Fawkes Folly

Did you know that Burbank may have been the site of the world's first aerial trolley car experiment in 1911? From "History of Burbank" on the city's website: "The population of the town was 500 when the voters approved incorporation in 1911. That same year, civic boosters began a campaign to have the Pacific Electric Streetcar line extended from Glendale into Burbank. The citizens of Burbank had to put up a $48,000 subsidy to get the reluctant P.E. officials to agree. The first Red Car rolled into Burbank on September 6, 1911. Leading the opposition to the public fundraising was J.W. (Joseph Wesley) Fawkes, who had patented the first monorail car in the United States. He built a prototype on his Burbank ranch, running a line between Lake and Flower Streets. Fawkes called his invention the "Aerial Swallow." City officials, however, called it "Fawkes' Folly" and the proposed monorail system never materialized."

That exposed propeller looks like a major safety concern!

Where was the 1911 aerial trolley car located? The excerpt from the history above says, "...between Lake and Flower Streets." A look in the City records indicates that J. (Joseph) W. Fawkes owned the land appearing (more or less) in yellow and orange, above, from Flower St. to Victory Blvd., bordered with Olive Ave. A little piece is cut out in the corner (Victory and Olive), where a car dealership is today. The location of the aerial trolley, therefore, was in the section in orange, where Borrmann Steel and an recreational vehicle business are today.

Note this interesting photo of Fawkes Folly. Looking at it, one can see, handwritten, the word "patentees." Did J.W. Fawkes hold a patent on his wonderful aerial trolley car? A quick search through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's online database indicates that, indeed, he did. Two, in fact, Patent No. 1,028,010 granted May 28 1912 and Patent No. 1,051,093, granted Jan 21 1913. (These are Microsoft Word documents.) Note that these were granted to Joseph W. and Emma C. Fawkes, his wife.

Mike McDaniel found this, from the Burbank Board of Trustees (forerunner to the Burbank City Council) notes, minutes dated 27 January 1912:

"On January 27 1912 J.W. Fawkes appeared before the board and filed a petition requesting that a special election be called for the purpose of voting on the question of dis-incorporating the 'City of Burbank' the city attorney was directed to furnish the board with a written opinion as to its sufficiency."

Apparently Fawkes wanted the city to be abolished!  The attorney returned the following:

"On February 10, 1912 attorney Salesbury stated that he had found that there was not enough qualified voters on the petition to call an election and therefore advised the board not to do so. The board turned down the petition and adjourned for five minutes to get order."

The fact that order was necessary suggests that Fawkes' petition may have caused something of a fuss.

In the March 1 1913 Minutes is the motion, "That the street supt. notify J.W. Fawkes to put the street back in as good shape as it was before he plowed it up."

Further investigation by Mike turned this up, an article in the 9 August 1964 Southland Magazine, "Fawkes' Folly." They cite the monorail as being in operation in 1907, but it appears to have been really 1911 (see newspaper mentions below). Also, a 1922 enumeration of Burbank voters; Fawkes' name is included. Here is the 1920 U.S. Census showing J.W. Fawkes. J.W. Fawkes died in 1928, here's an obit.

7/2/10: Three more images of Fawkes' Folly have turned up, thanks to an anonymous contributor:

Fawkes' monorail with children and boxes of produce

Fawkes' monorail with crowd

Fawkes' monorail overhead shot (from a silo, perhaps?)

7/23/2010: J.W. Fawkes was an interesting guy! You may read all about what I call the Fawkes Family Follies here.

8/4/2010: Some old Los Angeles Times articles about Fawkes Trolley have turned up:

Below: From 13 September 1910. The first mention that I can find. The gas bag idea was later dropped, apparently.

Below: From 1 July 1911. J.W. had the prototype in working order for a July 4th unveiling. I'm guessing that this was the occasion of this image.

From 26 May 1912; the Times is taking it much more seriously now. Click here for large image

Below: From 14 June 1912. The population is stirred!

Below: From 9 October 1960. The article notes that the trolley was removed in the early 1920's, probably when Fawkes sold the land as an industrial tract in 1923 (scroll down to 1923 article).


Via an e-Bay purchase, Mike tracked down an interesting article in a 1911 Technical World Magazine about the aerial trolley, here: Page one, Page two, Page three.

3/12/14: Fawkes Aeriel Trolley Car Company Share (1912) (thanks Nikolas and Marcia Tejeda!)

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