" and "bigger," from the number of passengers to the locomotives that pulled them. With customers crowding the waiting room, freight and express (package) service on the upswing, and a greater need for office space for diversified railroad employees — signal maintainers, communications, roadmaster (track maintenance), bridge and building maintenance crews — the diner had to go. And with dining car service well established, passengers wouldn't starve.
It is believed the railroad terminated the diner lease. The restaurateurs picked up sticks (or knives, forks and chafing dishes) and joined the new little business district across the street.
The railroad removed the kitchen and pantry and replaced the lattice with solid walls to create the freight room. SP's freight rooms had no interior siding; at Saugus, the Historical Society added the interior siding in 1984.
Several other things changed with the 1917 remodel. The railroad expanded the waiting room by pushing back the former diner's south wall. The rest of the diner space was bisected by a new north-south hallway that the railroad left partially unfinished. The west side of the ex-diner became the signalmen's office, while the east side was turned into a women's waiting room and bathroom. The men's room opened to both inside and outside; the interior was painted with an oily, sandy, black substance to deter graffiti. Subsequent paint layers didn't adhere well.
Electricity, carried through cloth wiring, came along in 1916. It's why the electrical conduit is exposed and not inside the walls. There was no electricity in 1888. Had the depot been built after 1903, it would have been "born electric" with conduit inside the walls, á là the nearby Santa Susana depot in Simi Valley. The 1917 remodel probably brought the interior plumbing.
The 1917 remodel also added the records room inside the baggage room. It's colloquially known as the "tin room" because its walls, floor and ceiling are covered with sheet metal. The general assumption is that this was to shield important documents from fire, although some people question this notion. (If the depot burns down, the records room is going with it, tin lining or no.) Another theory is rat-proofing. The tin did protect the room against invasion by rats and other paper-munching vermin.
Paint History & Materials.
The Southern Pacific Railroad had exacting specifications ("common standards") for everything from rolling stock to maintenance vehicles and train sheds to interior and exterior paint colors — right down to the exact model of toilet to be used in the depot women's room.
The exterior of the Saugus depot and its original interior wooden features were redwood. Interior paneling was 3½-inch tongue and groove redwood with a double groove. The second "groove" was decorative routering. The (two) walls that were added in 1917 to create the records room were of a different type of wood, likely pine or Douglas fir.
We don't know the first paint color used on the exterior redwood. It's possible it was uncoated. Shortly after the turn of the 20th Century, the exterior was painted Dark Yellow to a height of 6 feet with Colonial Yellow above, Light Brown trim, and white window sashes, as seen in this 1914 photograph. (All capitalized paint names are precise Southern Pacific colors.) In 1924, Dark Yellow was eliminated from the Common Standard exterior paint scheme, replaced with Colonial Yellow. This scheme, Colonial Yellow and Light Brown with white sashes, lasted at Saugus until the late 1960s when the exterior was changed to light gray with green trim. The depot was gray and green when it arrived at Hart Park in 1980. The Historical Society reverted it to its post-1924, pre-late '60s appearance.
The first wall color in the baggage room dates to the 19th Century. It was a gray with greenish hues. It can be seen at the back of a cabinet that was added sometime (probably shortly) after 1888. The interior of the records room was painted just once, probably when it was built in 1917, in SP's Cream color. The rest of the baggage room walls were Mineral Red. Under the 1937 Common Standard — coinciding with the dawn of SP's "Daylight" period — the interior baggage room colors changed to black up to a height of 6 feet and Cream everywhere else (including the ceiling but excluding the floor). At Saugus, the demarcation line was 5'2" rather than 6 feet.
The redwood floors of the baggage room (1⅝ inches thick) and freight room do not appear to have been painted. It's possible the first time they were refinished was in 1984 when the Historical Society had them sanded and urethaned.
The other floors were painted. The first (and only) paint color on the nominal (true) 1-inch-thick agent's office floor was Mineral Red — the color of SP's boxcars and cabooses. Painting the floor may have coincided with the 1917 remodel. With men working in day and night shifts on top of it, the paint quickly wore off. Unlike the waiting room floor, which changed colors over the years, the agent's office floor was never repainted.
The agent's office walls were initially brown, quite likely SP Light Brown. For whatever reason, subsequent paint layers didn't adhere well to it. (Primer, apparently, was a thing of the future.) With the 1937 common standard came Cream for the agent's office walls.
As seen in 1954's "Suddenly," the south wall of the agent's office featured a blackboard delineated by moulding at the top and bottom. The moulding and the paneling between them were painted black. The south wall of the main waiting room also featured this type of blackboard (not seen in the movie).
The year 1958 brought another remodel (more about that in a moment). At that time, the blackboards were painted out and apparently all of the interior walls in the depot were painted in Deep Jade Green to a height of approximately 50 inches off the floor with Pale Jade Green above and Deep Jade Green trim. In 1984, the Historical Society covered most of the ground-floor interior walls with a whitewash that was not an SP color.
