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Subway Terminal

     Whenever Pacific Electric wanted to make a major improvement, executives at 6th & Main, after numerous conferences, worked out a formalized "Request for Authority for Expenditures of Funds." This was submitted first to Southern Pacific's Headquarters in San Francisco; if approved there, it went on to New York City for final approval or rejection by the Southern Pacific Board of Directors. These Requests were cogent and precise; years late they remain highly interesting to read. Here is the Request for the construction of the Subway Terminal:

"Request for Authority for Expenditure of $696,155; January 1, 1924.

"To construct depressed passenger terminal and provide other facilities.


  1. "Construct depressed passenger terminal from Hill Street to Olive Street for Hollywood Subway service.
  2. "Purchase of lot on Olive Street for additional yard space.
  3. "Construct retaining wall in Olive Street cut and construct Olive Street under grade crossing.
  4. "Demolish old 'lean to building serving as passenger station for Santa Monica Bay district trains.
  5. "Relocate trackage serving Santa Monica Bay district trains.
  6. "Wreck Masonic Temple Building to construct new station to accommodate concessionaire tenants and provide a station facility for Santa Monica Bay district cars.
  7. "Purchase furniture and fixtures.
  8. "Construct 1,000 lineal feet of single track in depressed terminal in addition to trackage under Work Order 22,000.
  9. "Provide 165 lineal feet of double track tunnel.
"Reasons: To permit sale of northerly 141 feet of terminal property reserving terminal rights in limit height building to be erected by purchaser. If the terminal were constructed at Hill Street grade as first planned, it would be impossible to ever improve with an office building as cost would be prohibitive. Purchaser has been found who will buy the property and construct a limit height building under the following conditions:

"(a) Pacific Electric Railway Company to retain perpetual rights to entire basement area, the west 194' of ground floor area fronting twenty feet on Hill Street giving access to rear and basement areas.

"(b) Pacific Electric to construct foundations and basement structure for a limit height structure up to and including the rough concrete floor at the Hill Street level and buyer will pay PE $400,000 as full payment for such work.

"This plan will permit expansion to care for future subway requirements by connection from remaining terminal property on the south, while original grade terminal plan precluded the possibility of extending the subway system in the future.

"Present station building and old Masonic Temple building will have to be wrecked in order to relocate the Venice Short Line terminal tracks. These track changes also require the purchase of a lot at the southwest corner of the station grounds.

"Additional advantages are: (1) Large office building at terminal drawing additional railway travel and anchoring business to vicinity. (2) 200% more concessionaries revenue, up to $27,000 per year. (3) Railway property having frontage of 122' on west side of Olive Street will be little affected in value by new plan as tracks will be so far underground that surface and air rights will be extremely valuable. Former plan would have prevented any return from property.

     Work Order 22,000 referred to above was the authorization to construct the subway itself. The "former plan" mentioned had to do with the original plan to bring tracks in from Figueroa Street via a tunnel to west edge of Hill Street Station yard, then emerge on grade level with Hill Street.

     The "purchaser" above mentioned was the Subway Terminal Corporation, formed by some of the city's leading citizens. This corporation paid PE $705,000 for the land on which the huge structure was built, plus $400,000 for construction work from foundations to and including the ground floor.

     Ground for the Hollywood Subway was broken on May 3, 1924 at the west portal; it was more than a year later that excavation work began on the site of the terminal itself: May 13, 1925. Plans for the building were prepared by Schultze & Weaver, Los Angeles and New York architects. The tunnel and terminal project, jointly accomplished by PE and the Subway Terminal Corporation, represented the largest relief offered up to that time for traffic congestion; it brought outlying communities three miles nearer the central business district in point of time; it stabilized property values for many blocks around; it provided a business and professional office address unequalled in the city.

     The Subway Terminal Building contained 600 offices; a garage, entered from Olive Street, afforded parking for exclusive used of tenants. 122,000 cubic yards of earth were excavated for the building---the largest excavation for any building in the city up to that time. The building had a frontage of 141 feet on Hill Street and a depth of 330 feet. The steel framework for its limit height hugeness contained more steel than any other building in Los Angeles: 6,000 tons of which 2,400 tons were below the street level; the latter figure was greater than the total of all steel used in the city's largest hotel, the Biltmore.

