Posts tagged Monrovia

Sculpture and Plaque at former location of Pacific Electric Monrovia Station. Olive and Myrtle Avenues, Monrovia, CA. Image by Christina Lynch.

Sculpture and Plaque at former location of Pacific Electric Monrovia Station. Olive and Myrtle Avenues, Monrovia, CA. Image by Christina Lynch.

While exploring the town of Monrovia recently I found myself drawn to a sculpture anchoring the courtyard of a residential building. I was surprised to discover the artwork was created to commemorate the former location of the Pacific Electric Railway’s Monrovia Station. As a mass transit user, I was curious about this regional train line, enthused to learn that this former rail line was once the largest provider of inter-urban electric railway passenger service in the world.

The privately owned Pacific Electric Railway was begun in 1901 by railway executive Henry E. Huntington and banker Isaias W. Hellman. The railway would ultimately provide transit via buses, streetcars, and light-rail inter-urban cars. While freight lines were abundant, light rail electric and trolley lines for passengers – which Huntington had run in San Francisco – were less prevalent in Southern California, particularly outside city areas. In the pre-automobile era of the early 1900s, when most roads were unpaved and transportation was typically via horse, these light rail passenger lines were the most economical ways to connect outlying areas to city centers. In conjunction with Hellman, Southern California’s leading banker at the time, Huntington believed the time had come to begin building systems of light rail lines to connect outlying areas to Downtown Los Angeles.

The Pacific Electric Rail Logo. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Pacific Electric Rail Logo. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Huntington and Hellman’s motives were far from altruistic. With ample financial and political clout, a strong driver behind Hellman and Huntington’s desire to develop light rail lines was to offer (and provide) electricity and transportation to developing areas. In addition, these rail line owners also purchased land – either outright or with partners – surrounding property acquired for the right of way for rail lines.

Ultimately, Huntington and his partners came to own a significant amount of land holdings north, east and south of the city.

With the Pacific and Electric’s main terminal located at 6th and Main in Downtown Los Angeles, light rail lines were developed to extend service in all directions outside the city, ultimately forming four districts: the Eastern District (serving towns in Riverside and San Bernardino counties), Southern District (serving the Long Beach area and northern parts of Orange County), Western District (Hollywood, Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley area) and the Northern District, covering the San Gabriel Valley area. By the 1920s, this Southern California network of more than 2,100 daily trains utilized over 1,000 miles of tracks and was the largest electric railway system in the world.

The Pacific Electric Building in Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1909. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Pacific Electric Building in Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1909. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Completed in 1907, the Pacific Electric’s Monrovia-Glendora route serviced the San Gabriel Valley, with much of the rail line running along present day Huntington Drive. With 39 stops – including San Marino, Arcadia, Monrovia, and Glendora – the railway provided a vital link between cities and the growing countryside. Typical weekday service was a car every half-hour to Monrovia. The addition of two and three trains every ten or fifteen minutes was often provided to accommodate rush hours.

The arrival of the mass-produced car and then government funding of public road systems for the car ultimately doomed these inter-urban rail lines. While the Pacific Electric owned extensive private systems of rail beds, many of the rail lines where laid within city streets. As these urban streets and the suburban areas the rail lines helped develop, development began accommodating more and more space for cars, with conflicts rapidly developing. Fueled by the novelty of cars and the slowing of train running times due to at-grade crossings and heightened congestion as trains competed for roadway space with cars ridership flagged. The 1930s saw the rise of express roads and early freeway systems. While planners intended to include interurban tracks in the center of these highways in the Los Angeles area, the plan was never implemented. Most electric rail lines were gone by the 1930s, with only a few surviving into the 1950s.

On my daily commute today onboard the Metro Gold, Red, and Purple lines into DTLA, I’m thrilled to experience the rapidly growing ridership and appreciation of our mass transit systems. I’ve enjoyed overhearing fellow passengers marvel at the beauty of the surrounding San Gabriel mountains, or discuss the pleasure of stopping off mid-week in Old Town Pasadena, or to shop at the farmer’s market.

Yes, we grumble about over-packed commuter cars and delays in service. But more often, we share an appreciation of not having to be chained to our cars as we glide by a congested 210 Freeway. Ultimately, I believe commuting with my mostly unknown fellow mass-transit passengers provides a sense of community that sitting individually in a car never could, or can, provide.

SawPit Trail 1

Entrance to the Sawpit Wash Trail off Norumbega Road. All photos by Christina Lynch.

As I continue exploring my new hometown of Monrovia, I find myself drawn to places where the town’s urban fabric abuts against open and, yes, even wild spaces. As a longtime resident of the New York Metropolitan area, having weekend access to open space as a destination for decompression, contemplation, and re-connection with nature was critical to my well-being. Located in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest, I felt certain that opportunities for accessing ‘urban’ open space near and within Monrovia would be plentiful. Happily, I’ve not been disappointed.

In my ever widening exploration of neighboring blocks, I recently discovered the Sawpit Wash Trail. Crossing a ubiquitous channelized creek during an evening’s dusk, I was intrigued by the dim outline of what appeared to be a trail alongside the creek’s concrete span. A weekend exploration revealed the unexpected beauty of wildness of a ‘remnant’ space converted to a passive open-space corridor.

SawPit Trail 2JPGThe Sawpit Wash Trail is not glamorous or sophisticated. As an unimproved recreation area it is, however, a significant resource to urban centers in several ways. As a leftover space – strangely shaped, underused areas all too familiar in urban environments – these are the frequent byproducts of the interface between differing land-use zones. The infrastructure of the Sawpit Wash Trail is, similarly a legacy of  measures taken long ago by the Army Corp of Engineers, implemented to mitigate the detrimental effects of frequent flooding.

An end result of intersecting roads, rivers, streets, freeways, and railroad infrastructure, these lost spaces are often publicly accessible, and thereby provide a unique opportunity to link urban communities to pockets of open space.  Similarly, proximity to infrastructure often means an active presence of wildlife – fauna and flora – which use these as corridors to cross to larger open spaces.

The Sawpit Wash Trail links the town’s two heavily used parks:  Recreation Park and Monrovia’s Canyon Park – in a casual and indirect way.  Perhaps because of the dense housing surrounding the space, the trail provides a surprising sense of openness and wildness, all within a 30 foot wide ‘park’ system. Shade from the canopies of oaks frame inspirational views of mountains – Downtown Los Angeles seems decades away. Walkers, bikers, hikers, joggers, equestrian riders, deer, dogs, cats, coyotes, hawks, skunks, possums, bats, birds and – oh yes – the bear I saw Sunday morning, frequent the trail. And the interface of the right-of-way corridor with the adjoining backyards of the community provides an enthusiastic jumble and display of the resilience of plant material.

More and more, these underused spaces  designed and designated as dog or pocket parks – or left as passive spaces – are providing small, but significant open areas that activate and link urban communities.