All Over the Map From Point A to Point B: Railroad Lines in Greater Los Angeles, 1890

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The emergence of Los Angeles and its environs as the principal hub of the American Southwest by the early 20th century was long envisioned, but took much time, effort and capital to bring to fruition, with some significant barriers to overcome. One of these was, despite the region’s peerless climate and fertile soil, its remove from Eastern markets, its surroundings of mountain ranges and long stretches of desert.

Another was a dearth of necessary infrastructure, which, with its relative geographic isolation, was going to require increasingly more sophisticated and expensive investment from both private capital and government largesse, including long-distance transportation for passengers and goods. The rudimentary port at San Pedro and Wilmington, for example, had to be created with an enormous influx of money, by the federal government along with local authorities and private companies, and work for the Port of Los Angeles to become the entity it is today.

Another core element was the rapid growth of railroads, the modest beginnings of which came in 1869, the year the transcontinental line spanning the United States was completed, with the finishing of the Los Angeles and San Pedro, connecting the port to the Angel City. Three years later, when the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP), the dominant enterprise in California, was forced by Congress to build through Los Angeles to its line from the north to Yuma, Arizona with eventual connections in the southern states, a subsidy for the company was approved by Los Angeles County voters.

This November 1872 concession not only involved cash, but control of the Los Angeles and San Pedro, while the SP agreed to build, beyond its line from the north and then east through the San Gabriel Valley (through the Rancho La Puente of John Rowland and William Workman) and Inland Empire, a local line from Florence (South Los Angeles) to Anaheim. While it was deemed vital for these events to transpire, locals frequently chafed at having local railroads completely controlled by the SP

One result of this frustration was the effort launched in 1874 by F.P.F. Temple, John G. Downey and other locals to build a railroad from Los Angeles to Independence, the Inyo County seat near the booming silver mines. When it proved to be too daunting to develop the project with local money alone, John P. Jones, a United States senator from Nevada who had extensive interests in the mining regions of eastern California, became the majority stockholder, assuming the presidency formerly held by Temple, who shifted to being treasurer.

The Los Angeles and Independence Railroad then shifted its initial focus to building a line from Los Angeles to Jones’ new seaside resort town of Santa Monica, with that project completed in fall 1875. Before much work could be done for the main line, however, the state economy collapsed due to a stock bubble with silver mines in the Virginia City, Nevada area, causing the failure of the Bank of California in San Francisco. The panic spread to Los Angeles, where the Temple and Workman bank was a casualty when it went belly-up early in 1876. The following year, the SP bought the Los Angeles and Independence and reassumed dominance of local railroading.

For most of a decade, the greater Los Angeles economy was generally moribund, though there were some periods of improvement during the first half of the 1880s. Then came a transformation as the SP was again forced to make concessions, in this case allowing the leasing of its line from the east to the Angel City to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF), which effectively completed a transcontinental line to the region in late 1885, though its own direct line was not finished for a couple of years beyond that

What followed was the great Boom of the Eighties, with a large influx of population as well as investment in Los Angeles and surrounding areas by farmers, business persons and others. The peak of the boom was in 1887-1888, the two years comprising the term of Angel City Mayor William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste. During these frenzied years, there was a great deal of activity with both streetcar and standard railroad systems, as well as the expected eventual consolidation of these. With the former, it was not until after 1900 that Henry E. Huntington took control of most of the streetcar companies, while with railroads, the SP and the ATSF became the dominant entities.

The featured object from the Homestead’s holdings for this post in a June 1890 map by London lithographers Harrison & Sons showing regional railroads, including those proposed along with the ones already completed. The areas covered stretch from Santa Monica and Redondo Beach on the east to Mentone, east of San Bernardino, and Perris in Riverside County to the east and from the inland deserts north of the Sierra Madre (San Gabriel) Mountains and Cajon Pass on the north to the coastal areas of San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport and San Juan Capistrano on the south.

The older rail lines are those, of course, marked “S.P.R.R.” for the Southern Pacific, including the “Wilmington Branch” comprising the 1869 route built by the Los Angeles and San Pedro and which was the basis for the infamous “shoestring” by which the Angel City was directly connected to the expanding harbor through annexation, early in the 20th century, of the port communities of San Pedro and Wilmington.

The SP’s “Santa Ana Branch” extended southeast from Florence through Anaheim, the initial terminus and then to Santa Ana, which only very recently became the seat of the new Orange County, formed in 1889 from southeastern Los Angeles County after years of tension as the new county continually felt, usually for very good reason, that it was getting short shrift from the center of power at Los Angeles.

Heading northwest from the Angel City was the line to San Francisco, shown here as passing through the boom town of Burbank, laid out three years prior and then continuing along the eastern San Fernando Valley, including through the city of that name, which is “off the map” at the upper left corner.

Finally, there was the eastern SP route “to Arizona and the East” heading out from Los Angeles and past the Mission San Gabriel as it turned southeast to make its way through the lower San Gabriel Valley. The only community identified between Los Angeles and Pomona, founded in 1875 as the SP was making its way eastward, is Puente, which was subdivided in 1885 by George W. Stimson and Abram E. Pomeroy (also the founders of Pismo Beach on the coast near San Luis Obispo in the west-central part of the Golden State.)

