Down The Tracks Of Time

El Sereno & the Pacific Electric Railway

        

Pacific Electric Red Cars-El Sereno

After much researching, we compiled and created this video with rare and historic footage of the
Pacific Electric red cars running through El Sereno, circa 1930s and 1940s.
Click on picture to view video:



To view previously featured Picture of the Month, visit our Picture of the Month archives.

Tour of the Sierra Vista Local Line 

and the Pasadena Short Line

      The "Tour of the Sierra Vista Local Line and the Pasadena Short Line" is courtesy of and with the direct permission of the website's owner, Tom Wetzel.   The El Sereno Historical Society would like to thank Mr. Wetzel for allowing us to present it here.  His work and dedication to recording and presenting detailed and organized historical data on the long-gone Electric Pacific's extensive railway system is inspiring to say the least.
      The webpage from which this information comes from can be found athttp://www.uncanny.net/~wetzel/pery.htm.  The site also features other Pacific Electric lines and services that not so long ago were the primary mode of transportation for the City of LA.  Amazingly, it was senselessly put to an end; today, the City is spending billions of dollars to create a subway/metro link system throughout Los Angeles City and County, similar to that of the Pacific Electric Railway.   Imagine if the City had kept the Pacific Electric's Railway system?  The whole freeway, finding parking, and outrageous gas prices would be but a problem for residents of some other metropolitan City.
      Visit Tom Wetzel's Home Page at 
http://www.uncanny.net/~wetzel/ to explore more of what Tom Wetzel shares with the online community.   Thank you and enjoy.


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Pasadena Short Line

Much of Henry Huntington's real estate development activity in the first decade of the 20th century was concentrated in the western San Gabriel Valley.  An extensive network of electric railway lines was constructed by Huntington's Pacific Electric to serve these areas.  Another major investor in the PE was John Slauson, whose Asuza ranch was also slated to become another major site of subdivisions along the Pacific Electric line to Monrovia and Glendora.
The Pacific Electric lines serving the San Gabriel Valley were called the "Northern District."  Most of the lines of the Northern District funneled into a four-track trunk line which ran in the median of Huntington Drive from Oak Knoll Avenue (El Molino) to a location called "Indian Village" (Multnomah and Soto Streets).  Construction of this mainline had begun in 1902 and four-tracking was in place by 1910.  Four-tracking was important because it allowed commuter trains to operate nonstop for long distances on the center tracks, passing freight trains or local trains on the outer tracks.  El Sereno's 4-track line was known as the "Dream Track" because its 4 tracks served both local and express lines. El Sereno had 1 of only 2 four-track systems in all of the Pacific Electric Railway.

In this tour we will look at the two most important passenger lines operating on this mainline in the late '40s -- the Sierra Vista Local line and the Pasadena Short Line. 

Sierra Vista Local

The Sierra Vista Local line operated on the outer tracks of the four-track trunk line, making stops at half mile to quarter mile intervals.  Until 1950 the route was inter-lined with the Watts local line, and the two halves were connected by the street trackage along Main Street in downtown Los Angeles.  The outer terminal of the line was at "Sierra Vista" -- a junction near the Los Angeles city limits (North Main and Huntington Dr.). Sierra Vista was 7.45 miles from the PE station at 6th and Main in downtown Los Angeles. More than three-fourths of the route was on private right of way.
The main area served by the Sierra Vista line was El Sereno.  El Sereno is a low density blue-collar suburb that consists mostly of single-family detached houses.  In the late '40s the Sierra Vista line was providing about 11,000 rides daily.
We begin our tour at the PE's Main Street station, located on the ground-floor of the 9-story PE headquarters building at 6th Street.  In the image below (from the 1944 edition of the PE booklet "This is Pacific Electric") we see two Watts-Sierra Vista local cars passing in front of the PE station at 6th.

At the corner, in the image above, a Pasadena-bound express is turning onto Main Street from 6th.  During World War II, because of the huge volume of traffic, Pasadena trains did not use the PE elevated terminal in back of the PE headquarters building, but looped via San Pedro, 6th and Main Streets. Inadequate terminal capacity on the elevated structure was the problem.  In 1946 the California Railroad Commission recommended that PE build two extra tracks on the elevated structure to accommodate Pasadena trains, but this was never done.  Eventually declining traffic enabled the Pasadena trains to use the elevated terminal by 1950.

Sierra Vista and Pasadena trains ran north on Main Street to First Street, where they turned right for one block to Los Angeles Street, and then north again.  The trains turned east again at Aliso Street, passing the Union Station.  Aliso street was slated by the '40s to become the Santa Ana Freeway soon.  Between 1939 and 1943 the state constructed a new bridge for Aliso Street over the Los Angeles River, eliminating dangerous grade crossings with the Union Pacific and Santa Fe tracks on the banks of the river.  This bridge was designed to freeway standards as it was intended to be incorporated into the freeway system.  

