Photos of National City Depot museum and streetcars!

There's more than refreshments and snacks at the National City Depot. There's a huge, cool collection of local railroad and trolley history!
There’s more than refreshments and snacks at the National City Depot. There’s a huge, cool collection of local railroad and trolley history!

If you’re a train or streetcar lover, prepare to go nuts! The friendly guys at the National City Depot, which is home to the Trolley and Railroad Museum operated by the San Diego Electric Railway Association, allowed me to take loads of photographs a couple weekends ago! The place is so crammed with cool stuff, I hardly know where to start!

(Before I get started, however, I learned the National City Depot is in desperate need of volunteer docents and cashiers. So if you live around San Diego and have some free time, please consider this opportunity. Railroading enthusiasts would be in heaven. If you’d like, you might actually roll up your sleeves and help work to revitalize several vintage streetcars. You can have a great time preserving and enlivening our local history of trolleys by explaining exhibits and sharing knowledge with curious visitors, tourists and school students. SDERA’s stated mission is to restore and preserve the history of electric railways and trolleys in the San Diego region. Click here for more info.)

As you can see from the first photo, the depot has a number of old railroad cars and streetcars sitting outside on either side of it. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, MTS, has provided the private association with three old Vienna streetcars and one Presidents Conference Committee (PCC) streetcar. The latter is undergoing restoration, and will eventually be used as a cool tourist attraction, running over the Coronado Belt Line of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railroad!

You might recognize the name San Diego Electric Railway. It was the mass transit system built by locally famous “sugar heir” and entrepreneur John D. Spreckels. His network of railroads was established in 1892, and active streetcars served a large area of the city for many decades. The San Diego Electric Railway Association proudly displays some examples of the rolling stock that were utilized in those glory years of electric streetcars.

The National City Depot has its own fascinating history. It was built in 1882 by the Santa Fe Railroad, and became the first Pacific Coast terminus station of their transcontinental line. Today, it’s the last representative of the original stations built on the West Coast by the five different transcontinental railroads. After various changes in its operations over the decades, the depot was abandoned in the 1960s and suffered severe neglect. Before finally reopening as a museum, it was also used as a unique building for a couple of restaurants. It’s now owned by the city of National City.

I learned so much during my visit, my brain is still whirling. If I’ve captioned the photos incorrectly, or have made some sort of factual error, please leave a comment!

Here come the photos, just a taste of what you might see should you swing on by.  Enjoy!

