Monday, September 8, 2008

Los Angeles' 19th Century Railroad

Redwood beams from Los Angeles' Old River Station--our pre-1939 train station--have been unearthed, per this Daily Breeze article. The location is Spring Street, near Dodger Stadium. River Station was built in 1875 and the first steam engines to use the station arrived in Los Angeles via ship. (Phineas Banning had already built a short rail line from the harbor to downtown, about 22 miles long, so there were tracks for the new engines to ride)

Archaeologists have stumbled upon the remains of a roundhouse. For those non-parents who don't know their Thomas the Train icons as well as they should, a roundhouse is a building that faces a giant turntable. The roundhouse has multiple ports, or service bays, for train engines, and the turntable points those engines to the right service bay. This wonderful picture from Shorpy is of a roundhouse in Chicago in 1942. The service bays are filled with engines delivered by the turntable.

The redwood beams found in Los Angeles were actually part of the massive turntable. The Times has more information; they say that sonar imaging led archaeologists to the finds, which include artifacts from the roundhouse itself, and that finds were made in three locations.

The Times also points out that tracks existed at this spot as recently as the 1990s. The site used to be called the Cornfield but now known as Los Angeles State Historic Park, thanks to a 2001 purchase of the property by the state.

Incidentally, ERHA--The Electric Railway Historic Association of Southern California--hosts a fabu site of Los Angeles' 19th century railroad history. Anything you want to know--more than you want to know--they've got it covered. ERHA even sells coffee cups, mouse pads, bags, etc. with LARy (Los Angeles Railway) logos, here.

5 comments:

senorlargo said...

I don’t believe this article is entirely accurate. Prior to the opening of Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal in May of 1939, Los Angeles had THREE passenger stations none of which were the River Station.

Central Station owned by the Southern Pacific was the largest located at Fifth and Alameda Streets. Trains gained access to the station via tracks in Alameda Street. Trains from Northern California would enter Los Angeles through the so-called Cornfield Yards. Trains from Yuma and El Paso entered via North Main Street joining up with Alameda Street at Naud Junction (Alameda and Ord Streets). Prior to construction of Central Station, the Arcade Depot was located on the same site as Central Station.

Santa Fe’s architecturally stimulating station was located at First and Santa Fe Avenue. The Salt Lake Route’s rudimentary station was located on the east side of the Los Angeles River again at First Street.

River Station was primarily a freight station. However, in the early years there was a small round house and of course the freight yards now part of the state park. At one time there had been a passenger facility, hotel and a small restaurant. The original River Station was demolished in 1902 and replaced by a brick structure on the east side of San Fernando Street (North Spring). That building was immediately to the south of the famous foot bridge over the yard. The bridge linked North Spring with North Broadway.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe this article is entirely accurate. Prior to the opening of Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal in May of 1939, Los Angeles had THREE passenger stations none of which were the River Station.

Central Station owned by the Southern Pacific was the largest located at Fifth and Alameda Streets. Trains gained access to the station via tracks in Alameda Street. Trains from Northern California would enter Los Angeles through the so-called Cornfield Yards. Trains from Yuma and El Paso entered via North Main Street joining up with Alameda Street at Naud Junction (Alameda and Ord Streets). Prior to construction of Central Station, the Arcade Depot was located on the same site as Central Station.

Santa Fe's architecturally stimulating station was located at First and Santa Fe Avenue. The Salt Lake Route's rudimentary station was located on the east side of the Los Angeles River again at First Street.

River Station was primarily a freight station. However, in the early years there was a small round house and of course the freight yards now part of the state park. At one time there had been a passenger facility, hotel and a small restaurant. The original River Station was demolished in 1902 and replaced by a brick structure on the east side of San Fernando Street (North Spring). That building was immediately to the south of the famous foot bridge over the yard. The bridge linked North Spring with North Broadway.

Raphael Long

Vix said...

Wonderful information, and I thank you. I didn't mean to imply that River Station was the sole station, only that it was the first, dating back to the 1870s. But your data is far more comprehensive than either newspaper article.

Anonymous said...

The Southern Pacific River Station pre-dated its Arcade Station which pre-dated its Central Station. Union Pacific's Station burned and anticipating the yet to be built Union Station was given permission to build tracks to and use SP's Central Station. After Union Station was built, Central Station and Santa Fe's Station were razed.

Vix said...

Thank you for filling in that information!