Pacific Electric’s Coldwater Canyon Line: From Rails to Hooves to Shrubs
By Ralph Cantos
This interesting photograph taken in January of 1923 shows Pacific Electric no. 175 (AKA “Submarine”) awaiting its departure time in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The life of this line was about as short as the line itself. Sometimes referred to as the Rodeo Line, it was just over a mile in length, stretching from Santa Monica Boulevard on the south along Rodeo Drive to Sunset Boulevard on the north.
The line opened for business in 1907, five years before the famed Beverly Hills Hotel opened its doors in mid-1912. Someone at the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad must have had some “inside information” regarding the construction of the hotel, to have built this line five years in advance of the hotel’s grand opening.
Regardless of the circumstances, the line became more of a nuisance to the Pacific Electric than anything else. By 1915, the City Of Beverly Hills was fast becoming the home of the rich and famous. The Pacific Electric took over the line about 1911 and thereafter was “requested” to maintain the line and cars to a “much higher standard” than the PE was accustomed to. The cars were kept in spotless condition. The wooden line poles that ran the length of the single-track right-of-way in the center of Rodeo Drive were painted white, and the right-of-way itself, kept neat and clean.
All this for a line that never carried a standing load of passengers.
By January of 1923, the PE had enough of this nonsense and pulled the trolley pole down on the line on the 15th of the month.
After the rails and line poles were removed with all possible dispatch, the abandoned right-of-way became a bridle path for the elite of Beverly Hills. The life of the bridle path was almost as short as the life of the PE rail line. By the late 1930s, the elite of Beverly Hills were trading in “Dobbin” for Duesenbergs and the bridle path was abandoned.
The now twice-abandoned right-of-way was narrowed to about 6 feet in width and decorative shrubbery planted where Pacific Electric cars and horses once roamed. Rodeo Drive itself was repaved to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of Duesenbergs, Packards and Pierce-Arrows now using the street.
Today, Rodeo Drive remains the only north-south street in Beverly Hills between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards with a center divider.
I doubt that ANYONE living on Rodeo Drive today would believe that a trolley line, much less a bridle path, ever passed in front of their multi-million dollar houses.
As a final note, a very nice waiting shelter was built out front of the Beverly Hills Hotel for the trolley line passengers that is still in use today by LAMTA buses.
Ralph Cantos Collection
Great story Ralph and excellent photos too. I have never seen any of these.
Reminds me of the median in Santa Anita Ave. in Arcadia. According to local lore, back before World War I, there were plans to have a trolley line running down the middle of what some of us called “Double Drive”. I’m not sure how far along the project got, but there were never any tracks laid, and like the short-lived Beverly Hills line, passenger traffic would have be rather limited. The one sign of railway activity was the feeder cables that ran north along the west side of Santa Anita from the PE Arcadia substation to the end of the Sierra Madre Line, which was chronically underpowered.
Hmmm. Gone too early for Wilbur to exercise Mr Ed down this path. Well there was always Griffith Park’s bridle paths. And now even ‘ol Ed is pushin’ up trolley poles!
Perhaps we’re being a bit too hard. “The Hotel at Beverly Hills” as it was originally called was more like a destination resort at first. Transcontinental rail travelers would have had direct access from the Arcade Station via the electric lines. Unfortunately, WWI put railroads under government control and killed the first-class flyer business along with tourist sleepers, while autos were already eating into local and intermediate services. There would have been no chance to revive the value of this connection. I’ve mentioned Mr. Behannessey having an office in the PE Building early on…I believe he may have been involved in some of the furnishings of the hotel. And so many engineers and architects are showing addresses in the building that I don’t doubt there was early knowledge of plans for a major hotel. After all, our friends who ran the LAP may well have been stooges (strawmen, if you prefer) for Southern Pacific interests all along…deep searches are revealing a lot about their involvement with the big boys of the main line.