PE’s Pico / San Vicente Viaduct: Built to last “forever”
By Ralph Cantos
This beautiful photograph taken in November of 1927 shows a 2 car train of 950s with no. 955 on the head end. The occasion was the first test train over the newly completed viaduct over busy West Pico Blvd. Before the viaduct was built, the trains crossed Pico Blvd. at grade, resulting in numerous crossing accidents. Beneath the viaduct, much cleanup still remains. If you look closely at the left side of this photo, you can still see the cross buck and a portion of temporary track crossing Pico.
This is a very interesting photo in that it shows the two 950s in the middle of a 2 year upgrade and rebuilding program that started in late 1926 and ran through 1928. The 955 has had its former open section enclosed with deluxe brass sash windows, while the unidentified car behind the 955 still has its windowless open section. The installation of 2 PE pneumatic trolley bases has yet to be done on both cars.
The Pico / San Vicente viaduct was extremely well built structure. It should have lasted “forever.” But FOREVER would last a mere 37 years. The span was made useless after 23 years of service at the end of 1950 with the combined abandonments of the Venice Short Line and the San Vicente Shuttle. The span would remain standing, its rails and catenary long gone for another 14 years, providing a safe crossing over Pico Blvd. for a vast selection of 2, 4 ,and multiple legged creatures, until bulldozed into oblivion in 1964.
Today, no trace of the great viaduct remains. The only evidence that the PE was ever at this location, is the aliment of San Vicente Blvd.
In an ironic turn of events, the old PE right of way at this location still serves a public transit purpose as the new Rimpau Transit Terminal for both LAMTA and Santa Monica Blue Buses. Well…. as the old saying goes, “what goes around, eventfully comes around.”
Viewing these wonder grade separation structures on the PE Santa Monica line brings to mind another “what might have been”. As many of you know, E.H. Harriman, the owner of the Los Angeles Pacific (along with many other rail properties), planned to build the Vineyard Subway. This subway would have run from downtown L.A. to Vineyard. The land was purchased, and everything was on track to build the subway until the financial panic of 1907 struck. This panic shelved work on this subway. However, the purchased land remained in P.E.’s control until sometime in the 1950’s. If one looks at a satellite image of LA in the south of 8th St between Western Ave and Hobart – a diagonal swath can be observed. Buildings were built over the years avoiding the PE property, and this swath marks the route of the Vineyard Subway. Had this subway been built, and the pictured grade separations been in place, we would have had a superb rapid transit line between downtown LA and Santa Monica. I am confident the subway would have cut running times between downtown LA and Vineyard by at least 15 minutes – the grade separations would have further facilitated travel to Santa Monica. Of course, this subway might have been abandoned in the 1950’s – we did abandon another perfectly good subway about that time. But, just imagine a three car train of PCC cars making a rapid run out to Santa Monica.
I remember reading somewhere that ground was broken for the Vineyard subway,which was then suspended forever after only I months construction, never to be taken up again.To this day, there are remnants of that construction beneath L.A.