MR. LONG BEACH: Old Rail Line Makes Scar across Long Beach

Rails from the Pacific Electric Red Car poke out of the asphalt where Rotary Centennial Park meets Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach.

Q. Was there ever a connecting street from Appian Way directly to Eliot Street, via Third Street? Seems like it would be possible, feasible and well-liked to put one in now. I would think that with the fire station right there, a minute or so could be saved if a fire truck emergency needed to get down East Appian Way. – Justin Rudd

A. It looks like it could/should go through, but I couldn’t find any information about Third Street ever connecting to Eliot Avenue.

After studying the area on Google Maps I started wondering why Third Street was even there. The numbered streets in Long Beach go east/west, but here Third Street goes at an angle – and it doesn’t really go anywhere.

As luck would have it this week I was working on a different story about Long Beach history and came across a 1956 Shell gas station map laying among other historic artifacts at Seaside Printing. According to the map, the stretch of Third Street that Justin referred to didn’t exist, at least not in 1956.

What was there in the first half of the 20th century? The Pacific Electric Red Car’s Newport Beach Line. The train ran 40 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, through Long Beach and ended in Newport. Even though the rails were removed sometime in the 1950s, it took years for development to encroach on the right-of-way.

It seems the street, and other oddities around town, are the result of having to fill a void when the Red Car was shuttered.

The path of the former train is like a scar that stretches across Long Beach – from Belmont Heights up toward Compton. The right-of-way also continues south into Seal Beach where a restored Red Car sits on aptly named, and what I imagine would be a favorite of singer Eddy Grant’s – “Electric Avenue.”

Over the years scar tissue has formed over the right-of-way as it’s been slowly enveloped by the city.

If you get the chance, take a look at a map and follow the old route. You can clearly see streets that abruptly end and parallelogram-shaped buildings filling the void.

The remnants of the once-great transportation system can be seen all over Long Beach.

Starting south and working your way north, the Long Beach Green Belt stretches along the right-of-way from Seventh Street to 10th Street. It was full of native plants until the Termino Avenue Drain Project stripped it to dirt.

Just north of there is an odd triangle where 10th Street, Euclid Avenue and Grand Avenue converge.

A little shopping center with an ever-changing tiny restaurant at the corner of Anaheim Street and Orizaba Avenue gets its triangle shape from the train’s path.

At Orizaba Park a life-size replica of the front of a Red Car made by Signal Hill artist Patrick Vogal sits on the approximate location of where tracks once ran through the refurbished space.

North of there is a fenced-in garden of native plants and a walkway where 15th Street should go through. The passageway, named Trolley Garden Way, is an homage to the historic railway.

Past that is three blocks of gated single family homes along Old Zaferia Way. The street was named for one of the stations along the route.

If you want a peek at the old tracks, they poke out of the asphalt where Rotary Centennial Park meets Pacific Coast Highway.

The easement, which predated the city of Signal Hill, serves as the city’s western border with Long Beach

The rails also make an appearance at yet another traffic triangle where Alamitos Avenue, Walnut Avenue and 20th Street come together. The tracks lead in to a new greenway with bike lanes that ends near the visual deteriorating Orange Avenue Bridge. The only reason the bridge, which holds up the intersection of Orange Avenue and Hill Street, exists was to lift traffic above the trains.

At Long Beach Boulevard the path joins the current Metro Blue Line and heads up to Los Angeles – following much of the route it did when it was built at the turn of the last century.