Keep Martinez’s Rich History Alive!

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Southern Pacific Depot Bench returns to Martinez

Written by Richard Patchin

In the 1860s, the Carquinez Strait was recognized as providing ideal conditions for harbor facilities, particularly a deep water channel close to the southern shore. The owners of the Central Pacific Railroad realized that by building a line from Oakland along the south shore of the strait and beyond would allow for low level access to the agriculturally rich Great Central Valley, a crossing by ferry or bridge to the north shore, and service to numerous developing port facilities.

The Northern Railway Company, a subsidiary of the Central Pacific, was incorporated July 19, 1871, to construct a line from Oakland to Martinez. Also incorporated on the same date was another subsidiary, the San Pablo and Tulare Railroad. This company was charged with building a line connecting Martinez with the Central Valley.

In Martinez in the year 1877, an engine house, water tower, turntable and station were constructed in the vicinity of Ferry Street. The station was built in the “chalet” style typical of the standard depot design used by the Central Pacific Railroad in the late 19th century.

Over the years, the station structure was expanded to provide additional space for handling more freight, and to better serve increasing numbers of passengers. The interior photo, circa 1915, shows the waiting room shortly after a reconstruction that allowed for better passenger accommodations.

The benches pictured are the same style as the one displayed in the Martinez City Council Chambers, courtesy of Patricia Berty and her family. These benches were constructed as single units as well as double sided.

Patricia’s father, Clem Street, worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad (part of the Central Pacific) as a signal maintainer. He moved his family to a residence on Brown Street shortly after returning from service in the Army during WWII.

When the furniture in the depot waiting room was changed, the wooden benches were stored in the signalmen’s workshop. From there they were given away to anyone who wanted them.

Mr. Street took one home, painted it, and placed it in the family’s pool house where it remained for many years. In 1991, Patricia and her husband moved to Beavercreek, Ohio. Clem shipped the bench to his daughter. Her husband refinished it and put it in their basement recreation room.

Several years ago on a trip west to visit her father, Patricia came to the Martinez Museum where she met the museum director, Andrea Blachman. The bench was a topic of conversation that day and, after some correspondence over the intervening years, arrangements were made for the bench to be returned to Martinez.

The Martinez Historical Society is profoundly grateful to Clem Street for saving this historical artifact, and to his daughter, Patricia Berty, for sending it back to Martinez and donating it to the Society.


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