Cardiff Historical Site Unearthed

By Julie Thunder
July 29, 2018

Last month, construction crews working on the Cardiff Rail Trail near Chesterfield Drive were digging and found what looked like an old concrete slab buried a few feet below the surface. They broke it up into pieces and set them aside without notifying any of the local agencies involved in the project.

Weeks later, Rich Risner, the landscape architect redesigning Cardiff’s Harbaugh Seaside Parkway (formerly known as Carpentier Parkway) was walking the project with his friend and fellow architect, Brett Farrow, a member of the Cardiff 101 Design Committee. They were across the street from the old Mercantile Building (where the Patagonia Store is located) walking through the construction site.

Harbaugh Seaside Parkway sign

Carpentier Parkway transitioning to Harbaugh Seaside Parkway

Rich was showing Brett where he wanted to build a shade platform for the new parkway. Part of Rich’s design process is to research the history of his project’s location looking for inspiration. In this case, he discovered that over a hundred years ago, Cardiff had a train station across from the Mercantile Building. Using a photo he found of the station, he designed the shade platform to mimic the old station’s style.

locomotive at the old station

Locomotive passing old station

They were discussing the placement of the shade platform when they saw a pile of broken up concrete. Upon closer inspection, they could see the concrete was made with large rounded beach pebbles, typical for pre-1950’s construction along the coast.

Discarded slab pieces

Pieces broken up by construction crew and tossed aside

Rich asked, “I wonder if that’s part of the old train station?” Brett commented, “It looks similar to the foundation of my house which was built around 1914”. They agreed it was likely the train station’s foundation and knew this was a significant find as the station was one of the very first buildings in Cardiff.

The train station is discussed in Book Images of America, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, By Wehtahnah Tucker and Gus Bujkovsky, found at the Cardiff Library:

excerpt: “In the early 1900’s, the Cardiff Train Depot was built using old wood from a kelp works plant… The train depot helped put Cardiff on the map as goods moved more easily between Los Angeles and San Diego… By the 1920’s, a train depot, library, school, restaurants, a hotel, mercantile exchange, and a post office had brought new residents and commerce to Cardiff.”

Rich discussed the discovery with Cardiff Foundation board members who oversee the funding for Harbaugh Parkway. The Foundation alerted the agencies in charge of the project, SANDAG and CalTrans. CalTrans called their in-house archaeologist to review the slab. After more of the slab was exposed and swept clean, he determined that the find is “not of historical significance”.

“I strongly disagree,” says Rich, “we need to uncover the entire slab before deciding it’s importance and then a third-party expert should be called to determine its historical value. This site is one of our town’s birthplaces and deserves special attention.”

Cardiff by the sea, 1911

Cardiff around 1911 (click to enlarge)

Mark Muir, Councilmember and representative for Cardiff said, “Before this piece of history is destroyed and before construction is resumed in this area, we need to preserve some or all of these historic relics. We should also consider placing a historical marker to commemorate the train station at this location.”

Things are on hold, for now. “The area is marked off and construction is temporarily stopped. They are looking into diverting the rail trail around the slab but nothing has been decided,” said Tony Kranz, councilmember and Encinitas’ representative to North County Transit District.


Check back as we will be posting updates as they become available.

Click images to enlarge