Neighborhood Fixture: Mt. Washington’s Incline Railway Station

Mount Washington

Photo by Marni Epstein

By Marni Epstein

MOUNT WASHINGTON — At the base of Mount Washington, at the intersection of Avenue 43 and Marmion Way, sits an unassuming two-story Mission-style building. While today it is a residence, from 1909 to 1919 it served a much different purpose.  It was the Los Angeles and Mt. Washington Incline Railway Station, writes  Water and Power.

While steep, most motor vehicles today can traverse the hills of Mt. Washington without much trouble.  In the early 1900s, however, when developer Robert Marsh subdivided Mount Washington,  the community’s 940 foot-high summit seemed nearly insurmountable, and the prospect of homes almost laughable. Marsh originally toyed with the idea of building an open cable car system nearly 3,000 feet long, notes The Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California. However, after seeing how the Angels Flight funicular, an incline railway,  served Bunker Hill, Marsh & Co. landed on a similar counterbalance cable car system for their Mount Washington project.

The Los Angeles and Mt. Washington Incline Railway began operations up the hill on May 24, 1909 with over 2,000 riders making the nickel trip that day. The number of passengers far exceeded expectations. After another boom of riders in July, it quickly became clear that the popularity of the railway was no fluke, and that patrons of the railway would need an area in which to wait for their car or take shelter during inclimate weather.

Architect Fred Dorn, who is also believed to be the architect of the George Washington Ewing Griffith House, was commissioned to build such a structure, according to the Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California. Dorn built the two-story, Mission-style structure at the corner of Avenue 43 and Marmion Way, which contained a waiting room, confectionery and ticket window on the ground floor and a residence for the ticket seller on the second. Every day from 7 am to 6 pm, riders would come and go from the station as the cable car left in ten minute increments, taking riders to the summit where they would disembark at the grand Mount Washington Hotel.

The end of the station and the railways came in 1919 when, as 90042 Highland Park notes, the Los Angeles Board of Public Utilities demanded a maintenance and safety change to the railway which proved to expensive for Marsh. As a result, the railway ceased operations and residents were forced to walk the hill or buy a car in order to climb its slope.

Los Angeles Area Funiculars describes how the neighborhood lobbied the state of California to return service in 1921, but it proved to be unfruitful.  After closing, the Mt. Washington Railway station became a market, and then eventually a private residence as it remains today.

The original building’s arcade entrances have been enclosed at the front of the home and the banister across the balcony has been updated. Otherwise the building’s exterior looks much the same today as it did back in 1909.

Marni Epstein Epstein is an entertainment, music, and lifestyle Journalist and resident of Echo Park. She has previously worked in the film and digital media industries with FOX and Sony Pictures Entertainment. She is currently also pursuing a Masters in Historic Preservation.

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