Third and Townsend Depot

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Southern Pacific's Third and Townsend Depot terminal

The Third and Townsend Depot was the main train station in the city of San Francisco for much of the first three quarters of the 20th century. The station at Third Street and Townsend Street served as the terminus for Southern Pacific's Peninsula Commute line between San Francisco and San Jose (forerunner of Caltrain) and long-distance trains between San Francisco and Los Angeles via the Southern Pacific's Coast Line. For passenger service for destinations to the north, such as Seattle, and destinations to the east, such as Chicago, passengers needed to travel to Oakland, initially on ferries to Oakland Long Wharf, and later on buses to 16th Street Station. It was demolished in the 1970s and replaced by the Caltrain commuter station a block away at Fourth and King Streets.


The station was built in 1914–15 on the occasion of the Panama–Pacific International Exposition to be held in 1915.[1][2][3] It replaced a previous terminal built in 1889, which was moved to make way for it and then became known as "The Old Depot".[4] (The first San Francisco terminal had been at Fourth and Brannan Streets,[5] built in response to the Tidelands Bill of 1868, which granted the Central Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Western Pacific railroads 150 acres of land in Mission Bay on condition they provide a terminal station.)[6] Originally the 1914 station was supposed to be temporary, with a main station to be built further downtown; the Southern Pacific had assembled some of the land they would need to extend the line to a terminal at Market Street and Embarcadero, facing the Ferry Building.[7] However, this plan was never carried out.

The station had its last long distance train on April 30, 1971, when the Southern Pacific yielded operation of the Coast Daylight to Amtrak. With the rise of freeways and the loss of long-distance passenger rail service, the structure was demolished in 1975-76. A new Fourth and King Street Station provides Caltrain commuter service to San Jose.


Designed by the Southern Pacific Architectural Bureau, the station was two stories, built of reinforced concrete in the characteristic mission revival architecture style,[1][2][3][8] and was one of the best examples of the style in San Francisco.[9] The railroad intended the style to "link San Francisco more closely with the romance and sentiment of the settlement of California", and planned to include interior murals on that theme. The initial announcement of the design included giving customers a choice of free and paying bathrooms, for the first time in a Western train station.[7] There was a baggage building, a commissary, and a Pullman storeroom.[10] The roofs were tiled and arcades and door canopies sheltered passengers from the weather on two sides. The interiors were finished in oak. The waiting room had a marble floor, measured 64x110 feet, with a 45-foot ceiling, and was lit on three sides by amber-glassed windows.[8]

Named passenger trains[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Third & Townsend Depot". Retrieved 2015-06-13.
  2. ^ a b "Third & Townsend, Part 1". Retrieved 2015-06-13.
  3. ^ a b Atkins, Martin (2012-09-07). "The Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in San Francisco". Retrieved 2015-06-13.
  4. ^ McGovern, Janet (2012). Caltrain and the Peninsula Commute Service. Images of Rail. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia. p. 16. ISBN 9780738576220.
  5. ^ McGovern, pp. 7–8.
  6. ^ Carlsson, Chris. "The Railroad Comes to SF?". Found SF. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Southern Pacific Announces Plans for Depot". San Francisco Chronicle. November 25, 1912. Retrieved May 1, 2019 – via Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.
  8. ^ a b Jennings, Frederick (February 1917). "Some California Railroad Stations". The Architect and Engineer of California. 48 (2): 43–47.
  9. ^ Olmsted, Roger; Watkins, T. H.; Junior League of San Francisco (1968). Here Today: San Francisco's Architectural Heritage. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p. 298. OCLC 473730380.
  10. ^ McGovern, p. 22.

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