A piece of coastal North County’s history from the early 20th century will be preserved, thanks to an alert citizen, some conscientious construction workers, and the cooperation of regional authorities.
In conjunction with the placement of a second track along the railroad that runs along California’s coast, the San Diego Association of Governments is overseeing the installation of a segment of the corridor’s regional biking and hiking trail in Encinitas’ Cardiff-by-the-Sea community.
Encinitas resident Ron Dodge, a student of the region’s railroad history, has been observing the rail trail project’s progress with particular attention to its path through the site of the old Cardiff train station.
The depot, which opened in 1913, and halted operations in 1921, was situated along the east side of the tracks just north of what today is the intersection of Chesterfield Drive and San Elijo Avenue.
On June 30, Dodge said, he observed that workers had uncovered a concrete slab at the site, which he believed was a remnant of the old station. He immediately contacted city officials, including Councilman Tony Kranz, who is also a railroad buff, and Mayor Catherine Blakespear, to get their help in verifying the discovery.
“I was pretty sure, but I was hedging my bet until I talked with Catherine and Tony,” Dodge said in an interview along with Blakespear at the site last week. “I wanted to obtain some additional details because you never can be too sure. It’s very exciting to uncover an artifact from the past.”
Blakespear is the city’s representative on the board of directors for the government association, and she worked with administrators there on preserving the slab.
Once its significance was confirmed, association administrators agreed to redesign and reroute the trail so the remnant of the station can be preserved.
“They were willing to put together a different design to preserve this, and I’m really grateful for that,” Blakespear said.
Fortunately, Blakespear said, the workers clearing the site left the concrete structure undisturbed.
“They thought this might be important, so they cleared it off without destroying it,” she said. “We have very few opportunities to preserve our history due to the fact that a lot of them have been torn down. For that reason, it’s important to preserve these gems.”
Adding to the site’s significance, Blakespear said, is its presence across the street from one of the area’s oldest remaining structures, the Mercantile building, which now is occupied by the Patagonia retail shop. An old black and white photo shows both the station and the Mercantile, which then housed a hotel, market and post office.
“So standing here, you can visualize what it was like to be here in 1913,” she said of the slab’s location. “It’s power is its place.”
Said Dodge: “It’s not exactly like the Rosetta Stone that can be moved from place to place.”
The Cardiff station was a later addition on the rail line originally established as the California Southern Railroad when it was built in the early 1880s, Dodge said.
The railroad ran between National City and a transcontinental line in San Bernardino County on a route that went through Fallbrook, the Santa Margarita River canyon, Temecula, Elsinore, Perris and Riverside.
The wooden depot that served Encinitas was built in 1887. The Cardiff station was closed after the train tracks for the inland route were wiped out by flooding in the Temecula Valley, Dodge said, and it was not rebuilt. The building was torn down in 1943, through apparently not completely removed.
A publication titled, “Santa Fe Coast Lines Depots, Los Angeles Division,” produced in 1992 and shared by Dodge, offered this description of the Cardiff station:
“Architect Del W. Harris of San Diego penned the plans for the unique Mission style depot at Cardiff. The four-room structure was built on a concrete foundation with a cement floor, plastered exterior and tile roof.”
Dodge and Blakespear hope the locale with the remaining slab can be developed with informational displays explaining the history and role of the Cardiff station.
“It sort of looks inauspicious, but when you hear the story of it, it comes to life,” Dodge said.