The 2022 restoration is bringing the interior wall colors back to their 1937 Common Standard — generally, Cream walls with Interior Green(?) trim — to match the period of the exterior paint colors. An exception is the current kitchen, which is returning to its two-tone Pale/Deep Jade Green scheme — the SP common standard paint scheme for depot kitchens beginning in 1956.
When the Los Angeles Times featured her in a 1953 article, Leah Rosenfeld had already been a Southern Pacific station agent for nine years. Now at Saugus, she was likely the only female station agent on the West Coast; she was certainly the only one in SP's Los Angeles Division. While her husband, David, was the station agent at Gustine in Northern California, Leah lived in the Saugus Depot with nine of their 12 kids.
Luckily for Leah, the depot had an upstairs addition. Sometime prior to her arrival — we don't know when, but it might have been with the 1917 remodel or a bit later — a wooden boxcar had been attached to the roof on the back (east) side of the depot and connected to the east rooms to serve as additional living quarters.
Unluckily for Leah, as legend has it, she was fired the day after the Times article was published. (In truth, it took a little longer.) Why? Because of an unfortunate ending to the story:
"She said that the hand trucks, sometimes heavy with freight loads, present no problems to her," The Times reported. "'I'm used to them!' she explained."
Trouble was, starting in the 1910s, California law prohibited women in the transportation industry from working more than 8 hours in a day or lifting objects weighing more than 25 pounds. The SP was violating labor laws and had to act. Leah's husband was reassigned as station agent at Saugus.
Leah sued the railroad. She eventually won ... but not until November 1968 when a federal District Court ruled that the weightlifting restriction conflicted with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was a precedent-setting ruling that voided weightlifting restrictions for women in the transportation industry across the country.
By then, the Guthries were using the upstairs addition as a living room. Ed and Arminta Guthrie slept in the northwest room while the girls shared the larger southwest room.
The unsightly addition was still attached to the roof when the depot arrived at Hart Park in 1980. The Historical Society quickly removed it to restore the depot to its original appearance.
Without necessarily knowing it, Frank Sinatra witnessed the beginning of the end of the depot's glory days in 1954. Over the next few years, transcontinental air service took away a bigger and bigger share of the railroads' transcontinental passenger service, and new highway construction was making shorter treks more pracitical for motorists. By 1958, the station agent at Saugus was staring out at a big, "unused passenger waiting room," as The Newhall Signal put it.
Up to that time, freight traffic was handled at a freight counter on the south side of the agent's office (as seen in "Suddenly"), while passengers did their business at a ticket window which was an opening in a solid wall at the north side of the agent's office. In 1958, freight and passenger service at Saugus were consolidated on the passenger side. The freight counter was removed, as was the "ticket window wall." A new passenger/freight counter was installed in the new opening off the waiting room where the ticket window was.
An interior wall-with-door was added between the former east freight door and the agent's office. The chimney that served heating stoves in the agent's office, waiting room and two upstairs rooms via ducting was removed, and a new hallway between the agent's office and the store room (current kitchen) was created in its place. (The chimney was where the hallway is today.) Ceiling-mounted gas furnaces replaced the old cast-iron stoves.
The alterations are noticable upon close inspection of the paneling. Original tongue-and-groove paneling has double grooves, as noted above; the 1958 paneling has a single groove. It's also a different type of wood — probably pine or Douglas fir.
The station agent and his men — five or six men — all men with the exception of Leah — didn't just do Southern Pacific Railroad work. They were also Western Union telegraphers. They also dealt with Pullman passengers. They also handled express service (packages), initially for Wells, Fargo & Co., then for the American Railway Express (when the government consolidated the private express services during World War I) and subsequently for the Railway Express Agency (when a consortium of 10 railroads took over the consolidated service in 1929). Paychecks came from all of these various entities.
Bob Guthrie faced the depot's bay window (and the tracks) when he was doing his Southern Pacific work. He handled express service at a desk on the opposite (east) side of his office. According to his son, Ed, he liked to roll his metal office chair from one side of the room to the other — which was impossible to do on the original wooden floor that had been modified and beaten up over the decades. So, Bob convinced the railroad's bridge-and-building division to install a new Armstrong-type tile floor over the original floor for smooth gliding.
Because the tile floor and its half-inch plywood subfloor were installed in 1962 or 1963, they were removed during the 2022 restoration to expose the original wooden floor that was present during the depot's most active period (1930s-1950s). The floor tells quite a story.
As the Historical Society peels back the onion with the 2022 restoration, the knowledge of our depot's history grows. We'll add to this story as we go along.