     The excavation was pushed forward with all possible speed: 45 trucks and 3 steam shovels worked 16 hours daily. As the west boundary of the site bit deep into Bunker Hill, the tracks there would be four floors beneath Olive Street, while at the east end of the subterranean train shed they would be but thirty feet below Hill Street It was, of course, necessary to close Olive Street for several months to permit excavating, installation of retaining walls and the various subsurface facilities required: the trainmen's rooms, the passenger traffic headquarters, etc. Most of the Olive Street subsurface structure was unfinished; temporary offices were partitioned off from a dark, huge, shapeless room with rough concrete walls; doubtless this would have received finishing touches had the Venice Subway had been built to connect. Directly opposite the Hill Street property on Olive Street stood an old public school; PE bought this property and it, too, was excavated to provide the throat of the tunnel approximately 68 feet west of Olive Street.

     On August 23, 1925, all excavation work was complete and the reinforced concrete foundations were started. Erection of the steel framework followed, to be finished on October 24, 1925 with the traditional unfurling of Old Glory on the topmost girder---symbol of success wherever steelmen toil.

     Even while heavy steel girders were being hoisted into place far above, PE crews were pressing forward in the great train shed far below the surface of the ground. By September, 1925, the vast room had taken shape. The concrete curbs, similar to the ones on the 6th & Main elevated structure, were in place and the five stub tracks had been laid between them. Tracks were laid on ballast cushions, and the work of constructing the concrete loading and unloading platforms was nearing completion. All of the rough work involved in the concrete ramps leading to and from the mezzanine floor to the train platform had been completed. All rough work in connection with Olive Street under grade crossing was finished and Olive Street was reopened to public use; the tower to house the interlocking plant at the throat was almost completed, it being a part of the Olive Street structure.

     By the end of October, all work in the train shed was finished, as was the block signal system. The interlocker was about 90% complete, and large forces were busy putting the final touches on the terminal; placing tile, terra cotta and marble. The brick curtain wall was completed for the first story, and facing granite was placed on the Hill Street front to a height of 1.5 floors. The date of completion was near and the Transportation Department was busy mapping out timetables; a fitting celebration was being planned for the great event, proudly announced, would take place on November 30th with a civic banquet at the Biltmore Hotel preceding the formal opening.

     November 30, 1925, was truly a great day in Los Angeles' history. Your editor was among the thousands who crammed into the Subway Terminal that day and perhaps his first-hand recollections would be of interest. First of all, there was the long walk from Hill Street to the waiting room: 130 feet down a marble-floored arcade flanked on both sides by shops, Then the main waiting room itself---surely as impressive as ornate head offices of banks and reminiscent of same. Then there were the long, winding ramps to the lower mezzanine where more waiting room space was provided; and finally the gradually descending straight ramps to track level. Winding down the ramps with the crowd, it was slow going---but swelling martial music from below stirred the senses and further heightened the excitement felt by everyone. Then the first glimpse of the great cavern itself---a cavern brightened at intervals by photographers flash guns---a cavern wherein the PE Band on a bunting-bedecked flat car outdid itself---a cavern wherein were placed on display a priceless collection of PE equipment from early days to the present. There was a resurrected old horsecar, then a little wooden city car of the Nineties; a high wooden interurban car, one of the Golden Gates, represented the 1902 inter city concept, and modern equipment was represented by by a new 1100 type interurban, a 1600 Class locomotive, and three-car trains of 600s which offered free rides to the west portal to all comers. I remember well that first ride through the blackness of the Hollywood Subway; the little lights in the refuge pockets guided us on into the depths--our headlight seemed remarkably futile; the exciting curve of the lights as we reached the midpoint, and then the completely disappointing sight, far ahead, of the west portal which we had not wished to behold so soon. The train pulled up to Beverly & Glendale Boulevards. then changed ends, giving us a brief glimpse of Toluca yard and substation. Then back into the depths and into the Terminal, this time getting a much better view of the interlocker tower. Then there followed about an hour of exploration, ranging from the cars on display to the depths of the Olive Street under grade structure, surely as eery as anything imaginable.

