By Franklyn HoytLos Angeles and Pacific Railway Company Receiver's Certificate
In 1885 Dr. Sketchley built an ostrich farm along the banks of the Los Angeles River near where Griffith Park is now located. On Sunday and holidays, crowds of Angelenos rode the Temple Street cable cars to the end of the line, and then transferred to horse‑drawn coaches which took them to see the strange birds. About a year later a group of property owners near the ostrich farm incorporated the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm Railway Company to take the place of the slow carriages. President and leading promoter of this railroad was Moses L. Wicks, a Los Angeles attorney who was speculating in real estate.1
The Ostrich Farm Railway asked the Los Angeles City Council to grant a franchise allowing the railroad to operate from the neighborhood of Sisters’ Hospital to the city limits. In November, 1886, permission was given to build a rail line from “a point in Bellevue avenue where it intersects with the west line of Upper Main street,” north to the city limits.2
This ordinance specified that the cars were to be “run or propelled from the place of beginning to Elysian Park avenue by horses and electricity, two horses or two mules to each car;” the remainder of the way the cars were to be run by steam or electricity. The railroad was forbidden to charge more than five cents inside the city limits, and children under eighteen who were going or coming from school were to be charged half fare.3
Before the Ostrich Farm Railway was completed, it was absorbed by the Los Angeles County Railway Company; the exact date of this merger is not known. It must have been sometime before March 10, 1887, because an agreement recorded on that date mentions a railroad “then known as the Ostrich Farm Street Railway,” and now owned by the Los Angeles County Railroad.
This agreement, between the Los Angeles County Railroad and sixteen property owners along the route of the Ostrich Farm Railway, provided:
that the railroad East and South of the junction or “Y” in the North‑West corner of the City of Los Angeles, shall be used exclusively as a passenger railroad, and that no use of the same shall be inconsistent with its most efficient use as such street railway, and especially that no freight shall be carried over the said road other than such light freight as may be carried in the baggage cars attached to passenger cars, not to exceed one to each train train.4
First president of the Los Angeles County Railroad was Moses L. Wicks; other directors of the company were R. C. Shaw, superintendent and one‑fourth owner; S. P. Rees, secretary; I. S. Miller; S. W. Luitweiler, J. W. Wolfskill, E. C. Burlingame, F. C. Garbutt, and Ex‑Senator Cole. Sometime during 1888 Wicks resigned, and E. E. Hall succeeded him as president; Luitweiler then became vice‑president.5
The new company made plans to extend the Ostrich Farm Railway to Burbank, and build the Los Angeles County Railroad from its junction with the Burbank line westward to Santa Monica. Securing a right‑of‑way to Santa Monica was easy, because most of the land was still in large ranchos. Four deeds, recorded between August, 1887, and December, 1888, gave the railroad a continuous right-of‑way from Los Angeles city limits to the ocean.
In August, 1887, the Santa Monica Land and Water Company gave the railroad a right‑of‑way through the town of Sunset. In June, 1888, John P. Jones and Arcadia Bandini de Baker donated a fifty‑foot right‑of‑way through the 30,000‑acre Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica. Also in June, John Hancock sold a thirty‑three-foot right‑of‑way through Rancho La Brea for $200 per acre and construction of "a good and substantial fence" along the right‑of‑way. The following December, Henry Hammel and A. H. Denker gave the railroad a thirty‑foot right‑of‑way over the Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, in return for ten‑year passes on the railroad and a promise to build a depot and two flag‑stops on the ranch.6
Late in September, 1887, the Tribune wrote that the Los Angeles County Railroad would be completed to Santa Monica in about thirty days. Three months later this same newspaper said that work of grading a street car line on Bellevue Avenue was going ahead, and that soon a passenger would be able to leave the center of Los Angeles and by transferring go straight through to Santa Monica for one fare.7
On New Year’s Day, 1888, the Tribune reported that on the previous day Superintendent Shaw had proudly
pulled open the throttle valve of the new 28‑gauge locomotive upon its pioneer trip over the new broad gauge railroad which starts from the Sisters’ Hospital and is now built to the ostrich farm, a distance of seven miles. The road is a private enterprise carried forward by the Los Angeles County Railroad Company . . . . From the Sisters’ Hospital to the city limits the distance is about two miles. At this point the junction of the Santa Monica and Ostrich Farm roads is reached.
