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Remembering The Great California Cycleway

December 14, 2010

Photo of The Great California Cycleway in 1900. (Photo via Pasadena Museum of History)

All the excitement over a few lines painted on York Boulevard for bicycles last week, and Mark Vallianatos’ article on Eagle Rock Patch yesterday, reminded me of a time over a hundred years ago when bicycles ruled the day, and highways were being built just for them.

The California Cycleway passes over the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad near Glenarm Street in Pasadena. Circa 1900. (Photo via Pasadena Museum of History)

The Great California Cycleway opened in Pasadena around July of 1900. (Some sources say 1890, but its creator, Mr. Horace Dobbins didn’t start the Cycleway Company until 1897, and the only photos available of the cycleway date to 1900, likely when it was being shown.)

The California Cycleway was an elevated wooden bicycle highway that was designed to go from Hotel Green in Pasadena down the Arroyo, past Highland Park and into Downtown Los Angeles, ending at the Plaza on Olvera Street. Part of the design was to be a completely uninterrupted path by bridging over obstacles like creeks, roads, train tracks, and maintain only the slightest of grades (no more than 3%) over the 9 miles of smooth wooden track over an elevation of 600 feet. The entire project would have cost an estimated $187,500 at the time, and included a casino called, “Merlemount” to be placed midway in Arroyo Seco Park. (On top of where Debs Park is today??)

The Cycleway passes behind the Pasadena Grand Opera House on Bellevue at Raymond in 1900. Note the Pacific Electric trolley tracks, there was a special "Opera Car" that went just to the opera house from the line on Fair Oaks. (Photo via the Los Angeles Public Library.)

At the time of its opening there were an estimated 30,00o cyclists in the region. Which is quite impressive, considering the total population at that time was less than 500,000. The toll to use the bicycle super highway was 10¢ each way or 15¢ for a round trip. Part of the plan was to have bicycle rental available so that users could leave their bikes at either end of the cycleway. If Cycleway users wanted to forgo the climb back to Pasadena, they could take one of the 4 trains and trolleys adjacent to the cycleway.

Remnants of the Cycleway path in South Pasadena.

While many portions of right-of-way were secured for the Cycleway along the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad and Arroyo Seco, the grand plan was never completed. The only section of the Great California Cycleway to be built was the 1.25 mile section that went to South Pasadena from the Hotel Green. “Progress” stepped in. (Or should I say drove in.)


Photo taken from the 1906 Oaklawn Bridge built by architects Greene & Greene to accommodate the railroad and Cycleway. What looks like a dirt road left of the Gold Line is actually part of the Cycleway right-of-way from 1900. (Photo by Salaam Allah via Flickr)

By the late 19th century, the bicycle craze met the driving craze of the 20th century, and the cycleway was abandoned to become forgotten paths, alleyways, and roadways. (A popular belief is that the Cycleway became the Arroyo Seco Parkway / Pasadena Freeway. However, most of its path was east of the Arroyo Seco, whereas the parkway was built on the west bank and on area that was reclaimed by WPA flood control projects of the 1930s.)

The cycleway isn’t completely forgotten. In the years before his death, bicycle activist, Dennis Crowley, had tried to revive this dream of connecting Pasadena and Los Angeles with a New California Cycleway. Here in 90042, the sorely missed Cycleway Cafe honored the historical connection by naming their cafe after the utopian concept.

I’ve created a Google Map that shows part of path of the California Cycleway as best as I could guess it. (There must be a better map from 1900 out there somewhere.)

In the meantime, continue to enjoy the ever-increasing new bicycle lines in the pavement and please share the road.

Horace Dobbins, creator of the California Cycleway in 1900 showing off what would be the Cycleway's downfall, an automobile. (Photo via Pasadena Museum of History.)

The Train Took Us There 12.10.10

December 10, 2010

Marmion Way at Avenue 57 in January 2000. Photo by Salaam Allah via Flickr.

The photo above is by “West Coast Transitphotography King,” Salaam Allah, who I have to thank in-part for inspiring this Train/Trolley series of posts. When we were stuck behind the wheel on the 110 thinking this is how it would always be, he was out documenting the future of Los Angeles Transit. Like Alan K. Weeks, and other transit geeks before him, Salaam Allah’s photos document the changing landscape of Los Angeles through the lens of public transit.

The photo above comes from his set of photos that documents the construction and operation of the Metro Gold Line. When this photo of Marmion Way in Highland Park was taken, construction in Highland Park had yet to begin. Where the station is today was an empty lot, and the project was still being called the Pasadena Metro Blue Line.

