Friday, August 31, 2007

Sacramento's Streetcar Suburbs, Part 3: PG&E and its predecessors

Albert Gallatin and his projects left a strong mark in Sacramento's streetcar history. His home at 1526 H Street was built along the old City Street Railway horsecar line in the heyday of Mansion Flat. As the manager of Huntington-Hopkins Hardware, main hardware supplier to the Pacific railway and the growing railroad empire of Central Pacific, Gallatin spent lavishly on the building that would later serve as the California governor's mansion. In 1887, he sold his home to Lincoln Steffens and relocated to San Francisco when Huntington & Hopkins moved their headquarters from Sacramento to San Francisco.

However, Gallatin's days in Sacramento were not over. In 1892, he and his partner H.P. Livermore applied for a franchise to operate a street railway in Sacramento. This system would be powered by a new hydroelectric plant, then under construction in Folsom. The new company was called the Sacramento Electric Power and Light Company, and it purchased and consolidated the Central Street Railway into its new system.

In 1895, an Electric Carnival celebrated the completion of the first long-range power transmission lines in California, from Folsom to Sacramento. The carnival showcased the various uses of electricity, including electric light and electric streetcars. The new hydroelectric system was far cheaper than coal-fired steam boilers to generate electrical power, and a streetcar system provided an excellent and steady customer. Owning both the electrical utility and the streetcar system provided a winning combination. Gallatin's new company was able to deliver cheap electric power to Sacramento homes, and transport Sacramentans on his electric cars. Electricity also played a role in the Oak Park suburb, as a new electric amusement park, Joyland, was built to draw riders, showcase electric power, and bring more suburban growth to Oak Park. By 1895, Gallatin's company was consolidated again and renamed the Sacramento Electric, Gas & Railway Company. In that year, there were seven operating lines in Sacramento: two to East Park, four at Oak Park, and one at the city cemetery. In 1906, SEG&R was made part of Pacific Gas & Electric.

Gallatin, like earlier streetcar operators Alsip and Carey, followed the same basic rule seen in other streetcar systems: Streetcar systems are great ways to make one's other business investments more profitable.

Other California capitalists learned this lesson, and expressed it in even more successful ways in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Henry Huntington, nephew of Central Pacific/Southern Pacific's president Collis P. Huntington, learned the business building streetcar lines for Southern Pacific in San Francisco, and applied what he had learned in Los Angeles. He consolidated the multitude of streetcar and small interurban lines in Los Angeles and Orange County into the Los Angeles Railway and the Pacific Electric, the largest interurban network in the United States. Huntington also perfected a "triangle trade" of development which produced great results: In addition to operating the streetcar system, Huntington also owned a real estate company, and he also owned a power company. Thus, Huntington streetcars were powered by Huntington electricity, and ran to Huntington suburbs.

It was common practice for Huntington's streetcar or interurban lines to build out to open fields, where there were not yet customers, and advertise lots for sale. Potential purchasers of suburban homes, who might otherwise be unwilling to move out to the suburbs far from their jobs, liked the idea of easy streetcar transit from home to work. Because the neighborhoods were mostly vacant land, the streetcar lines operated at a loss.

Francis "Borax" Smith followed much the same model in the Bay Area with his Key System interurban trains and in-city streetcars. Smith's system sold real estate throughout the East Bay, and built attractions like the Claremont Hotel and Idora Park (an electric amusement park, similar to Joyland) to attract ridership. Key System had its own powerhouse as well, constructed in Emeryville. From its completion in 1939 until 1958, Key System interurban trains carried passengers over the lower level of the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.

In Sacramento, population growth was slower than that seen in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, but many businessmen saw the potential for suburban growth surrounding the central city, all operating on streetcar lines. Next time: The suburbs leapfrog Sacramento's city limits--with PG&E streetcars leading the way.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sacramento's Streetcar Suburbs, Part 2: Central Street Railway

Central Street Railway was founded by real estate investor Edwin K. Alsip and plumbing & tinware seller Leonidas Lee Lewis. Operating from the new 1879 Central Pacific depot at Second and H Street, which replaced the older depot at Front Street, Central Street Railway ran down J Street, a block from the City Street Railway tracks on K, and turned south at 28th Street. The line continued south past their horsecar barn at 28th and M, and eventually went outside the city limits, into the new suburbs of Highland Park and Oak Park. The eastern terminus was a public park, then known as Oak Park, on 35th Street and Fifth Avenue.

The Central Street Railway's headquarters were at 1015 K Street. This office was also the center for Alsip's real estate sales, selling land in Oak Park and Highland Park. At the time, both neighborhoods were outside of Sacramento city limits, and there were tax advantages to building suburban homes outside of those limits.

One important development that allowed Central Street Railway to reach Oak Park in reasonable time was the introduction of electric cars. The first electrics were battery-powered cars, introduced in 1888. These were not very successful, due to the era's primitive batteries, which ran down after only a few runs. These cars were taken out of service and the older horsecars reintroduced. The idea of using cable cars, like those found in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities of the era, was considered, and at least one promotional poster for Oak Park real estate indicates the use of cable cars to Oak Park, but cable cars were made obsolete by the development of the overhead trolley.

Central Street Railway introduced the first electric trolley cars to Sacramento in 1891. Generating power from their own coal-fired dynamo, they strung overhead wire along their routes and added electric motors and overhead poles to their cars. Electric cars were faster than horse-drawn cars, making the longer runs to Oak Park practical and economical, and solved many of the problems involved with horsecars, such as horse dung on the streets (which simplified street sprinkling and grading, an obligation of the streetcar company) and the short (and therefore expensive) service life of horses in streetcar service. Also in 1891, the Central Street Railway bought out Carey's City Street Railway.

