W.D.M. Howard and Agnes Poett Howard were the first to build a large estate on the mid-Peninsula, that stretched from Sanchez Avenue in modern-day Burlingame to San Mateo Creek, near downtown San Mateo, and from the Bay to today’s Interstate 280. Son William H. Howard was a member of the Burlingame Country Club, and when members wanted to replace the flag-stop shelter at Oak Grove with a proper train station to welcome their visitors, Howard donated the land for what would become the city’s architectural landmark. His half-brother George H. Howard, Jr. and Joachim B. Mathisen developed its iconic design, derived in part, from A. Page Brown’s temporary “California Building’” at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
Southern Pacific agreed to provide funds for an “ordinary” depot if the Club paid the difference for something more elaborate. The result was “a very picturesque Spanish Structure,” in the news of the day. The building cost $8,000 and opened officially on October 10, 1894 under Stationmaster Ben Wright. It featured a square tower, a hipped roof, Moorish decoration on the main arch, unique quatrefoil windows and authentic California Indian roof tiles, salvaged in part from the ruins of Mission Hospice on the Howard property in San Mateo. Burlingame’s depot was the country’s first permanent Mission Revival-style building.
There are three sections: the baggage room on the northwest end, the waiting room in the center, and living quarters for the stationmaster on the south end. Around 1909-10, an open arcade was added on the northwest end. The waiting room, with its dramatic rafted ceiling, remains largely unaltered.
Succeeding Wright and M.L. Masteller as a stationmaster, George W. Gates arrived in 1895 with his bride and settled into the station’s living quarters. Gates’s son, Stan, recalled that in the early days, with no stores in Burlingame, passengers would bring groceries and goods from San Francisco for the young family. By World War I, the building was a hive of commuter activity for the town that evolved around the depot.
In 1923, Mose D. Lehrfeld became station agent and his family lived in the station quarters for three years. Among the famous visitors was Mary Pickford and the cast of “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” being filmed at the Kohl Estate.
Until the 1950s, an agent lived in the station quarters; the space was later leased to a variety of tenants, including the Burlingame Chamber of Commerce from 1987 until 2011. In 1971, on the basis of is architectural style, the Burlingame station was designated a California State Registered Landmark, the first station so honored. In 1978, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In June 1986, the city and its Save Our Station Committee held a festival to celebrate the restoration of the depot, completed in cooperation with the Office of the State Architect and Caltrans. A centennial celebration was held in September 1994. The ticket office was staffed by an agent until 2004. After it closed, the Burlingame Historical Society approached Caltrain about the possibility of creating a local history museum in the building. The Burlingame Hillsborough History Museum opened in 2008.
The station underwent a $13 million upgrade project in 2007, which included platform reconfiguration and the installation of several new mission-style shelters and period appropriate plantings.
(Compiled by the Burlingame Historical Society in August 2013 for the Caltrain Railroad Sesquicentennial)