From Point A to Point B: The Los Angeles Inter-Urban Railway, 1903-1910

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

From 1874, when the horse-drawn Spring and Sixth Street Railway, which included F.P.F. Temple as treasurer and an investor, became the first rapid transit system in greater Los Angeles, the development of streetcars rapidly incorporated changing technologies.  By the late 1880s, cable railways became the norm, but it was not long before electric rail systems then claimed supremacy.

With the turn of the 20th century, the disparate networks of several streetcar companies were confronted by a powerful presence in the form of Henry E. Huntington, who acquired the Los Angeles Railway system at the end of the previous century for the Southern Pacific.  When the SP was the subject of a takeover by E.H. Harriman and others, Huntington, whose uncle Collis was a founder and dominant figure, was cut loose from his role at the railroad giant, but took his company stock and the LARY, as it was known, with him.

Huntington and partners, including former Temple and Workman banking partner, Isaias W. Hellman, then formed the Pacific Electric Railway (PERY), which quickly assumed a dominant position in the region.   The LARY was a city line, meaning it operated within Los Angeles city limits, while the PERY was interurban, with lines throughout the region.

A 7 June 1903 article in the Los Angeles Times refers to the newly formed Los Angeles Inter-Urban Railway Company, created by railroad and real estate magnate Henry E. Huntington, banking titan Isaias W. Hellman and others.

In June 1903, the Huntington-Hellman syndicate created the Los Angeles Inter-Urban Company with the purpose, as expressed in a February 1904 issue of Transit Journal “to carry on the interurban development when the capital of the Pacific Electric Railway Company was exhausted.  Smaller lines acquired by the syndicate became part of the new company, which had about 70 miles of completed and 120 or so more of planned lines within a year, although franchise rights allowed up to about 350 miles.

Capital stock totaled $10 million with a par value per share of $100 and bonds were taken out, payable in forty years, that raised funds to retire any existing liens while, as stated in Moody’s Manual of Corporations in 1904, “the balance can be used for extensions and improvements.”

Huntington was the president, Hellman the treasurer, and directors included Huntington’s son, Howard; real estate and railroad attorney John D. Bicknell, who was Huntington’s lawyer; and George S. Patton, whose wife was a daughter of Benjamin D. Wilson, owner of the land that Huntington acquired for his San Marino estate.  Patton was the father of the famed World War II general, George S. Patton, Jr.

More on the interurban firm from the Times, 23 June 1903.

Absorbed included Los Angeles Traction Company lines within the city; one from Los Angeles to San Pedro built by the California Pacific Railway Company; the PERY’s line to Whittier; the Los Angeles-Glendale Electric Railway line started by Glendale founding father Leslie Brand to that city from downtown; and branches of existing lines to Long Beach to San Pedro and Newport Beach; among others.  The article mentioned that the interurban firm “is virtually carrying on the construction work begun by” the PERY.

However, the history of the Los Angeles Inter-Urban Company was quite short, lasting but seven years.  In 1910, Huntington officially retired from business to devote more time to his passion for book and manuscript collecting and, within a few years, thanks to his second marriage to his aunt (yes, the widow of his uncle Collis!) Arabella Archer Huntington, a burgeoning art collection culminating in the creation of the Huntington Library, Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens.

A Times advertisement for investing in bonds for the new Los Angeles Railway Company, which absorbed the Los Angeles Inter-Urban Railway and other lines, 20 January 1911.

What followed was “The Great Merger,” in which a new Los Angeles Railway Company consolidated control of the interurban firm and other subsidiaries, creating a virtual regional monopolization of streetcar systems in greater Los Angeles.  The new PERY included Huntington retained his presidential position, while his son Howard became vice-president and general manager.  Bicknell died just after the formation of the new firm, but his law partners W.E. Dunn and Albert Crutcher were directors, as well.   Their firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, founded in 1890, remains based in the Wells Fargo Building on Bunker Hill.

Today’s entry in the “From Point A to Point B” series highlights a photo from the Homestead’s collection showing a Los Angeles Inter-Urban Railway car stopped along a line in what looks to a very rural area and two conductors at one end.  One stands on the ground with a stool next to him, while the other stands on the platform.  The open car is just about empty, though there is a gentleman, perhaps two, sitting at the same end as the conductors with a newspaper in his hand.

Streetcar Los Angeles Inter Urban 2009.332.1.1
A photograph from the Homestead’s collection shows a Los Angeles Inter-Urban Railway trolley, two conductors, and a passenger or two stopped along a rural line, ca. 1905.

Nothing else is known about the image, but it is a representative artifact about the rapid development of the region’s electric rail system during the first decade of the 20th century, when the dominance of the newfangled “horseless carriage” (that is, the automobile) was still some years away.


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