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The Cable Car Took Us There 04.16.10

April 16, 2010

Marmion Way & Avenue 43 in 1909.

In continuation of last week’s post about the Los Angeles & Mount Washington Railway, here are some photos of where the cable car went and what is left of this important local railway.

View looking east from top of incline with “Florence” the cable car in 1915 near where San Rafael Avenue & Elyria Drive is today. Photo via the Los Angeles Public Library.

The two cable cars were named after the daughters of the two men that were the principal creators of Mount Washington as a place in Los Angeles. One car was named Florence, after Florence Marsh, the daughter of Robert Marsh, Mount Washington real estate developer. The other was named Virginia, after the daughter of Arthur St. Clair Perry, financier for the real estate development and cable car system.

Florence & Virginia pass each other on the Mt. Washington Railway in 1916. Note the “Mt. Washington” sign. Photo via the Los Angeles Public Library.

Quote from the Los Angeles Public Library:

Cable cars pass each other on the slopes of Mt. Washington’s Incline Railway. The railway operated over a distance of 2,900 feet, pulled by a cable under wood planking and was created to increase land sales for the Mt. Washington Development Company. The two cable cars, named Florence and Virginia (shown here), operated simultaneously, one leaving at the foot of the hill and the other heading down the mountain from the inn. In January, 1919, the Board of Public Utilities ordered the railway to stop operation due to unsafe operating conditions.

What amazes me is how barren the place looked 90 years ago. At the dawn of the automobile age, it was really these two cable cars that made living on top of Mount Washington practical.

The Mt. Washington sign atop a covered water reservoir in 1912. Located near where Mt. Washington School is today. Much like the Hollywood(land) sign erected 10 years later, this was placed here to promote real estate sales. (This sign, likely inspired the Hollywood sign we know and love today.)  Photo via the Los Angeles Public Library.

The cable cars took visitors up to the summit and the Mount Washington Hotel. The luxury hotel was built by Meyer & Holler (Grauman’s Chinese Theater) and opened in 1910 at a cost of $40,000. Photo via LAPL.

Incline Station built by architect Fred Dorn, at Marmion Way and Avenue 43 in October of 1909. Photo circa 1910, via the Los Angeles Public Library.

One of my favorite sights while riding the Metro Gold Line is the old Mt. Washington Cable Car station, spotted on the corner of Avenue 43 just before the train goes into a tunnel. This building is the last surviving remnant of the Los Angeles & Mount Washington Railway. It was essentially a mini transit hub, with the cable cars and LARy Yellow Cars meeting at this intersection. It was a place where you could get a drink and eat a hot dog or a tamale while waiting for your cable car to come down, or a streetcar to come by.

The Incline Station today. Now a duplex.

Today, the path of the cable car is now Avenue 43 and Canyon Vista Drive with a stairway bisecting the steepest part. For 10 years the cable cars ran these steep slopes every 20 minutes from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (and as late as midnight if the demand was there.) As automobiles become more prevalent the incline was needed less. The death nail for the cable car came with World War I, and the creation of the Los Angeles Board of Public Utilities. The BPU had jurisdiction over elevators, and despite this being called, and looking like a railway, it was ruled to be a vertical elevator by the State Supreme Court. The BPU demanded the railway (or vertical elevator as they called it) add a secondary cable and replace the original cable. This cost proved to be too prohibitive for Robert Marsh & Company, and with most of his real estate lots now sold, they had less incentive to keep the cable cars going. The last cable car ran on January 9,1919. In 1930 the tracks removed and right of way paved over.

The steepest part of the incline was here at this 42% Grade. The city wisely decided to install steps instead of a roadway here in 1930.

The result of the incline railway being closed meant the mountaineers that lived on Mount Washington had to climb to their homes by foot, or buy a brand new Model T assembled in Highland Park (the not so nearby one in Michigan). For many years residents petitioned state and local officials to get the railroad operating again. The right of way used by the cable cars was taken over by the city as well as Mount Washington Drive, which was then a private road. The city was also forced to create an access road to Cypress Avenue and El Paso Drive that connected to San Rafael Avenue. Ironically, all the money the city put into creating access roads to Mount Washington, they could have built a brand new cable car railway.

Going to take you higher… Canyon Vista Drive. The path of the cable car now all paved over developed with houses. Just as real estate developer Robert Marsh planned a 100 years before.

A long way down. The bright red cable cars climbed this hill every 20 minutes for only a nickle.

1919 Ruins? Approximate location of the top end of the Mt. Washington Railway on Elyria and San Rafael. Not quite. See update.

One last tid-bit about this place and railway named Mount Washington: It is often assumed that Mt. Washington, Los Angeles was named after George Washington, or the more famous Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Instead, it was named by and after Colonel Henry Washington, who surveyed the Los Angeles region for the United States in 1855.

More detail about the lost railway of Mount Washington can be found at the Electric Railway Historical Association.

UPDATE 1.18.2014:

While walking around the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters recently, I found the original 1909 upper station building. The former station is just below what was the 1910 Mount Washington Hotel. Now used as an office, much of the station’s original shape remains and matches the design of the lower station building at Marmion Way and Avenue 43.  As a bonus, I also took photos of what was likely the cable car wheelhouse /powerhouse that still stands across Marmion Way, now used as a water pumping house for LADWP.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Martha Benedict permalink
    April 17, 2010 7:32 am

    I love the idea of the early Mt. Washtonians forced into fitness, before their obsessions with gophers, raccoons and off-leash dogs overtook them. So many early photos of LA are so stark and treeless. People bring trees with them when they settle in, apparently.

    The pun “death nail” was intentional?
    “knell: the sound of a bell, esp. when rung solemnly for a death or funeral,.” says my Apple dictionary.

  2. April 18, 2010 12:48 pm

    Great post for Mt. Washington and its history. The pics are great and very imformative.

  3. April 18, 2010 10:53 pm

    Does the building of the Mt. Washington Hotel still exist?

  4. April 19, 2010 9:28 pm

    Great tour. Well done. Especially interesting to me is the image of the Mt Washington sign and it’s connection to the Hollywood sign.

    Several years back and after the fires in Griffith Park, I read of someone discovering the remains of a sign (to a coffee shop?) above the old zoo. I never could find that article again but did find a historical photo where this sign was visible. Any mystery history detectives out there?

  5. April 21, 2010 1:51 pm

    Thanks for this. I love reading your blog, and find the Los Angeles history and pictures fascinating!

  6. Wes permalink
    April 22, 2010 2:54 pm

    What a great article. Question for those in the know (I live in Montecito Heights but often run over to Mt. Washington): does the covered reservoir still exist?

    Great photos, especially of the Incline Station. I have run and driven by there numerous times, had no idea. Who knows what other historical structure there are in the midst of our everyday existence.

  7. XicanoSerg permalink
    April 28, 2010 12:49 pm

    Waltarr, I simply dig and will never grow tired of these terrific shots of old l.a.. The “after” shots are also appreciated!

  8. May 14, 2010 4:50 am



    Oh well, he’ll still do a post on the Mt. Washington Cable Railway, maybe 2 years from now, when everyone would have forgotten about this post…


  9. November 3, 2010 6:00 pm

    there are many luxury hotels that are quite cheap and affordable these days, ..

  10. Melissa permalink
    February 7, 2011 5:41 pm

    My great-grandmother was Virginia and great-great grandfather Arthur St. Clair Perry. Thanks for the pictures!

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  15. December 21, 2013 11:23 pm

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