Remembering the Big Green Cars of the Los Angeles Inter-Urban Railway

Foreword by Steve Crise

Often times we acquire artifacts that are in less than desirable condition and are quite literally ready to disintegrate. This was the case with this Pacific Electric / Los Angeles Interurban Railway map seen above. Fortunately it was not a large map, only about 8 x 12 inches which made it very easy to scan it on a regular flatbed scanner before it completely gave up the ghost. With only a few hours of intense Photoshop therapy, we ended up with a really nice and informative map.

There was no written information about the date of this map, but if you study it closely you can see a few interesting clues. For example, the San Bernardino Line has only made its march towards its namesake city as far east as Covina, as indicated by dotted lines. The construction of the San Bernardino Line began in 1906 and arrived in Covina in 1907, and finally to San Bernardino in 1910, suggesting this map to have been published between 1906 and 1907.

I thought that another interesting feature of this map is the mention of the Los Angeles Interurban Railway, a property that few if anyone in Los Angeles had ever heard of. Like many of the early electric lines in Southern California, their individual stories have been lost to history and shrouded in darkness by the huge shadow cast by the world famous Pacific Electric Railway. Everyone had heard of the “Red Cars”, but had you heard of the “Green Cars” of the LAIU?

I was aware of the LAIU’s existence but knew very little about its short but important history. A little searching around the internet brought me to the website of The Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California where they had a good deal of information on this early electric railway. The LAIU history first appeared in Timepoints, the journal of the Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California.

In this posting we have brought together the story of the LAIU with the map of the railway. I think you will agree that these two items needed to be paired with each other in order to better appreciate the details they both have to offer regarding the unique history of LAIU Railway.

So sit back a take a short ride on what may be the only memory still left of the upstart Los Angeles Interurban Railway and its “Big Green Cars” that eventually turned Red!

If you lived in or near Los Angeles between 1903 and 1910, you depended upon the LAIU for a good portion of your transportation.  Suppose you wanted to go to Glendale: you boarded a big green LAIU interurban car on Sixth Street.  If you wanted to go out to Westlake Park to enjoy the band concert, you hopped on a smaller green car and rattled out West Eighth Street.  Or if you had to see a friend off at the Arcade Depot or at the Santa Fe Le Grande Station, you depended on the LAIU’s East Third Street Line.  Perhaps you had to embark at San Pedro; you boarded a green car and were rushed off down Vermont Avenue through Gardena.  Maybe you were a laborer on a Pacific Electric section gang busily laying steel for the new Whittier Line; your paychecks were signed by the LAIU.  If you were the cashier of the St. Louis Car Company, the checks to pay for those ninety big interurban cars to be shipped west to the PE were also from the LAIU.  Whether you were a millionaire with a resplendent mansion on West Adams street or a white-collar worker in a humble cottage on West Jefferson street, the LAIU brought you home at night.  Yes, the LAIU was a mighty power hereabouts in that eight-year period of long ago.  And yet you say you’ve never heard of this electric traction enigma; not many have.

The Los Angeles Interurban Electric Railway Company or LAIU had other distinctions besides a jawbreaker name.  It was a ten-million-dollar corporation operating interurban lines and city lines, both standard and narrow gauge.  It constructed extensions to several Pacific Electric interurban lines and furnished the major part of that company’s most modern cars.  In spite of all this, the LAIU is today known only to historians and an unknown quantity entirely to most railfans.  With this in mind, plus a desire to give credit to an outfit that richly merited commendation, we bring you know the story of the LAIU.

In the period from 1896 to 1903 electric railways in Los Angeles enjoyed boom times.  Competition between them was fierce and unrelenting.  In the City of Los Angeles Henry Huntington’s Los Angeles Railway was king, but there was fierce competition from the mushroom growth of the Hook family’s Los Angeles Traction Company.  Indeed, the aggressive Traction Company was enough to worry any electric railway.  Starting from scratch in 1894, the Hooks had built up an extensive well-run system based out of the Georgia Street car barns, shops and powerhouse.  Not content with being the sand in LARy’s shoe, the LAT went after the interurban business through a subsidiary outfit, the California-Pacific Railway.  In the interurban field operating out of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles-Pacific Railway was the dominant company.  It operated 150 miles of narrow-gauge line grid ironing the territory between the city and the west beaches.  The LAP’s Sherman and Clark were well entrenched and could afford to look leniently on the ambitious plans of the California-Pacific, especially as it seemed that the object of the later company’s most malignant machinations was Huntington’s stripling Pacific Electric.  Between the city and Redondo, the Los Angeles & Redondo Railway was busy converting its steam line to electricity, while L. C. Brand and associates, entirely independent of the larger companies, were grading their line to Glendale.  The year 1910 is usually regarded as the most notable year in the history of the local electric railway railways, but the foundations of the Great Merger were laid in 1903.

