From Point A to Point B: A Santa Fe Railroad Time Table for the Los Angeles District, 25 January 1903

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This Thursday at 5, a presentation will be given for the Los Angeles County Library system called Take a Trip Through Late Victorian Era Los Angeles and emphasizing the many changes that took place in our region during the 1880s and 1890s. Tonight’s post is something of a preview via the “From Point A to Point B” series focusing on transportation, which was one of the key drivers of growth in our area during that period, and specifically through a time table issued on 25 January 1903, just a couple of years after the Victorian period came to an end with the death of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, who ruled for 64 years.

It has been mentioned often enough in posts on this blog, but it can’t be overemphasized enough just how vital the completion of a direct transcontinental railroad line from the east to Los Angeles was when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF or, simply, Santa Fe) accomplished the feat at the end of 1885, though it leased track from the Southern Pacific until its own line, under the California Central Railway, was finished from San Bernardino to Los Angeles in spring 1887.

Los Angeles Mirror, 14 November 1885.

Formerly a remote and isolated frontier pueblo of northwestern México (in the Siberia of that country, as has been stated) and then in the early American era, the Angel City faced daunting challenges with rail connections because of mountains and deserts surrounding it. The first rail line in the area was completely local as the Los Angeles and San Pedro, finished in 1869 just after the transcontinental railroad was completed from the Midwest to the Bay Area, which went about twenty miles from the town to the rudimentary harbor.

Three years later, after congressional legislation forced the company to do so, the Southern Pacific (SP) won a subsidy and control of the Los Angeles and San Pedro, in a special county election and this led to two regional branch lines from Florence (South Los Angeles) to Anaheim and from Los Angeles to the eastern San Gabriel Valley and what became Pomona, while the main line, finished by Independence Day 1876, from the north came in via difficult mountainous terrain and through the new town of San Fernando, while the San Gabriel Valley route eventually extended the main line to Yuma at the California/Arizona border and beyond.

Los Angeles Herald, 29 December 1885.

The Southern Pacific’s initial local competitor was the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, formed in 1874 with F.P.F. Temple, who was a main negotiator with the SP prior to the subsidy vote, as its first president. Later that year, after mining mogul and newly minted Nevada U.S Senator John P. Jones announced (with his partner Robert S. Baker) the creation of Santa Monica and took the top role, Temple shifted over to being treasurer. The plan was to build a line over 200 miles to Independence, the Inyo County seat, but the idea was to tap into booming silver mining communities in the mountains to the east of Owens Valley and Owens Lake, including Cerro Gordo, where Temple was extensively invested.

Jones’ investment in the line meant that the first leg was to go from Los Angeles to his new seaside community and which was finished in fall 1875, while initial efforts at surveying, grading and tunneling at Cajon Pass, and other work was inaugurated before a financial panic hit. Largely generated by the bursting of a silver mine stock bubble from Virginia City, Nevada companies that forced the collapse of the Bank of California, the state’s largest institution, in San Francisco, but also occurring during a national depression that burst forth in 1873, the downturn led to runs on Los Angeles’ two commercial banks, John Downey and Isaias W. Hellman’s Farmers and Merchants and Temple and Workman, owned by Hellman’s former partners, Temple and his father-in-law, the aged William Workman, who was a silent partner.

Los Angeles Times, 1 June 1887.

When the latter institution could not survive the crisis, due to poor management and over-extension with unsecured loans and investment in a wide array of business projects, and failed early in 1876 and with the local economy in dire straits, the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad was forced to sell to the SP the next year. This meant that the company and its Big Four (or the Octopus, if you understand why) owners, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Leland Stanford, enjoyed a regional rail monopoly for almost another decade.

With, however, the completion of the Santa Fe line, there was not only substantial competition, but the direct link to the east meant that Los Angeles finally was easily accessible to migrants, tourists, suppliers of goods, and markets for regional products heading to other parts of the country. With immigrants, the Boom of the Eighties immediately followed the line’s opening and the population in the area leapt impressively, both within the city of Los Angeles and in its expanding surburbs (the new townsite of Puente happened to be established, on the SP’s line also used by the Santa Fe for about a year-and-a-half, in 1885).

300 La Grande Station Los Angeles Calif 2012.680.1.4
The Santa Fe’s La Grande Station in Los Angeles as it looked in this 1890s cabinet card photo from Charles B. Waite and from the Homestead’s collection.

Tourism also skyrocketed thanks to the conjunction of the Santa Fe line reaching the region the year after Helen Hunt Jackson’s popular novel, Ramona, was published, fueling an interest, however romantically, in the area’s pre-American past. Just around the corner, as well, was the Great Hiking Era and a surge in interest in outdoor activities, while sea bathing gained in popularity and resorts sprung up or expanded in such places as Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, Long Beach and Santa Catalina Island.

