Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Transportation in the San Fernando Valley started with dirt trails used by the Native Americ450px-el_camino_real_california_22ans in the Pre-Columbian era. These trails, such as the El Camino Real (currently the U.S. 101) were used from the 1600’s to mid 1800’s by the Spanish who set up missions, pueblos and presidios. The influx of the Anglos in the mid to late 1800’s came on the existing trails previously laid out by the Native Americans and the Spanish such as the Sepulveda Pass in the West and the Cahuenga Pass on the East portion of the San Fernando Valley. In 1889 Leland Stanford laid down his rails for the Southern Pacific Railroad through the SFV which aided the population boom and need for alternative transportation.


From 1900 to 1920 (prior to the popularity of the automobile), residents of the SFV used the “Red Car” system (Pacific Electric Railway) which was a mass transit system set up and privately owned by Henry Huntington. By 1911 the Pacific Electric became the largest operator of interurban electric railway passenger service in the world with over 1,000 miles of track. This electric rail also ran freight trains into the SFV providing industrial growth. By the early 1920’s, the popularity of the Red Car System declined when the affordability decreased and was converted to cheaper buses in 1925. Major Valley boulevards such as Lankersheim, Buena Vista, Sherman Way, and others served the increase in automobile traffic.



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Early modes of transportation into and out of this area began with the Native Americans traveling through the Cahuenga Pass. The Native Americans took the first Spanish Colonials through this pass in to what is now known as Encino. From here the pass developed into what was called the “King’s Highway.” This early highway ran from the southern Spanish Missions north linking each of the missions that were scattered across the Californian landscape (this is later to become the CA-101 freeway). The King’s Highway transforms throughout time, similar to many of the early Anglo trade routes which traversed through the state of California. Each transformation caters to the appropriate method of transportation within the era; from horse to rail, and eventually the automobile.

The first mechanical method of transportation to reach the San Fernando Valley was the Southern Pacific Railroad, later becoming the Southern Pacific Company (from 1885-1969). As the name shifted from Railroad to Company, the current president was Mr. Leland Stanford (part of the Big Four) Stanford plays an important role in establishing the railroad in the SFV. It started with a loan of sixty-thousand dollars given to a Mr. Charles Maclay in order to purchase a large portion of the northern San Fernando Valley in 1874 from Andreas Pico. Later, Maclay would be the first among the other initial buyers to subdivide his land for smaller plots of land to be developed into early residential subdivisions. After the loan was paid in full back to Stanford, he returned a favor by literally putting the SFV on the map. He placed a critical train stop in the heart of San Fernando allowing for the masses to come through this developing region. Currently the community has embraced this stop by centering a large commercial zone within the area. Prior to the automobile existed a network of streetcars or “Red Cars” that were short lived as affordability of the automobile began to rise in the 1920s. But, as you move down the rail today, outside the window you see a blur of headlights from the roads that line the track.

San Fernando Road, the road north before the CA 5 Freeway, travels alongside the track from Glendale to Sylmar. The car, working alongside the train in Southern California has helped shape the urban landscape we see around us today. Just as the Southern Pacific Railroad cut through the land from San Francisco to Los Angeles is 1876, the freeways cut through the existing fabric in the 1947 master plan.

It is 2008; all elements of major mass transit currently exist within San Fernando Valley. Moving from Bob Hope Airport (Burbank Airport) north you begin traveling along the railway, there are bike lanes, horses sometimes make their way down the street and often in the background you hear a plane soaring off to the small private airfield in Sun Valley. Not to mention, this entire time you are sitting behind the steering wheel as cars are in deadlock on the freeway. Transportation is a significant piece of the urban fabric within Southern California, how will we adapt the current condition to what is to be the next major technological advancement in the world of transit? In the foreseeable future, how will people in the SFV get from point A to point B and beyond?

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In Kenneth T. Jackson’s book Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, he discusses the importance of interstate highways and how they affected America and suburbanization. During the early 1940’s political lobbyists came together to form ARBA, the American Road Builders Association. Among these groups were large automobile companies like General Motors, and companies that varied from tire manufacturers to concrete companies. Any company that had the slightest interest in the interstate highway project joined this group to form one of the biggest political lobbyist groups and support highway building. This large group eventually pressured the government into passing the Interstate Highway Act in 1956 which would allow for 42,500 miles of highway to be built. At this time 75% of government spending was allocated for a highway system whereas only 1% for mass transit.

