Saturday, March 31, 2012

Alameda Rail Stations - Bonus Post

Brass lettering outside Grand Station
I woke up early this morning and decided to go for a walk before the weather went south on us.  I happen to live near Grand Station in Alameda and while I was wandering around I got to wondering about the railways that used to criss-cross the island.  I knew that rail service used to be a fairly serious thing here on the island, but I didn't really have a clear idea of when, how, where, etc.  So I got inspired to root around in the dark corners of the internet and a Saturday morning bonus posting is the result.  I hope you enjoy it.

It's difficult to talk about the history of Alameda without discussing its railways and how the extension of those railways affected the development of the city.  There is a solid argument to be made that the development of modern Alameda followed in the wake of the railways.  Prior to the laying of San Francisco & Alameda Railroad in 1864, and the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1878, Alameda was still comprised mostly of farmland and agricultural plots.  Where the trains went, streets, sidewalks, pavement, and urban development followed.  The Alameda & San Francisco ran down Lincoln Ave., ending at what is now the Alameda Naval Air Station.  This line would become the terminus for the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 when it was sold to the Central Pacific Railway.The South Pacific Coast Railroad ran a line across the High Street Bridge and then up Encinal Ave. to the ferry pier that used to be on the west end of the island.

A lingering legacy of these two railroads are the small commercial districts that grew up around the stations.  While the stations themselves are no longer there, almost every neighborhood along either Lincoln or Encinal has a small cluster of commercial buildings that date back to when Alamedans had easy access to rail services.

Some examples of former rail stations in Alameda are...
  • High Street Station, on the corner of High and Encinal.
  • Versailles Station, at Versailles and Encinal.
  • Bay Station, home of Alameda institution Pagano's Hardware.
  • Grand Station, at the corner of Lincoln and Grand.
  • The Croll Building was the Neptune Beach stop at the corner of Central and Webster.
There are actually many more, and I was surprised to learn how many commercial buildings had their beginnings as a rail station.  Each of these commercial districts served as the hub of a small neighborhood and Alameda grew up and filled in around them.

Getting There By Bike...
Luckily, Alameda is incredibly easy to get around by bike.  All of the old rail stations are found on main thoroughfares throughout the city.  The unfortunate part of that is that neither Lincoln nor Encinal are particularly fun to ride a bike on.  Paralleling either of those streets one block to the side is probably a better bet for a casual ride around town. The downside is that, apart from small historic items, like the fountain at Encinal Station or the brass lettering in the sidewalk outside Grand Station, there's not much left of the stations themselves.  There are some great buildings though, and a quick tour through these neighborhoods highlights some of the historic buildings in Alameda.

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