Upcoming Webinar on Capay Valley Railroad History

I’m giving a virtual lecture on the history and ongoing relevance of railroad development in Capay Valley this coming Wednesday, July 22, at 2:30 pm, hosted by the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. The event is free, but you have to sign up for it in advance. More information is available here.

Join Us Sunday, October 8, for a Treasure Hunt at the Depot

Come one, come all — kids especially welcome! On Sunday, October 8, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., local treasure hunter Kelly Johnson will comb the depot’s grounds with a metal detector for buried treasures. Drop by anytime to see what he finds! We’ll build up a temporary display as the day progresses and I’ll be on hand to show off recent improvements within the building. Free lemonade as long as it lasts!

It looks quiet at the depot, but…

We’re making progress! Since last spring, I’ve been working hard to raise funds for the next (and final) round of construction. The costs are considerable but not insurmountable. I’m already about a fifth of the way toward my goal of saving up $500,000 for this work. I hope to have the balance within the next few years. Nevertheless, I will continue to maintain and modestly improve the property along the way.

Yes, more improvements are needed before the building can be used. Although the main structure, exterior and roof are now in good shape – thanks to the work we finished last year – the interior of the depot remains pretty raw. Unfortunately, I can’t lease it out or let anyone use it until it’s fully code-compliant.

In broad strokes, the remaining work includes: adding sprinklers, distributing electricity, providing insulation, heating and air conditioning, interior finishes and exterior decks (like the old station platforms on three sides), steps, ramps and handrails. The building and the grounds need to be accessible. We need to add parking and landscaping.

In the meantime, I have provisionally made this project (and the history and community of Esparto/Capay) the subject of my doctoral research at Stanford, where I started a PhD program in Modern Thought and Literature last fall. I am learning a great deal about the region’s history – particularly its railroad history – through Stanford’s rich archive and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis. (Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University, was director of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company when Esparto was established by one of its subsidiaries.) I hope to connect the Esparto depot project with some of Stanford’s ongoing archeological and public history projects. The period of my doctoral work coincides with my fundraising campaign.

For those readers/visitors whom I haven’t been directly in contact with since our town hall meeting last March, the following is a summary of the kinds of businesses we would like the depot to house [to be clear: these are not businesses I would create or operate myself, but ones I would lease space to… In other words, these are the kinds of businesses I am looking for (or in some cases, have found and am working with), individuals or small companies who have experience in commercial and hospitality enterprises and who share our vision of what the depot can be]:

° In the Main Deport Area: a combination restaurant/café or bakery with fresh produce store/deli (showcasing local fruits, vegetables, olives, nuts, meats, ice cream, etc.). This area would include a commercial kitchen that could be used for cooking classes and/or short-term rental by caterers, or for events.

° In the Central (former Baggage) Area: beer or other grain-beverage brewing – again featuring local ingredients – for direct sale and for consumption in the depot, on the platform deck, or on the grounds (in a shady beer garden).

° In the Lower Tower (former Waiting Room): a small retail business and/or a community center that could serve a range of needs. Examples: a city-country young writers exchange (Spanish-English); “socials”/community events with/from/for Latino farm-workers [these last two ideas are from Lauren Elder – thanks, Lauren!]; folk and farm skills classes [an idea offered by Rumseyhouse]; musical and other events, exhibitions, meetings, and so on.

° Outdoors: some shady areas for summer use, movies on warm nights, event space for hire and, possibly, a nursery with organic farming classes, etc.

What’s Next for the Depot?

Please join me on Saturday, March 23, from 3-5 p.m. at the Esparto Depot to discuss ideas for future uses of the building and land. What are the options? Here’s a list of ideas people have offered so far:

Restaurant, Fresh Produce Store/Deli (showcasing local fruits, vegetables, olives, nuts, meats, ice cream, etc.), Brewery + Beer Garden, Office, Retail, Gallery, Organic Nursery and Demonstration Farm, Farmer’s Market, Event Center, Community Center…

Have I left any out that you think we should consider? If so, please post a comment here and add your own idea. The property lends itself to anywhere from two to five uses (in the depot itself) plus one or two additional uses of the grounds.

On Saturday, March 23, I’d like to host a general discussion about all of the ideas on the table. I’d like to talk about logistics, funding, and timing for the next stages of work – and begin making decisions about uses for the depot. Anyone and everyone who wants to be a part of the depot’s future is invited to attend.

Thanks, everyone, who has helped and offered good ideas so far. – Maria McVarish

Remember Last Spring…?


… when the Building Narratives class took place, and so many people in and around Esparto participated? Well, the book that documents that experience is still in progress, but here are a few of the student projects that came out of it:

CLICK HERE TO VIEW VIDEO: Zumba Dancing at the Depot!

Maria Robles and Thanya Oliveira

Maria Robles and Thanya Oliveira

Taking Zumba classes in Esparto was part of Gigi Otalvaro-Hormillosa’s work as a student in CCA’s ENGAGE Building Narratives: Installations for Transitional Space class during the spring semester of 2012. This performance took place on April 21, 2012 in the Esparto depot, at the culmination of the class – an afternoon of installations, performances, interactions and readings. The names of these fantastic dancers are: Cheryl Rust, Maria Robles, Thanya Oliveira and Gigi Otalvaro-Hormillosa.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW VIDEO: Jordan Karnes – Esparto Poetry Reading

image by Melissa Martin and Alexis Petty

Esparto (poem by Jordan Karnes) Image by Melissa Martin and Alexis Petty

Jordan Karnes listened to middle and high school students in Esparto, CA. She honed and crafted their words into this poem, entitled ‘Esparto’. The reading took place during the final exhibition/presentation of works from CCA’s ‘Building Narratives: Installations for Transitional Space’ class on April 21, 2012 at the Esparto depot. Jordan was a student in this class.


CLICK HERE TO LISTEN: On the Train (Ken Lin)

MORE AUDIO FILES FROM KEN’S DEPOT PROJECT: Train and Horse ManSheep and TrainFlapping Roof of DepotUpper QuarterWind and LeavesMechanical Rural LifeCountry Music and (Almond) Festival

This is one of several sound compositions by Ken Lin, inspired by an interview with Jack Mast in conjunctions with CCA’s ENGAGE Building Narratives: Installations for Transitional Space class. Ken offered a series of different soundscapes as part of his final project at the depot on April 21, 2012.


Summer Construction Work

This summer, the depot is undergoing a first phase of construction work, primarily to stabilize and protect the building. The work scope will include structural repairs, a new roof, repairs to the exterior and a coat of paint, as well as preliminary plumbing and the beginnings of demising walls between different areas.

Postscript to the Building Narratives Class

CCA’s semester ended a couple of weeks ago. After the exhibition and performances at the depot on April 21, students of CCA’s Building Narrative class buckled down and worked to document and summarize their projects. Their instructors, Melissa Martin and Alexis Petty, are in the process of compiling this documentation and putting it together in the form of a book. I’ll create another post when the book is completed and printed to let everyone know how they can see it or order a copy.

Thanks, everyone, for your participation and collaboration in this really wonderful class – especially to all of the community members who met and talked with the students during their research.