The DOWNTOWN Report: Mid-November 2023

A Brief History of Union Pacific Park

Fullerton began as a railroad town and remains a railroad town, with our restored Santa Fe Station and plenty of train traffic consisting of freight and passenger service. In fact, our Transportation Center includes the busiest train station in Orange County, as those in my neighborhood can attest to.

Did you know you can still board the Amtrak Southwest Chief to Albuquerque, Kansas City, and Chicago every evening? But what about the Union Pacific railroad? The photo above is now known as The Olde Spaghetti Factory, as the Union Pacific (UP) station was moved across Harbor in 1980 and converted into that popular restaurant. UP was no longer making a decent profit with the lines north and south of Fullerton, so they gave up trying to compete with Santa Fe and other alternatives for the same business.

The Pacific Electric Railway was already long gone, ceasing passenger service here on January 22, 1938, but their building is still in operation as Hopscotch Tavern. Along with many of the northbound abandoned tracks that lead to La Habra and beyond, remnants of that UP line are the fenced-off, such as Union Pacific Park just to the West of the former station, where the tracks used to run.

That neighborhood needs a park, and as the residents look through the chain links and see, finally, grading and other preliminary work that is taking place right now, they know it is on the way. Approval of the park revitalization was covered in our August 7 issue. In addition, we are following developments in the proposed Union Pacific Trail, which would be an open space trail between this new park and Independence Park to the West.

Tour guide and instructor Kay Miller

Learning Something New About Good Old Hillcrest

They came from near and far, 14 hikers who set out on a two-hour adventure that took us from when work began 101 years ago to where we are today. Some walked there, others made drives from various cities, and all were curious and looking forward to making discoveries on a perfect morning. As our leader Kay Miller instructed, we all took turns telling the group how we ended up there, and many said they had read about the hike in the latest Fullerton Observer; good to hear.

They are pictured above on one of the many historic stone stairways, the starting point of our hiking tour. We were led to what was the original entry point to Hillcrest Park, long ago closed but fully intact. Even though some of us had been there many times, a lot of what we were told was new to us, and as the morning unfolded, we gained an even more significant appreciation of everything it took to realize the development of Fullerton’s oldest park. Even though much has changed over time, much of the original park design remains, and the WPA work done beginning in the 1930s has been meticulously restored.

One of the most amazing stories told was of the original fountain, built at a cost of over $20,000 back in 1936. A large number of projectors shot every color imaginable through the water that reached 28 feet in the air so impressively that it became a tourist attraction. It eventually fell into disrepair but was renovated in 2018.

Kay brought historical photos that helped tell how Hillcrest evolved over the years. We have mentioned the duck pond, fountain, stairs, Korean War Memorial, and other features here, but never the Mayan stairs leading up to the Izaak Walton Cabin.

If you get a chance to go, pay attention to the carved rocks on all four sides and the incredible stonework.

There is not enough room here to let you in on all of the stories, but we can’t leave out the infamous bowl, where any kid of any era found a way to get from the top to the bottom quickly. Some tumbled or rolled, but most slid down on cardboard, then blocks of ice, and for a time, the now outlawed big wheels. Many concerts have been held there, and to this day, the bowl is still one of the destinations most head to when visiting the nearly 40-acre wonderland, give or take a few hectares.


Photo Quiz

Send answer to Mike at

This time: Where is this, and why the tall fence?

Last time: Amerige Park and a truck getting ready to back up and haul a St. Mary’s Carnival ride to the next destination

4 replies »

  1. I really hope the city honors the voices of its constituents and builds the UP Trail. It would be such a beautiful and peaceful addition to the downtown landscape.

      • Even if the council fails to listen to the public, public comments are still important to demonstrate that council failed to honor the wishes of the public.

        • Hi Amy

          Rather than, “Even :IF:” I’d argue this CouncilMajority has proven that it’s closer to “Even :THOUGH:” But yes, it’s important to explicitly point out this CouncilMajority’s failures of legitimately serving our City.

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