Streetcars Paved the Way

SurveyLA is a process of locating and documenting the many historic resources that tell the story of the development ofLos Angeles. One way to understand the development of the city is through the routes of the streetcar lines that operated from the 1880s to 1950s. 

Developers, merchants, and tradespeople established ribbons of growth along the streetcar lines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the streetcars are long gone, these established paths persist today in new forms.  The widest, busiest, most heavily built-out and traveled boulevards in South Los Angeles today—Vermont, Normandie, King (Santa Barbara before 1983),Hoover,Manchester,Florence, Slauson, Pico—once contained streetcar tracks.

Recognizing the importance of the streetcars, the programmers of the mapping software we are using to conduct SurveyLA (known, almost affectionately, as the FiGSS, an acronym for Field Guide Survey System) included a GIS map layer that shows the historic locations of streetcar routes.  This helps SurveyLA team members match patterns of development to streetcar lines as they do their fieldwork around the city. 

FiGSS screenshot showing streetcar lines.

Architectural Resources Group, the SurveyLA team for this area of Los Angeles, spent an afternoon walking the commercial strip along Pico Boulevard from Normandie to Hoover, looking for historic resources that remain from the era of the Pico Heights streetcar line. Block after block of mixed-use, two-story masonry buildings dating from the 1920s and 1930s—typically retail on the ground floor and residential or office space on the second floor—are still in use today.

A few of the many two-story mixed-use buildings lining Pico Boulevard

Expansive intersections of even more intense development occasionally punctuate Pico. At these nodes, the corners of buildings are often beveled or rounded.

Today a major bus transfer point, the crossroads at Pico and Vermont once accommodated two major streetcar lines, the P and the V.

The streetcars allowed people to commute downtown from lower density, single-family suburbs. Early subdividers would establish neighborhoods close to commercial corridors with streetcar lines.  We found many residential subdivisions that were desirable to potential homeowners for their proximity to the streetcar lines.

Not far south of Pico is the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, where history is literally legible. The familiar names of local developers, such as Wilcox, Banning, Burbank, and Glassell, are engraved in headstones and an impressive pyramid-shaped crypt is inscribed “Shatto,” a name that we see on businesses all over town.  One of the first landscaped cemeteries in Los Angeles, Rosedale Cemetery, is already designated a Los AngelesHistoric-CulturalMonument.  These park-like lands were considered destinations for people in the late-19th and early-20th centuries and, at that time, the cemetery was easily accessed by streetcar. 

Dickson Monument at Rosedale.

While sitting on the calm, quiet lawn under the Chinese willows at the cemetery as we ate our lunches, we thought about Angelenos a century ago who must have used the network of streetcars along Pico, Vermont, and Washington to reach the lush grounds to take respite from the city, much as we were doing during that day.

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2 Responses to Streetcars Paved the Way

  1. dshatto says:

    I definitely want to see the ‘impressive pyramid-shaped crypt” inscribed “Shatto“ someday! I’d like to learn about his contribution to LA’s development. Do you know of any historical resources about George Shatto? Are his archives kept by some LA institution?

  2. SurveyLA says:

    Hi dshatto,

    The LA Public Library could be a good place to start your research. Their online photo collection has some images of a Victorian home of George Shatto’s if you search for his name (http://photos.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/photosearch_pageADV.jsp). Also, anyone with an LA library card can get access to their online ProQuest Newsstand database, which lets you search through old newspapers (http://databases.lapl.org/#p). He bought Catalina Island at one point so he definitely shows up in the press.

    If you would like further resources, feel free to call the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources at (213) 978-1200.

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