Capistrano Depot located in Capistrano Beach
The old Santa Fe Railroad Dept has
long been an integral part of San Juan's history and lore. It all
began in 1887 when a railroad track was laid through town to connect
Los Angeles and San Diego. First, a Nordic-style wood frame building
was erected, and then replaced in 1894 by the present day Mission-style
building. The new brick depot was at first only a small cube with
a bell tower, telegraph office, waiting room, and storage room for
freight. The roof tiles are believed to have come from the Mission
The Depot has been the scene of any
number of events, some historic and some with a degree of levity.
Memorable is when our town drunk fell asleep in the middle of the
tracks and had a train ride over him. He never received a scratch
but complained about being awakened when some friends ran from the
Mexico Lindo Bar nearby to see if he was okay. Earlier in 1889,
Modesta Avila strung her laundry across the tracks to protest the
railroad's existence and was sentenced to San Quentin for her misdeeds.
Then there was the time when in evenings after the dispatcher left
for home and someone wanted to board a train, they would put a washtub
alongside the tracks and lit a fire to signal the train to stop.
depot in SJC, 1894
In 1925 San Juan
was the scene of the last great train robbery in Orange County.
One evening as the train was traveling slowly through town; a robber
jumped to the ladder on the side of a car, climbed on top, kicked
through a side glass window, then shot down into the car and wounded
the attendant. He lowered himself down a rope ladder, broke a mail
car door window and reached through to un-latch the door and gain
access. He rifled the mail pouches and strongbox then jumped off
the train and presumably caught a southbound train. The wounded
attendant later was found and rushed to the hospital, but passed
away. It was discovered that only five dollars was taken from the
strongbox but $2,100 was stolen from the mail sacks. Despite offers
of rewards, the robber/killer was never apprehended.
Then there was an event of a different
sort in the 1980s, when former Mayor Larry Bucheim and some friends
dressed up as deputies with badges and side arms. They boarded the
train in Santa Ana with two guys bound in handcuffs. The train conductor
wanted to know what this was all about and Larry said they had just
rounded up these two unseemly miscreants and had to take them to
San Juan Capistrano to be tried in our local courthouse (which we
didn't have). The conductor had them ride in the back end of the
train but this did not stop the passengers from going out of their
way to see what was happening.
train stopped at our Depot, up rode a large group of cowboys with
their guns prominently displayed. They boarded the train and forced
“the deputies” out and made them lie down on the pavement.
They took their guns and the two desperados and rode off quickly
out of town. Pandemonium broke out with the passengers, train crew,
and visitors around the depot. It took quite a while for Larry to
explain that everything was all right and just San Juan's way of
celebrating the return of the Swallows to the Mission.
On September 25, 1942, during WWII, a special
train arrived unannounced but soon it became apparent that President
Franklin D. Roosevelt was on board. Earlier the town had been aroused
when Marines arrived in trucks, surrounded the Depot, and some were
even posted on top of nearby buildings with machine guns. A limousine
picked up the President at the Depot; he was then driven to the
Mission and paused by Father Arthur Hutchison to be blessed. Roosevelt
then went on to Camp Pendleton for a visit.
Traveling by train ceased in the ‘50s
and the Depot was boarded up from 1966 to 1974. Next came the restaurant
period. Several came and went, but it wasn't until the present operators
moved their restaurant Sarducci's to the Depot that a restaurant
at this location became successful. Traveling by train started again
when Amtrak and Metrolink began to provide service in the 1990's.
...more History & Mystery on SJC.net
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