Though hardly a trace of it remains today, the streetcar line that once ran along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard predates the road itself. In light of the decline of its freight operations, the Los Angeles and Redondo Beach Railroad began construction in 1902 on an interurban streetcar line between its namesake cities. Rather than use its existing tracks, the railroad company built a new route through Hawthorne, whose east-west portion ran along the center of Santa Barbara Avenue (now MLK Boulevard). The actual roadway however, then existed only on planning maps, and had yet to be opened by the city. At the time, Los Angeles remained largely undeveloped south of Jefferson Boulevard.
The Los Angeles and Redondo Beach Railroad sold its streetcar operation in 1911, only seven years after its initiation. Interurban service between Hawthorne and Los Angeles was taken over by the Los Angeles Railway, which connected the line to its existing service to Eagle Rock, forming the transit company’s longest route – Line 5. Meanwhile, the southern end of the line to Redondo Beach was transferred to the Pacific Electric Railway.
When the city began opening Santa Barbara Avenue in 1913, the roadway had to be built around the unpaved right-of-way occupied by the streetcar tracks. This created an exceptionally wide thoroughfare where streetcars remained largely separated from automobile traffic, a configuration shown in the top photograph. During the summer of 1937, the city rebuilt the Santa Barbara Avenue tracks over a new bed of pavement while consolidating its utility poles along the sidewalks. Largely for the benefit of motorists, the rebuilt street effectively provided an additional traffic lane in both directions and greatly facilitated the making of left turns. The rails were ultimately removed altogether after the streetcar line was replaced by bus service in 1955.
The Los Angeles and Redondo Railway [Electric Railway Historical Association]
1. “L.A. Transit fares to rise to 17 cents.” Los Angeles Times. 17 Feb. 1955. 1.
2. “Motor’s swift path from Redondo.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Jun. 1902. 8.
3. “Rail arriving for redondo’s highway.” Los Angeles Times. 6 Jul. 1902. B8.
4. “Redondo beach cars in big depot today.” Los Angeles Times. 12 Nov. 1911.
5. “rights-of-way pacts approved.” Los Angeles Times. 13 Mar. 1937. A3.
6. “Settled without usual friction: Southwest street opening to be peaceful.” Los Angeles Times. 2 Mar. 1913. VII.
1.”CHS-M715 – Santa Barbara Avenue looking west from Vermont Avenue, May 26, 1937.” 1937. Title Insurance and Trust/C. C. Pierce Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/view/chs-m715.html.
2. “CHS-M716 – Santa Barbara Avenue looking west from Vermont Avenue after roadwork, November 17, 1937.” 1937. Title Insurance and Trust/C. C. Pierce Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/view/chs-m716.html.