DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Once, there was a 30,000-acre area on the Westside called Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica. The land, granted to Francisco Sepulveda in 1828 by Gov. José Maria de Echeandia, ran from Pico and Sepulveda boulevards to the Pacific Ocean and up into the Santa Monica Mountains.
After the Civil War, the land came into the possession of two prominent families. One was Colonel and Mrs. Robert S. Baker. He founded the city of Bakersfield. She was the former Arcadia Bandini Stearns, daughter of a large landholder and widow of Don Abel Stearns, once the largest landholder in Southern California.
The other family was United States Sen. John Paul Jones, of Nevada, and his wife Georgina. These families founded the town of Santa Monica and put it on the market in 1875.
How did one get to this new port town?
Yes, the vaunted, long awaited $930 million Expo Line, slated to open later this year, had a precursor. Long before Angelenos dreamed of a subway to the sea, there was a rail line that connected Downtown to the coast.
The steam rail line was originally known as the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad and ran from Santa Monica along Santa Monica Avenue to Downtown Los Angeles. Santa Monica Avenue was later renamed for the fantastic expositions that San Diego and San Francisco hosted during the 1910s to honor the opening of the Panama Canal. Exposition Boulevard and Exposition Park, once the Sixth District Agricultural Park, were renamed for the same event.
East of Figueroa Street, the rail line crossed the streets in the low 30s at an angle. At San Pedro Street, it turned north and ended at an elegant, Disneyesque terminal at Fourth Street.
The senator, a miner, wanted to bring ore from Independence in the Owens Valley through Los Angeles and ship it from Santa Monica. To accomplish this, the rail line was extended through the McClure Tunnel (today's Santa Monica Freeway/I-10 tunnel) down onto the coast and then north to about Pacific Palisades, where a wharf was built out into the ocean for the benefit of deep draft vessels. Southern Pacific, the great octopus, prevented the line from going east of Los Angeles. Thus it became a local line only.
Around 1880, passengers could board near USC and roll along a plain that rose and fell away toward the coast. There was a lot of pasture land and good farming soil, but very few people or trees.
Pacific Electric offered service on the alignment after steam service was terminated.
The extremities of the line are gone. East of Figueroa Street, the line was later merged with the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad on Alameda Street and a different alignment was used to take it to Alameda Street. On the western end, the wharf, the tracks along the coast and the rise into Santa Monica were all erased as there was no need for them.
So, as the region prepares to open the first phase of the Expo Line to Culver City, and later to extend it to Santa Monica, just know that this is the latest iteration of a rail line that is more than 135 years old.
Greg Fischer is a Downtown resident and amateur historian.