Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, April 29, 2010


Page 11



Automobile Club Calls Halt to Road-Building Effort




A Dec. 6, 1903, article in the Los Angeles Times bears the headline, “NEW DEL REY ROAD A SURE THING.”

The Automobile Club of Southern California did, in fact, commence construction in 1904 of a 7-mile road from Palms to Playa del Rey, alongside trolley tracks. It was to be a public road, which the club could close off now and then to use for races.

The first 3-mile segment was installed, but there was a snag, as mentioned last week. The contractor had skimped. The road wasn’t as wide as it was supposed to be and was riddled with holes.

Auto Club President Milbank Johnson, First Vice President Frank A. Garbutt, Second VP Herbert Cutler Brown, and Secretary A.P. Fleming inspected the roadway and determined that the first installment on the contract price would not be paid.

A Nov. 1, 1904, Times story on that decision mentions a flaw not attributable to the contractor:

“As the road has progressed many have contended that the grade would have to be raised to the level of the parallel railroad grade to escape inundation during winter rains; but this would mean such an added expense that the committee, it is understood, will accept the road without considering the grade, when the glaring defects noted by the inspectors yesterday are remedied.”

Those “glaring defects” apparently were remedied because the work proceeded…but there was a further set-back. The prospect pointed to in the Times articles of flooding from rains did occur, and doubt arose as to whether work should continue.

In the Los Angeles Herald’s Feb. 8, 1905, edition, this is told:

“At a meeting of the board of directors of the Automobile club of Southern California held last evening to consider future plans in connection with the Playa del Rey speed way now under construction, it was decided to appoint a committee to go over the road today and learn whether, it has been irreparably damaged by the recent floods. Nearly the entire speedway has been under water for several days and it is feared that it has been seriously damaged. Some of the club members are of, the opinion that it would be wise to abandon the construction of the road but the general sentiment is in favor of continuing the project to a successful conclusion.”

There had been grumbling among members before the road construction started, and it was persisting.

A Feb. 9 article in the Herald reports:

“While there is a lack of unanimity among the members of the club as to the advisability of continuing work on the speedway the majority are of the opinion that it would be to the best interests of automobiling in the southern portion of the state if the roadway is completed as planned. The board of directors have determined to push the project to a successful conclusion and are confident that they will succeed. Nothing more than ‘passive resistance’ exists, however, merely a skepticism in some quarters as to whether the road will ever be completed.”

Well, it wasn’t. Opposition mounted. A July 30, 1905, Times story tells of dissension among members over various aspects of the club operations, the “Del Rey road scheme” being a matter upon which “a little less than half the membership feel unfairly treated.”

A Times article on Oct. 22, 1905, says:

“Another good-sized row is breeding in the Automobile Club of Southern California, that storm center of teapot tempests.

“The present casus belli [cause of war] is the returning of the Del Rey road subscriptions which was started a few weeks ago by the officers for reasons that are none too clear to some who feel that the club pledged itself to completion of the work, and is throwing down its word by quitting at this stage of the game.”

A 1906 classified ad in that newspaper reflects the existence of Del Rey Boulevard along the railway tracks. That boulevard (from Palms to Playa del Rey) was later renamed Culver Boulevard, and still exists. It seems reasonable to suppose that the Auto Club’s partially built road was utilized in creating Del Rey Boulevard.

But that is merely supposition. Matt Roth, historian for the Auto Club, says he has no “direct evidence” one way or the other, and admonishes that “it is very iffy to relate the routes of current roads to historic ones based on names and general directions.”

Roth remarks that the effort to build a road “was a unique episode in the history of the Auto Club,” one which “precipitated an internal debate over the nature of the organization.” In the next column, I’ll look at how the club changed.


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