CityDig: When the Trolley Came to U.S.C.


Let us give thanks to asphalt. Without the asphalt pools known as the La Brea Tar Pits, we’d have only a dim view of the lumbering mammoths and saber-toothed cats that once roamed the Los Angeles Basin. And asphalt has preserved another, more recent chapter of Los Angeles history: remnants of the city’s old streetcar network.

Construction workers discovered one remnant earlier this month at the University of Southern California, where they unearthed streetcar rails underneath the blacktop pavement of McClintock Avenue. Hidden for decades, the tracks date as far back as 1891 and the construction of the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway’s University Line. Then, the university operated out of a few buildings along present-day Trousdale Parkway, and McClintock—today a private road through campus—was a public residential street.

A Los Angeles Consolidated Electric streetcar, circa 1891-96. Courtesy of the USC Libraries – USC University Archives.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the University Line had become the Los Angeles Railway’s U Line. For decades, the yellow cars of the U Line rolled through what is today the heart of the USC campus. According to Kenn Bicknell of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive, the line was among the city’s most popular, handling 49,200 average weekday boardings in 1940. (Another trolley route, the K Line, cut through campus along present-day Trousdale Parkway.)

After World War II, the U Line met the same fate that befell all of L.A.’s other streetcar lines. In 1948, the fixed-rail streetcars gave way to rubber-tire trolley buses, and asphalt entombed the old tracks.

RELATED: Remembering L.A.’s Other Trolleys

Nathan Masters of the USC Libraries blogs here on behalf of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, cultural institutions, official archives, and private collectors hosted by the USC Libraries and dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden histories of Los Angeles.