CityDig: Mapping One of the “Bloodiest Scenes in L.A. History”

On July 13, 1913, a Pacific Electric power station named Vineyard became synonymous with horror and death

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After World War I, the federal government realized our national mapping program was not up to par and needed a great overhaul. At that point, 60 percent of the country was unmapped, and the rest was in great need of re-survey.

While the impulse to continue the task USGS had started in 1879 was driven by the need for oil and mineral resources, the agency also covered cities in the great survey. In the 1920s the agency started working in California and increased map scales from the original 1:62,5000 to 1:24,000, commonly called the Seven-and-a-Half Minute Map (seven-and-a-half minutes of latitude or longitude). The good thing about this scale it that it allows for detailed information in regards to the features of the areas being mapped, including prominent buildings, rail lines, and housing developments that demonstrate density of habitation. All of this cartography was contained on a landscape ranging from 49 to 70 square miles per quadrangle. The USGS got to Hollywood around 1924, when the area was beginning to boom with the influx of “theatricals” and the film industry was flourishing at the height of the silent era. Yet on this map, published in 1926, the eye seems to wander not toward young Hollywood but to the odd oval beneath the prominent place name “Vineyard” that appears to be equal to Sherman (later West Hollywood) and slightly smaller than HOLLYWOOD! Herein lies a map tale that ranges from the sublime to the terrible…right off of Pico Boulevard.

The oval is a quaint and beautiful Victoria Park, a housing development created in 1908 by “nineteen substantial citizens” who wished to create a place of beauty on the Western edge of the city at that time. This enclave was to be based on the principals of the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and built in the style of the American Arts and Crafts movement. From 1910 to 1915 they pretty much accomplished that atop West Adams Heights Hill, but World War I interrupted the flow of money and changed the direction a bit. First it was mansions on the oval but later it expanded to include even duplexes in the neighborhood.  Victoria Park remains to this day one of the jewels of Los Angeles real estate and one of the few neighborhoods ever designed in an oval form that jumps out of maps of Los Angeles. 

Just above the landmark oval is “Vineyard,” which was in the beginning a power station for the Pacific Electric Railway and a major stop along the “Venice Short Line” that brought people back to L.A. from the Beach cities.  However, on July 13, 1913, the name Vineyard in Los Angeles became synonymous with horror and death. Two jam-packed three-car trains had stalled in a sort of blind alley within two high embankments just 50 feet west of Vineyard when the electric cable overhead failed, leaving them vulnerable and unprotected. There was no automation in place to prevent collisions, no signals to alert the trains behind that any problems lie ahead.  Behind that scene an approaching beach “Special” (car 887) train was traveling at three-times the recommended speed (10 mph) and blasted into the stalled wooden car 874, causing a grisly wreck that killed 15 and seriously injured another one hundred passengers. The scene was described in the local newspapers as one of the bloodiest in city history, with the battering train telescoping the stalled cars, meaning that those within were caught in a lethal tangle of splintered wood, glass and twisted steel. 

A thousand riders were involved and many had to wait up to two hours for treatment due to the inaccessibility of the accident location and the crowds of onlookers who blocked the emergency crews from reaching the site. It was all Los Angeles talked about for weeks, and eventually an inquiry by the Interstate Commerce Commission concluded the blame went to the poor conductor/flagman on car 874 who failed to notify the oncoming car 887 in time to avoid the collision. Within 3 days, Pacific Electric covered their…bases by installing blocking signals to avoid such tragedies in the future.

Above: Hollywood Quadrangle, United States Geologic Survey, 1926

Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.