This marked the beginning of an important era; the automobile era. After World War II, car sales were rising at an incredible rate. Between 1950 and 1980 the population increased by 50% but automobiles increased by 200%. With such a large city, automobiles were becoming more popular than anywhere else in the nation. A citizen of Los Angeles was four times more likely to own a car than the national average. The automobile was becoming popular and would lead to mass highway transit systems and more concrete to be laid down for roads. Some think these trends accelerated the outward sprawl of commercial and industrial facilities throughout the San Fernando Valley. As cars became more accessible for the general public, they felt more comfortable moving further away from places of employment. More relevant, however, was the fact that downtown Los Angeles was not the central hub of the city anymore. Many people lived and worked in the Valley or commuted to locations away from Downtown, the central hub of the city’s public transportation system.

In the San Fernando Valley several major freeways were built. Currently they are the 101, 170, 5, 405, and now the 210. These freeways linked the Valley and provided a new type of unity based on car travel. They should be understood as one segment in a mix of industry, retail and homes that characterize the Valley’s post-WWII growth.

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The Southern Pacific line connects San Fernando and Los Angeles in 1874Robert M. Fogelson’s book, The Fragmented Metropolis, relates the evolution of Los Angeles between 1880 and 1930 through the themes of transportation, water, and real estate. In particular, this text shows how the development of railroads and the construction of the aqueduct from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles made possible the expansion of real estate in the San Fernando Valley.

Even though in the 1880’s, the demand for transportation in the Valley was low, individual entrepreneurs started to replace horse cars by cable or electric trains. Real estate promoters were the first to push the development of transportation, envisioning that a good transportation system would make the Valley more attractive to homebuyers and businesses. Thus, the two industries often worked hand in hand, and sometimes merged. Indeed, aware of the interdependence between the two, railroad entrepreneurs were developing lands surrounding their lines. Hence, when the Northern half of the Valley was for sale in 1872, one of the owners of the Southern Pacific line, Leland Stanford, and Charles Maclay, real estate developer, made a pledge: Maclay erected a town in the Valley, thanks to the money he borrowed from Stanford, and Stanford laid his Southern Pacific line through it. This is how Southern Pacific railroad facilitated San Fernando becoming the first town in the Valley. In the following years, the concurrence in the transportation became intense. Henry E. Huntington, Moses H. Sherman and Edward H. Harriman were the main players in the industry. As a result, by 1885 real estate subdivisions had transformed the landscape. Developers leveled the land, built roads and sidewalks, and brought gas, electricity and telephone connections. “Los Angeles Suburban Home Company” divides the Southern San Fernando Valley into towns, going so far as to develop religious institutions and schools. At the same time, the transportation and water industries also contributed to the emergence of Burbank and Glendale.

Initially, railroad companies were taking care of promoting the lands surrounding their lines because their success depended on the presence of population to transport in and out of the Valley. However, as Carey McWilliams points it out in the chapter “Years of the Boom”, from his book Southern California, An Island on the Land, during the boom of 1906 railroad companies step aside and the “Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce” created a few years before by General Harrison Grey Otis, took care of the advertisement of Southern California. In three years, the Chamber of Commerce distributed 2,000,000 pieces of literature through out the United States. It created “California on Wheels” a train that visits every city of the Southwest of California, and it organized exhibits for the World Fairs. Moreover, new selling techniques are used by promoters, such as Moses Sherman. While showing lots to potential buyers during their “Grand Excursions” they pretended that land in the Valley would soon become a rare resource by making them believe that a significant percentage of the lots were already sold and under construction. Thus, real estate in the San Fernando Valley was developed in two steps: the boom of 1880’s laid the infrastructures and created towns; but lands were mainly bought and houses constructed during the boom of 1906.Real estate advertising


Picture Sources:


Picture 1: The Southern Pacific line connects Los Angeles and San Fernando in 1874,  from The San Fernando Valley America’s Suburb by Kevin Roderick (38).

Picture 2: Advertising from Los Angeles Newspapers, from from The San Fernando Valley America’s Suburb by Kevin Roderick (79).

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