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Burlingame: “The Prettiest Station on the Line”

Burlingame Station was the station I looked forward to sketching the most out of all the depots on the line.

It is certainly one of the most architecturally interesting stations anywhere between San Francisco and San Jose. The station is the first permanent example in California of the Mission Revival Style; a look back to the 21 Spanish Missions that line the California Coast from San Diego to Sonoma. It’s style influenced other train stations in California including Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and San Diego. The station building itself was designated a California Historic Landmark on March 29, 1971 (almost five months before I entered this world).

I had field sketched all 21 missions and was fluent in the architectural language of the missions, so the grade of my learning curve was flattened. In Burlingame I saw the tiled roofs, tower, arcades, and arches that defined the California Mission Revival Style. These elements are almost second nature to me because I had drawn many examples of them in the 21 missions. And who doesn’t love to draw an arch?

Burlingame Station was opened for service on October 10, 1894. And it was certainly a busy station in the heyday of rail service along the peninsula corridor. On a weekday in the late 1930s, 33 passages trains passed through Burlingame station each way. This included the Lark, Sunset Limited, Del Monte, Daylight, and Coaster which where all long-distance trains as opposed to the local commuter trains that took passengers from San Francisco to San Jose.

The old and the new. In the foreground is the Burlingame Caltrain sign and on the tower is the round shield of the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad. SP operated from 1865 to 1996.

As a comparison, the current passenger railway traffic through Burlingame is about 92 weekday trains with a weekday ridership of about 65,000 passengers. Burlingame Station is very much an active station with tracks running right in their original position and grade.

On a Saturday morning I took BART to the Millbrae Transit Center and then transferred to a southbound Caltrain. After a short ride, I got off at the train’s second stop, Burlingame. Once the train pulled out of the station, I crossed the tracks and set up my sketching stool on the opposite platform.

While I was sketching a young boy and his father had biked over to watch trains. They reminded me of my own father and told of a little touch of sanity in this insane world. The seven year old boy stood in front of me watching me work. “I draw trains!”, he announced with the candor and fearlessness of youth. I told him I also draw trains and train stations.

He then turned his attention to the train tracks and he looked both north and south along the line for the tell-tale headlights of an approaching train. There were none. Caltrain was operating on a weekend schedule which means less trains. The boy wanted to wait, until eternity if need be, for the next train to coast through Burlingame Station. This also reminded me of my own love of trains and it is always special to see a working train on the line. His father finally shepherded his son back home and he thanked me for sharing my sketch.

A little accent from Baja California, palm trees and Spanish arches.

An after work sketch at Burlingame Station. I had less then two minutes to roughly sketch this southbound train before it departed toward San Jose. Once I got the perspective correct, I added other details long after the train had left the platform. I put in the things that where still there: the platform in the foreground, the northbound tracks, trees, and power lines and towers.