Temple Street Cable Railway

Of the two cable car lines that ran through Bunker Hill in the late 1880s, the Second Street Railway was the first to be financed and functioning, but the Temple Street line would prove to be more durable and longer lasting. While the cable cars of Los Angeles are now just a very small footnote in the city’s history, the Temple Street Railway was for years, a reliable mainstay for Bunker Hill residents in the waning days of the Victorian era.

Cable cars did not come to Los Angeles until 1885, even though a local paper suggested in 1882 that a line running up Temple and over to the Normal School (where the Central Library now stands) would be a good idea. The Temple Street line was conceived of around the same time as its Second Street counterpart, but while the latter immediately had investors reaching into deep pockets, the raising of funds for the Temple cable cars was slower going. A month after the Second Street line was completed, the Temple Street Cable Car Railway Company was finally able to incorporate with a Board of Directors that included Walter S Maxwell, Victor Beaudry, Ralph Rogers, Thomas Stovell, Julius Lyons, E.A. Wall, O. Morgan, Prudent Beaudry and John Milner.

 

Work on the line began in December of 1885 and was estimated to be completed by the following May. Unlike the Second Street line which was constructed rapidly to capitalize on the real estate boom of the 1880s, the Temple line was built with considerably more care. Completion of the railway was delayed, mainly due to wait times on parts ordered from around the country, and the Temple Street cable car made its eagerly awaited inaugural trip through Bunker Hill on July 14, 1886.

 

The Temple line cost $90,000 to construct (around 2 million in today’s dollars) and would require roughly 600 passengers a day, each way, to make a profit. The cars, built by the John Stephenson Co of New York, held fourteen passengers and according to the Los Angeles Times, “are models of elegance and easy motion.” The line initially ran 1.6 miles up Temple from Spring to Belmont, and would eventually be extended to Hoover in an area then known as Dayton Heights. Unlike the failed attempt of the Second Street line to connect with the Cahuenga Valley Railroad, the Temple Railway was successfully connected with the steam cars which allowed passengers to transfer from one line to another and travel out to Hollywood.

 

Tragedy struck the Temple Street Cable Railway on the morning of January 16, 1892 when James Brown, a 51 year old employee of the railway company for six years, was killed in a freak accident. Every day, Brown would oil the wheels from the end of the line up to the powerhouse on Edgeware near Echo Park. On the fateful morning, a piece of Brown’s clothing was caught between a cable and the wheel. The speed of the wheel pulled his arm off and as the Times reported, “he was terribly mangled around the head and face, and several bones were crushed, so that death must have almost been instantaneous.” Almost a year later, Brown’s widow would be awarded $20,000 from the Temple Street Railway Company.

Great flooding in 1889 would obliterate the Second Street line, but the better built Temple railway would persevere with little interruption to service and would carry 1.5 million passengers by year’s end. This would prove to be the pinnacle for the line, which never turned much of a profit and was near bankruptcy by 1897. The cars managed to chug along for another few years, but by 1902 they were breaking down frequently and many residents opted to walk along the rails instead of waiting to catch a ride on these relics of a bygone era. The railway was purchased by railroad magnate Henry Huntington in late 1901 who would eventually make the line an electric one. On November 18, 1902, the cable cars on Temple Street officially stopped running.

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

St Angelo Hotel – 237 North Grand Avenue

 

St Angelo Hotel

The next time you take in a show at the Ahmanson Theater or the Mark Taper Forum, take a minute and think about the St Angelo Hotel. For 70 years the impressive Victorian structure dominated the corner of Grand and Temple where the Music Center now stands. From stately hotel to slum boarding house, the St Angelo represented Bunker Hill in all its glory and decline.

St Angelo in its glory days

The St. Angelo Hotel was built in 1887 by a Mrs. A.M. Smith who hoped to cash in on the big SoCal land boom of the 1880s, which brought countless migrants to the area. Like many structures built on the Hill during this period, the St Angelo was an elaborate Victorian building that the Los Angeles Times described as having “balconies with ornate woodwork and varicolored small squares of glass are in the upper parts of the windows.” As for the interior, the St. Angelo had “winding stairways which with other woodwork are of redwood” with “wide landings that are parlors on each floor.”

St Angelo

Unfortunately, Mrs. Smith’s timing was a bit off. When the St. Angelo opened, the booming 80s were winding down and the hotel did not fare as well as planned. In August 1889, the hotel was shut down by the sheriff due to an attachment on the property, but was able to reopen three months later. Mrs. Smith held onto the hotel for twelve years, waiting for prosperous times to return, but ultimately had to give up the property.

Prosperity did come to the St Angelo in the early years of the 20th Century and the hotel hosted many parties, weddings and conferences. Guests were frequently mentioned in the society pages. While the patrons of the St. Angelo may have been of a more refined type, the same could not always be said of its employees. For example, there was no love lost between Mr. Cole, the hotel cook, and Mr. Brown another hotel employee, who were known to frequently spar. One day in March of 1902, all hell broke lose and Brown and Cole chased each other around the kitchen throwing, “catsup bottles, dining-room chairs, and other utensils that came handy.” The authorities were summoned and Brown was fined $5.

In 1904, Mrs. A.M. Smith came back in the picture when she realized that she legally still retained, as the L.A. Times reported, a strip of land “seven and one half feet, extending from Grand avenue to Bunker Hill avenue and passing directly under the St. Angelo.” The property owners demanded that she hand over the deed to this strip of land, but Mrs. Smith held out for the cash settlement. She finally made a profit on the St. Angelo.

 

St Angelo Hotel by Arnold Hylen

No boarding house on Bunker Hill would be complete without a bit of death and mayhem. In 1906, Charles Malan, a Frenchman suffering from consumption and depleted funds, did himself in by sealing off all the doors and cracks of his room and turning on the gas. Then there is the sad story of Frederick Merrill, an 87 year old inventor and resident who slipped on a banana peel on Main Street and died from his injuries a couple of weeks later. Finally, in 1943 a fight broke out in the hotel’s lobby and Mrs. Mae Perry, the hotel manager, broke up the scuffle…with a gun. Rubio Ernesto, 17 and not a hotel guest was killed in the incident.

St Angelo by Arnold Hylen

By 1939, when a WPA census was conducted, the St. Angelo and its 57 units were in need of “major repairs.” As the Los Angeles Times noted, “it is an old wooden pile now proudly in decline, a genteel old building still snobbish among the smaller structures around it which were built not much later.” Despite the hotel’s shabby condition, it stood proudly on the Hill until the board of health ordered it vacated in 1956. All traces of the once grand hotel were soon erased and replaced by the Music Center which was dedicated in 1964.

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the California State Library Digital Archive