Many of the other lines in the region were of very recent origin and, while shown mainly as either under the control of the California Central Railroad or, out east, the California Southern, were originally composed of many small lines formed by companies which either did not get to the construction stage or were soon acquired once they did or finished some or all of their lines.

There are a very few small independents shown on the map, such as the Glendale and Burbank route, which went from Los Angeles to those towns—Glendale, too, was a recent boom town, being laid out in 1887. This was a branch of the “Cross Motor Road” shown hearing into Pasadena, with the official name of the company being the Los Angeles, Pasadena and Glendale Railroad. Another was the “Monrovia Rapid Transit Railroad”, really the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Railroad, which was directed toward another 1887 boom town, this one situated east of Pasadena at the foothills of the Sierra Madre/San Gabriel range. In 1892, this road passed into the control of the Los Angeles Terminal Railway and, the next year, the SP, which then closed the line.

Heading west of Los Angeles and passing through the recently opened “Soldiers’ Home” at Sawtelle and ending up on the northern edge of Santa Monica was the Los Angeles and Pacific, which was actually the second railroad project of that name, the first existing briefly in 1874 until the Los Angeles and Independence was organized and the other quietly was shuttered. The second iteration emerged in September 1888 from two earlier lines, the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm Railway, to go to the farm at Griffith Park, and the Los Angeles County Railway, formed early in 1887 and which took over the ostrich farm line.

The California Southern line at the far right of the map built its route from San Bernardino and then along what is now the line of Interstate 215 through Riverside County and into Perris, from which a branch of almost twenty miles went to San Jacinto, next to today’s Hemet. The main line then continued south into San Diego County.

The California Central Railroad (CCRR) was a conglomeration of several earlier companies and lines, planned or realized. The CCRR was incorporated in April 1887 at San Bernardino and operated for about 2 1/2 years through November 1889 when it became part of the newly founded Southern California Railway—this was obviously not reflected in the map, however—which was officially supplanted by the Santa Fe in 1906. To further confuse matters, the company became a subsidiary of the ATSF, or Santa Fe, which is why such major regional lines as the CCRR’s upper San Gabriel Valley route “to Eastern States” (the San Bernardino and Los Angeles Railway, formed in 1886, route completed to Duarte by May the following year) and the line denoted as the “Santa Ana & Riverside Branch” (first called the Riverside, Santa Ana and Los Angeles Railway, launched in 1885) are best known to railroad enthusiasts as Santa Fe lines.

The California Central also absorbed such enterprises as the Redondo Beach Railway, finished in September 1888—note the two lines through Rosecrans and from Inglewood on the map; the Los Angeles and Santa Monica, formed in early 1886 before the CCRR completed that line, shown as the “Ballona Branch” in September 1887; a section of rail line from central Orange County that went through San Juan Capistrano to the southeast and then into San Diego County; the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad (incorporated in 1883), running parallel with the “Cross Motor Road,” out to Lamanda Park in east Pasadena, which was reached in September 1885.

So, again, this is obviously a tangled state of affairs, but it does show what is typical during boom periods as small companies race to establish their lines and then get acquired by bigger companies, often themselves subsidiaries, or soon becoming such, of even larger firms—in this case, the ATSF, as it competed with the SP!

Then, there are the several proposed routes, most of which did not come to fruition. One that did actually get completed was the Santa Ana and Newport Railway, leading from the Orange County seat to the port that, as with Anaheim Landing to the west (and in which William Workman active invested) could not pull enough business from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which was finished in 1891. By the end of the decade, however, the Santa Ana to Newport road was sold and then wound up in the hands of the SP.

A proposed line from Anaheim to Long Beach went unrealized, as did one from Chino to Anaheim, this latter intended to cut through Carbon Canyon in the Chino Hills and, apparently join up with the former. There was a small proposed cut-off on the California Central line coming out of Santa Ana Canyon from the east and then linking to the line going from Anaheim though Santa Fe Springs (as well as Pico Rivera, as a previous post here noted) and this went through another 1887 boom town, Fullerton. Further east, there was proposed lines from Pomona to Chino (yes, another 1887 boom town!) and then on to “South Riverside,” which is today’s Corona, established in 1886.

Other proposed lines include a parallel extension of the Southern Pacific from San Gabriel to Monrovia and from the California Central’s “Eastern States” route as a cut-off from Rancho Cucamonga to the line moving from San Bernardino through Cajon Pass. Lastly, there was the most far-fetched of them all—a “Proposed R.R. to Utah & Eastern States” that was supposed to go from Pasadena and through the Sierra Madre/San Gabriel range into the desert regions to the north, apparently through Big Tujunga Canyon or somewhere in that vicinity!

Complicated as it is, this map is a fascinating one for the status of realized or proposed railroads in greater Los Angeles just after the Boom of the Eighties came to an end and is an excellent illustration of how the transportation network was developing as the 19th century was drawing to a close.

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