A short architectural tour of the Santa Fe Depot.

Photo of Santa Fe Depot as it appears today. Big changes to the historic building are likely in its future.
Photo of Santa Fe Depot as it appears today. Some changes to the historic building are possibly in its future.

I went on a short tour of the Santa Fe Depot last week during the San Diego Architectural Foundation 2018 OPEN HOUSE event.

I’ve posted about the depot several times in the past. One fact-filled post concerned an historical exhibit inside the waiting room; another shared hundred year old photos of the building. During our tour I learned even more and enjoyed looking at additional old images.

This downtown San Diego landmark was designed by Bakewell and Brown to welcome the many anticipated visitors to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. The depot’s construction began on May 28, 1914. The building officially opened on March 7, 1915. Materials that were used include a steel frame with wood trusses, concrete slabs, brick arcades and hollow clay tile infill walls. The architects Bakewell and Brown also designed San Francisco City Hall, the Coit Tower and Pasadena City Hall.

During the course of its history, there have been various changes to the building and its forecourt. The original arched forecourt, pictured in some of the following photos, was demolished in 1954 to make way for a parking lot. The current outdoor plaza featuring a fountain and colorful tiled benches replaced the parking lot in the 1980s.

The gentleman providing the tour indicated that recent new ownership of the Santa Fe Depot has opened up the possibility of future development. I learned an unused second story of the depot, once containing a manager’s apartment, telegraph room and railroad worker bedrooms, might be converted into office spaces, but an elevator, heating and electricity are now lacking.

I learned that the fountain in the forecourt’s plaza is leaking and permanently turned off. This valuable property between the main depot building and Broadway might be developed into a space for downtown eateries.

I also learned the large iconic Santa Fe sign atop the depot dates from the mid 50’s, and that there are plans to light it up at night using LED lighting.

Read the captions for some additional fascinating facts about this architectural marvel!

Looking up at one tiled tower. The black material is holding together cracked terracotta columns on chicken wire. The 1915 depot was built for the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.
Looking up at one tile-domed tower. The black material is holding together cracked terracotta columns on chicken wire. The 1915 depot was built for the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.
Amtrak passengers move through the Santa Fe Depot's large waiting room. The building's architecture is in the Mission Revival style with Spanish Colonial Revival influences.
Our tour group and a few Amtrak passengers move through the Santa Fe Depot’s large waiting room. The building’s architecture is in the Mission Revival style with Spanish Colonial Revival influences.
We learn about the beautiful tilework throughout the depot.
We learn about the beautiful tilework throughout the depot.
The depot's glazed Kaospar tiling was created by California China Products Co. of National City, the same company that produced tile for Balboa Park's 1915 exposition.
The depot’s glazed Kaospar tiling was created by California China Products Co. of National City, the same company that produced all of the tile for Balboa Park’s 1915 exposition.
Raised levels of the gorgeous tiles feature different colors!
Raised levels of these gorgeous tiles each feature a different color!
We're shown an old postcard image of the original Main Waiting Room. Ticket and vending kiosks lined the west side of the depot's interior.
We’re shown an old postcard image of the original Main Waiting Room. Ticket and vending kiosks lined the west side of the depot’s interior. There used to be a Fred Harvey lunch room near the current ticket area at the building’s north end.
Looking up at the amazing ceiling. Most of the woodwork has never been painted. The original bronze light fixtures have an appearance that is masculine and sturdy.
Looking up at the amazing ceiling. Most of the woodwork has never been painted. The original bronze light fixtures have an appearance that is masculine and sturdy.
More woodwork around a door that leads to an old Stair Hall on the waiting room's east side.
More handsome woodwork around a door that leads to an old Stair Hall on the waiting room’s east side.
Our group heads outside to the forecourt's sunny plaza.
Our group heads outside to the forecourt’s sunny plaza.
Looking at the south side of the depot. Sadly, the fountain leaks and is turned off.
Looking at the south side of the depot. Sadly, the fountain leaks and is turned off.
We are shown more old images. This is an illustration of the original arched forecourt structure on Broadway. I also see the tower of the original 1887 Victorian station to the west (the other side of the tracks) before it was demolished.
We are shown more old images. This is an illustration of the original arched forecourt structure on Broadway. I also see the tower of the original 1887 Victorian station to the west (the other side of the tracks) before it was demolished.
Here's the old parking lot.
Here’s the old parking lot. (I see the distinctive County Administration Building to the left.)
Streetcars used to run along Broadway right up to the old forecourt!
Streetcars used to run along Broadway right up to the old forecourt!
A photo of the now unused second floor of the Santa Fe Depot.
A photo of the now unused second floor of the Santa Fe Depot.
Another historical photo. This one decorates one side of the information kiosk presently inside the depot.
Another historical photo. This can be found on one side of the information kiosk presently inside the depot.
Our tour guide collects old postcards. Here's another that shows the arched west side of the depot, beside the railroad tracks.
Our tour guide collects old postcards. Here’s another that shows the arched west side of the depot, beside the railroad tracks.
Handout shows map of the Santa Fe System and the San Diego Depot. Today the depot is the 3rd-busiest train station in California and 13th-busiest in the Amtrak system.
Information sheet shows map of the Santa Fe System and the San Diego Depot. Today the depot is the 3rd-busiest train station in California and 13th-busiest in the Amtrak system. (Click image to enlarge it.)
Gazing from the forecourt's plaza over a tiled bench toward America Plaza and buildings along Broadway.
Gazing from the forecourt’s plaza over a tiled bench toward America Plaza and buildings along Broadway. This area might soon undergo changes!

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Richard Schulte

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

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