The most unique characteristic of the San Jose Roundhouse was the "Roundhouse" sign that hung on the western wall of the structure. This may have been the only roundhouse with such a feature. Most roundhouses were located in large rail yards far away from easy public viewing; yet because the San Jose structure was immediately located adjacent public grade crossing at Lenzen Avenue, its western wall and unique sign were favorite photographic subjects among local rail enthusiasts.
The sign was painted on ¼" steel plate approximately 12 feet long and 3 feet high. The wording. ROUND and HOUSE were separated by the Southern Pacific Lines sun burst emblem. The shape of the sign roughly mimicked the outline of the structure and hung approximately 20 feet above ground level.
While it is unknown precisely when Roundhouse received its sign, photographic research shows that it was applied sometime between 1938 and 1940. But why a special sign?
Southern Pacific rerouted its main line through San Jose from 4th street to the right-of-way immediately adjacent to the roundhouse in 1935. Originally built for the South Pacific Coast narrow gauge, this right-of- way had been the railroad's branch line to Santa Cruz. With the completion of the new depot at Cahill Street and as the new mainline, this adjacent right-of -way suddenly hosted additional passenger operations varying from local commute to long distance trains.
In 1937, the railroad established it flagship passenger train "The Daylight" between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Conceived during the tough economic times of the 1930's, the Daylight became the railroad's symbol of the modern era with newly designed steam locomotives and passenger cars. Complimenting the efforts toward the train equipment and to appease its traveling customers, the railroad invested capital funds to upgrade various structures along the route. Because of the San Jose Roundhouse's visibility to the railroad's traveling patrons, the unique sign was placed on the structure's western wall.
Similar to the entire Lenzen facility, the sign began to show its age over the years. Even after the abandonment of the structure in 1989, some forty years into the diesel locomotive era, the sign continued to grace the western wall. However in early 1994, within weeks of Southern Pacific Railroad's donation of the historic San Jose Roundhouse structure to Santa Clara County, unknown individuals removed the sign.
Sadly, the sign's whereabouts remain unknown.