Of course it was realized that the PE track on Aliso Street would have to be relocated from the pavement.  The state highway department determined that it would require payment of $125,000 for PE's share of the costs of relocation to a parallel right of way (such as the right of way now used by the El Monte Busway).  PE used this as part of its rationale in its 1949 petition for abandonment of all Northern District rail passenger service.  However, the main rationale was the heavy operating losses on Northern District rail operations.

After crossing over the Los Angeles River on the new Aliso Street bridge, PE trains reached a private right of way on the east bank of the river and ran through the new San Bernardino-Santa Ana Freeway interchange (completed in 1943).  In the photo below (circa 1950) an inbound train has just crossed under Macy Street and is about to cross over the inbound lanes of the San Bernardino Freeway.

San Bernardino Freeway Interchange

Just east of the Macy Street bridge was the sprawling yards and shops where Pacific Electric cars were stored and maintained, as shown below.  Much of this property is now owned by the MTA and used as a bus maintenance facility.

Macy Street Shops

Note the four-track mainline here.  This was a short half-mile long set of passing tracks.  It was generally not very useful for express commuter trains to pass local streetcars because the local tracks (on the left in the photo) were usually blocked by standing freights. The four-track segment ended at Echandia Junction, shown below.  The Echandia Junction local stop was accessible from Echandia Avenue in Boyle Heights by a pedestrian bridge (just visible on the left) over the freeway. (The pedestrian bridge no longer exists).

Echandia Junction

About a half mile further along the mainline the trains encountered Valley Junction, where the Northern District mainline swung sharply to the left and the El Monte-Baldwin Park-San Bernardino line (now the El Monte Busway right of way) continued eastward.  The junction is shown below.  The building at the left is the Valley Junction PE substation.  The shelters for the El Monte line Soto Street stop are in the distance.  The bridge over the tracks is Marengo Street.

Valley Junction

Around the curve in the photo above is the Charlotte Street stop, shown below.  After crossing under the Charlotte Street bridge, the line passes through a shallow cut next to Lincoln Park, and then turns northward at Alcazar Street, running along the west side of Soto Street.

Charlotte Street stop

About a mile north of Valley Junction the four-track mainline begins, at a spot called "Indian Village" (Multnomah & Soto Streets).  The following photo shows how undeveloped the area around Indian Village was in the late '40s.  Only two of the four tracks are visible in this photo because the railway grade is lower than the street in the foreground, which is Soto Street. From this point to Echandia Junction the PE mainline was only double track.  The existence of this double-track section led to delays due to freight train movements blocking commuter trains.  At various times from the '20s through the '40s it was proposed to extend the four-tracking from Indian Village to either Valley Junction (a distance of about a mile) or Echandia Junction.  Just south of Indian Village the PE crossed Valley Boulevard and the SP mainline on a viaduct.  The expense of building a four-track viaduct was one reason PE had not extended the four-tracking closer to downtown.

Indian Village

About a half mile north of "Indian Village" the PE four-track mainline crossed Mission Road on a massive viaduct built in 1934.  The viaduct is still in use for Soto Street (below).

Mission Road Viaduct Today

After crossing over Mission Road, the line turned northeast-ward, paralleling the north roadway of Huntington Dr. to Topaz Ave.  After crossing Topaz Ave., the line curved eastward.  The main local stop for Rose Hill was at the Monterey Rd. grade crossing.  In the photo below (from the MTA Archives) the PE Monterey Rd. shuttle bus and the connecting inbound Sierra Vista local are shown at this stop.

Rose Hill connection

The next stop a short distance from Monterey Rd is at Collis Avenue.  The next shot shows an inbound Sierra Vista local about to pick up two passengers at the Collis Avenue stop.  The photo was taken looking west from the Minto Court bridge, which no longer exists.  An inbound express train has just passed the local train.

Looking west from Minto Court bridge

After climbing over the saddle in the hills at Minto Court, the line descends to the main El Sereno local stop at Eastern Avenue.  The next photo shows a Sierra Vista train approaching Eastern Avenue.

El Sereno

The next image is a recent photo that looks in the same direction, towards Eastern Avenue and Huntington Drive in El Sereno.  The roadway in the foreground is on the old Pacific Electric right of way.

El Sereno Today

A quarter mile east the next local stop is at Pueblo Avenue.  In the photo below (by Raphael Long), looking west, an inbound local stops at Pueblo Avenue.

Pueblo Avenue

A quarter mile further east is Van Horne Avenue.  In the following photo an inbound express from Pasadena slips through the grade crossing.  Pasadena trains ran nonstop from Charlotte Street to Sierra Vista -- a distance of about four and a quarter miles.

