It was with great fanfare that on June 9, 1887, the Los Angeles Times announced on its front page the incorporation of the Los Angeles Cable Railway Company, which promised the creation of the city’s first comprehensive cable car network. Its first line, a 1.5 mile route running from Seventh Street and Grand Avenue to Main and Arcadia Streets, opened in the summer of 1889. The Seventh and Grand passenger terminal also served as the first of three power houses to be built by the railway company. At the time of its inauguration, the Romanesque Revival building was dubbed by the Times as one of the city’s “most important points of interest.” Upon the 21-mile network’s completion at the end of the year, Los Angeles had the fifth largest cable car system in the United States.
Despite its achievements, the transit corporation was quickly mired in financial troubles, and never achieved financial solvency despite its reorganization as the Pacific Railway Company in 1890. In 1895, the cable car system came under the ownership of the newly formed Los Angeles Railway, whose first order of business was to replace its cable cars with electric trolleys. The cable house at Seventh and Grand was closed down within a matter of months, after the completion of a new power station at Central Avenue and Wilde Street.
The obsolete cable house remained vacant for nearly a decade, until it was partially demolished in 1904 for the construction of the city’s main post office. This was intended to be the last of that institution’s temporary headquarters while awaiting the construction of a larger facility closer to the city’s core. From the squat building’s outward appearance (second photo), it is clear that it was never meant to be appreciated or remembered.
Its design however, is striking in some ways. Most likely due to its meager construction budget of $40,000, the former power station’s heavy Seventh Street walls were incorporated into the new building. Rather incongruously, the old Romanesque arches stood beside new storefront windows, while the roofline was punctuated with Federal Style cornices and pediments. As an aside, the garish architectural hodgepodge is somewhat reminiscent of the cheap, “historicist” buildings that have become an essential part of contemporary American sprawl.
The Seventh Street post office was closed in 1910, following the completion of the Federal Building at Main and Temple Streets. The building was demolished in 1914 to make way for the J. W. Robinson department store, still standing today with a 1934 facelift. The location was shuttered in 1993 following the merger of Ronbinson’s with the May Company. Currently, it is used as an office building with ground-floor shops.
The Street Railway History of Los Angeles [Electric Railway Historical Association]
1. “$2,500,000.” Los Angles Times. 9 Jun. 1887. 1.
2. “A patriotic line.” Los Angles Times. 4 Jul. 1889.
3. “An improved service.” Los Angles Times. 24 Mar. 1895. 12.
4. “Cable power-house sold.” Los Angles Times. 16 Oct. 1901. 9.
5. “Plans shaping for million-dollar store.” Los Angles Times. 24 May 1914. VI1.
6. “Robinson’s-May Co. Reorganization.” Los Angeles Times. 18 Oct. 1992. 17.
7. “Scrap heap.” Los Angles Times. 23 Aug. 1895. 6.
8. “Street Railroads.” Los Angles Times. 1 Jan. 1891. 22.
9. “The city in brief.” Los Angles Times. 28 Jun. 1904. 12
10. “The heights.” Los Angeles Times. 4 Aug. 1899. 8.
1. “Exterior shot of the Pacific Railway Company’s Power Cable House, ca.1890.” Title Insurance and Trust/C. C. Pierce Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/assetserver/controller/view/CHS-7085.
2. “Exterior view of the Los Angeles Post office on the southwest corner of Seventh Street and Grand Avenue, 1910-1920.” California Historical Society Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/assetserver/controller/view/CHS-31329.