A probable side effect of the Central Street Railway's car lines is the spurring of development in midtown Sacramento. Anywhere the streetcar ran became an ideal location for retail business, offices, or restaurants. J and K Street still shows much evidence of this, as does 28th Street. Later streetcar lines also became retail corridors: Third, Seventh, Tenth, Fifteenth, Twenty-first (numbered streets) as well as M, P and T Streets (lettered streets) gained retail attention and higher land value largely due to close proximity to transit. Land along streetcar corridors was always more valuable than land farther away, so more intensive use was made of streetcar-adjacent property. Because it was easy to walk to the streetcar line, the streets within several blocks of the car line became attractive as residential neighborhoods. So, while its primary purpose was to motivate people to move to Oak Park and Highland Park, the streetcar had a beneficial effect on the intervening neighborhoods where it ran. Because riders could get on and off at will (you could simply flag down a car to get on, or jump off to exit) every point along the line became an equally convenient destination.

Next: Albert Gallatin and the coming of Pacific Gas & Electric

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sacramento's Streetcar Suburbs

Since I really haven't used this weblog too much so far, I figured I would give myself a project that would need regular updating. Thus, I present the first of a series of weblog posts discussing the development of streetcar suburbs in Sacramento. This isn't intended to be an exhaustive history, just a brief overview with some discussion of how streetcar suburbs work.

Gallatin Mansion, with horsecar running in front of it

Sacramento's Streetcar Suburbs, Part 1: Alkali Flat and Mansion Flat

Despite the contemporary image of public transportation as primarily a means for the working class and poor to get around, streetcars (along with other early public transit methods like steamboats, steam railroads and omnibuses) were originally intended for the middle class. While the wealthy were able to afford carriages, horses and stables, middle-class households typically did not, especially in cities. While a nickel for a ride seems ridiculously cheap now, that added up to fifty cents a week. For a 19th century laborer, that 50 cents represented food for their family that they might not otherwise be able to afford, and typically the denser, less expensive housing of working people was located closer to downtown.

Omnibuses, the horse-drawn predecessor to the city bus, were common in Sacramento in the 1860s. They did have limitations, though, as they could not carry very many people and they were generally slow in Sacramento's unpaved streets. The coming of horse-drawn streetcars represented an improvement in speed and capacity, as rail-supported cars had less friction to overcome and wouldn't sink into a muddy street.

Sacramento's first suburban streetcar line was the City Street Railway, inaugurated on August 20, 1870. It ran from the Central Pacific depot on Front Street, down K Street, to the California state fairgrounds at 20th and H Streets. R.S. Carey was also a president of the State Agricultural Society, which organized the State Fair. This meant that his streetcar line served several purposes: in addition to providing public transporation for commuters, the line was an easy way for visitors to get from the train station to the state fair. This connection appears again and again in the history of streetcars: typically the owner of a streetcar line also owned something else which made the line money. In addition to the line to the fairgrounds, there was also a line to the State Fair Pavilion, which was located on what is now the grounds of Capitol Park.

The homes along the City Street Railway were the homes of the middle class or the wealthy, in the neighborhoods now known as Alkali Flat, Mansion Flat, and New Era Park. Once the state fairgrounds were moved to the corner of Stockton and Broadway, the old fairgrounds area became Boulevard Park. While the area has changed much, the streetcar line ran directly in front of homes like the Gallatin Mansion, better known as the former Governor's Mansion. While Gallatin had a carriage-house and stables, many of his slightly less wealthy neighbors took the convenient streetcar.

Within a year, Carey's streetcar line had run all the way to the eastern edge of town, Thirty-first Street, and a privately-owned park known as East Park (known today as McKinley Park.) This provided another neighborhood amenity that was convenient to visit via horsecar, including a pond, gardens, a small zoo, and a bandstand and dance area.

Next time: The Central Street Railway's lines to Highland Park and Oak Park, and the coming of the electric trolley.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Preservation Roundtable announcement



Saturday, September 8, 2007
9:00 a.m. to 12 noon
at the YWCA
Northwest Corner of 17th & L Streets

9/8/07 AGENDA

9:00 Welcome – Information about the YWCA BUILDING

9:10 City’s General Plan update - Tom Pace, City Staff

9:20 The Preservation of the Hollow Sidewalks in the
Downtown – Bruce Booher, Preservation

9:45 Yee Fow Museum - Steve Yee & Vicki Beaton

10:00 Break

10:20 Preservation Organizations 5 to 10 min
Information presentations; accomplishments, their goals and
current issues:

-Sacramento Old City Association – SOCA –
Linda Whitney

-Sacramento Art Deco Society – Leslie Douglas

-Sacramento Bungalow Heritage Association - Beth Hendrickson

-Capitol City Preservation Trust- Allen Owen

-Sacramento Heritage, Inc. – Kay Knepprath & Red Banes

-Sacramento County Historical Society – Susan Ballew

-Florin Historical Society – John Newman/representative

-West Sacramento Historical Association- Lana Paulhumas

-FOSMA -Friends of Memorial Auditorium – Bob Rakela

Note: Questions are welcome

11:55 Announcements

Next Preservation Roundtable in December at the American Youth Hostel (Williams
Mansion) at 10th & H Streets

12:00 Adjournment

The Preservation Roundtable is sponsored by SOCA & refreshment
provided by Friends of Memorial Auditorium (FOSMA)