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The Playa Del Rey Canals Of Frederick Hastings Rindge-1904

We are a Country of pioneers.

Frederick Hastings Rindge
The Day The Circus Came To Town; Mae Murray-1925-Playa Del Rey, CA (Author).

Beginning with the first Clipper Ship that rounded the Horn with eager immigrants bound for the Pueblo of Los Angeles, and when earlier expeditions arrived here on horseback, wagon, cart, or on foot, the former Spanish Rancho’s that now make up our town were transformed time and time again by that unstoppable force known as change.

Through the years from the time of the first settlers, and up to and including present time, a robust patchwork quilt has been created which maps that change and evidences the drive* and transport sustainability of the denizens of Westchester, Playa Vista and Playa Del Rey. (*drive is used here as both a noun and as a verb). And transportation remains a key element to that ongoing alteration.

What we know and have known since Caesar built the Roads, is that logistically speaking, we still have to deal with that challenge of “the final mile.” Ships, aircraft, freeways, highways, and railroads, have the ability to move large masses of people and goods, but seldom do their routes end at your front door step. It is and will ever be, the final challenge of Intermodalism and Interurban Transport.

In the 1700’s and 1800’s, floods, droughts, famine and disease took a great toll here, and later, land squatters infested the Rancho’s, further blurring the already sketchily deeded(patented) property lines. In time, the area stabilized and prospered, and a rich farming community was created by the determined inhabitants . A crude network of dirt roads were carved out, essentially creating the routes we travel on today; Paseo de la Tierja, Lincoln Blvd, Culver Blvd, La Cienega and Sepulveda Blvd, and so on. Later a network of trolley train track was erected, although very little of that amazing enterprise remains today.

Originally, Vista Del Mar in Playa Del Rey was nothing more than a cattle trail, and followed the track line of trolley cars that once transported folks between Playa Del Rey and Redondo Beach. Back in the day, who could have imagined that this little coastal highway would become the commuters’ highway that it is today?

The task of getting people and supplies to the region, and crops and goods out of the region, has always been a challenge. Some things never change, I guess.

But the early Rancho’s La Ballona and Centinela were a place much like Norman MacLean’s Montana; “A world with dew still on it.” It was a place where legends said; you could hoe out a little furrow in the ground with the heel of your shoe, and place a few seeds there and a few years later come back to discover an orchard. Following the course of Centinela Creek; present day route of the San Diego Freeway, hundreds of acres of Mission Grapes were cultivated.

It was a place kissed by a sunkist Miss.

Barley and wheat were shipped to all corners of the world, and later lima beans, sugar beets, strawberries, celery and other winter crops were grown in great abundance. But the same elements that created these harvests; warm days and mild nights, attracted thousands of people, and the land that was once set aside to agrarian enterprise would be subdivided and transformed into suburbia. The challenge of moving crops from the area to market, was transformed to a challenge of how to move the burgeoning population to and from their homes.

Apart from nearby Inglewood, the first real attempt at populating the area began around 1902 at the newly named town of Playa Del Rey. The Beach Land, Co. purchased most of Port Ballona from the Mesmer Family, and planned on naming part of the town New Amsterdam, and began to develop a series of canals that would run through the new town. Abbot Kinney began to dig the Venice canals two years later. The Short Line Beach Company (1904), was a partner in the enterprise, and they erected a large Pavilion, Hotel and other tourist attractions, at what is now the Del Rey Lagoon. Also about this time, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company and the Wright brothers demonstrate the feasibility of powered flight.

And although some parts of the Venice canals are still there (most were filled in and made into roads), what most have forgotten about was the founding of the Navigation and Canal Company (1903), which planned to build a shipping canal from Western Avenue, at mid-town Los Angeles, all the way to Playa Del Rey, using Ballona Creek as the main canal. At present day Del Rey Lagoon, north/south canals would connect to the New Amsterdam and Venice canal system, ending nearly five miles north at Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica.