When the depot closed in 1978, it was slated for demolition. So, Bob Guthrie did the sensible thing and removed almost everything that wasn't nailed down (and some things that were). We've been gathering replacements — original period replacements, never replicas — so that when the depot reopens as a Southern Pacific Train Station Museum sometime in 2023, it will appear much as it did, with all of the "cool stuff" it had during its active life.
— Leon Worden 2022
1. Southern Pacific Railroad historian Michael Jarel, pers. comm., 2022. Standard No. 3 depots had a split-level rail car freight dock; Saugus did not because it was not originally intended to transfer rail car freight traffic. The closest surviving sister depot to Saugus is at Sierra Blanca, Texas; it is a true No. 3 depot with a split-level dock.
2. According to Southern Pacific records as researched by the architectural historian Jean-Guy Dube. Not 1905 as previously reported. See also Bender 2013:67 and Serpico 2000:21. Note that both authors say "around" 1916.
3. Photographs in the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society collection do show the two men together in Acton in 1903.
4. Serpico, ibid., at 20.
5. Michael Jarel, ibid. He writes: "It could be identified in the field by nothing more than a station sign on a post but usually was an important location such as a siding, junction, crossing, team track, spur, etc. — or a depot."
6. Bender, ibid., at 66. Note that Bender uses 1879 as the moving date for the Newhall depot to its ultimate location at Market Street and Railroad Avenue. He could be right, but a preponderance of information tells us the date was 1878, specifically January-February.
7. Bender, ibid.; Serpico, ibid.
8. Serpico, ibid.
9. Bender, ibid., at 67.
11. San Francisco Morning Call, November 9, 1890.
12. Jean-Guy Dube, pers. conv., 2022.
13. Ed Guthrie, pers. conv., 2022.
14. Serpico, ibid. Serpico cites California Railroad Commission Valuation Docket No. 1008, June 30, 1916 (ibid at 128, fn. 14).
15. Reynolds 1992:70.
16. "Death Calls Valley Pioneer Anna Marie Bercaw," Santa Clarita Sentinel, December 2, 1964. The obituary would have been written by Sentinel Editor Arthur W. Evans — an incorporator of the SCV Historical Society a decade later — no doubt in collaboration with town historian A.B. Perkins, who was writing for the Sentinel at the time. Either that, or Perkins wrote it solo. He was known to do that.
18. Salley 1977:216, for "county in England" and Fraser. The name "Saugus" did not "change" to Surrey in 1906 as reported elsewhere.
19. Patera 1994:44.
20. Salley, ibid., at 198.
21. Patera, ibid.
22. "Death Calls...," ibid.
23. Michael Jarel, ibid.
24. SCV Historical Society: Minutes, Board of Directors Meeting, October 22, 1984.
25. The 1917 date for the remodel was confirmed by historian Phil Serpico, who discovered it in both Southern Pacific and California Railroad Commission valuation reports (Serpico, ibid., 22).
26. See ibid., March 25, 1985, ff. The railroad used the "double groove" T&G in the hallway (see text infra.) but left the east wall unfinished with exposed studs. It built storage shelving onto the hallway's west wall. The first time the east wall was finished was when the Historical Society added (normal, single-grove) siding in 1985 and painted it in 1986. The Historical Society also removed the shelving (see ibid., November 26, 1984). According to Cynthia Neal-Harris (pers. comm. July 30, 2022), the men's room door off the hallway was present during the depot's active life, but the women's door was not. The Historical Society cut the opening. According to board minutes, three new doors were purchased for the hallway-bathroom area, and one correct period door (an original depot door?) was found on the property. Renovation work in 2021 [cq] informs us that the old door was installed at the women's toilet room, and two new, identical doors were installed off the hallway to the men's room and the women's waiting room. The same type of new door opens off the hallway to the signalmen's office. The door between the hallway and freight room may have been added or replaced at this time, as well.
27. Bender, ibid.: "In 1916, the depot was wired for electric lights."
28. Ibid., October 22, 1984. The color was identified as "marshmallow."
29. Op. cit., December 27, 1953. Leah's tenure at Saugus was brief. The Newhall Signal announced her appointment earlier in the month, in its edition of December 10, 1953. Her precessor didn't last long, either; Charles Munro was announced as the new station agent five months earlier (The Signal, July 23, 1953). But Munro would be connected to a local legacy: His daughter Sarah (b.1936) married Stanley Bronstrup, who later founded the Way Station coffee shop in Newhall.
30. See "May Day and the Struggle for the Eight Hour Day in California" by J. David Sackman, Esq. Note that Rosenfeld wasn't the SP's first female station agent in California, but she may have been the only one after the restrictive laws — actually intended to protect female workers from harsh labor conditions — were adopted during the "progressive" era of Gov. Hiram Johnson (1911-1917).
31. For details, see "Weightlifting Provisions for Women by State," U.S. Department of Labor, June 1969.
33. Op. cit., July 3, 1958.
34. Ed Guthrie, ibid.