In the early days of 1903, the Southern Pacific Railway’s business was considered fair pickings for any traction executive worth his salt.  By the end of that year, the S.P. was the biggest single factor in the local electric railway situation.  Henry E. Huntington first gained prominence as a trained executive of the S.P.  Under the reign of his uncle, the great Collis P. Huntington, Henry rose rapidly in the councils of the mammoth corporation.  He grew intimately familiar with all of the ramifications of the S.P. and knew every one of that railroad’s methods of crushing competition.  Perhaps more than any other man, HEH knew how successfully to compete with the Octopus of the West.  With the death of Collis P. Huntington and the rise to power of Edward H. Harriman, Henry E. Huntington was on his own, free to become a very irritating and persistent thorn in the side of the supposedly impregnable S.P.

Huntington believed firmly in the ability of electric railways to supplant steam trains.  He came to Southern California with millions in his pocket and set out to prove himself.  Huntington had had ample proof of the ability of the electric interurban to compete with steam railroads.  He had seen the Pasadena & Los Angeles Electric Railway blitz the S.P., Santa Fe and Terminal railroads out of the Pasadena picture and was so impressed he immediately purchased that line.  He saw the Los Angeles Pacific repeat this annihilation of steam when its Santa Monica Line was opened.  So it happened that the S.P. woke up one fine morning and found its lines out of Los Angeles to the east and south being paralleled by a new electric railway with its own bright young man, Henry E. Huntington, leading the onslaught.  No one ever accused Harriman of avoiding a fight when challenged; immediately the power of the S.P. millions was lined up against Huntington ready to crush him when the first opportunity offered itself.  The opportunity was not long in coming; the first move was to send Senator W.A. Clark of Montana to Los Angeles to ask the City Council for a blanket franchise for a new electric railway to cover all parts of Los Angeles at a 3-cent fare.  This was followed at the proper moment by rumors that the S.P. would electrify its local service throughout Southern California.  Then in April 1903, came a telling blow, the S.P. purchased the Los Angeles Traction Company outright from the Hooks family.  With that franchise gained, plus the California Pacific, which was by this time operating its narrow gauge cars to San Pedro and projecting lines to Whittier, Pasadena and Venice-Santa Monica, the S.P. now held a dominant local position.  Henry Huntington faced the fight of his life.  The sensational skirmish, which bashed Huntington’s PE juggernaut, attracted the interest of the entire Nation.  The $110,000 franchise fight was Harriman’s instrument, which finally brought HEH to San Francisco to talk peace.  In May 1903, Huntington applied for a franchise for an electric line on West Sixth Street from Figueroa to Alvarado.  Ordinarily this move would have cost him about $5,000.  Harriman decided to make this franchise the showdown.  He empowered a local real-estate man by the name of G.G. Johnson to act for the S.P. in the bidding.  Steadily the bidding rose, with excitement increasing with every tick of the clock as word flashed around City Hall that Huntington was to get his comeuppance.  At $10,000 W.S. Hook of the Traction dropped out leaving Huntington face-to-face with his greatest rival in the guise of G.G. Johnson.  The law required that each new bid be at least 10% higher than the previous bid and it was not long before the bidding had reached extravagant proportions.  Mr. Johnson, appearing unaffected by the sensation he was causing steadily topped Huntington’s excited bids.  Johnson’s $82,500 was met by Huntington’s $100,000.  When Johnson still refused to withdraw, HEH heaved a great sigh and gave up.  He knew that until he came to terms with Harriman, the SP’s millions would prevent him from ever again securing a franchise in the City of Los Angeles.  Johnson took the franchise for $110,000, which money was paid to the city treasury within twenty-four hours.  That night, Huntington took the train for San Francisco and the headquarters of Harriman.  Fast as he was, his partner in the Huntington-Hellman syndicate was even faster.  Harriman had already obtained Hellman’s interest in the PE!  As Harriman had other more important irons in the fire, he left responsibility for PE operations to Huntington and remained a silent partner.  The agreement reached by Harriman and Huntington was not long in coming to light.  Harriman publicly acknowledged in July of 1903 that he had purchased the Traction Company and stated further that he and Huntington were in amicable accord.  Huntington would thereafter control and operate all the street railways in Los Angeles.  In return for control of the Traction Company and the California Pacific, Huntington turned over 50% of his PE stock to Harriman.  Not only did HEH gain the famous (or infamous) Sixth Street Franchise, but he also acquired the California-Pacific’s important franchises to Pasadena and Santa Monica—franchises that he never used.  Harriman gained even more by the armistice however as he now had the Huntington electric railways in his pocket; true he did not yet control them, but that would come.  It would come in 1910…. (Nefarious laughter)