The canal system was the brainchild of one of the founders of Playa Del Rey; Frederick Hastings Rindge, who also acquired another Rancho, today known as Malibu. Both Rindge Avenue in Playa Del Rey, and Hastings Avenue in Westchester are named for Rindge.

General Moses Sherman another founder of Playa Del Rey, and perhaps the one most responsible for the first rail lines to the area, was a partner with Rindge in the canal project.

In September, 1902, work commenced on a narrow gauge, double track electric line from a junction with the Venice Short Line at Ivy Park (now Culver City), and running southwesterly to Port Ballona and then southeasterly along the coast to Redondo. This line was constructed of 50 and 56 lb. relaying rails with new ties, and was completed and placed in operation to Port Ballona in December, 1902. The rail terminus at the newly named Playa Del Rey, could then distribute passengers via boat on the then partially constructed canal system.

The Sherman Canal still runs through a part of Venice and connects at the old Grand Canal; which runs a route to the Ballona Lagoon; near Via Marina and Marquesas Way in Marina Del Rey, and then all the way to Ballona Creek.

In fact, the cover image of my book; Beach Of The King, is a photograph of the Sherman Boat Team, which would then row through the canals from the Playa Del Rey Lagoon to Venice.

Frederick Rindge died suddenly in 1905, and with his passing the canal project ended. But finally, the advent of the automobile spelled doom for what might have been a very efficient transportation alternative.

Even before his death however, Los Angeles had begun to embrace automobile transportation, and in December, 1903, it was announced that an automobile “speedway” from Los Angeles to Playa del Rey would be constructed under the auspices of the Southern California Automobile Club. Speedway Boulevard, originally 18 miles in length, is know today as Culver Boulevard. It was the first modern Los Angeles road built to the sea.

New Holland, California, which would have replicated the centuries old and very efficient European inland waterway systems, would never be realized. But the pioneers that created our town just might have given us the framework for a modern day transportation solution.

What about creating a series of high-speed ferry’s, which could transport commuters across the Santa Monica Bay to and from places like LAX, Marina Del Rey Harbor, Santa Monica, Redondo and Long Beach? Maybe all the way to Orange County? These “water taxis” would go a long way to take the strain off the freeway system, and could connect commuters to bus, short-rail and other interurban transportation alternatives.

We could erect a new pier and LAX terminal at Play Del Rey, with a people mover system that could take the passengers to and from the gates.

The venture could be a boon to places such as the very under utilized Fisherman’s Village in Marina Del Rey. Passengers arriving at The Village, could be distributed by ground transportation throughout the region, or simply enjoy the local dining, concerts, and other recreational activities at this Westside jewel.

Currently, there are short haul “water busses” and “water taxi’s” servicing places such as: Marina Del Rey, Long Beach and San Diego, and of course the fabled New York Ferry system runs hundreds of routes per day.

An adjective definition of “pioneer” is; Leading the way; trailblazing. Let’s hope that spirit still burns bright in the hearts of a few souls of the former Rancho Sausal Redondo; Rancho’s La Ballona and Rancho Aguaje de la Centinela, and that they will create the coalitions needed to tackle our ongoing transportation issues; by land, sea or air, and by hook or crook.


FREDERICK HASTINGS RINDGE, (1857-1905). Rindge w as an American businessman, philanthropist, and writer. He was a major benefactor to his hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1887, Mayor William Russell of Cambridge, a Harvard friend, requested Rindge's help in funding a new public library. Rindge responded in July 1887 with an offer of land and full funding for Cambridge's public library. Later that year he enlarged his offer to the three additional buildings: a new city hall (now the Cambridge City Hall), a Manual Training School (now Cambridge Rindge and Latin School). Rindge moved to Los Angeles, California in 1887. In 1892 Rindge purchased the 13,300-acre Spanish land grant Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit or "Malibu Rancho", in Malibu, California. He later expanded it to 17,000 acres, as Rindge Ranch. Rindge was a founding member of the Beach Land Company, which built Playa Del Rey, CA. He died suddenly at the age of 48. (Complements, Wikipedia).


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