First Electricity in Los Angeles
LA's First Municipal Utility Pole
The City of Los Angeles saw its first municipal electricity on March 30, 1916 when the Bureau of Power and Light installed its first power pole on the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Piedmont Street.
|March 30, 1916* - Placing the first electricity pole on Pasadena Avenue (now North Figueroa Street) and Piedmont Street, marking the beginning of municipal distribution of electricity. Photo taken from the roof of Arroyo Seco Branch Library.|
|Click HERE for excerpts from the 1936 DWP publication marking the 20 year anniversary of the setting of the first municipal utility pole in Los Angeles.|
LA's First Power Plant
The first electric light plant in Los Angeles was built in 1882 by the California Electric Light Company (changed to Los Angeles Electric Company within one year) on the corner of Alameda and Banning Streets to provide electricity for the city's new street lights that they also installed. By 1883, Los Angeles became the first city in the USA to entirely abandon gas for street lighting and replace it with electricity. At the time, there were 242 electric lamps with a circuit length of 85 miles.
|Banning Street Electrical Plant (1888)* -- The first electric light plant in Los Angeles was built in 1882 by C. L. Howland on the corner of Alameda and Banning Streets (One year later, Howland formed the Los Angeles Electric Company).|
Click HERE to read the story behind LA's first power plant.
Power Needs of a Growing City
As the City of Los Angeles rapidly grew in the early 1900's, there was an increasing need for electricity, especially for the new electric cars that were appearing everywhere.
Looking south on Broadway from 5th Street, circa 1905. Pacific Electric "red cars" share the street with horse carts. The electric car is marked "Boyle Hts."
Electricity in Early Los Angeles - Historical Timeline
The period between 1882 and the late 1930’s saw the evolution of the electric utility industry in Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. Start-up private electric companies competed with one another and then with the new municipal utility in town, the Bureau of Power and Light. Not until 1939 did the Department of Water and Power emerge as the sole electrical service provider for the City of Los Angeles.
The following timeline takes us back to the first electricity in the City and brings us to a time when the development of the electric utility industry stabilized to a point close to where it is today:
1882 - A new form of lighting is proposed for Los Angeles by C. L. Howland who represents the San Francisco based company of California Electric Light Company (now PG&E).
1882 (Sept. 11th) - The City Council unanimously votes to enter into a contract with Howland to "illuminate the streets of the city with electric light."
1882 (Dec. 1st) - Howland completes the City's first electric light plant in a period of two months. The 30kw plant is located on the corner of Alameda and Banning Streets (See above photo).
1882 (Dec. 30th) – LA Mayor Homer Toberman throws the switch to send current to the first two arc lights installed by the Los Angeles Electric Company on top of a 150- foot pole at the intersection of Main and Commercial and 1st and Hill (Click HERE to read more).
1883 - The project is so successful that before the expiration of Howland’s two year contract, he and others form the Los Angeles Electric Company, which besides serving streetlights, also supply arc lights for commercial establishments.
1883 – Los Angeles becomes the first city in the USA to entirely abandon gas for street lighting and replace it with electricity. There are 242 electric lamps with a circuit length of 85 miles.
1889 – Los Angeles Electric Company has 235 customers, and powers private lights on the outside of stores.
1890 – Los Angeles Electric Company opens its first alternating-current plant (Los Angeles Electric Company later becomes the Los Angeles Gas and Electric Corporation and survives until it is bought out by the DWP in 1936).
1893 - Los Angeles Electric Company moves its generating station to the corner of Alameda and Palmetto streets. This plant becomes the largest electric light and power plant in Southern California with a total capacity of 2,750 horsepower. The plant generates alternating current for an incandescent lighting system and 500 volt direct current for a power electrical system.
1896 – West Side Lighting Company is organized by private investors to provide another source of electricity for the city of Los Angeles and fringe areas.
1897 – West Side Lighting merges with the newly established private company, Los Angeles Edison Electric, which owns the rights to the Edison name and patents, especially the underground DC-power rights. The merged company takes on the Edison name. An underground system and technology is crucial at this time, since the city voted in a resolution limiting the installation of new overhead utility poles due to excessive overhead wire congestion. Los Angeles Edison Electric installs the first major DC-power underground conduits system in the Southwest.
1902 - Pacific Light and Power Company is organized by the Pacific Electric Red Car and real estate magnate, Henry Huntington. It is set up to provide steam-generated electricity to Huntington's Los Angeles Railway Company.
1906 - Pasadena Municipal Light and Power is created by City Ordinance.
1906 (May 3rd) - Pasadena citizens pass a $125,000 bond issue to pay for the construction of a power plant.
1906 - Pasadena Municipal Light and Power constructs its first power plant. It is a 200-kW plant built for furnishing Power for street lighting only. Pasadena is now served by both its new municipal utility and SCE.
1907 – The Kern River-Los Angeles Transmission Line (118 miles and 75 kV) is completed by Los Angeles Edison Electric to bring power to Los Angeles from newly constructed hydroelectric plants in the western side of the Sierras. In 1907 it is the world’s longest and highest voltage power line (188 miles and 75kV). It also is the first transmission line to be entirely supported by steel towers.
1907 - Pacific Light and Power Company constructs its first major power plant in Redondo Beach to provide electricity for the Los Angeles Red Car (also owned by Henry Huntington) and the surrounding area.
1908 - Construction begins on the Los Angeles Aqueduct. LA's first power plant is built at Division Creek in the Owens Valley. The plant generates power from water for the purpose of constructing the LA Aqueduct. This is the first time electric energy has been used for such a construction project.
1909 – Los Angeles Edison Electric changes its name to Southern California Edison.
1909 - The Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct Power is created to build hydro power plants along the yet to be completed Los Angeles Aqueduct. When Los Angeles acquired water rights in the Owens Valley section of Inyo County to build the LA Aqueduct, it also obtained water-power sites along the way.