     The basement train shed of the Subway Terminal could accommodate thirty cars on its five tracks. Six inclined ramps were provided between the track level and the mezzanine concourse and waiting room; leading and unloading platforms and ramps were provided to eliminate confusion and speed up turnaround time.

     The breaking of a bottle of ginger ale (prohibition then, remember?) against car 741 and the departure of that car and its two trailers formally opened the Hollywood Subway on November 30, 1925. The next day the subway went into regular service with Glendale-Burbank trains using it. Sunday, February 7, 1926, saw Hollywood and San Fernando Valley cars rerouted into the subway via a new track connection on Park Ave. between Glendale Boulevard. and Sunset Boulevard. PE's expenditure of more than $4,000,000 was in the laps of the gods.

     The height of the subway's passenger handling occurred in World War II, so let's take a quick look at the way this facility met the severe test:

     In early 1944, a total of 884 trains, made up of 1194 cars, entered and left the Subway Terminal and surface tracks. At the time five rail lines used it; from the subway proper ran the Glendale-Burbank Line, the Santa Monica Boulevard.-West Hollywood Line, the Van Nuys Line, and most of the Hollywood Boulevard. Line; the Venice Short Line ran out of the surface terminal. From the bus deck over the surface tracks operated the Redondo Beach Line, the Santa Monica via Beverly Hills Line, and the Beverly-Sunset-Castellemere Line. Altogether, these lines carried 65,000 passengers daily into and out of the Subway Terminal. Moreover, a large proportion of the assignments of trainmen and operators for Western District passenger lines, as well as all assignments for box motor and railway post office operations out of the Union Passenger Terminal, were made from the Subway Terminal Foreman's office. Other Western District assignments were made at West Hollywood and Ocean Park. Truly, the Subway Terminal was the focal point of all activities on the entire west.

     Top man at the Subway Terminal was the Trainmaster for the Western District: 1943 saw him supervise the handling of 52% of PE's passengers---61,032,000 of the system total of 116,550,000. The chain of command went down from him through Supervisors, Terminal foremen and Stationmasters. Some 700 trainmen and operators were supervised from the Subway. At the heart of the whole operation were the three Subway Tower operators; on average days some 754 trains and perhaps 100 empty cars switching in and out from Toluca Yard had to be guided from the two tunnel tracks to the proper one of five terminal tracks. So dense was traffic that it was estimated that a single error on the part of a towerman would so upset schedules that 30 to 60 minutes would be required to rectify the mistake.

     Subway Terminal was a station of magnificent distances; from sidewalk to train side was 596 feet of steady walking; in the reverse direction it was 506 feet. After complaints that this was excessive, PE released a comparative table of distances in some of the nation's large terminals: Grand Central, New York City, 790 feet in, same out; Pennsylvania Station, New York City, 630 feet in either direction; Chicago Union Station, 720 feet either way.

     To provide even greater safety in subway operation, PE installed automatic train stops throughout the tunnel in 1927. These were manufactured by the Union Switch & Signal Company and had been in successful use on New York subways and Boston elevated since 1904. The installation, involving a heavy capital expenditure, was made with the approval of the State Railroad Commission which thoroughly investigated the device. This automatic train stop consisted of an air line value cock mounted on the leading truck on each side of the car; at some block signals was an arm which raised when a signal displayed a red aspect; when raised, this arm engaged the value cock on any truck which passed it, opening the car's air line and applying the brakes. The equipment was applied to each of the 210 cars then using the subway, and to thirteen of the 21 block signals. About the only disadvantage to this scheme was the bother of applying the valve cocks to additional cars when for any reason they were required to operate in the tunnel(as, for example, the 100s on New Year's Day), although Western District cars on foreign lines were occasionally embarrassed by having their air thrown in emergency by a track side rock of the right size. Throughout the subway's years of use, there was never a wreck of any consequence, ample proof of the efficacy of the automatic train stops.

