The mission of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is to preserve the heritage of railroading through a series of miniature representations of California railroads, as well as research and preserve the history of model railroading. A main component of our mission is to educate the public on the history and aspects of railroading. It is our goal to actively engage people from every community and demographic, to delight and teach the art of model railroading and the history of railroads.
Model railroading has a rich history in San Diego, particularly in Balboa Park. Its origins in the park can be traced back to the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition when legendary model railroader Minton Cronkite was asked by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company to build a replica of the AT&SF railroad system in the Ford Building, the present day Air and Space museum. Today, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is proud to have pieces from that original display in our permanent collection.
That display paved the way for other model railroad clubs to become part the Balboa Park landscape. The San Diego Model Railroad Club, founded in 1939, moved around to different locations in Balboa Park until 1948 when they were offered a space in the House of Charm building. They stayed in the in the House of Charm until 1978 when the building was condemned due to fire. Around the same time the La Mesa Model Railroad Club was looking for a new location after losing their site at Nebo Hall in La Mesa. As both clubs were in need of a space the idea to collaborate and create a museum where each club could build and create their own layouts was developed. The city of San Diego offered the clubs a space in the newly rebuilt Electric Building (present day Casa de Balboa) and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum was created.
In 1979 the San Diego Society of N Scale was invited to join the collaboration. By 1980 the collaborating clubs were in the museum space and working diligently to create their one of a kind layouts. They succeeded, and in 1982 opened their doors to Balboa Park visitors. In 1998 the San Diego 3-Railers joined the museum’s collaborating clubs.
To this day the museum remains the only American Alliance of Museums accredited model railroad museum in North American and at 27,000 sq. ft. we are also one of the largest.
The museum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation recognized as a tax exempt educational institution by the state and federal governments.