Inbound Pasadena express at Van Horne Avenue

In the rush hour scene below an outbound Pasadena express is approaching the Sierra Vista station just behind an outbound Sierra Vista local.

Trains near Sierra Vista

The following photo shows the Swiss chalet-style station at Sierra Vista as it looked in the 1930s.

Sierra Vista station

The station building contained a coffee shop.  This was the terminal of the Sierra Vista local line. Pasadena Short Line trains continue on the center tracks of the four-track mainline from Sierra Vista to Oneonta Park Junction station -- a distance of 0.8 miles.  In the photo below an inbound Pasadena Short Line train is about to turn onto the four-track mainline at Oneonta Park Junction station.  The cupola on the station roof contained a switching tower.  From this point to Colorado Boulevard the Pasadena Short Line follows Fairoaks Avenue.

Oneonta Park Junction

From Huntington Drive to Monterey Road the Pasadena line was in the median of Fairoaks Avenue.  From Monterey Road north the line ran on street trackage for 2.8 miles to Colorado Street.  In the following view, we see the main business district of South Pasadena near Mission St. in the 1920s.

Fairoaks Avenue South Pasadena 1926

Shortly after crossing the city limits the line passes the PE Pasadena electrical substation.  Below we see a recent photo of this structure.

PE Pasadena Substation Today

About a block further north, at Glenarm Street, we see an inbound Rose Parade train passing the pseudo-Spanish style mini-mall at Glenarm Street in the '40s.

Inbound train at Glenarm Street

The Pasadena Short Line reaches the end of its run at Colorado and Fairoaks.  The following postcard, from the 1920s, looks east down Colorado Boulevard at Fairoaks.  PE operated an extensive local streetcar network in Pasadena.  We see a local streetcar approaching Fairoaks on Colorado in this image.

Colorado at Fairoaks in the early '20s

The next image looks north up Fairoaks at Colorado Boulevard. We see a group of passengers boarding a train for Los Angeles.  There are drug stores on both the northeast and northwest corners, and a pool hall upstairs at left.

Fairoaks and Colorado

After passengers deboard from outbound trains at Colorado Boulevard, trains continue a couple more blocks to the Pasadena car-house at Mary Street, shown below.

Fairoaks Carhouse


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     That was quite a trip.  Not so long ago this was L.A.  We are left only with the proverbial "What if L.A. had continued with the P.E. Railway System?".  Some things are better left alone, especially if the alternative is worse than what we already had.  Just my own thoughts (El Sereno Historical Society).
     The information provided below also comes from Mr. Wetzel's website and it gives us a unique view of P & E extensive rail lines as well as some facts on commuter use and service dates.  Please visit uncanny.net for more info on P & E.

Pacific Electric Railway in Brief

The Pacific Electric Railway. was an extensive electrified freight and commuter railway centered in Los Angeles, with over 200 route miles of commuter lines.  Pacific Electric -- a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) -- had been formed in 1910 from the merger of several Southern California electric railways that had been bought up by SP.

The electrified commuter railway operations were basically intact until 1950, and then were progressively dismantled in the '50s.  SP-controlled management pushed for replacement of trains with buses from the late '30s onward due to persistent financial losses from rail passenger service.

In 1953 Pacific Electric sold its remaining passenger operations to Metropolitan Coach Lines (MCL).  Part of the sale agreement was that MCL would continue to push for replacement of rail operations with buses on city streets, thus freeing PE's tracks for unimpeded movement of profitable freight trains.

The Pacific Electric was also the third-largest railway in California in terms of freight cars handled, ranking ahead of Union Pacific or Western Pacific in traffic within California.  In particular, PE was the main carrier of carload freight to and from the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, handling 35% of all harbor-related traffic.  In 1947 PE made a profit of about 6% on invested capital from its rail freight operations.

PE also was a part of the nation-wide Railway Express Agency (REA) system, and distributed package and less-than-carload freight to outlying towns in trolley box motors from its hub at 8th & Alameda St. and the REA offices at Union Station.  Carload freight operations were converted to diesel by 1957, and trucks took over LCL and package freight delivery in 1952.

The map below shows the PE rail passenger routes still offering regular service as of 1949.

