by Lindsey Pacela
photography by Drake Ingram
La Verne was built around a railroad. In the late 1880s, I.W. Lord bought land in what is now Old Town La Verne, and then lobbied the Santa Fe Railroad to come to his new town. He knew that if he could convince the railroad to place its tracks La Verne’s way, his new-bought land value would increase exponentially, and he would be able to sell his house land plots for a tidy profit. Never one to be modest, he named the town after himself: Lordsburg.
As it worked out, the train did come through town. But Lord did not make a profit, despite his lavish promotion of Lordsburg. He even built a grand hotel that never housed a single guest. That was a good thing for a group of German Baptist Brethren who were invited to buy the hotel at a huge discount if they agreed to start a college and not “one up” Lord on his failed hotel business. From that humble start came today’s University of La Verne. Then, by the 1920s, a great commuter rail system called the Red Line linked La Verne with metropolitan Los Angeles and points south and east. One could jump on the train and easily go to downtown Los Angeles. But that train line withered with the advent of affordable car transportation. Freeways were built. Mass transit plans were abandoned. By the late 1950s, the Redline stopped in its tracks.
Now the train is coming back to La Verne and will be known as the Gold Line. This established line that reaches to Union Station in Los Angeles is in the midst of having four new stations built that include Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne and Pomona. Local and state political leaders are striving to discover funding to extend the line to Claremont, Montclair, Ontario and Ontario Airport. Even with current funding, it is an ambitious project that will again link La Verne with the Los Angeles basin. From its present Glendora end on Citrus Avenue, the new extension to Pomona covers 9.1 miles of rail line and includes 19 new bridges and 21 street gate crossings. Like all transportation projects that involve change, it has been met with its own set of challenges. But despite this, it is being taken into the city of La Verne as a positive new chapter in local commuting.
Albert Ho, media relations spokesman for the Foothill Goldline Construction Authority, says that congestion in the metropolitan city area has been growing quickly. He notes that the Goldline is a way for the cities to plan ahead for future growth. In Los Angeles County, he says population projections predict the Los Angeles population to climb as high as 11.5 million people, with Moreno Valley topping 2 million people. “The purpose of the Goldline is to give people an affordable, reliable, eco-friendly alternative to driving,” Ho says. He calls the route the “brain train,” because, when completed, it will connect about two-dozen school institutions. Ho says that will open up the doorways to university collaboration. He claims that it is the only light rail of its kind that connects so many higher education institutions.
The project has about 300 crew members working on it on any given day, with a team for the tracks, one for rebuilding roadways, one for relocating utilities such as gas, power, sewer, and multiple teams working on bridges and the stations themselves. Ho says that the build was made even more complicated since the freight service track needed to continue running throughout the project’s construction. An agreement was struck with the freight operator to not run for about one year, allowing construction to speed up in areas overlapping with the freight train tracks.
The Goldline will come to town again in 2025. It will stop at the La Verne station, now under construction, about a quarter mile east of the University of La Verne near White Avenue and Arrow Highway. From there, it will be a short walk to the University, Old Town restaurants, and even the Pomona Fairplex. According to Candice Bowcock, principal planner for the city of La Verne, in 2013 the city adopted a specific plan to keep the town centralized around its future Gold Line Station. Rezoning of streets such as First Street, Arrow Highway, and E Street around the station was done to allow for a hotel and restaurants.
La Verne generates much funding from property taxes, which come from its large residential areas. She says that by adding a hotel, this could help with the city budget through hotel occupancy and sales taxes. Walter Marquez, president and CEO of the Pomona Fairplex, says that he has felt a great sense of community from the La Verne people he has worked with, including the University. Marquez also emphasizes the importance of the train from an economic standpoint for the Fairplex. He says that the Fairplex is looking into building that hotel. His team has been working closely with the city of La Verne in the process of doing market studies and identifying a developer for construction of the site. Fairplex also plans to work with the University of La Verne in hopes of providing new jobs to students when the construction is completed.
Then there are those who are wondering whether the train will bring its share of problems. Some residents are concerned with the possible increase in the homeless population that could be brought to the town with this new means of transportation. For example, in the city of Azusa, that Police Department has already set up programs to help combat the unhoused people problem brought about by the downtown train station. Bowcock says she went with the La Verne Planning Commission to the Azusa Police Department to look at its programs and solutions to the homelessness problem. The La Verne Police are planning to continue their research into what can be done in this city, modeling after what the city of Azusa has done, she says.
“We’re doing a lot of planning and preparations in anticipation for it,” says Jay Alvarado, sergeant at the La Verne Police Department who oversees the homeless outreach program. Alvarado explains that the department is currently revisiting policies, procedures and municipal codes. The Department also plans to provide training for the officers in regards to making choices between writing a citation or diverting a person to a mental health resource. “It’s going to be a change. If we do it right, continue to do it right, we will be successful,” Alvarado says. He emphasizes that the career of a police officer is always evolving and adapting. The La Verne police force is prepared for and dedicated to getting this upcoming challenge right, he says.
While there may be some skeptics when it comes to whom the train will bring to town, one thing is for sure: the station will not be an eye sore in the least. Bland, sterile, concrete buildings are a thing of the past, especially with this new train. The station has already been planned to be an art piece with the help of the inspirational and talented Blue McRight.
She was selected in 2005 to be the station’s artist, but after a pause in the planning process, she was reselected in 2014 with her changed vision for the station. She says there are many steps when it comes to planning out the art of a project of this size. There is planning of the concept, approval of it, designing the art, approval of that, fabricating the designs, and approval of that. This alone can take months. “It will definitely be a landmark for the city of La Verne.” McRight says. She explains that the art will consist of three sculptures in the transit plaza, all highly visible at 9.5 feet tall, lit up with LED lighting and made of stainless steel. They will be perched on a three-prong base made to represent the original citrus triangle as an homage to the city’s origins. Each sculpture will represent a different centerpiece of the city: one for the downtown, one for the University of La Verne, and one for Fairplex. Each centerpiece’s triangular base will point in the direction of its location in the city. Currently, the fabrication phase is being completed with samples of the sculptures being made for approval. Once completed, they will be moved to storage until the construction of the station is completed.
Looking further into the future, La Verne could be seen as a tourist destination for when the Olympics come in 2028 since there would now be such easy access by rail. When completed, the project would also offer a way for La Verne students and residents a way to get all the way to Santa Monica Beach in a short time, for low cost.
Muir Davis, La Verne City Council member, has been a consistent advocate for mass public transit. He plans to advocate for services around the station, from groceries to dry cleaning, so that residents can get off the train from work and not have to get in their cars to drive outside the area for those resources. Davis also recognizes the challenges to come with the possible unhoused population rise. He says that the city will be working with surrounding cities such as Pomona for their Hope for Home program. La Verne will also be growing its mental health service options and even hiring more firefighters and police officers in preparation.
The train is near, but not before extensive planning and massive construction is completed. It will bring new faces and life to the city, with new economic opportunities on every corner. Some residents are skeptical, while most are excited with anticipation of its arrival. One thing is for sure though: the Gold Line train is coming to town. ■