Sunday, March 08, 2009

Reason #4,673 Why Los Angeles Needs A Museum Of Its History!

In today's Los Angeles Times, Steve Harvey does his usual excellent job on the re-opening of the historic Cole's bar/restaurant in the old Pacific Electric Building - but he also repeats a few of the older urban legends of Los Angeles.

Cole's occupies the bottom floor of the 10-story Pacific Electric Building, the city's tallest skyscraper in the early 1900s and for years the terminus for the Red Car trolley line, which clacked over more than 1,000 miles of track in Southern California.

Founder Henry Cole moved into the former headquarters of some horse-drawn streetcars. One of the first things he did was sprinkle sawdust on the floor.

First, the building, as it states on the owner's own website - is nine stories tall and not ten.

Second, it was never the city's tallest skyscraper - or it's first one, as other sources have claimed. The Braly Building - which is now the Continental - at the SE corner of 4th and Spring - reached 174 feet in 1903. The City then passed a 150 foot height limit on all future buildings in 1904. But even though the PE Building was designed in 1903, built in 1904 and opened in January of 1905 (which is why those three dates are given in different sources) - it was still built well below even the new 150 height limit.

Third, as far as Cole's being the former home of horses for horse drawn street cars in a building opened in 1905, I have always heard that horse drawn street cars were all replaced first by cable and then by electric cars by the mid/late 1890's before Huntington bought any of his lines. And I do know that the last cable line was electrified in 1902, by which time there were no horse drawn lines. So it is impossible for Cole's to have ever housed any horse drawn street cars.

Lastly - one often quoted fact NOT stated is that the PE Building was the largest building in square footage west of Chicago for many years - though some sources have amended that by saying, largest office building. Now I have no idea if that is true or not, but it would seem to me that some building in San Francisco or Kansas City or St. Louis (if those last two cities are considered west of Chicago, of course) should been larger - but I'll leave that for someone else to fact check.

Update - I just did some very cursory research on the size of the largest office building in the major Western cities in 1905 - and it appears the PE Building... probably... was the largest Western office building in square footage.

FURTHER UPDATE - info on the last horse drawn street cars in Los Angeles - and the date of 1896 I had in my head - turns out to be pretty close - by a few months:

In "Street Railways and the Growth of Los Angeles," Robert C Post says that the Los Angeles Railway's last horse car line, West Ninth Street, last ran on 08-June-1896 (page 131). The Main Street & Agricultural Park's last horse car ran in April 1897. If there were other indepedent lines that converted later, I couldn't find them in the book.

By the way, it's been ten years since I wrote up the Los Angeles cable car lines on my website, so I've been updating the articles. This month I also added a nice article by James Clifton Robinson, General Manager of the Los Angeles Cable Railway/Pacific Cable Railway. I also added contemporary newspaper articles about the Second Street and Temple Street cable lines. Next month I'm updating my article about the San Francisco cable cars that ran around the parking lots at Knott's Berry Farm.

Joe Thompson
The Cable Car Home Page (updated 01-Apr-2009)
San Francisco Bay Ferryboats (updated 30-Sep-2008)
Park Trains and Tourist Trains (updated 31-Oct-2008)
The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion (updated erratically)


Here's a little more information, all from the Los Angeles Times archive, which includes the inevitable new questions that seem to accompany new answers.

The June 9, 1896 edition confirms Joe Thompson's mention of the West 9th St line, "Electric cars are now running regularly on the Ninth-street line. The work of tearing up the old horse-car track and replacing it with a heavy modern track of big ties and heavy rails has been pushed to its completion." And so on.

The May 5, 1897 edition seems to be pushing the Agricultural Park horsecar line's finale from April into at least May, 1897, "By the end of May, the Main-street car line will be entirely changed to an electric system. At present, the Main Street and Agricultural Park Railway Company's new electric cars are running as far as the corner of Grand Avenue and Jefferson Street. From that point, passengers are carried to the end of the line, at the entrance to Agricultural Park, by the clumsy little horse cars." It goes on to cite late delivery of rails as the reason for the delay, and the expectation that all would be completed "perhaps within fifteen days." I could not find the exact date on which it finally happened, but the article goes on to mention that this will be the last horsecar line in the city "except the old Mateo-street line which runs parallel with the Santa Fé tracks, beginning near the Santa Fe Depot."

A lengthy article about Agricultural Park on September 28, 1897 simply gives April 1, 1897 as the date on which the Main & AP electric line opened, so that may be a reason for the discrepancy about the date, not asterisking the trackage south of Jefferson and Main.

Looking for the Mateo Street horsecar line, I found a few Times references before and after April 1897.

June 14, 1896, "Reopening the Santa Fe-avenue Horse-car Line." "The new car service on the line of the Mateo street and Santa Fe avenue Street-car Company was inaugurated yesterday afternoon" and on, describing the 15-minute headway in each direction and 22-minute running time for the three-mile trip, and that "Fifteen unusually large and fine horses have been purchased, and good service is assured." It also says that "as soon as Mateo street has been opened [completed?] the line will be double tracked and electrized (sic)."

The following year, on June 5, 1897 is mentioned that the city Board of Public Works recommended that the petition "from the Mateo-street and Santa Fé avenue horse-car line" asking for an ordinance legalizing the "straightening of the track."

If anyone has maps and interest, the 6/14/1897 piece gives this line's route as being from the Santa Fe depot south to Le Grande street, then east to Santa Fe avenue, then south to the city limits. That is a head scratcher, since the Santa Fe La Grande depot was on Santa Fe Avenue, but who knows what the streets did at that time, or what became of Le Grande Street. It also states that the line passed "the Southern California's roundhouse [?], the Los Angeles Rolling Mills, the Crystal Salt Works, the Ninth-street Oil Refinery, the Stimson lumber yards, the Union Oil Company, the Producers' Oil Company, and the city crematory."

There is information about the Mateo street line in which mentions in one place that its motive power was horses, and then says that the Los Angeles Railway acquired it in April,1901. It doesn't say whether it was horse-car, cable, or electric at that time, but a May 16, 1901 Times item talks about residents on Mateo between Le Grande Street and Palmetto wanting LARy to clean the street up, as the company tore it up and scattered dirt all over the street when they "electrized" the line. Did it remain horse-powered until 1901?

See, we're right back to the question we started with.

Paul Jackson

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