Return to ERHA homepage
The San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Railroad

By Franklyn Hoyt



ONROVIA was one of the first towns to be founded during  the real estate boom of the 1880’s; it was also one of the most successful.  Sale of lots in the new town began in May, 1886, and each deed contained a clause requiring that a house costing at least $2,000 be constructed within six months.  This was a wise provision, insuring the development of a permanent community instead of a “paper town” which would evaporate when the wild real estate speculation came to an end.1

Soon after the first lots were sold, the promoters of Monrovia made plans for building a railroad to Los Angeles.  It is not known exactly when the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Railroad Company was organized, but April 26, 1887, this company bought a right‑of‑way sixty feet wide and three thousand feet long near where the Santa Anita race track is now located.2

Two months later, the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Railroad Company was incorporated “for the purpose of constructing a railroad from some convenient point in the City of Los Angeles to the town of Monrovia.”  The capital stock of the new corporation was set at $250,000, and all of it was eventually sold.  Directors of the railroad were E. F. Spence, one of the founders of Monrovia, president of the First National Bank of Los Angeles and president of the railroad; W. N. Monroe, vice‑president; F. Q. Story, treasurer; H. A. Unruh, secretary; J. De Barth Shorb, George H. Bonebrake, F. C. Howes, John Bryson, Sr., and W. G. Kerckhoff.3

The officers of the company did an excellent job of financing the railroad; for a right‑of‑way sixty feet wide and about twenty miles long the railroad paid not more than $28,000.  Many property owners along the route of the railroad were persuaded to donate a right‑of‑way, and others sold their land at a reasonable price.  In addition to donating a right‑of‑way to the railroad, many people who had large real estate interests along the route were persuaded to buy several thousand dollars worth of stock in the railroad.4

Financial affairs of the company were aired when the railroad sued G. A. Dobinson in an attempt to collect a stock assessment of fifty per cent.  In his answer to the charges, filed June 7, 1889, Dobinson claimed that he had been induced to buy $2,000 worth of stock because representatives of the railroad led him to believe other property owners were subscribing large amounts: Wolfskill Syndicate $7,500, Florence Terrace Syndicate $7,500, F. Q. Storey and Alhambra $40,000, Rose Sunny Slope Syndicate $10,000, and the San Gabriel Land and Water Company $10,000.  Dobinson complained that all of these subscriptions “were and are fictitious” and  that they were subscribed “with intent to deceive and mislead defendant, and that thereby he was deceived and misled and fraudulently induced to sign the same.”5

In October, 1887, the Los Angeles City Council received a petition “from the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Railroad Company asking franchise for an elevated railroad.”  This petition was referred to the Board of Public Works, but for some reason the board never made a report and the franchise was not granted.6

Even though the railroad did not have a franchise to operate within the city limits, the company went ahead with plans to secure a right‑of‑way.  Most of the right‑of‑way was obtained between December, 1887, and the following February, although a few parcels were purchased in 1889.

Early in December, 1887, a right‑of‑way over six hundred feet long through part of the town of Monrovia was secured from John F. Falvey for one dollar.  The following January Pierre Laronde sold the railroad a lot near the corner of Alameda and Aliso Streets, for one dollar, the railroad agreeing:


to build an elevated track . . . eighteen (18) feet above the sidewalk on Alameda Street….  The road to be built upon iron pillars supported on masonry piers sunk level with the ground; no part of the structure to come nearer to the sidewalk on Alameda Street than eighteen (18) feet.7


One inducement the railroad used to get the support of the people living along the route of the railroad was to promise that depots would be built at frequent intervals.  Hellman, Haas and Company, for instance, gave the railroad a right‑of‑way across a two hundred and fifty acre tract “lying immediately east of the eastern boundary of Los Angeles,” the railroad agreeing in return to erect two depots within the tract.8

Three depots were promised in the Brooklyn district: one where the railroad crossed Soto Street, another at Gardiner Street, and a third near State Street.  Two of the stations were apparently only flag stops, but the one located west of State Street was


to cost not less than fifteen [hundred] ($1500) dollars, which said depot or station shall have an entrance on Plumas Street and the party of the second part agrees further that no depot or station shall be located on the east of Mission Street, nearer than Gardiner Street or on the west of Mission Street nearer than eighty rods.9


