Removing a Bit of History : Transit: Plans to pull up Union Pacific’s Glendale tracks bring back memories of a once-thriving electric trolley.
When the last freight train rolled down the odd little spur track that parallels San Fernando Road just south of Forest Lawn, few people paid attention.
But Bryan H. Allen did. He reached for his camera, jumped on his bicycle and pedaled off from his Glassell Park home in chase.
It wasn’t his lucky day. He followed the train to the end, but the camera was out of film.
“In a sense, there was a historic photo opportunity, but I missed it,” the lifelong train buff said self-reproachfully.
That was in November, 1986. Today, Allen’s mortification has deepened--he just learned that the Union Pacific Railroad Co.'s Glendale branch line itself is nearing an end. The railroad is selling its 1.2-mile right of way and expects to pull up the track by midsummer.
“It means an end to what I’ve found to be the favorite aspect of living here--being next to the railroad,” Allen, 35, said last week. “I took it for granted that the railroad would always be here. I never suspected it would be abandoned as a has-been. I rue the fact that I did not take more photographs when it was in operation.”
Not all of Allen’s neighbors share his affection for the sights, sounds and smells of the railroad.
Forest Lawn Memorial Park has complained about overgrown vegetation along the Union Pacific right of way. For cars pulling into Pater Noster High School, the old rails create a bumpy crossing, as they do for motorists on Fletcher Drive. Much of the line is choked with weeds and surrounded by discarded bricks, broken flowerpots and other trash.
Nevertheless, the loss of these tracks will trigger sad emotions among fans of the once-thriving electric trolley network that now occupies a special place in Los Angeles mythology. For them, the removal of the Union Pacific tracks just east of San Fernando Road, roughly between Glendale Boulevard and the Glendale Freeway, will erase the last link in what was once the Glendale & Montrose Railway, the town’s ill-fated early attempt to tie into the Los Angeles transit system.
“That’s hitting pretty close to home,” said Raymond Younghans, 69, a retired railroad switchman who lives in Cypress Park. “I rode on that trolley way back in 1930. We rode up to Forest Lawn cemetery to put flowers on my father’s grave.”
Younghans recalls it as a rough ride because the financially strapped Glendale & Montrose couldn’t afford to keep its rails in top condition.
In later years Union Pacific used the track to service industrial plants and other businesses along the spur. Since 1938 it has connected to the busier Southern Pacific Transportation Co. line that runs parallel to San Fernando Road.
By the 1980s, traffic along the Glendale branch had decreased dramatically, causing concern among train watchers.
Five years ago, Younghans photographed the departure of boxcars that had taken Christmas trees to a platform on Fletcher Drive. He called Allen to tell him that it might be one of the last freight runs on the Glendale spur.
“Stupid me, I didn’t believe him,” Allen said. “And I failed to take pictures of that.”
Allen traces his own interest in trains to a trolley ride he took as a preschooler during the late 1950s. In 1967, while living in Inglewood, he dreamed of building a scale replica of the Union Pacific freight station on Fletcher Drive that he’d seen in Model Railroader magazine. He persuaded his mother to drive him to Glassell Park for a closer look.
His model never materialized. But seven years later, in a coincidental twist, Allen moved into a house on Drew Street, just a few blocks from the station. Soon he was snapping pictures of the freight cars that clattered past his house. He plunged into research and learned that 60 years ago these same tracks carried electric trolleys bound for Glendale and Montrose.
Allen, who is not employed, wears a mustache and shoulder-length hair and says that he “marches to a self-made drummer.” He has no car and gets around mainly by bus or bicycle. He has educated himself extensively about transportation issues and has spoken on the topic before several government boards.
Over the past 17 years, Allen has seen his neighborhood rail line take some gloomy turns. First, Union Pacific demolished its station. Then it halted freight service. And soon the track itself will be gone.
For the railroad company, financial concerns outweighed sentiment.
