by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Fifty years after F.P.F. Temple became treasurer of the Spring and Sixth Street Railway, a horse-drawn streetcar line that was greater Los Angeles’ first rapid or mass transit system (modest though it was), his son, Walter P. Temple attended the opening of the completion of an extension of the Pacific Electric Railway’s Alhambra line to his new Town of Temple.
During that half-century, mass transit was a dominant way for the region’s residents and tourists to get around and the extension of the PE line was touted by Temple and his business partners in the Temple Townsite Company as a major amenity for residents of the new town. After all, it was just about a dozen miles into downtown Los Angeles and it was an easy ride on the streetcar into the city for work, shopping and entertainment.
Tonight’s entry highlights a snapshot taken at the completion of the line in 1924. A group of celebrants stands alongside the line at a switch in the line. Temple is second to the left in the white shirt, while the man next to him at the far left is his business manager, Milton Kauffman. The gent in the light colored suit and hat and with his hands on his hips is Temple’s attorney, George H. Woodruff. There was a fourth partner in the Town of Temple project, Alhambra sheep rancher Sylvester DuPuy, who might be behind Temple’s left shoulder.
The line continued from Main Street in Alhambra east along what becomes Las Tunas Drive in San Gabriel and into the new town (it was all Main Street in those days). Once the line passed Sunset Avenue, now Temple City Boulevard, it made a left turn to a small depot alongside the community park. The depot location is now city hall.
Whatever use was made of the line once it was completed, the days of streetcars were already numbered as ridership steadily declined with the increasing ownership of automobiles. When it came to the convenience and freedom of driving a car rather than be tied to the set course and time schedules of mass transit, the choice increasingly became clear for residents of greater Los Angeles.
The Great Depression, followed by World War II, however, extended the life of the streetcar system, as tough economic times in the former and gasoline and other rationing during the latter kept many people riding the cars. Once the war was over and the American economy went into its peak, the automobile, especially in car-crazy greater Los Angeles, reigned supreme. The last of the region’s streetcars made its final run in 1961.
Ironically, our region is gradually witnessing the return of mass transit with Metrolink trains and electric cars spreading throughout greater Los Angeles, often on or near the old streetcar lines of decades ago.
As for the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City in 1928, the publicity given to the streetcar line followed by its general decline as the least of concerns. In the midst of a boom time, more people bought property in the town for speculation, looking to make a quick buck on rising values, rather than building and settlement. Though most lots sold pretty quickly, a great many remained empty.
Another major problem was a well-intended state law, the Mattoon Act, designed to raise revenues through property assessments for infrastructure, such as roads, street lights, parks and other amenities. Among many questionable provisions of the law was that, if a neighbor or neighbors couldn’t meet their assessment, any property owner could be required to pay those taxes.
Needless to say, the act, passed in 1925, just after the PE line was completed, was a major damper on the real estate market. Along with a huge increase in delinquent taxes came the onset of the Great Depression. Walter Temple’s own faltering economic fortunes were exacerbated by the problems at Temple City and, by spring 1930, he sold out his interest. The following year, the act was repealed, though a state supreme court upheld the validity of the act and communities and taxpayers shouldered their debts through the decade.
For an excellent overview of the Mattoon Act, check out this Hadley Meares article for Curbed Los Angeles three years ago. Information on the Pacific Electric Railway can be found here.