Another depot was to be located in the Wolfskill tract west of the Los Angeles River between San Pedro and Alameda Streets.  In consideration of the fact that J. W. Wolfskill and the De Soto Heights Land and Building Company had donated a right‑of‑way forty feet wide, the railroad agreed to


establish a depot near the center of said tract as may be designated by said De Soto Heights Company and shall stop at least ten trains each way at said station, provided that said number of trains be run daily.10


In April, 1888, the railroad submitted another petition to the Los Angeles City Council asking for a franchise to operate a railroad within the city limits.  This petition was again referred to the Board of Public Works which made a favorable report two weeks later; the franchise was finally granted on the 28th of May.  It gave the railroad permission to operate “a double track elevated railroad” for a period of fifty years, “over and across Alameda Street, Aliso and Macy Street and Mission Road” to the city boundary.  Dummy steam engines were to be used to pull the cars, fares were not be more than five cents inside the city limits, and school children were to be carried for half fare.11

Construction of the railroad was begun in Monrovia, and by August, 1888, the eastern boundary of Los Angeles had been reached.  Because of difficulty in securing a right‑of‑way between Soto Street and the Los Angeles River, a temporary depot was established in Boyle Heights, “and the company was compelled transfer their passengers to horse‑drawn carriages to take them to the center of the city.12

An elaborate reception given by Monroe at “The Oaks,” his palatial home, formally opened the new railroad on the 20th of August, 1888.  On the same day another reception was given at “Idlewild,” the “newly completed mansion of General Pile at Mayflower and Manana.”  At the conclusion of the second reception, various officials drove to the top of Gold Hill and listened to a speech by Mayor Workman of Los Angeles.  He said that although “this may seem impossible of realization, I predict that the time will come when there will be a solid city between Los Angeles and Monrovia.”13

Although the formal opening of the railroad was held in August, trains were apparently not running on a regular schedule until sometime in September.  The 17th of September a special railroad edition of the Los Angeles Times said that the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Railroad


will run by way of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Ramona, Alhambra and Arcadia to Monrovia, a distance of sixteen miles.  From Monrovia it may possibly be extended across the mountains.  A branch will be run from Ramona to Pasadena.  This road will only carry passengers.


This same issue of the Times contained a time‑table announcing that five trains would run to Monrovia on week days and on Sunday.

Much of the capital stock was not paid up as agreed, and the railroad was “unable to meet its liabilities or to satisfy the claims of its creditors.”  On the 8th of November, 1888, the Board of Directors voted to levy an assessment of fifty per cent on all of the stock; notice of this assessment was published in the Los Angeles newspapers:

an assessment of fifty dollars per share is levied upon the capital stock of the said corporation, payable immediately to the treasurer on No. 7 Arcadia Street, Los Angeles, Cal.  Any stock on which this assessment shall remain unpaid… will be sold on the 31st day of December, 1888, to pay the delinquent assessment together with the cost of advertising and expenses of sale.14

The railroad was unable to purchase a right‑of‑way from Boyle Heights into Los Angeles along its original route, so the City Council granted another franchise from Wabash Avenue to the corner of Aliso and Los Angeles Streets.  This franchise, which was adopted by the City Council on the 29th of October, was vetoed by the mayor who objected because the railroad was not restricted regarding switching.  The mayor also urged that the ordinance specify the elevation at which the railroad should cross the city streets.

The Council voted to change the ordinance to meet the mayor’s objections: Aliso and Summit Streets must be crossed at an elevation of twenty feet, and Alameda Street must be crossed at an elevation of twenty‑one feet above the sidewalk.  But the mayor still refused to sign the ordinance, and ten days later it was passed over his veto by a vote of eleven to four.15

Not much time was wasted by the railroad in taking advantage of this franchise, and by the spring of 1889 trains were running to Aliso Street on the east bank of the Los Angeles River.  According to a suit filed in March, 1889, “the termini of said road are, at one end said Aliso Street . . . , and, at the other end, the town of Monrovia.”16