 Thus the infant LAIU entered a world of swift and far reaching changes.  Just as Henry E. Huntington was the Pacific Electric, so was Henry E. Huntington the Los Angeles Inter-Urban.  The Huntington-Hellman syndicate had incorporated the Pacific Electric Railway Company on November 13th, 1901 with a capital stock of $10,000,000.  By the middle of 1903, so swift had been that company’s expansion, the ten million was practically depleted.  Huntington, with Harriman’s approval incorporated an entirely new electric railway company, the Los Angeles Inter-Urban.  On June 6th, 1903, articles of incorporation were filed with the County Clerk of Los Angeles for the LAIU with a capital stock of $10,000,000.  Its purposes and operations were to be similar to those of the PE, with which it would be closely allied.  Although completely independent of the older company, the LAIU would build a system of lines that would be extensions of those controlled by the Pacific Electric.  With the additional millions at his disposal, Henry E. Huntington could complete his network of electric lines covering Southern California.  The LAIU as originally conceived was not to be an operating company—that is have its own cars—but would supply the lines over which PE cars would operate.  Epes Randolph, vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Electric and the man called upon by Harriman to curb the Colorado River’s rampage into the Imperial Valley, was chosen as the president of the new interurban company.  Randolph was also elected president of the LAIU’s twin corporation, the Pacific Electric Land Company, born at the same time.  Huntington desired the LAIU to lay 350 miles of track; this combined with the PE’s already built 100 miles would comprise the complete system.

Broken down into lines, the 350 miles of new track were to include:

  1. The completion of the PE Whittier Line and the extension of this line into the La Habra area.
  2. The long contemplated high-speed line via Santa Ana Canyon to Redlands and Riverside with a branch to Colton, San Bernardino and Highland.  For this line the LAIU was to purchase unusually large interurban cars, which were to be 60 feet long and weigh 93,000 pounds.  Fitted with four 150-horsepower motors, these cars were to cover the distance to Riverside in one hour.  Each would seat 72 passengers and would be fitted up in the most excellent taste.  Fifteen or twenty were to have been purchased.
  3. The line to Santa Ana, Newport and Balboa; an extension was to run northward along the coast from Newport to the PE line at Long Beach.  A branch was to tap Alamitos and Artesia thence to Los Angeles over the PE Santa Ana Line.
  4. The high-speed line to Santa Barbara by way of San Fernando.
  5. A line to Glendale and Burbank in competition with the Brand line.
  6. A line to Ontario by way of Covina.

In addition, the LAIU’s funds were to supply additional rolling stock for the PE.  Ninety of the PE’s 800 class cars were purchased under this agreement (800-889) and the LAIU paid the bill for many cars which were built in their entirety in the Pacific Electric Shops at 7th and Central in Los Angeles.  This included cars 230-279 and 290-299, which were city cars similar to LARy’s type ‘B’ Standards, and the box motors of the 1430-1444 class.  Huntington’s ambitious plans for the LAIU were not to come to fruition.  Of the 350 miles of contemplated line, less than half were built.  The LAIU did complete the Whittier and La Habra line.  It did build the line to Santa Ana via Garden Grove.  It did build down the coast from Long Beach to Balboa.  Instead of building a new line to Glendale, it bought control of Brand’s Los Angeles & Glendale Electric Railway.  It did build to Covina, but the dream line to Riverside via Santa Ana Canyon never materialized, and the dream cars for that line never left the drawing boards.  The extension to Santa Barbara via San Fernando Valley was turned over to the Los Angeles-Pacific for exploitation.

The LAIU built one line, which proved to be outstanding—the extension from Dominguez to San Pedro.  The creation of San Pedro Harbor brought this line close to the top of all PE passenger lines and its freight business ranked it far ahead of the other lines.  While all these activities were in progress, LAIU was spending money at the rate of a half-million dollars a month.

