Landmarks and Survey Work along the Expo Line

By David J. Barboza

The University of Southern California University Park Campus with an Expo train in foreground. Author’s photo.

This April, Los Angeles and Culver City saw the debut of the first passenger rail line to strike out to the Westside since the 1950s. The Expo Line’s first phase is 8.6 miles long and includes 10 new stations (see the route map below) as it winds its way south from Downtown, around USC and out to parts west. A second phase projected to open as early as 2015 will continue through West LA and Santa Monica, ending walking distance from the Santa Monica pier.

The route of the Expo Line’s first phase. Image: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

When it comes to transit lines in Los Angeles, what seems new often draws heavily on the past. In a piece called “Rail Returns to the Westside”, which appeared on KCET’s website in April, Nathan Masters gives an interesting primer on the history of the right of way that now hosts much of the Expo Line’s current route. The Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, which began service in 1875, was the first rail link between Downtown LA and the Westside. It was built by Silver baron and real estate developer John P. Jones to promote the budding town that we now know as Santa Monica. Facing financial trouble, Jones was forced to sell the line to the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1877 . The Southern Pacific had built the first transcontinental rail connection to LA in 1876, in effect putting the tiny pueblo on the map and sparking a huge population boom in the LA basin. In 1908, electric streetcars took over for the original steam locomotives and the route was re-named the Santa Monica Air Line. By the 1920s, service had declined to a single passenger car per day as other routes eclipsed the Air Line, and the last passenger service on the line was abandoned in 1953.

The Expo Line runs through several Community Plan Areas that SurveyLA decided to tackle towards the beginning of our survey work (in Phase 1). As a result, it might seem as if we don’t need to know much more about these areas for the survey. However, that is not the case. The first reason why is that not all Phase 1 surveys are complete yet. Another reason is that SurveyLA is saving the City’s industrial areas for last (Phase 3, beginning in 2013). As we will see below, the Expo line has several stops adjacent to industrial areas that SurveyLA has not examined yet. Click here for the SurveyLA phasing plan map.

What follows is a guide to the Expo Line as built which focuses on historic landmarks within a three-block walk of each station and points out the close-by industrial areas that SurveyLA has not started examining yet. To look up the address of any LA City Landmark please click here.

7th St. Metro Center Station

Central City Community Plan Area (CPA)

The Barker Brothers Building (HCM #356). Photo: Office of Historic Resources.

This underground station serves the heart of Downtown LA. This area is densely built and dense with historic resources as well, too many to list in a short blog post. The most immediately adjacent resources are the Roosevelt Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NR), the Fine Arts Building, which is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM #125), Engine Company No. 28 (NR), and the Barker Brothers Building (HCM #356).

Pico Station

Central City CPA

Pico Station is a few blocks away from the 1925 Petroleum Building (HCM #596) which is currently juxtaposed with LA Live, producing a sharp contrast in both building age and architectural style, a block to the west. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner Building Annex (NR) is also nearby.

23rd St. Station

Southeast Los Angeles CPA

The Stimson House (HCM #212). Photo: Office of Historic Resources.

This station is just steps away from the University Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ, i.e. a LA City Historic District) in which many Queen Anne, later Craftsman, Spanish Colonial Revival and American Colonial Revival homes can be found. The Michael J. Connell Carriage House (HCM #779) is nearby as is the Stimson House (HCM #212) and the Oliver G. Posey – Edward L. Doheny Residence (HCM #30). There is industrial land adjacent to this station.

Jefferson/USC Station

Southeast Los Angeles CPA

Continuing along, this station is close to the Al Malaikah Temple, popularly known as the Shrine Auditorium. The Shrine has hosted a variety of awards shows and performers over the years from the Grammys to Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson. The Temple, finished in 1888, was built for the Shrine fraternity (think red fez hats). There is industrial land adjacent to this station.

Expo Park/USC Station

South Los Angeles CPA

One highlight here is Widney Hall, the original building of the USC campus, built in 1880 and relocated three times since, and currently used for the Alumni Association. It is a California Historical Lanmark (CL). The Exposition Park Rose Garden (NR) is also not to be missed, and it is quite hard to miss directly south of the station.

Expo/Vermont Station

South Los Angeles CPA

This station has convenient access to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NR), the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (CL) used in the 1932 Olympics and home of Trojan football, and the Masjid Omar ibn al-Kattab mosque, complete with dome and minaret, and no historic designations.

Expo/Western Station

South Los Angeles CPA

This station is close to the Betty Hill House (HCM #791). Betty Hill (1890-1960) gained notoriety as a leader in the struggles for racial and gender equality. As you head west to the Expo/Crenshaw station you pass by the Jefferson Park HPOZ, an early streetcar suburb and treasure trove of Craftsman bungalows, immediately to the north, although this walk is longer than three blocks from either station.

Expo/Crenshaw Station

West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert CPA

Holiday Bowl (HCM #688). Photo: Office of Historic Resources.

Holiday Bowl (HCM #688) is close to this station. It is a great example of Googie architecture and is also significant for being built by Japanese Americans after Internment and fostering the integration of Los Angeles by serving a multi-racial clientele. There is industrial land adjacent to this station.

Farmdale Station

West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert CPA

There are no nearby designated historic resources here, and the station is not scheduled to open until this summer. There is industrial land adjacent to the station.

Expo/La Brea Station

West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert CPA

Baldwin Hills Village (NR) is close to this station. Also known as Village Green, the site is significant as an application of the Radburn Plan and Garden City planning principles. There is also industrial land adjacent to this station.

La Cienega/Jefferson Station

West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert CPA

View to the north from the La Cienega/Jefferson Station. Author’s Photo.

The Collins Furthman Mansion (HCM #502) is close to this station. There is industrial land adjacent to this station as well.

Culver City Station

Last stop for now. Author’s photo.

This station is slated to open this summer. Also, as the name suggests, it is in Culver City and thus outside the geographic scope of SurveyLA. However, it is close to the City of LA boundary and a short walk away from the Los Angeles Pacific Company Ivy Park Substation (NR). The Substation was originally part of the Air Line’s electric infrastructure. It currently houses The Actor’s Gang theater company, and nicely complements the edge of a park and Downtown Culver City.

The Expo Line and its station areas are clearly rich in history in terms of designated historic resources. There may also be nearby resources we don’t know about yet. Don’t forget to let us know at MyHistoricLA.org if you find any hidden gems!

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