The National City Depot was built in 1882. It was the western terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad's transcontinental line.
The National City Depot was built in 1882. It was the first Pacific Coast terminus station of the Santa Fe Railroad’s transcontinental line.
Plaque in front of National City Depot, the West Coast station of Santa Fe's transcontinental railroad. California Registered Historical Landmark No. 1023.
Plaque in front of National City Depot, the first Pacific Coast terminus station of Santa Fe’s transcontinental railroad. California Registered Historical Landmark No. 1023.
Inside the small depot are display cases full of model trains and streetcars, plus artifacts and memorabilia. The walls are covered with old photos and historical information.
Inside the small depot are display cases full of model trains and streetcars, plus artifacts and memorabilia. The walls are covered with old photos and historical information.
The famous old train station sits alongside BNSF tracks which are still active. The National City Depot played in instrumental role in American railroad history.
The famous old train station sits alongside BNSF tracks which are still active. The National City Depot played in instrumental role in American railroad history.
There's so much cool stuff crammed inside the museum, a railfan could spend hours closely examining all of it!
There’s so much cool stuff crammed inside the museum, a railfan could spend hours closely examining all of it!
A magazine article on display for train buffs and history enthusiasts to check out. Buses replace the old network of trolleys in 1949.
A magazine article on display for train buffs and history enthusiasts to check out. Buses finally replaced the old network of San Diego trolleys in 1949.
One of many old photos in the museum depicting San Diego's very rich electric streetcar history.
One of many old photos in the museum depicting San Diego’s very rich electric streetcar history.
A collection of old lanterns. Everything imaginable concerning San Diego railroads and trolleys can be found inside the National City Depot.
A collection of old lanterns. Everything imaginable concerning San Diego railroads and trolleys can be found inside the National City Depot.
Faded writing on the brick fireplace recalls when the eventually abandoned depot was used as a restaurant. Black panels on the walls cover graffiti.
Faded writing on the brick fireplace recalls when the eventually abandoned depot was used as a restaurant. Black panels on the walls cover graffiti.
One section of a wall has lots of photos of vintage streetcars and trolleys.
One section of a wall has lots of photos of vintage streetcars and trolleys.
A second room inside the National City Depot contains a huge model train layout! The exhibit is run when the depot is open Thursdays to Sundays from 9am to 5pm. It appears that SDERA members have a lot of fun!
A second room inside the National City Depot contains a huge model train layout! The exhibit is run when the depot is open Thursdays to Sundays from 9am to 5pm. It appears that SDERA members have a lot of fun!
The best photo I could get of a big antique Raymond and Wilshire safe in the historic transcontinental depot. I had to squeeze up against the model train layout.
The best photo I could get of a big antique Raymond and Wilshire safe in the historic transcontinental depot. I had to squeeze up against the model train layout.
Now we're outside beside the depot at a picnic bench! I liked these two planters in the shape of steam locomotives!
Now we’re outside beside the depot at a picnic bench! I like these two planters in the shape of steam locomotives!
Two of National City Depot's three old Austrian streetcars. These were going to be used by MTS for the San Diego Trolley in the Gaslamp Quarter, but couldn't meet ADA standards, as I understand it.
Two of National City Depot’s three old Austrian streetcars. These were going to be used by MTS for the San Diego Trolley in the Gaslamp Quarter, but couldn’t meet ADA standards, as I understand it.
Sign inside one Vienna street car details the history. They were originally built at the Simmering Machine and Railcar Works, Simmering, Austria.
Sign inside one Vienna street car details the history. They were originally built at the Simmering Machine and Railcar Works, Simmering, Austria.
Now we're stepping into one of the old Austrian streetcars!
Now we’re stepping like a passenger into one of the old Austrian streetcars!
The controls used by the electric streetcar operator. Notice the chair which folds under the dash.
The controls used by this electric streetcar’s operator. Notice a seat that folds under the dashboard.
Looking back where passengers would sit. There didn't seem to be much capacity in the small cars.
Looking back where passengers would sit. There didn’t seem to be much capacity in the small cars.
Now we're checking out Birney Car 336, out in the open lot beside the National City Depot. This is one type of streetcar that transported people in San Diego decades ago.
Now we’re checking out Birney Car 336, out in the open lot beside the National City Depot. This is one type of streetcar that transported people in San Diego decades ago.
Birney Car 336 was built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1917, and first served in Bellingham, WA. It later was used for dining inside the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Diego, from 1971 to 2004!
Birney Car 336 was built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1917, and first served in Bellingham, WA. It later was used for dining inside the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Diego, from 1971 to 2004!
Inside the old Birney Car. I'm hungry for some spaghetti! Where are the chairs?
Inside the old Birney Car. I’m hungry for some spaghetti! Where are the chairs?
Cool vintage advertisements along the car's ceiling include this one for Burma-Shave.
Cool vintage advertisements along the car’s ceiling include this one for Burma-Shave.
A big, heavy tamping machine used for maintaining railroad tracks and placing them more firmly onto packed ballast.