Rail Passenger Lines of Pacific Electric Railway in Los Angeles County

Line Weekday
Rides
Year Rail Service Ended % Operating
Expense Paid by Fares 1948
LA to Long Beach 16,000 fare rides 1947 Converted to bus 1961. 97
LA to San Pedro 15,000 fare rides 1947 Converted to bus 1958. 86
Long Beach to San Pedro 3,700 fare & transfer rides 1938
5,000 fare rides 1947
Converted to bus 1949. --
LA to Watts Local 20,000 fare rides 1947 Converted to bus 1959. 95.5
LA to Santa Ana 1,100 fare & transfer rides 1938
5,000 fare rides 1947
Cut back to Bellflower 1950
with no direct bus replacement.
Remainder converted to bus 1958.
58.8
LA to Newport Beach 700 fare & transfer rides 1938 Replaced by bus 1940.
A few trains revived during World War II.
--
LA to Pasadena via Oak Knoll 5,500 fare & transfer rides 1938
7,500 fare rides 1947
Replaced by bus 1950 --
LA to Pasadena via Fairoaks Ave 4,800 fare & transfer rides 1938
7,500 fare rides 1947
Replaced by bus 1951 81
LA to Santa Monica
via Beverly Hills
(plus Brentwood)
7,600 fare & transfer rides 1938 Converted to bus 1940. --
LA-Gardena-Torrance-San Pedro 400 fare & transfer rides Eliminated 1940.
Replaced by Torrance and Gardena
city bus systems.
--
LA-Gardena-Redondo 1,100 fare & transfer rides 1938 Eliminated 1940.
Replaced by Gardena city bus system.
LA to Sierra Madre 1,000 fare & transfer rides 1938
2,000 fare rides 1947
Replaced by bus 1950. --
LA-Monrovia-Glendora 2,900 fare & transfer rides 1938
5,000 fare rides 1947
(Plus 8,000 Santa Anita rides during race season.)
Replaced by bus 1951. 73.7
LA-Pomona-San Bernardino-Riverside 3,500 fare & transfer rides 1938
5,000 fare rides 1947
Replaced by bus east of
Baldwin Park 1941.
Remainder converted to bus 1950.
52.5
LA-Alhambra-Temple City 3,600 fare & transfer rides 1938 Replaced by bus 1941. --
LA-Glendale-Burbank 25,000 fare rides 1947 Replaced by bus 1955. 99
Hollywood Blvd-Echo Park Ave-Venice Blvd Local 69,000 fare rides 1947 Echo Park Ave-Hill St-
Venice Blvd replaced by bus 1950.
Hollywood via Subway
replaced by bus 1954.
90
LA to Santa Monica via Venice Blvd 15,000 fare rides 1947 Replaced by bus 1950. 85
Santa Monica Blvd-Van Nuys-West Hollywood 37,000 fare rides 1947 Western-Franklin branch
converted to bus 1940.
Van Nuys converted to bus 1952.
West Hollywood
converted to bus 1953.
85
LA to Sierra Vista
(El Sereno local service)
12,000 fare rides 1947 Converted to bus 1951. 95.5
LA to Redondo
via Culver City
2,000 fare & transfer rides 1938 Converted to bus 1940. --
LA to Whittier
via Huntington Park
(Randolph St)
-- Cut back to Walker Ave in
Maywood 1935.
Remainder eliminated
without bus replacement 1938.
--
LA to South Pasadena
via Highland Park
-- Cut back to General Hospital 1935.
South Pasadena-Highland Park replaced by
Monterey Rd shuttle bus.
Hospital shuttle eliminated 1942.
--

The Sierra Vista Line

      The history of the local service on the four-track system is interesting.  Local service was provided by the EL Molino Local Line from 1910 until 1915, when it was terminated at Sierra Vista. On September 3, 1915, the Sierra Vista Line was absorbed by the Alhambra Line but on December 3, 1916, was reestablished, looping through Main Street Station from San Pedro Street to Main Street.  On January 25, 1917, Sierra Vista was rerouted, operating both ways via Main Street into the Station.  On November 8, 1918, the Alhambra Line once again absorbed Sierra Vista, continuing until Sierra Vista was reestablished, except nights, on February 1, 1920.  
On January 1, 1922, full-time service was again provided by Sierra Vista. On June 1, 1938, Sierra Vista was routed through with Watts, operating through Los Angeles on Main Street.  From May 15, 1943 until April 30, 1948, Sierra Vista owls were run through to Colorado & Fair Oaks on the Pasadena Short Line.  On October 22, 1950, Sierra Vista was separated from Watts and rerouted into Main Street Station via San Pedro Street in both directions; trackage on Main Street was abandoned at this time.  On September 30, 1951, the Sierra Vista Line was abandoned.

Presented here is an informative site with many facts and details concerning the
PASADENA SHORT LINE/SIERRA VISTA LINE

Below are more photos of the historic Pacific Electric-Sierra Vista Local Line courtesy of the hardworking and dedicated members of the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society   www.PERyHS.org   (Enjoy!).  We tried our best to put them in order starting from Downtown L.A. to Alhambra.  

Click on a photo for a slide show tour.
Holding the mouse over the text will reveal all the text relevant to the photo.

Below are more photos of the historic Pacific Electric-Sierra Vista Local Line courtesy of the hardworking and dedicated members of the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society   www.PERyHS.org.   We have not put them in order yet, but we wanted to make sure they were at least added for your viewing enjoyment.
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