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126 Years Ago Today: Downtown Got Its First Electric Street Lights

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, December 30, 2008, at 09:23AM

On December 30, 1882, at roughly 7:40pm, Mayor Homer Toberman threw the switch to send current to the first two arc lights installed by the Los Angeles Electric Company. The two were 1000-candle power lamps installed on top of 150-foot poles at the intersections of Main and Commercial and 1st and Hill.

Current to power the lights came from a small generating plant built at the corner of Alameda and Banning, just north of the present-day intersection of 1st and Alameda. The plant could supply a meager 30 kilowatts.

By 1889 the utility had 235 customers, including private lights on the outside of stores. In 1890 it opened its first alternating-current plant, and a Times writeup saying that it "will run fifteen hundred lights of sixteen-candle power, and can be run for seven miles."

A Times piece titled "The City in Detail" from December 3, 1891, raved about the city's new electrical system.

Los Angeles was the first city in the United States to entirely abandon gas for street lighting and replace it by electricity, which was done January 1, 1883. It is today one of the best lighted cities in the Union. The high masts on which the lamps are hung throw a useful light a mile distant, and are visible far out at sea. The city is now lighted with 242 electric lamps, aggregating 633,000 candle power. Of these 113 are on thirty-four masts 150 feet high, the balance on poles twelve to fifty feet high, or suspended at street intersections, etc. The length of circuit is eighty-five miles. The price paid by the city is $12 per 2000 candle power per month. The Los Angeles Electric Company, which has also an incandescent system, largely patronized, finds its present quarters too cramped and is about to build a large new power-house near the Arcade depot.

The Los Angeles Electric Company later became the Los Angeles Gas & Electric Corporation, holding that name into the 1930s.

In late 1936, a proposal was made for the city to purchase the electric properties of the Los Angeles Gas & Electric Corporation for $46,340,000. The city had contracted to purchase power from the Hoover Dam, but at the time had no distribution infrastructure to deliver that power to consumers. The matter was taken to the voters on December 8, 1936, and passed easily. It was ratified by the state on January 7, 1937.

The City department now known as DWP has been the provider for power in Los Angeles ever since.

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