In Which a Ghostly Visitor Returns


March 15, 2007
Los Angeles

“Well, dear boy, I suppose you thought you were through.â€Â

“Yes, I did.â€Â

“And?â€Â

“Good grief! Do you see this bridge over the Gold Line? It looks like it’s held up with hairpins and spit!â€Â

“Saliva, dear boy. And what is the Gold Line?â€Â

“Well, it’s sort of a streetcar, except it doesn’t run on the street.â€Â

She leaned back in her ghostly chair. “And what did you think of our little year?â€Â

“I was quite wrong, wasn’t I?â€Â

She merely nodded.

“You could have at least told me.â€Â

“Dear boy, you needed to find out for yourself.â€Â

“OK, so there were movie theaters in Los Angeles.â€Â

“Yes.â€Â

“And there were comics in the paper.â€Â

“Little Nemo is one of my favorites.â€Â

“I couldn’t believe all the domestic violence. Awful stuff.â€Â

“It was terrible,â€Â she said.

“And getting a divorce was so difficult.â€Â

“That was horrible,â€Â she said.

“And the rotten doctors, the fakes and charlatans, dirty restaurants, the drinking and alcoholism. The exploding gasoline stoves.â€Â

“Well,â€Â she said chidingly, “you didn’t write very much about people who were nice. You newspaper folks never do.â€Â

“Most of all, we haven’t changed very much, have we? I mean, look at our problems with transportation… with sanitation… with growth… with housing… immigration… ethnic discrimination… education… polluting the ocean. A century later, the Police Department is still pleading for more officers. It’s the same story, with different details, that we had in 1947.â€Â

“And why do you think that is?â€Â

“Ma’am, that’s a short question with a long answer. You could tell me, couldn’t you?â€Â

“I could.â€Â

“But you’re not going to, because I have to figure it out for myself, is that it?â€Â

She nodded.

“I’ll miss all of you so much.â€Â

“You know where to find us,â€Â she said.

“Was it a kinder, simpler time?â€Â I asked.

“Maybe in some ways, but mostly no.â€Â And then she paused for a moment. “Go take a picture of your bridge. It hasn’t fallen down yet, has it?â€Â

“Nope, it’s still there. Or at least some bridge is still there.â€Â

I didn’t know what else to say: “Thanks for everything.â€Â

“You are most welcome. And thank you.â€Â

And then she was gone.

Lmharnisch.com
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Stuck Fast


Jan. 30, 1907
Los Angeles

Recent rains have left the city’s streets in terrible shape, as The Times shows in a photo taken at 1st Street and Spring.

This wagon, pulled by a strong team, plunged up to its hubs in one of the potholes and the horses were unable to free it. “Under the whip and vociferous admonitions of their driver, they were helpless to pull it out from the stinking muck in which, hub deep, it stood,â€Â The Times says.

The driver abandoned the wagon, The Times says, posing an obstacle to other traffic.

“Street conditions in Los Angeles never were so bad as they are today under our new-fangled, high-salaried and pompous Board of Public Works. When we had a street superintendent it was sometimes possible to ‘get a move on,’ â€Â The Times says.

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Why Doesn’t L.A. Do Something About Traffic?

Jan. 27, 1907
Los Angeles

One thing you can say about Angelenos: We love to talk about traffic. The only thing we love more is to commission studies and draft plans to deal with the problem, and then ignore them.

“With the wonderful growth of Los Angeles as a great city has come to it many problems to be solved. The Owens River and the system of storm drains underway are the solutions of two important ones,â€Â The Times says.

A traffic jam in 1907

“But now the city is face to face with another important problem, that of the congestion of its streets in the business section, especially by the electric car traffic, which at certain times of the day causes blockades, loss of time to thousands, loss of business to merchants and discomfort to the public.â€Â

Now this is painful reading:

“This problem of transportation will grow in importance every year during which it is neglected. Swift as has been the extension and shifting of lines of the great electric railway system in and about Los Angeles, the city has grown with still greater rapidity.â€Â

The elevated train proposed for Los Angeles and never built.

The Times says Henry Huntington plans to build an experimental elevated line from the Pacific Electric Building south on Tennessee with the idea of eventually linking to the beach cities.

“To ride on such a railway, above the smells and dust of the streets, will some day be a delight to the citizens of Los Angeles, if ideas now if the mind of the great railroad builder are carried out.â€Â

Sixty years ago, we again failed to address the problem of transportation, from the blog’s archives for September 1947:

Someday an inquisitive person studying the history of transportation and urban planning will tell the world exactly what became of Los Angeles’ 1947 blueprint for dealing with transit problems. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for the knowledge that at least they made a valiant effort. They certainly knew what was coming—without much argument, you could call them futurists.

A committee sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce spent 19 months studying transportation issues and warned that someday Los Angeles would have a population of 5 million (the 2000 population of Los Angeles County was 9,519,338, with 3,694,820 for the city of L.A.).

“High-speed rail transit arteries plus a system of downtown subways alone can save Los Angeles from disintegration into a hodge-podge of unconnected municipalities,â€Â The Times said in quoting the project’s advocates.

“Crux of this preliminary proposal lies in the immediate revamping of express highway projects (today we call them freeways) to include ‘center strip’ tracks capable of whisking trains at 35 to 50 mph.

“These cars, pouring millions of commuters daily into metropolitan Los Angeles, would unload at special downtown stations whence passengers would be shuttled to local destinations by subways tentatively scheduled under Broadway and Spring Street.