     Periodically the city chortled at newspaper accounts of attempts of inebriated automobile drivers to negotiate the mile of tunnel. As the entrance to the subway was in direct line with Glendale Boulevard., they could perhaps be pardoned, considering their hazy state of mind. Some autoists even made it into the Subway Terminal, doubtless creating a certain amount of consternation in that sacred-to-rail country. Such intrepid voyagers were carted off to sober up and PE crane and flat car picked up their car and returned it to good asphalt footing. In due time it became the turn of the sobered autoist to register consternation; this usually took place when he received the bill from PE for services rendered plus repairs for any damage caused.

     Biggest cars to use the subway were the 950s, while the almost-as-large 800s saw considerable service up to 1940. 5000s and 600s(5050s) bore the brunt of the service, while the 550s opened the tunnel and ran in it until 1937. 100s saw use on the New Year's Day once or twice, and business car 1299 was equipped with a lowered version of PE's pneumatic trolley base to permit it to negotiate the subway on inspection trips. All cars entering the bore had to have double trolleys as restricted clearances in the trainshed made it impossible to swing poles.

     Certain special rules were in effect at the Subway Terminal: Illuminated numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on west side of tower at throat of tunnel indicated on which track the inbound train was to proceed; upon receiving track indication from tower, motormen signalled conductors by electric bell communicating signal, indicating by number of rings the track to be taken so that conductors could open either right or left center doors to proper exit landing. After the last passenger left car, conductors opened opposite side doors so outbound passengers could enter. Whenever an emergency arose, the tower stopped all trains by one long sound of tower horn; two short blasts of horn was signal to resume normal operation. As an indication to towerman for placing of arriving trains, Glendale trains displayed "Subway Terminal" on head signs, Valley trains displayed "Los Angeles". Hollywood Boulevard cars displayed "Hollywood Boulevard.", and Santa Monica Boulevard. cars displayed "Santa Monica Boulevard". Deadhead equipment inbound displayed head sign indicating line on which it was to go into service. When trains were ready to leave the Terminal, conductors notified the tower by use of push buttons located on posts alongside tracks.

     One by one the rail lines using the Subway Terminal were converted to motor coach operation. PE itself cut down the Valley and Santa Monica Boulevard.-West Hollywood Lines. Metropolitan Coach Lines, purchaser of PE passenger service on October 1, 1953, was successful in scuttling the Hollywood Boulevard. and Glendale-Burbank Lines. The Venice Short Line, sole user of the surface tracks, gave up the ghost in 1950. The last regular car left the cavernous, brooding subterranean trainshed early Sunday morning, June 19, 1955. With its rear markets went the hopes of Angelenos for a true rapid transit system; with it also went PE's four millions, now represented by a hole in the ground which apparently could be used for nothing.

     Such apparently was the feeling of the Subway Terminal Corporation which in February of 1956 sued PE for $2,500,000; the Subway Terminal Corporation alleged that by routing its passengers away from the building, PE had in effect decreased the value of the structure. Discontinuance of use of the ground floor and of facilities below ground, the complaint said, violated a 1924 agreement under which the 12 story building was built. Ultimately the federal government became the tenant of the former waiting room and main store complex--first, for the Social Security Administration, and later for the Veterans Administration.

     After abandonment, thirteen 5050s were removed from the Subway by truck to Terminal Island for scrapping; the thirty PCCs remained stored in the subway until September 1959, when they were trucked to the harbor and shipped to Buenos Aires---to the General Urquiza Railway which had purchased them for further transit use.

     For several years the unused tunnel stood vacant, save for desultory use of its Beverly Boulevard. and for storage of impounded autos and some microfilm storage in the downtown train shed--which was also stocked with a certain amount of foods, first aid material and other requisites for use as a disaster shelter.

     The first physical destruction of a part of the abandoned subway occurred in December, 1967, when that portion from Flower Street to just west of Figueroa Street was filled in, due, it was claimed, to the fact that it was "unsafe". The City of Los Angeles, to which the subway had been deeded by Southern Pacific, asserted that the unused subway was incompatible with the Bunker Hill redevelopment project because the tunnel lacked reinforcing steel, hence nothing could be built above it. As a matter of fact, the Harbor Freeway, a defence system highway, was constructed directly over the tunnel in 1947, after U.S. Army and state engineers had determined that the subway was so strong that no bridge structures or caissons would be required.

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