Before Disneyland, Anaheim was known nationally as one of those California towns with a funny-sounding name that was shouted by a radio railroad conductor as a running gag on "the Jack Benny Show."
"Train leaving on Track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga," voice master extraordinaire Mel Blanc cried out during the 1940s and '50s to ever-answering laughter.
In reality, however, passenger train service to Anaheim had ended in the 1930s. But one of its two stations still stands, although it was moved 600 feet south in 1991 from its original location when improvements were made to Lincoln Boulevard downtown.
Now at 210 S. Atchison St., the 71-year-old building is undergoing a transformation into a day-care center. It was last used as a passenger train stop about 60 years ago, when its former owner, the Union Pacific Railroad, discontinued passenger service to the city. A Southern Pacific station near where Loara High School is today closed in the 1920s and was torn down long ago.
"The Union Pacific station is symbolic of an industry that caused the semi-rural communities of Orange County to grow," said William A. Myers, who co-authored "Rails Through the Orange Groves," a history of the county's early train service. "There aren't many stations left. So this station is more important for its symbolism than any particular role it played."
When construction of the station began in 1917, Union Pacific's venture into the town was met with fanfare in the local press, which saw Anaheim's future confirmed.
"The company evidently has faith in the future of Anaheim, else it would not consider building the finest depot in the county here, when a cheaper one would answer the purpose," wrote the Anaheim Gazette on Feb. 22, 1917. It said the railroad was spending $20,000 to build the station.
But the United States entered World War I six weeks later and construction stopped. It was not resumed until 1922 and construction was hurried so the freight depot would be available for the 1923 orange harvest.
"Rushed to completion to handle this year's Valencia crop," the Gazette wrote on June 28, 1923, three days before the station's opening, "this is a beautiful building, commodious and substantial, built in the mission style of architecture, the material being cement. It is undoubtedly one of the finest railroad stations on the southland."
Two trains arrived at the station from Los Angeles daily--Anaheim was the last city on the line--and returned to Los Angeles for "direct connections to Omaha, Chicago and points east," the Gazette reported.
For about 10 years, the Union Pacific used the station for passengers and freight, Myers said.
But Union Pacific stopped running passenger trains to the station in the 1930s, choosing to bus passengers from the depot to a station in East Los Angeles. When the Union Pacific dropped passenger service entirely in the early 1970s, it turned part of the depot over to a school supply store, which operated for 16 years until the building was closed in preparation for its move. Union Pacific used part of the station as a freight depot into the 1980s.
The station is now owned by Anaheim's Community Redevelopment Agency, which plans to open the day-care center this summer.