Beginning in the 1880s, transportation innovations allowed the City of Los Angeles to expand past natural barriers and develop the vast land beyond the city's core. The cable car and the electric trolley aided the expression of a Victorian residential ideal and urban aesthetic imported into Los Angeles from “back East” and the Midwest. Streetcar suburbs, the earliest form of urban flight, emerged on what were then the outer fringes of the city, initiating perpetual sprawl. While the city's massive growth in the 1920s as well as extensive post–World War II suburbanization cannot be ignored, such development has obscured the much earlier origins of sprawl in the historiography. This paper argues that Victorian Los Angeles instituted trends aimed at low-density, outward growth, which the streetcar enabled, Progressive planners reinforced, and which bore many of the drawbacks associated with modern urban sprawl.

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