A big, heavy tamping machine used for maintaining railroad tracks and placing them more firmly onto packed ballast.
A second ballast tamper outside the National City Depot. I always wondered what these unusual machines that you see on train tracks were for.
A second ballast tamper outside the National City Depot. I always wondered what these unusual machines that you see on train tracks are for.
Part of the machinery that pushes down on the steel rails and ties. This makes sure train tracks are solidly in place.
Part of the machinery that pushes down on the steel rails and ties. This makes sure train tracks are solidly in place and level.
Gazing back north past various rail exhibits outside the National City Depot.
Gazing back north past various rail exhibits outside the National City Depot. Isn’t this fun?
Now we'll check out PCC Car 539, which was donated to SDERA by the Metropolitan Transit System.
Now we’ll check out PCC Car 539, which was donated to SDERA by the Metropolitan Transit System.
PCC Car 539 was built in 1946 by the St. Louis Car Company. It served as a streetcar in St. Louis until 1956. Restoration is underway. One day it might run nearby as a tourist attraction.
PCC Car 539 was built in 1946 by the St. Louis Car Company. It served as a streetcar in St. Louis until 1956. Restoration is underway. One day it might run nearby as a tourist attraction.
Inside the fabulous PCC car. The San Diego Trolley has two completely restored cars of this type, now running on downtown's Silver Line.
Inside the fabulous PCC car. The San Diego Trolley now has two completely restored cars of this type, running in a downtown loop called the Silver Line.
I believe this is a Fairmont Speeder Car. Tiny crew cars were used to transport a few individual workers up and down tracks. I'd love to ride one!
I believe this is a Fairmont Speeder Car. Tiny crew cars were used to transport a few individual workers up and down tracks. I’d love to ride one!
Oh, man! I bet you'd love to sit in one of these seats and ride the rails! Just turn the throttle to go!
Oh, man! I bet you’d love to sit in one of these seats and ride the rails! Just turn the throttle to go!
Seriously? This one is basically a bicycle for train tracks! Except it has four wheels! And a bike chain, of course!
Seriously? This one is basically a bicycle for train tracks! Except it has four wheels! And a bike chain, of course!
This luggage cart near the entrance to the National City Depot was donated by the Maritime Museum of San Diego--it evidently was aboard the steamboat Berkeley at one time.
This luggage cart near the entrance to the National City Depot was donated by the Maritime Museum of San Diego–it evidently was aboard the steam ferry Berkeley at one time.
One of several cool vintage handcars. Just like you see in those old Western movies.
One of several cool vintage handcars. Just like you see in those old Western movies.
This unusual three-wheeled handcar reminds me of a canoe outrigger!
This unusual three-wheeled handcar reminds me of a canoe outrigger!
San Diego Electric Railway Association's fun Herbie is a Brill streetcar replica. A parade and car show's popular Streetcar on Wheels!
San Diego Electric Railway Association’s fun Herbie is a Brill streetcar replica. A parade and car show’s popular Streetcar on Wheels!
An antique open air streetcar at the National City Depot. This a grip car, like the cable cars in San Francisco. Few people realize that San Diego had a cable car line that briefly ran from the Gaslamp to University Heights in the early 1890s!
An antique open air streetcar at the National City Depot. This a grip car, like the cable cars in San Francisco. Few people realize that San Diego had a cable car line that briefly ran from the Gaslamp to University Heights in the early 1890s!
Elegant number 54 was operated by the San Diego Electric Railway Company according to its markings. The yellow paint is peeling.
Elegant number 54 is a unique composite, built using two different San Diego Cable Railway cars. I see panes of stained glass. The yellow paint is peeling.
The third Vienna streetcar in the National City Depot's collection, number 6888, is yellow.
The third Vienna streetcar in the National City Depot’s collection, number 6888, is yellow.
There's a lot of very cool stuff to see at the National City Depot, in San Diego's South Bay!
There’s a ton of very cool stuff to see at the National City Depot, in San Diego’s South Bay!

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

19 thoughts on “Photos of National City Depot museum and streetcars!”

      1. I have ridden the Amtrak a few times.So far once to Chicago from Ca, to New Mexico from Ca and to Wa from Ca. We also rode the metrolink to annointing of the animals in LA.You would love it, with all the dancers and more Another time to San Juan Capistrano.I like trains and train stations..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve ridden the Amtrak a couple times, too! I’ve gone on the California Zephyr from San Fran through Salt Lake City and Denver to Chicago, then from Chicago to Gainesville, Florida (for an Appalachian Trail section hike), and also the Southwest Chief, through Arizona, New Mexico and Kansas and up to Chicago, then down to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (for another AT hike!). I loved sitting in the observation cars with those swiveling seats and dining on those little pizzas! Going through the Sierras and Rocky Mountains was so awesome–just thinking about it, I want to do it again!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. So cool..I am planning a trip to Chicago possibly in May, Lord willing. My youngest daughter lives near Denver.Would love to see that area.by train of course.

        Like

  1. Richard, it’s been awhile since I’ve wandered through some older friends’ posts, and I couldn’t miss yours. Love this “ride” on the trains, streetcars, etc. So interesting. Your photos are excellent! Thank you so much. Love our history, and San Diego has so much of it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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