The economic boon of having the rail connection to import goods and export local products was, of course, critical. The region’s citriculture, especially with the orange, which became a veritable symbol of the area, benefited tremendously, especially after Edwin T. Earl, by the early Nineties, developed a refrigerated box car that helped revolutionize the shipment of fresh fruit to far-away locales within the country.


The Santa Fe also found a way to tap into the growing oil industry by the end of the century and its subsidiary, the Southern California Railway, built a line through the northern portion of the newly established Orange County with close access to the first oil field in that area, the Olinda, in today’s northeastern corner of the city of Brea. There, the Santa Fe partnered with Edward Doheny, who with Charles Canfield opened the Los Angeles field in the early 90s, and inaugurated Orange County’s oil industry with the bringing in of a well at Olinda on what was generally known as the “Santa Fe Lease.” The main motivation for working with petroleum prospecting was the conversion of fuel for locomotives to oil.

So, there is some context for this time table, sized to fit neatly in the pockets of customers of the Santa Fe. When first opened, the document has two panels, one for the two overland trains, the Eastern and Overland expresses that left Los Angeles, the first early in the morning and the second at 8 p.m. for service that would eventually take passengers to Chicago. The Eastern met trains from San Francisco at Barstow to make that connection, while the Overland took customers to Kansas City and Chicago without any changes and offered “Vestibuled Palace” and “Tourist Sleeper” service, while “Reclining Chair Cars” were also provided free to travelers.


The Chicago trains arrived in the Windy City at 7:40 a.m. on Fridays, Mondays and Wednesdays, while those bound to Kansas City got there at 5:50 p.m. on Thursdays, Sundays and Tuesdays. Those desiring to venture beyond Chicago to Boston could do so via Tourist Sleeping Car trips making the excursion daily. A note added that “these excursions are especially desirable for ladies traveling alone or with children” and for the elderly needing assistance on cross-continent trips. Further, customers were assured that “they are in charge of experienced conductors who look after the comfort of the passengers.”

The second inner panel was for the daily trains of the California Limited plying the route to San Francisco to Los Angeles and then east through the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire out to Denver, Kansas City and Chicago. If a passenger departed from Los Angeles at 6:25 p.m. on a Sunday, they would be in Denver just shy of two days later, reach Kansas City at 2:40 a.m. on Wednesday and arrive in Chicago at 2:15 p.m. on that day. It was noted that “the equipment of this great train has been entirely renewed, and will offer to discriminating travelers a service superior to anything found elsewhere.”


The rear panel was for the line’s Kite-Shaped Track, one of several in greater Los Angeles by rail and streetcar companies that took tourists and locals on sightseeing pleasure excursions in the region. In this case, it was advertised that “The Sight to See” was done within a day with “166 miles through all the Scenes that illustrate the beauties of Southern California . . .”

The figure-eight shaped route took travelers from Los Angeles, leaving the impressive La Grande Station, at 8:30 a.m. and went through Pasadena, Santa Anita (Arcadia), Azusa, Upland and to San Bernardino within just more than two hours. A departure two minutes later than went through Highland and Mentone, east of the San Bernardino County seat, to Redlands, where the stop was about two hours, with a recommended drive to Smiley Heights amid some of the prettiest orange-growing areas in the region.

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At 1 p.m., the train headed back to San Bernardino and then went south to Riverside, where anohter stop of about an hour and three quarters allowe for a drive “down Magnolia and Victoria Avenues” with both the Redlands and Riverside side trips likely to “well replay any person desirous of viewing two of the most beautiful places in the country.” Leaving Riverside at 2 p.m., the trip went through communities to the west, including Casa Blanca, Arlington and Corona before passing through Santa Ana Canyon into Orange County. Stops were at Orane, Fullerton and La Mirada before Los Angeles was reached at 6 p.m., with a continuation to Pasadena taking another half-hour.

When the artifact is entirely unfolded, the tables for the Southern California Railway from Los Angeles to Barstow and back; to Redlands via Orange, Corona, Riverside and San Bernardino and return; to San Diego through Rivera (now Pico Rivera), several Orange County cities (Fullerton, Anaheim and Orange, as well as El Toro [now Lake Forest]), and Oceanside and back; to San Bernardino and Riverside and then south to Temecula, through Perris, Hemet, San Jacinto and [Lake] Elsinore and return; and, finally, a short route to Redondo Beach via a station on Central Avenue in South Los Angeles and back.


The time table is reflective of the extensive reach the Santa Fe had in greater Los Angeles and southern California broadly in the two decades after the rail giant first made its entry in the region and helped usher in the tremendous transformations that took place in the late Victorian era. Join us on Thursday at 5 to learn more about what took place as we take a photographic excursion through the last couple decades of the 19th century in greater Los Angeles.

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