Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 1, 2007


Page 15



1896: Second and Spring Is Hub of Transit Network




In the heyday of the Roman Empire, it was said that “all roads lead to Rome.” There was a time in Los Angeles’s history when virtually all “electric roads,” as street car tracks were called, led to or quite near to Second and Spring Streets in downtown Los Angeles.

 “As far as street-car service goes, Second and Spring Streets is the center of town,” a July 16, 1896 article in the Times notes. “The cars of almost every line in the city pass within a block of that corner.”

It was nine days after that item appeared that Norwegian immigrant Hans Jevne made the long-planned move of his fashionable supermarket to the first floor of the southern end of the Wilcox Building, a gray sandstone structure on the southeast corner of Second and Spring streets. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the offices of this newspaper are now in the space that once housed H. Jevne Co.

By the time Jevne set up shop there, battalions of public transit cars attached to overhead electrified wires were traveling north and south on Spring, east and west on Second.

The Times’s edition of Jan. 3, 1896 quotes a conductor on an eastbound street car as calling out: “Second and Spring! Change cars for University, the Arcade depot and East Los Angeles.”

The University Station was to the south, at 43rd Street and Vermont Avenue, near USC. A Jan. 9, 1896 California Supreme Court decision advises that the area surrounding USC was “a suburb of Los Angeles, known as ‘University,’” that the average speed of the rail cars was 10 m.p.h., and that the line was used by “passengers going out to the race track.” The track was in “Agricultural Park” which in 1910 was re-dubbed “Exposition Park.”

The Arcade Depot, to the south-east, was the Southern Pacific train station on Alameda between Fourth and Sixth. (Fifth and Central were at about the mid-point of the depot, on its west end.) Passengers arriving on Santa Fe trains would disembark at the La Grande Station at Second and Santa Fe (a point just east of what is now Little Tokyo). Their electric railway car to Second and Spring followed a route which, according to a May 10, 1897, article in the Times, took 10 minutes to traverse. Jevne’s, the premier market west of the Mississippi, offered goods, including delicacies from abroad, not readily available in other parts of California, or other western states. Passengers arriving in the city on the steam-powered trains could get to Jevne’s on the electric street car, pick out supplies for the next several months, and have them shipped via freight trains.

Eastbound passengers stopping at Second and Spring would have to walk a block north to First Street to take a car to East Los Angeles. The end of the line was, eerily, a cemetery: Evergreen Cemetery, flanked by what is now Cesar E. Chavez Ave. on the north and First Street on the south. Jevne came to be buried there (as did a Spring Street rival, George Ralphs, founder of the Ralphs chain, and numerous early civic leaders).

Jevne was thus able to attract customers from the USC area and East Los Angeles. That was only part of the draw. The conductor who was quoted in the Times as announcing the approach to Second and Spring was on a line originating in what was then the far western reaches of the city: Westlake Park (now McArthur Park) at Seventh and Alvarado Streets.

The year before Jevne’s July 25, 1896 move to the Wilcox Building, a line was installed from Fourth and Spring to Fair Oaks and Chestnut in Pasadena, and less than three months before Jevne’s relocation, a line from Fourth and Spring to Santa Monica was inaugurated.

There was a myriad of private streetcar franchises; some provided smooth service, others bumpy, some fast, others slow. While electric transit predominated, cars on some lines were still yanked by cables, and a few pulled by horses. There were buy-outs and mergers of transit companies, failures, successes.

Next week: more about the electric cars.


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