“The master plan envisions center strip tracks on the Hollywood, Santa Monica, Olympic, Inglewood, Harbor and East Bypass Freeways.â€Â

The Times notes: “Eventually the master plan would integrate all forms of mass transportation, including operation of rubber-tired vehicles on certain expressways not immediately requiring trains.â€Â

A quick search through Proquest isn’t helpful in determining the project’s fate. William Jeffers, the former Union Pacific railroad president who was to be a consultant on the project, is quoted in 1948 calling for approval of a rapid transit district.

Of course there was a competing proposal. The 1948 Babcock plan, named for consulting engineer Henry A. Babcock, who envisioned a 650-mile subway system at a cost of $1,100,000,000 ($10,410,604,566.50 USD 2005). While there were arguments between the two factions, in the end, neither plan was adopted, as any Los Angeles driver knows.

The original story reveals some obvious clues as to why: The Inglewood, Olympic and East Bypass Freeways aren’t familiar names these days. One could paper the dining room with Times maps of various freeway routes that were never built. (In simple terms, the Santa Monica Freeway was originally envisioned much farther north. To the south, the Olympic Freeway was to go from the Harbor Freeway to Venice and the Inglewood Freeway was to go from the Harbor Freeway to Sepulveda).

And there are other stories in the same issue that offer more hints: A huge petition drive led by Ted Meltzer, publisher of the South Side Journal, against building the Harbor Freeway between Broadway and Figueroa. “Homeowners in an area bounded by 23rd Street and Imperial Boulevard claim that several thousand homes in the built-up area would be destroyed and ask that the project be either abandoned or postponed,â€Â The Times said. And an adjoining story reports on a seven-month investigation of graft and conspiracy in acquiring property for the Hollywood Freeway.

But it is gratifying when wondering what became of the 1947 plan to remember that the new Gold Line tracks run between lanes of the Foothill Freeway. Some things just take time.

Bonus factoid: The Harbor Freeway was realigned to spare the Auto Club headquarters on South Figueroa and USC’s Fraternity Row.

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If They Had Only Known

Jan. 21, 1907
Los Angeles

Mayor Arthur C. Harper addressed the crowd for a moment, reminiscing about a teacher who used to tell his pupils that someday, long after he was gone, people would get around Los Angeles in self-propelled vehicles.

And with that, Harper threw the switch, illuminating 10,000 electric lights at Morley’s Skating Rink on Grand between 9th and 10th Streets and beginning the insanity, formally unveiling the automobile in the first car show not only in Los Angeles, but on the West Coast.

More than 3,000 people poured through the exhibits in the first three hours of the show, which featured 97 gas-powered autos and two electric cars, as well as all manner of accessories such as odometers, speedometers, dashboard clocks and gas lamps. There was a personal appearance by Barney Oldfield with his famous “Green Dragonâ€Â racecar.

Not all of the exhibitors arrived in time for the opening night. The railroad car carrying the shipment of Pope-Toledos caught fire near Barstow and the Ford was delayed, although Henry Ford did attend the show, The Times says.

Great preparations had been made to display the vehicles: 9th and 10th Streets, as yet unpaved, were muddy from recent storms, but Grand was cleared of mud and a wooden causeway was built to the entrance. The Times notes that a canopy had been erected for people arriving in carriages.

The autos’ technical innovations were breathtaking: “At the space of the White garage a constant crowd looked over the Christman, a car built for the hardest kind of place, the desert,â€Â The Times says. “The car is built for carrying passengers over no roads at all, for jumping off rocks and climbing over gullies and generally being abused.

“The Christman is a large, heavy, rugged-looking machine, with broad tread, large wheels and a body fitted with three seats, like an old-fashioned buckboard. Its frame is built like a railroad car, with truss rod underneath. In front is the motor, a Brennan double-opposed rated at 40 horsepower. This size is used in the car on exhibition, but the next ones turned out with have a 60 horsepower motor, capable of taking them anywhere.

“A peculiar system of individual clutch transmission is used, which has been changed a little since the first car was made. Formerly the car had no reverse and when Christman wanted to turn the machine around in the narrow streets of Goldfield he rushed at the curb, hit and bounced back and then continued the operation until he had bounced himself around.

“This operation seemed to have no deleterious effect on the car, but it was thought better to have a reverse as the method was rather strenuous on the passengers.â€Â

There were many questions and after a few days, salesmen became exhausted from explaining why a car engine needs pistons and why a manufacturer can’t leave off the differential to save weight. The show was extended because of its popularity, and was forced to close in part because most of the exhibition cars had been sold.

If anyone asked about mass transit, pollution or traffic, the comments were not recorded. No, the first thing people did when they got hold of their cars was to see how fast they could go.

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Number-Crunching the Horseless Carriage


July 1, 1907
Los Angeles

If you ever wondered if the Locomobile or Pope-Hartford got great gas mileage, the answer is no, as shown in the results of the 185-mile Lakeside Endurance Race. In cost and fuel efficiency, the 1907 automobiles were about the equivalent of a 2006 Ford Explorer (MSRP $31,650) or a Range Rover Sport (MSRP $56,085-$69,025).

The car with the best gas mileage in the economy competition was the Pope-Hartford, 8

Runaway Flats


Water is not the only thing that flows downhill, as switchmen at the downtown Southern Pacific freight yard discovered when two runaway flatcars made a 13-mile trip from the San Fernando Valley in 10 minutes.

Although the runaway cars sent people scrambling as they crossed the tracks, there were no trains running at the time, so a serious accident was avoided.

The flatcars, part of a gravel-hauling operation in Roscoe [Sun Valley], inexplicably came loose and had a four-mile downhill start before blazing through the Burbank station. The Burbank operator sent warning ahead that he saw something rip past