by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Mass transit came to greater Los Angeles in 1874, during the peak of the city’s first significant period of growth, with the modest horse-drawn streetcar system of the Spring and Sixth Street Railway, which included F.P.F. Temple as its treasurer. About a decade or so later, cable systems came into use in time for the explosive expansion of the Boom of the 1880s and then came the electric versions not long after.
Streetcar systems started in the city, but increasingly followed the spectacular spread of suburbia, also galvanized by the late 1880s boom and intensifying at intervals from there. Among the many lines that emerged in the peak years of the 1886-87 frenzy was a single-track steam-powered streetcar line to the new townsite of Rosecrans, named after the Civil War general whose large ranch was near the nascent community and given life in August 1887.
The new Rosecrans Rapid Transit Railway line was built from a depot at Grand Avenue and Jefferson Street, a short distance from Agricultural (now Exposition) Park and a little Methodist college called the University of Southern California and headed south from 46th Street along the newly extended Vermont Avenue to the tract. As with so many of the boom towns, there were many promises made and few kept. As the boom busted, so did Rosecrans, but the little line did briefly operate from the end of 1887 until the crash put an end to the town and its little rail line was sold in March 1889.
The new purchasers were John C. Ainsworth and Robert R. Thompson, who made their fortunes in Oregon-based shipping and railroading. They were also the promoters for the new town of Redondo on the coast and they planned for a renovation and extension of the line to the coastal community, which was being promoted as a better port for shipping than San Pedro/Wilmington or Santa Monica. With a fine resort hotel also in the works, Redondo was heavily advertised even in the post-boom period.
There were some delays in getting materiel for the line, which was initially to be of standard gauge, and, though it was incorporated in spring 1889, the Redondo Railway Company was not able to get its line up and running until early June 1890. A new and larger depot was built at the same intersection of Grand and Jefferson where the Rosecrans facilities were located. There were some major modifications of the route from the old Rosecrans townsite up to the new depot with much of the line being east of the older line.
The Redondo Railway appears to have done well for its first several years of operation, even as the 1890s included a major depression in 1893 and several years of drought. In 1896, the line’s name was changed to “Los Angeles and Redondo Railway” and by the end of the decade and century, a moderate profitability of about $10,000 was achieved, a marked improvement from the less than $1,000 after its first year. In the first years of the new century, the line was also upgraded from steam to electric power.
By then, Henry E. Huntington purchased, in 1898, the Los Angeles Railway, a city line, for the Southern Pacific railroad company his uncle Collis still headed. When Collis died in 1900, a takeover of the Southern Pacific was engineered and Henry pushed out, taking his S.P. stock and the LARY line with him. Long enamored with greater Los Angeles, Huntington quickly moved to buy other rail lines, expand the LARY, and extend his empire with well-connected real estate endeavors.
When Huntington permitted to Los Angeles and Redondo to use LARY tracks so that it could extend its service into the heart of downtown, it wasn’t just a generous gesture. Huntington gradually acquired stock in the Redondo line and was able to take a majority stake and, therefore, effective ownership by summer 1905. Not coincidentally, Huntington acquired almost all of the Redondo Beach project and he poured large sums into developing it, with a well-known Pavilion, a casino, and the world’s largest salt-water plunge.
Under Huntington’s ownership, the Los Angeles and Redondo was double-tracked in standard gauge and several new lines were added, but, as the magnate’s empire grew in the South Bay area and throughout the region, he was also readying for retirement. In 1910, he did just that, turning more attention to his other great passion, collecting rare books and manuscripts and, with the influence of his aunt and second wife (well, widow of Uncle Collis), Arabella Archer Huntington, fine art. This led in subsequent years to the creation of the Huntington Library, Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens.
What followed was “The Great Merger” involving the handling of the Huntington-owned mass transit system. The lines within Los Angeles stayed within his ownership, though managed by his son, Howard, and the interurban ones outside city limits were consolidated under the moniker of the “Pacific Electric Railway.”
Because the Los Angeles and Redondo operated both within the city and outside of it, it was literally divided. The city portions became part of the Los Angeles Railway system and the rest went to the PE. By April 1911, the Los Angeles and Redondo name was discontinued and replaced with Pacific Electric.
Today’s highlighted “From Point A to Point B” artifact is a used ticket book for the Los Angeles and Redondo Railway that had an expiration date of 30 December 1907, about two years after Huntington’s takeover of the line.
The artifact contained ten individual tickets for rides between the downtown Los Angeles terminus and places denoted as “Sunnyside and Olivito,” both of which were tracts in south-central Los Angeles on either side of Vermont Avenue along the “90s” streets, such as 94th and 95th streets.
In addition to the ticket book number, the date of expiration was punched out as showing the 30 December 1907 date. As for the use of the tickets, it was explained “Conductor will detach a coupon for each ride, and take up this contract when presented for the 10th ride and return it to the Auditor” of the company. Obviously, either the tenth ride was never taken, though the coupon is not present with the book, or the conductor simply allowed the holder to take the contract.
The terms of the contract specified that, “in consideration of the reduced rate at which this ticket is sold,” the purchaser, S.F. Gardiner, agreed to seven conditions concerning use before midnight of the punched date; use only by the purchaser; forfeiture of the ticket if used by another; no stop-overs being permitted; no baggage allowed on trips; no refunds for loss or use of the ticket after expiration; and that the limitations and conditions of the contract were agreed to by the purchaser. There was also a railroad stamp for 30 November, exactly a month before the expiration date.
This ticket book, which would be the predecessor of today’s scanned passes or phone apps (though paper tickets can be purchased for individual rides on some systems), is an interesting artifact relating to the massive growth of rapid transit systems in a region that, within two decades, was the automotive capital of the world. It also reflects the dynamic issues of real estate development and boom and bust cycles that marked greater Los Angeles from its first boom in the late 1860s and early 1870s onward.
The street railways that criss-crossed the region (Huntington’s systems constituted the largest mass transit system in America in terms of track mileage) gave way to roads, highways and freeways in subsequent decades. Now, as our population exceeds our ability to travel auto roads in an efficient way, mass transit is back, often using the same routes the Pacific Electric and other systems plied a century ago and more. What the future holds for transportation in our region will certainly be interesting to observe and one thing is certain, paper tickets may not be in the mix!