Bird Rock Question

Bike Trail 1962

Between 1924 and 1940 the San Diego Electric Railway Company operated trains between downtown and La Jolla, passing through Mission Beach and Pacific Beach over what is now Mission Boulevard and continuing on to La Jolla on a right-of-way that is now La Jolla Hermosa Avenue (then called Electric Avenue) in Bird Rock and the La Jolla bike path beyond. After passing to the east of La Jolla High School, the route followed Fay Street to a terminal on Prospect. (Ironically, the electric trains never ran over what is now Electric Avenue in La Jolla, which was the route of the original La Jolla steam railway. The SDER followed much of the old route between Pacific Beach and La Jolla but bypassed that section of the line.)

Long before the bike path was paved and officially recognized, the level surface and lack of automobile traffic made it the preferred route for kids to ride from Pacific Beach to La Jolla, and in the 1960s it was still possible to see evidence of the old trolley line. Steel rails were embedded in Fay Street north of the high school, a passenger platform stood along the path behind the Methodist Church (which we learned had originally been built as a trolley station) and a strip of asphalt down the middle of La Jolla Hermosa Avenue covered whatever remained of the roadbed there. But what was really intriguing to a curious kid was that just north of Forward Street another strip of asphalt branched off from the main line to the curb on the west side of the street, and a pair of gaps or slots angled across the sidewalk into the front yard of one of the houses on the street. La Jolla Hermosa Avenue has been repaved in the intervening decades so the asphalt strips are no longer apparent, but the slots in the sidewalk which had obviously once held steel rails are still there. So, what could have once been located in this quiet residential block that rated a siding on a commuter trolley line?

In the 1920s this may not have been such a quiet residential block.  To the west, the street that is now La Jolla Boulevard with its traffic-calming roundabouts was then the Coast Highway, the only paved road between San Diego and Los Angeles and points north (the Rose Canyon route wasn’t paved until the 1930s). Any vehicle being driven between these cities would have passed along the west side of the block. The noisy trolleys on the east side of the block ran every half-hour in each direction and the electric railway also hauled freight.

Vehicular traffic must have been relatively light if everyone driving between San Diego and Los Angeles passed through Bird Rock, but it was growing – and all these vehicles needed fuel. Standard Oil reported that service stations and garages selling its Red Crown gasoline in San Diego had increased from 59 in October 1924 to 85 in January 1925. To meet this unprecedented demand, Standard Oil expanded its distribution system. According to the January 9, 1925, San Diego Union Standard Oil Company of California had acquired an entire block of land at Bird Rock, lying between the Coast Highway and the San Diego Electric Railway, for the establishment of a storage yard and distributing station. The company would erect several large storage tanks and a warehouse and garage. Trucks would carry Standard Oil products from there to La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach and Point Loma. The distribution plant did open in February 1925, making deliveries of gasoline, kerosene, lubricating oils and other petroleum products to communities in the Mission Bay region.

Although there was no word at the time on how the petroleum products would arrive at the storage site, in 1934 the San Diego Electric Railway Company applied to the state railroad commission for permission to discontinue its freight service. The company claimed that the sole user of its freight service at that time, Standard Oil, had acquired a fleet of trucks and was no longer shipping oil by rail. So it would appear that between its construction in 1925 and 1934, the Standard Oil storage and distribution plant at Forward Street had been receiving its deliveries from the San Diego Electric Railway.

In 1940, a few years after discontinuing freight service, the electric railway also abandoned its passenger service to La Jolla and then, in 1949, it ended all rail service in the city. Standard Oil also moved out in 1942 or 1943 and the property is now occupied by homes. All that is left from that earlier era is a couple of gaps in the sidewalk where tank cars once rolled between the main line and the tank farm.

SDER Siding Bird Rock
SDER Standard Oil Siding Bird Rock

4 thoughts on “Bird Rock Question”

  1. Thank you for posting this! I had always wrongly assumed that the line went off in this direction and ran behind what used to be a car dealership in the 60s. Being born in the late 50s, I never got to see the line in use. I did, however, see the asphalt patching over the former tracks along LJ Hermosa and on Fay Avenue, as well as tracks crossing the driveway of the Mobil station that later occupied the trolley roundhouse at the end of Fay Avenue.

  2. You mention that “(Ironically, the electric trains never ran over what is now Electric Avenue in La Jolla, which was the route of the original La Jolla steam railway. The SDER followed much of the old route between Pacific Beach and La Jolla but bypassed that section of the line.)”I remember the tracks going along Electric. What route did the SDER follow to bypass Electric? Was it LJ Blvd.?

  3. I meant that the San Diego Electric Railway never ran on what is now called Electric Avenue, which only runs from Mesa Way to Bonair Street (when it was the right-of-way of the old La Jolla railroad it continued straight from Bonair to what is now Cuvier Street at Sea Lane). The SDER turned away from that route at about Via del Norte and followed what is now the La Jolla Bike Path to Fay Street near the high school, then along Fay to Prospect. South of del Norte both the old RR and the SDER ran on what was once Electric Avenue but is now called La Jolla Hermosa Avenue (and the bike path).

  4. The old station, in and along with the Upper Hermosa neighborhood, will have a centennial birthday this decade! What a Classic Historical landmark we have, on the old coast highway! Exciting to reflect historically; not many folks know that just over a century ago a train also passed through here. Our family has been in La Jolla/Bird Rock for over a century. My Mother & brothers and sister use to use this later-trolley station to go to school in La Jolla, and also to go downtown San Diego and to the dances they had at the Mission Beach Ballroom @ the roller coaster @Belmont Park! As for myself, no trolley rides…I had to walk, then later peddle my bike to school in the 50’s! I’m an ‘old geezer’, now and very fortunate and grateful I am to have had the great treasure of living most of my life here in paradise. In all the world that I have seen, I can tell you that there is no place like home! I look forward to, perhaps later, reflect on a few memories past; I would love to visit with any fellow ‘old-timers’, as well as any New-timers who might be interested in local history here. Stay well and safe.

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