“The businesses dried up, and it was no longer economically feasible for us to continue to maintain the track,” Union Pacific spokesman Ed Trandahl said from the company’s Omaha headquarters.
In April, 1990, the Interstate Commerce Commission approved Union Pacific’s request to abandon its track rights along the Glassell Park stretch. Trandahl said the company expects to complete its sale of the property by the end of this month.
The buyer is Center Land Co., a Northern California firm that specializes in abandoned railroad rights of way. It plans to subdivide the land and sell it to Forest Lawn and other businesses along the route for parking and maintenance space, said Dean Truitt, a Center Land vice president.
Truitt warned those who will lament the loss of the track: “The rail should be removed by the end of July.”
But the train enthusiasts at Travel Town, the Los Angeles transportation museum in nearby Griffith Park, see this event as a window of opportunity. Linda Barth, Travel Town’s planning and development director, said the museum wrote to Union Pacific in 1989, asking for a chance to bid on the track.
Barth said Travel Town needs it to build a demonstration railway through part of the park. She said she plans to contact Union Pacific again to find out whether the rail is still for sale.
“That would be really a nice use, to take the track that was in Glendale’s system, that last historic little section, and use it at Griffith Park in a historical setting,” Barth said. “What we’re trying to do at Travel Town is to concentrate on railroad history in our area. Having rail that was used here locally would be a real find for us.”
These tracks are remnants of a colorful period in the early 1900s, when two companies, Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway, provided electric trolley transportation throughout the Los Angeles area.
In a book tracing the history of Glendale’s trolley line, authors Jeffrey Moreau and James Walker Jr. said residents believed that they were being neglected by the major lines. As a result, the authors said, E.D. Goode, a prominent Glendale businessman, founded the Glendale and Eagle Rock Railway in 1909 to bring trolley service into his community.
In 1913, the line was extended to Montrose and La Crescenta to promote development in these outlying areas. The next year the system was renamed the Glendale & Montrose Railway, operating as one of the only independent trolley systems in the Los Angeles area.
In 1920 new owners sought to extend the line south to the intersection of San Fernando and Verdugo roads, called Glendale Junction, to connect with the Los Angeles Railway.
To do this, they made a deal to use the Union Pacific’s existing tracks into Glendale. In 1923 the rail companies agreed to electrify these tracks for trolley and freight service. According to Moreau and Walker, the Union Pacific agreed in part because residents were complaining about its noisy steam locomotives chugging along Glendale Avenue. To encourage the switch to quieter trains, the city of Glendale helped pay for electrification of the tracks.
Not long after this expansion was completed, the trolley line was hit hard by the Depression and competition from bus services. It halted operations on Dec. 30, 1930. Union Pacific abandoned the Glendale Avenue route in 1956.
Moreau, who co-wrote the history of the trolley system, said there weren’t enough passengers to make the independent line a financial success.
“It was a community effort to extend the transportation system into their area,” he said in an interview. “But the areas of Glendale, Eagle Rock and Montrose were too sparsely settled at the time. The local citizens thought they could make a go of it, but they couldn’t.”
Ironically, urban rail systems, including trolleys, have made a comeback in recent years as one solution to the traffic jams on streets and highways.
In his more visionary moments, train buff Allen believes that such systems could revive the rail traffic near his house. He believes that the Union Pacific’s right of way in Glassell Park could be developed as an off-street trolley-bus route that would relieve congestion on San Fernando Road just south of Glendale.
“There is a bit of nostalgia in me that wishes this could be reused for light-rail transit,” he said. “But that’s not in the offing.”
As a result, Allen plans to spend the coming weeks taking some last photographs and measurements of the tracks beside his house. He may use them to finally follow through on his childhood dream to build a small replica of the old Glendale branch freight station and the tracks that served it.
“I sort of rekindled the idea when I heard the line would be abandoned,” Allen said. “What else will I have, except my memories and the model?”