Willow Glen Trolley on Lincoln Ave

Did you know that until the Great Depression, electric streetcars used to run down Lincoln Avenue? Contrary to the caption in this picture, the streetcars apparently did not end in 1930. Charmer Jean did some research (sources below) which indicates the SJ railroad streetcar ran to Willow Glen until July 25, 1935 and the Alameda line was last to close on April 10, 1938. The streetcars were operated by two different independent companies, and both of them were hammered by the economic realities of the great depression.

  • The Southern Pacific Railroad operated the Peninsular Rail line, which ran “Big Red Cars” down Bird, to Coe, to Lincoln, with a turn at Willow Street, then to Meridian Avenue. Southern Pacific lost money on the Peninsular Rail line from about 1918. It covered areas out to Saratoga and elsewhere. When the 1930s depression arrived, they wanted out of the streetcar business. They applied to abandon the route in 1930 and were approved in 1934, turning over the lines to the SJ Railroad on Nov 30, 1934. Southern Pacific was also facing big expenses of moving the Main railroad line from 4th street to the present alignment. The city of San Jose was demanding grade separations and road pavement for Delmas, Willow Street, future Alma Street extension, Park Avenue, Santa Clara Street, Bird. SPRR was struggling.
  • In contrast, the SJ Railroad was running at a profit until the depression. Then, the depression hit and they also had to abandon lines. The problem of rebuilding the lines UNDER the new grade separations was a factor in picking which lines to abandon first. Prior to the depression, the SJ Railroad ran lines down Delmas Street to Willow, and along Willow Street from First Street. Both lines turned south on Lincoln Avenue and stopped at Minnesota.

During the depression, lines were consolidated and re-routed, using tracks from the Peninsular system. The city fathers were pushing for paving improvements (or paving on the dirt streets). They were also receiving heavy lobbying from GM to convert to “rubber.” SJ Railroad looked at their ancient rolling stock, the requests to pave, difficulties with the underpasses, and their balance sheet and called it quits.

My primary sources for this information:

Willow Glen Basket Factory in Downtown San Jose
Second Willow Glen Elementary