Nine months later the line to Santa Monica was still not completed, although the ostrich farm branch was in operation for “a distance of eight miles, and work is being actively pushed on the remaining portion.” The first passenger train did not reach Santa Monica until the last of January, 1889. In the meantime the Los Angeles County Railroad had been absorbed by the Los Angeles and Pacific Railroad.8
In September, 1888, the Ostrich Farm Railroad and the Los Angeles County Railroad were consolidated under the name of the Los Angeles and Pacific Railway Company. The capital stock of this new company was set at $2,160,000 “for the purpose of further extending the road from the ostrich farm and Burbank to Pasadena and Hueneme) and for the building of a belt line road west and south of Los Angeles.”9
According to a report made to the California Railroad Commission, the railroad reached the ostrich farm September 24, 1888, was completed to Burbank May 31, 1889. Time tables announced that three trains would leave for Santa Monica on week days and five on Sundays. Five trains per day were operated over the “Burbank Division,” and this was increased to six on Sundays. Three of the Sunday trains were special trains operating only to the ostrich farm. At the bottom of the table there was a note stating that “all trains stop at Ostrich Farm and Soldiers’ Home.”10
The railroad was losing considerable revenue because its depot was four miles from the center of Los Angeles. In April, 1889, the Express said that the “present plan” was to extend the line down Bellevue Avenue from the Sisters’ Hospital to the vicinity of the Plaza.11 The following September, the City Council voted to grant the railroad a right‑of‑way which circled north of new Chinatown, then south along New High Street to Bellevue Avenue where a new depot was to be built about a quarter of a mile north of the Plaza. Only a week after this ordinance was passed by the City Council, the railroad was thrown into receivership and was never able to build into the center of Los Angeles.12
The Los Angeles and Pacific Railroad gambled its future on the real estate boom; when this bubble burst it was left with a poorly constructed railway serving the virtual ghost towns of Sunset, Burbank, Cahuenga, Ivanhoe, and Kenilworth.
In August, 1887, the railroad had completed a deal which made it a partner of the Santa Monica Land and Water Company, a company having extensive real estate holdings near where Beverly Hills and Hollywood were later built. The railroad agreed to build a railroad from Los Angeles to Santa Monica in return for eight hundred lots in the “Town of Sun Set,” a right‑of‑way thirty feet wide across the Rancho San Jose de Ayres, and a one‑hundred‑foot right-of‑way “through said Townsite as now surveyed.” The railroad further agreed to “pay half of the expenses of grading streets, laying side walks, and piping water through the southerly 387 acres of the town site.”13
One month later the Los Angeles County Railroad Company bought eighteen lots in the Johannsen tract, near the corner of Vermont Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, from Moses Wicks for $4,677. This was slightly more than $250 per lot, a bargain today, but probably ten times what they were worth three years later.14
The report made to the California Railroad Commission stated that the Los Angeles and Pacific Railroad Company had only twelve miles of railway in operation during 1888: the Los Angeles County Railroad from Los Angeles to the ostrich farm, eight miles; and the Los Angeles and Pacific Railway from the ostrich farm to Burbank, four miles. This same report revealed that the company had six employees: two engineers, two firemen, and two conducters(sic). Twenty‑one pieces of rolling stock were owned by the railroad, including four locomotives, twelve passenger cars, and five flat cars.
Gross earnings for the year were $11,628, operating expenses were $13,646, and the “interest and discount on floating debt” were an additional $1,734. Net loss for the year was $3,752. At the bottom of the report was a note stating that our business has been so small thus far that it has not justified the expenditure of any money for extra clerical labor in compiling statistics.”15
During the spring of 1889, the railroad continued to lose money, and in March, R. R. Brown filed suit to collect money due him. During the next two years more than twenty suits were filed by various creditors. Typical of these suits was one for $8,708 filed by the Black Diamond Coal Company of Los Angeles. Unable to pay cash for its coal, the railroad had signed notes bearing interest at the rate of one per cent a month, compounded monthly.16
In connection with this suit, the sheriff of Los Angeles County was ordered to make a detailed inventory of all property owned by the railroad. According to this inventory, the railway owned the following stock in August, 1889: four engines, six passenger coaches, two observation coaches, four flat cars, two combination coaches, two street cars “at Prospect Park,” six hand cars, and five push cars. Four depots were listed: Los Angeles, Ivanhoe, Burbank and Santa Monica.17
On the same day that the Black Diamond Coal Company filed suite the California Bank also sued the railroad. This suit charged that on August 9, 1887, the directors of the Los Angeles County Railroad Company had voted to purchase six first‑class passenger cars and two combination passenger and baggage cars from Carter Brothers, car builders of San Francisco, for $36,000. These cars had been delivered over the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad in September, 1888; the entire cost of the cars was paid by the California Bank, and not a penny had been repaid.18
The California Bank demanded the return of the railroad cars, which it claimed were legally owned by the bank, or payment of the money still due. In September, 1889, Judge Shaw ordered that three first‑class cars and one combination car be returned to Carter Brothers. The remaining cars were leased from Carter Brothers for $200 per month, but in December these were returned also.
