History of the Depot

Does the Depot Have a Twin?

Doug Offenbacher

The late 19th century was a period of great optimism in California, fueled to a large degree by the completion of the transcontinental railroad and eastern markets suddenly being accessible to west coast manufacturers and farmers.

The sweeping changes underway throughout the state were not lost on the quiet agricultural corridor of Sonoma Valley, still largely marshland.

Investors, many with ties to the railroad, also saw great opportunities in real estate development along the path of the proposed rails. The town of Los Guilicos (later called Kenwood) was mapped out and home sites were marketed to San Franciscans as exclusive vacation get-a-ways.

Of course such a place would need a railroad station befitting its exclusivity, so a handsome stone depot of Richardsonian Romanesque design was built to welcome prospective buyers arriving by train.

How such an unlikely style of architecture, all but unknown in California, came to be used is a mystery. Searching for clues to that mystery will eventually take you to the city of San Carlos in San Mateo County. There, unbeknownst to the citizens of Kenwood, stands a near duplicate of the Kenwood Depot.

In fact much of the San Carlos Depot is an exact copy of Kenwood. Or is it the other way around?

Both depots were designed and built simultaneously and both went into service in 1888. Both depots are masterful applications of Richardsonian Romanesque styling. Both depots share the same detailing inside and out and both were built of locally quarried stone.

Our Kenwood Depot was built of Basalt quarried near Santa Rosa. The San Carlos depot was built of Almaden sandstone quarried south of San Jose.

And both depots were built to be the centerpiece of a new real estate development, one called San Carlos, the other Los Guilicos. A coincidence?

With so many things in common, including sketches of both by the same person, there’s no question the two depots were designed by the same architect.

The perplexing mystery is, “Who?” All available evidence suggests the same celebrity candidate who we’ll learn about next time.