In 1875, the
Los Angeles and Independence Railroad connected central Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Bay. Southern Pacific bought the steam line two years later, and, by 1911, it had electrified and rebranded the “Santa Monica Air Line.”
An advertisement for the 1923
Country Club Highlands housing tract (now part of the Cheviot Hills neighborhood) touted the adjacent “ ‘air line’ to the beaches.” In 1934, the area’s American Legion post successfully opposed Southern Pacific’s effort to drop passenger service, and it carried passengers until 1953 and freight until 1988.
Each spring in the early-1950s, the 35-car
Clyde Beatty Circus train would park on a railroad siding between Overland Avenue and Westwood Boulevard for the circus’ performances up the street at Overland and Pico Boulevard.
In 1990, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, a predecessor of the
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), bought the railroad right of way from Southern Pacific. In 2016 – after a 63-year hiatus – Metro restored passenger train service between Los Angeles and Santa Monica with its Expo Line (later “E Line”) on the old right of way.
Picture from April 17, 1952, West Los Angeles Independent Newspaper article “WLA Welcomes Circus Today.”
Westbound on the Santa Monica Air Line below Northvale Road (formerly Exposition Blvd.) at Clarkson Road (1953). (Photograph by Alan Weeks.)
Westbound on the Santa Monica Air Line west of the Palms Depot (1953). (Photograph by Alan Weeks.)
Westbound on the Santa Monica Air Line crossing over Motor Avenue (1953). This Alan Weeks photograph shows Pacific Electric car 1299 on a chartered club trip. In 2008, Alan wrote: “This line was de-electrified one month later. A private car belonged to the officials of the P.E.R.Y. It had leather chairs, a kitchen, bathroom and carpets.”
Air Line crossing over Motor Avenue bridge. During much of the 20th century, the Exposition Right of Way carried “Red Cars.” This electrified rail line was called the Santa Monica Air Line, signifying the most direct line between central Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
Red Car #5125 crossing over Motor Avenue on September 26, 1953. (Photo by Ira Swett.) At right, a sign between the train and the group of boys says “Winship” – for the stop at Winship’s Vista del Mar, Charles Winship’s 1898 subdivision of The Palms.
This early Edison film shows a steam engine passing through a Los Angeles & Independence Railway tunnel in the area that is now the McClure Tunnel in Santa Monica. The Los Angeles & Independence Railway ran on right of way that later carried the Santa Monica Air Line then the “E” Line light rail line.