Huntington decreed the LAIU to be a non-operating company, fate decreed otherwise.  Early in 1904 all the former Traction Company lines were turned over to the LAIU to operate.  In addition, the LAIU took over the operation of the California-Pacific and the then building Glendale Line.  Traction Company cars were sent to the PE’s shops and rebuilt.  More powerful motors were installed, air brakes added and bodies reconstructed.  The most notable outward difference was the addition of vestibule ends in place of the old open ends.

The cars were not at once renumbered and the Traction Company’s odd practice of using only even numbers was in evidence on Los Angeles streets for several years more. Huntington had just completed a track rehabilitation program on his LARy lines which had seen every foot of rail which was down when he arrived ripped up and replaced with 60-lb. T-rail.  He at once initiated a similar program on the Traction Lines.  In all, well over a million dollars was expended just on rehabilitating the Traction’s system.  Lines which the LAIU took over from the LAT were all narrow gauge and consisted of the following:

  1. West Jefferson, from Hoover to Arlington
  2. West Adams, from 10th Avenue to Normandie, 24th, Hoover, Burlington, 16th, Georgia, 11th, Figueroa, 8th, Hill and 3rd
  3. Vermont Avenue from 24th Street south to Gardena, then over Normandie Avenue to the City of San Pedro
  4. West 8th Street from 1st and Commonwealth to Wilshire, Hoover, 7th, Lake, 8th and Hill
  5. Belmont from Temple to Loma Drive, Arnold Street (3rd), Flower to 5th
  6. 3rd Street from Hill to Hewitt Street; one branch proceeded to the Santa Fe Station, another on east 4th Street, Fresno Street to 1st Street
  7. Central Avenue from Arcade Depot to East Third Street (joint LARy)
  8. Glendale Line from 6th & Main Station to Flower to Third to Figueroa, Second, Glendale Boulevard
  9. East 6th Street from Main to Arcade Depot.

One of Huntington’s first moves after getting the LAIU lines in operation was to issue transfers from the old Traction lines to certain PE local lines and to the Glendale Line.  Although Huntington controlled LARy, that company was not included in the transfer arrangement, much to the displeasure of Angelinos.  It seems that Huntington felt that to issue universal transfers was quite impossible as excluding himself, the stockholders of the LARy and those of the other companies were different sets of people.  Incidentally, several court decisions were necessary before Mr. Huntington was able to convince the local citizenry that this was an incontrovertible fact.  Time went on and LAIU continued to pay the bill.  LAIU dollars enabled Huntington to purchase the right-of-way of the old San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Company, which became the main line of the Northern District from the east bank of the Los Angeles River to the vicinity of Atlantic Boulevard (Shorb Station).  LAIU dollars paid for the four tracking of the Long Beach Line as far as Watts.  They set the PE up in the freight carrying business.  By the middle of 1908, the PE and LAIU operated 550 miles of track with cars of the two systems entering and leaving Main Street on a one-minute headway.

This was quite a feat when you realize that all cars had to change ends within the station and leave via Main Street.  In those days there was no elevated structure at the rear.  Normal days saw 500 cars operating from Main Street, while holidays swelled the load to more than 800.  A novel trolley trough in the ceiling of the station automatically reversed the poles for the return trip.

The end came for the LAIU in no burst of glory, but rather in a very matter-of-fact fashion.  In July of 1908 the public was informed that for reasons of operating efficiency, the PE had leased the LAIU and would thereafter operate it as a part of the PE system.  It would seem that with the exhaustion of its ten million dollars, the days of the LAIU’s usefulness were at an end.  The last official act of the doomed railway was to let the contract for the grading of the extension to La Habra.

LAIU cars continued to operate until the Great Merger after which they were split between the new PE and the LARy.  The LARy got the old Traction cars and the PE kept the newer LAIU rolling stock.  The California-Pacific cars were renumbered in the 470-474 class and ran for many more years.  The California cars were renumbered into the 200 class which was succeeded in 1924 by the 600 class “Hollywood” cars.

Henry Huntington purchased the Los Angeles & Redondo Railway in July 1905 for $2,500,000.  This gave him control of about three-fourths of the town of Redondo including its wharves, waterfront and most of its lots.  The Los Angles Pacific succumbed to Harriman in March 1906.  Harriman declined to turn its operation over to Huntington leaving him to retire to the operation of the LARy.

Five years later it was the Los Angeles Pacific that swallowed the Pacific Electric as LAP officials constituted the majority of officers of the new Pacific Electric after the Great Merger of 1911.  The PE’s name was kept however as it was deemed to be more descriptive of the overall system’s geographic range.  Today there remains no evidence of the LAIU’s existence.

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Abandoned Pacific Electric Air Line trackage near Amoco Tower