In June, 1889, W. T. Spilman resigned his job as receiver, and Herman Silver was appointed in his place. Silver found that two months earlier there had been an accident on the Burbank branch in which the engine left the rails and “fell on its side. The fireman jumped from his station, but the engineer refused to leave his post until the engine tipped over. No one was hurt.” The line to Burbank was in such poor condition “that it would not permit the passage of heavier engines owned by the company over it and that even the motor engines had to run with exceeding caution.” This convinced Judge Shaw, and he allowed the receiver to abandon the Burbank Division.19
The railroad continued to operate between Los Angeles and Santa Monica until October 25, 1889, when heavy rains washed out the tracks in several places. Silver reported that the “damage was so great as to prevent any engines running over the same, and upon a careful estimate it was discovered that it would require from four to five thousand dollars to repair said road.”
When the railroad suspended operations, all of the employees were discharged except an auditor and two watchmen. In November, 1889, the auditor and day watchman were discharged, because the receiver did not have money with which to pay his wages.20
After the washouts in the fall of 1889, the railroad equipment deteriorated rapidly. Two years later Silver testified that he moved the railroad cars to a siding near the Sisters’ Hospital and that they had remained there ever since. On cross examination, an attorney representing some creditors complained that Silver had done nothing to prevent the railroad cars from going to “rack and ruin; that some of them have stood out in the weather until they are worthless.”
The judge commented that “I don't suppose he will deny that,” and the cross examination continued as follows:
Q ‑‑ Now, the tracks and road bed that you took charge of, what did you do?
A ‑ I didn't do anything sir. I had a man in my employ for the purpose of taking care of the road according to the best of my judgment for about six months . . . . From that time I have requested a former employ of the road ‑ told him I couldn't pay any more wages; that I haven't got anything to pay with; and I asked him to give it as much attention as he could; and if anything happens, to let me know?21
The railroad failed to report to the California Railroad Commission in January, 1891, but eight months later S. W. Luitwieler, president of the company, reported that the line had been in the hands of a receiver during the past year. “An adjustment of the debts of the company is being made at this date, and it is expected that the road will be operated in a short time.”
His report revealed that the railroad had cost $566,000 including $8,000 for right‑of‑way, $106,000 for rails, $43,400 for ties, $14,000 for locomotives and cars, and $270,000 for having the road built by a contractor. The company was authorized to issue stock with a par value of $2,160,000, but only 1,700 shares with a par value of $173,000 had been sold. This stock was owned by twenty-eight people, most of them residents of Los Angeles.22
Immediately after the washouts, Silver appointed a committee of creditors, with James G. Scarborough as chairman, to examine the railroad and make recommendations. This committee reported November 4, 1889, that the debts of the company were $210,000, and estimated that the railroad could barely be sold for enough to pay the debts. The committee recommended that the washouts between Santa Monica and Los Angeles be repaired, and that the railroad begin operating on the first of January, 1890.23
In an attempt to carry out the recommendations of this committee, the Board of Directors met January 9, 1890, at 44 North Spring Street, “the same being the place where the Board of Directors of said company usually hold their meeting.” At this meeting the directors voted to issue $300,000 worth of first mortgage bonds. These were to bear six percent interest and were issued to the State Loan and Trust Company of Los Angeles.24
In February, 1891, John Wolfskill secured a judgment against the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Land and Water Company and the Los Angeles and Pacific Railroad for $293,000, due him on the 4,387‑acre Rancho San Jose de Buenos Ayres. The entire ranch was returned to Wolfskill except for some lots in the town of Sunset which had been sold, and it was decreed that the railroad might use its thirty‑foot right‑of‑way across the ranch provided trains were running on a permanent basis within two years.25
Unable to put the railroad into operation, the stockholders voted in September, 1891, to transfer the railroad to “Moses N. Avery, his associates and assigns,” for the sum of one dollar and “payment of certain costs, expenses, liens, claims and demands made and expended for and on account of the said railroad in a certain suit . . . now pending in the superior court.” It was also understood that Avery would pay off all of the creditors at forty cents on the dollar.26
The Los Angeles and Pacific Railway was never able to untangle its financial affairs sufficiently to repair the tracks and resume service. In 1894 what assets the railroad had left were sold to General M. H. Sherman and Eli P. Clark., two railroad building brothers‑in‑law who had recently completed the Los Angeles and Pasadena Railway.27
In the spring of 1894, Sherman and Clark began securing their right‑of‑way; construction work was begun in 1895 and completed the following year. The roadbed was in such poor shape that it had to be entirely rebuilt, but the same rails were used. Newmark says that in 1896 “the old steam railroad ‑ which about the late Eighties had run a year or so” ‑ was equipped with electric power and again began operating between Los Angeles, Colegrove, South Hollywood, and North Beach.28
Sherman and Clark sold out to E. H. Harriman a few years later, and the Los Angeles and Pacific Railway eventually became part of the mushrooming Pacific Electric System. After years of bankruptcy, the Los Angeles and Pacific at last became part of that “magnificent interurban electrical system” which the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce boasted was the best in the world.29