For some reason, probably financial, the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit was not able to build across the river to the corner of Aliso and Los Angeles Streets.  In the summer of 1889, G. A. Dobinson stated in his answer to the railroad’s suit against him that the San Gabriel Rapid Transit had


promised and represented to defendant that its terminus in said City . . . would be established at or near the junction of Aliso and Los Angeles Streets .... [But the railroad] has not located its . . . depot at or near said junction of Los Angeles and Aliso Streets, or at any other points near the center of said city, easy of access to the public, but has located same on the outskirts of the city on the south easterly side of the Los Angeles River, at a point difficult of access and more than a mile from the center of the city; and has been compelled at great expense to hire omnibusses and stages to transport its passengers across the river and to said terminus, and that said hired conveyances are neither commodious, agreeable or attractive and the travel over said road is consequently light and said road unproductive.17


In an attempt to increase the revenue of the railroad, a branch line was surveyed from West Alhambra through South Pasadena, around the eastern base of Raymond Hill, and up Broadway to the center of Pasadena.  The Pasadena Star said early in October, 1889, that the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit was trying to get a route into Pasadena, and a few days later it added that if right‑of‑way matters were settled cars would soon be running.18

In a suit filed September 20, 1890, Adam Becker said that the railroad had obtained a franchise from the Pasadena City Council allowing it to construct a railroad along Broadway through the City of Pasadena.  The railroad had “surveyed the route for said railroad and located the same upon and along Broadway at the center thereof, and the work of construction is now in progress.”

Judge J. M. McKinley issued an injunction ordering the railroad to stop work opposite Becker’s property, located about half a mile north of the Raymond Hotel near the corner of San Pasqual Street and Broadway.  This injunction, or perhaps it was again shortage of money, forced the San Gabriel Rapid Transit Railroad to abandon the Pasadena branch.  It was not until after the railroad had been purchased by the Southern Pacific in 1893 that the line into Pasadena was completed.19

In February, 1891, the Times announced that the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Railroad had gone into receivership, but the railroad continued to operate four trains to Monrovia and return every week day and two on Sundays.  The last of December, 1891, the Express reported that the railroad had been recently released from receivership, but that this had been due to “some controversy existing among the stockholders”—not because the railroad was losing money.20

During 1891 the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit built a branch line from West Alhambra to the Raymond Hotel, a distance of about two miles.  By New Year’s Day, 1892, this branch was not yet in operation, but it was reported that it would eventually be extended through Pasadena and on to "Wilson Peak.”21

In January, 1892, the company was still operating four trains to Monrovia on week days and two on Sundays.  Two months later the railway was leased by the Los Angeles Terminal Railway, and in June it was announced that the line was being broad‑gauged and turned over to the Terminal Railway.22

But the Los Angeles Terminal Railway soon lost interest in the poverty stricken line to Monrovia, and it did not renew its lease.  In 1893 the Southern Pacific was persuaded to take over the railroad for an undisclosed price.  In reporting this purchase, the San Francisco Examiner said:

The property purchased consists of the railway now operated by the Terminal Railway extending from this city to Monrovia, together with a franchise for a line into Pasadena branching from the main line near the San Gabriel winery at West Alhambra . . . . This line will be at once extended to San Bernardino, close to the Southern California line.23

After the Southern Pacific purchased the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit, a branch was built from the Raymond Hotel, up Broadway, to a depot on the southeast corner of Broadway and Colorado Street.  Later the “Monrovia Branch” was connected with the main line of the Southern Pacific about half a mile east of Shorb,24 and the old San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit line through Boyle Heights was abandoned.

The Monrovia line was extended to Duarte a few years later, but it was never built eastward to San Bernardino as the Southern Pacific had originally intended.  In 1904 the Southern Pacific deeded the abandoned section, “running from Anderson and Aliso Streets to Ramona and Shorb,” to the Los Angeles Interurban.25

Like all of the railroads which were begun during the real estate boom of the eighties, the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit had a short life as an independent railway.  Begun in 1887 to promote a real estate development at Monrovia, it soon became bankrupt with the bursting of the bubble.  The line from the Los Angeles River to Boyle Heights was eventually torn out, but the branch from Alhambra became a part of the Pacific Electric system.

The Historical Society of Southern CaliforniaQuarterly, September 1951

Return to ERHA homepage