The Perris Depot
History of the depot
Built of red brick, the 1892 Santa Fe Railway depot in Perris is a classic example of High Victorian style. Built in the Queen Anne architectural style, the depot is still on its original site, substantially unchanged from its original design and construction.
The property now occupied by the depot was deeded to the California Southern Railroad (predecessor to the Santa Fe Railway) on February 12, 1886 by T.J. Fording, one of the the group of San Bernardino businessmen who financed the founding of the town of Perris. It took another six years before the new depot was completed and presented to the railroad company in 1892. Originally intended to be an important stop on a major transcontinental line, this changed before its completion. Floods had several times washed out many miles of line southward toward San Diego. With the elimination of service to Elsinore and Temecula through Railroad Canyon, the distinction of Perris as a junction point also ended.
However, a branch line to Hemet opened in 1888, and the depot served as a transfer facility. In 1910, underground water was discovered and developed. Cultivation of alfalfa became a major commodity of the valley, and the depot and railroad became the focus of intense activity. World War II also saw more railroad activity at the depot. But, after the war, in 1947 passenger service ended. The coming of imported Colorado River water in 1953 and the introduction of White Rose potatoes revived railroad traffic once again.
As water for irrigation became increasingly more expensive, the cultivation of potatoes declined. This contributed to the closing of the Perris Depot as the Santa Fe freight agency in 1969. The depot structure was given to the Orange Empire Railway Museum for historic preservation. It continues to serve the City of Perris as a cultural center, serving not only as a functional railway station for trains to the OERM museum site, but also housing the Perris Valley Historical and Museum Association (PVH&MA) and its collection of local history artifacts. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Surviving the unpredictable changes during the depot's 100-year history are the names of the leading mercantile houses which existed in the early days of Perris. Written in lampblack, these pioneer family names can still be seen on the freight house walls, indicating the location where all freight for that business was to be left.
History courtesy of the PVH&MA
Click here for a pdf copy of "Perris and Its Railroad", by Richard Dodge, a 1959 history of the California Southern Railroad.
In 2001, OERM and the City of Perris were awarded a $431,000 TEA-21 transportation enhancement grant to perform seismic stabilization, roof repairs and other upgrades. In 2002, the PVH&MA moved out in anticipation of the restoration process beginning. Unfortunately, the time consuming nature of the grant implementation process delayed the work well beyond its originally anticipated start date. Meanwhile, plans to extend the region's popular Metrolink commuter rail service were finalized and funded, adding new focus on the opportunities at the depot site. A Metrolink station and transit center would now be built adjacent to the depot, offering opportunities for transit oriented development projects as well.
In 2007, the City of Perris and OERM forged an historic partnership to expand the project beyond its original limited restoration scope and create a true downtown cultural icon. The Museum signed title of the building over to the City in exchange for a 99-year lease, and the City approved $1.5M in additional restoration funds (beyond the original federal grant) that would transform the building into a true community icon.
The restoration of the building was substantially completed in early 2008, and on October 29th, 2008 the restored depot was formally dedicated. Click here for a news article on the ceremony, which featured the depot's last resident Santa Fe agent as special guest of honor.
On January 31, 2009 the PVH&MA officially reopened their museum in the building. California's own Huell Howser was on hand to tape an episode of his popular public television series as part of the event. Also on hand were Christina Perris, the great-great granddaughter of the City's namesake Fred T. Perris. Click here for a link to a Press Enterprise news article and video on the event. The building is open on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm.
On January 11, 2010, the Perris Multimodal Transit Center, named in honor of the late Ward Kimball, opened for business. Located immediately adjacent to the depot, the $5 million center provides park-and-ride facilities for Riverside County Transit Agency buses and is scheduled to expand to provide Metrolink train service by late 2011. The new center will transform Perris into a hub of mass transportation in Riverside County.
Unique to the Perris Station is artwork created by pioneering animator and cartoonist Ward Kimball, who worked beside Walt Disney for decades. Replicas of characters Kimball created, including Jiminy Crickett and Tweedledum and Tweedledee, adorn the bus shelters at the center. Kimball's son and daughter were on hand at the official opening and praised Perris for honoring their father's legacy.
The platform for Metrolink trains has already been included in the new center, along with a separate platform area and track pocket for OERM museum trains. The Museum is currently conducting a $750,000 capital campaign to raise money for the suite of improvements necessary to facilitate access for its trains into the new transit center.
© 2016 Orange Empire Railway Museum