Just like the railroads that created Highland Park over a hundred years ago, since opening in July of 2003 the Gold Line has brought new life into the area and created a better sense of place. Where we were just four exits along the Pasadena Freeway, we became literally a destination on a map. And while drivers are stuck inching along Figueroa Street traffic from being detoured around the 110 ¨Parkway” construction, thankfully we have this close-by alternative serving our community from 4 AM to 1 AM seven days a week.

Marmion Way at Avenue 57 in Highland Park today. Pavement and rail have replaced the dirt path left by the Santa Fe railroad. The convenient street parking is now gone, residents took out many of their trees (to make room for cars?), the pink block wall on the right is now LA City Graffiti Abatement Beige. Other than that, it looks much as it did 11 years ago.

Bonus video!! by Salaam Allah:

5th Annual All City Toy Ride

December 9, 2010

Santa Rida at Highland Park Metro Station for the 2006 All City Toy Ride.

If you have ever wondered how many toys you can carry on a bicycle, this Friday night at 8:30 is when you can find out. Friday, December 10th is the 5th Annual Midnight Ridazz All City Toy Ride.

The 5th Annual All City Toy Ride marks a milestone for the loosely knit Midnight Ridazz bicycle consortium. It was the first All City Toy Ride in 2006 that really established Midnight Ridazz as something more that just a monthly party ride. And every year since then, cyclists have gathered around the county to ride like spokes on a wheel to the heart of Los Angeles at the Plaza on Olvera Street. This year there are 13 gathering points, including one for Northeast Los Angeles at our Highland Park Metro Station.

The N.E.L.A. All City Toy Ride rides at 9pm for Olvera Street, then heads to an undisclosed location with a thousand or so other ridazz to drop off toys for The Alliance For Childrens’ Rights, then followed by a parté. Bring a toy ($25 or less), lights, and a lock. No rain expected this year, but Santa(s) are.

If that wasn’t enough opportunity to give to less-fortunate children, (because giving is awesome!) Locally, 90042-based punk zine, Razorcake and Zocaloc are having a Toy Drive at Highland Park’s American Legion Post 206 on Saturday, December 11th (NELA Art Night) starting at 8pm. Bands, food, drinks, and toys to be given to needy kids.

Then on Sunday, December 12th, from 12:30 to 5pm, The Echo Park Yacht Club throws its 2nd Annual Toy Drive and Dodgeball Spectacular at The Glassell Park Rec Center, located at 3650 Verdugo Road, Los Angeles 90065.

Good times, good causes, good weekend.

When Figueroa Street was Pasadena Avenue

December 9, 2010

Figueroa Street (then Pasadena Avenue) looking north at Avenue 51 in 1905. (Photo from the C.C. Pierce Collection via The USC Digital Library.)

Figueroa Street today. My how those palms have grown!

Corner of Figueroa and Avenue 51 looking southwest at Occidental College in 1908. (Photo from the C.C. Pierce Collection via The USC Digital Library.)

Behold the former Occidental campus today! -That's heritage for ya.

Figueroa Street was once the longest street in Los Angeles until it was truncated in Cypress Park by the construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Before that, it was called Pasadena Avenue (the main road to Pasadena) and before that it was called Calle de las Chapules, or Grasshopper Street. A grand avenue with homes, businesses, colleges, and the Pacific Electric Railway that ran in the middle going to Slauson Junction in South Los Angeles. 

USC has a wonderful on-line digital archive with gems like the ones above. Here we have a 1905 picture showing Figueroa Street (Pasadena Avenue) looking North at Avenue 51. The baby palm trees have now become giants, and all the telegraph, telephone, electrical and rail lines are gone. So too are many of the houses, and thankfully the rutted dirt road.

Gone too is the Occidental College in its 1908 Highland Park heyday,  now replaced with auto repair shops, apartments, and a strip mall.

The Front Yards of 90042

December 8, 2010


Pink Buddha (AKA Terri Lloyd) waters her front yard on Avenue 61.



Remember this feature? Supposed to be weekly. Dominated the month of October, barely made a showing since then, well it is back this week with the front yard of Highland Park artist, Terri Lloyd.

Lloyd’s front yard consists of water-wise cacti, various succulents, and hundreds of her miniature doll head sculptures.  A fine example of Highland Park’s eclectic artistic homesteading.

New Bike Lanes on York Blvd.

December 6, 2010

New Bike Lanes on York Blvd., originally uploaded by waltarrrrr.

Damn these look good!

See more from Joe Linton’s post.

Chicken Boy Photo of The Week

December 6, 2010


2010 Governor's Historic Preservation Award Winner, Amy Inouye & Chicken Boy at The 66th Annual Northeast Los Angeles Holiday Parade.




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