History of the Depot

An impressive family tree

Doug Offenbacher

The late 19th century had no shortage of powerful figures. The west was still wild and opportunities for greatness were everywhere. The Gold Rush had served as a breeding ground for savvy entrepreneurs, many of whom made fortunes and parlayed them into even greater wealth and prominence.

Among those successes was a small group of men who would bring the railroad across the Rocky Mountains in 1869 and connect the country as never before. There’s much to be told of “The Big Four” but for now we fast forward to the year 1887.

One of those railroad magnates was Leland Stanford, a man of great intent who wanted things his way and, to the frustration of his partners, usually got what he wanted. Not that his partners were lackluster in any regard; Charles Crocker, Collis Huntington and Mark Hopkins were no less strong-willed.

Stanford, then president of Southern Pacific, had recently lost his only son to a virus during a family vacation in Italy. He and his wife decided to build a college for all California children in his memory.

Ignoring local architects, Stanford chose a Boston firm renowned for a style of architecture virtually unknown on the West Coast, Richardsonian Romanesque. Created by a relatively young Henry Hobson Richardson, it was classic Romanesque in its basics but infused with a creative flair that quickly set it apart as breakthrough styling.
Richardson unfortunately died at age 44 in 1886 but his firm carried on under the guidance of a talented protg by the name of Charles Coolidge.

Coolidge came to California to oversee the design of Leland Stanford Junior University. It would be a work of art in Almaden sandstone with red tile roofs in accordance with Stanford’s mandate that it be a tribute to California’s Spanish Mission heritage.

Coincidentally, two new Bay Area communities were also being designed as exclusive real estate developments. One called San Carlos, near the Stanford project, and one far to the north in Sonoma Valley called Los Guilicos (later Kenwood).

Each would be serviced by the railroad, so each was in need of an impressive depot. Railroad principals were among the investors in each adding to the call for something special. Architect Charles Coolidge was all too familiar with depot design, his firm having designed dozens in the northeast. And he was here – working for the president of the railroad.

We’ll explore this in more detail, but historical facts leave little doubt that Charles Coolidge, architect of Stanford University, was also the architect of the depots at San Carlos and Los Guilicos. Our Kenwood Depot begins to take on a bit of a glow.