1909 - Ezra F. Scattergood is selected as the Bureau’s first chief electrical engineer. Scattergood leads the way in the development of hydroelectric power along the route of the aqueduct and becomes Mulholland’s counterpart for the Power System. He was the driving spirit in the development of the municipal electric system.
1910 – Los Angeles issues its municipal power bond for preliminary work in connection with electrical power development. City voters approve the project and authorize the $3.5 million bond to finance it.
1911 - The Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct Power begins construction of the San Francisquito Power Plant No. 1 to generate power from the anticipated water flow of the yet to be completed LA Aqueduct (The LA Aqueduct was completed in 1913).
1911 – The Department of Public Service and the Public Service Commission are created through an approved charter amendment.
1911 - The Bureau of Power and Light is created within the Department of Public Service to oversee and administer the electrical system in the city.
1911 - Pacific Light and Power Corporation begins building hydroelectric plants in the Big Creek-San Joaquin section of the high Sierras in central California, mostly for power delivery to Southern California, including Los Angeles.
1911 - Mt. Whitney Power and Electric Company builds a hydroelectric plant in the mountains near Visalia, also for power delivery mostly to Southern California.
1913 – Through a charter amendment, the City officially adopts the policy of water and power resources under public ownership.
1914 – $6.5 million of bonds are approved by the voters and issued for the construction of power plants, transmission lines, distribution lines, and for the acquisition of other electric companies’ distribution systems within the city.
1916 (March 30th) – The first power pole in Los Angeles is built by the LA Bureau of Power and Light (see above photo). This is the first time the Bureau of Power and Light delivers electricity in the City. The power, however, is purchased from Pasadena Municipal Power and Light.
1917 (March 18th) - San Francisquito Power Plant No. 1 is placed in service and energy is delivered to Los Angeles over a newly constructed 115 kV transmission line. This is the LA Bureau of Power and Light's first step in becoming an independent electricity provider. Click HERE to read more.
1917 - The LA Bureau of Power and Light sells its excess San Francisquito generated power to Pasadena over two newly constructed 34 kV lines between the two cities. By 1917, World War I had forced the price of fuel oil to rise making the new lower cost hydroelectric power extremely desirable.
1917 – SCE purchases the Pacific Light and Power Corporation, and acquires control of both the Ventura County Power Company and the Mt. Whitney Power Electric Company. After acquiring the properties of both northern utility companies, including the Big Creek project, SCE becomes the major private supplier of electricity in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley. It now serves over 100 communities with a total population of 1.25 million.
1916 – 1927, Los Angeles expands its boundaries through annexation of large areas and through the consolidation of several small cities. Private utilities (Los Angeles Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison Company) continue to serve the annexed areas as well as some older portions of the city.
By 1920 - Los Angeles, Pasadena, Glendale, and Burbank had changed their charters to establish municipal ownership of facilities for generation and distribution of electrical energy.
1920 – Pasadena completes negotiations to purchase SCE’s electrical distribution system within its borders.
1922 - The Bureau of Power and Light purchases the Edison Company’s distribution system within the city limits. SCE’s distribution lines are limited to the territories annexed to the city since 1922, but still furnishes a proportion of the power distributed by the LA Bureau of Power and Light.
1928 - Congress authorizes the Hoover Dam project.
1931 - Los Angeles City is still served electrically by three utilities; LA Bureau of Power and Light, Los Angeles Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison.
1931 - Construction begins on the Hoover Dam project by a consortium called Six Companies, Inc. Click HERE to see more on the construction of Hoover Dam.
1933 - Scattergood negotiates a 10-year federal loan for $22,799,00 to build a power transmission line from Boulder Dam to Los Angeles.
1933 - The Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light begins construction of the 266-mile long transmission line between Boulder Dam and Los Angeles.
1934 - A bond measure to refinance the Boulder original 10-year loan to a 40-year loan is approved by LA voters in a special election.
1935 (September 30) – Hoover Dam is dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt.
1936 (March 1st) – Hoover dam is turned over to the federal government from Six Companies, more than two years ahead of schedule.
1936 - Construction of the 266-mile Boulder-Los Angeles transmission line is completed. Click HERE to read more.
1936 (October 9th) – Los Angeles receives the first power from Boulder Dam. The electricity is transmitted at a higher voltage (287 kV) than any other long-distance transmission line in the world, to date. Boulder Dam begins to deliver enough electricity to meet 70% of Los Angeles' needs.
1936 (December) – Los Angeles city voters approve a charter amendment authorizing the Bureau of Power and Light to issue revenue bonds in the amount of $46 million and purchase the electric system of Los Angeles Gas and Electric Corporation, the last remaining privately-owned system in LA.
1937 (Jan. 29th) – The Bureau of Power and Light completes the purchase of Los Angeles Gas and Electric Corporation. Click HERE to read more.
1937 - The Bureau of Power and Light consolidates with the Bureau of Water Works and Supply and becomes the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).
1939 – SCE and LADWP complete negotiations on the division of territory between the two utilities.
1939 (August) – SCE swaps the remainder of its Los Angeles distribution system for facilities outside the city limits (formerly owned by Los Angeles Gas and Electric).
1939 to Present – SCE supplies the unincorporated areas within Los Angeles County and all other municipalities except for Pasadena, Glendale, and Burbank.
1939 to Present - DWP becomes the sole electrical service provider for the City of Los Angeles.
After 1947, through a Los Angeles City charter change, City voter approval is no longer required for the DWP to issue bonds.
* * * * *
References and CreditsSouthern California Metropolis: A Study in Development of Government for a Metropolitan Area - 1963 by Winston Winford Crouch and Beatrice Dinerman