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HISTORY

Pacific Electric: Light Rail avant la lettre...

Update December 2006: New links and new address in Culver City. Update November 2005: Who framed Roger Rabbit? Rails to Trails? Discover the Watts-Bellflower-Santa Ana line! And join the Red Hot Chilly Peppers and encounter the leftover remnant from the old Pacific Electric in Downtown LA.
Next update: on 'transit oriented development' avant la lettre...


Los Angeles 1900-1961 (1990-...)


Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/John Smatlak
LA/San Pedro, June 21, 2002

In the beginning of the 20th century Los Angeles hosted a real Light Rail system. Advanced vehicles, 'the Red Cars', used a network with a radius of 35 miles of downtown Los Angeles. The Pacific Electric served 42 incorperated cities and towns, such as San Fernando, Hollywood, Pasadena, San Bernardino, Orange, and coastal places, like Newport Beach, Long Beach, San Pedro, and Santa Monica. Pacific Electric’s trolleys and interurban cars blanketed the Los Angeles area on more than 1000 miles of rail lines.


Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl, Perris, CA. summer 1994

The PE-system came to an end when the Los Angeles - Long Beach line closed in 1961.
Map: click here...
Today some PE-vehicles are preserved by the Orange Empire Museum in Perris (CA), like this Hollywood-car 717

San Pedro

 

1946 ...2002

The harbor of Los Angeles, San Pedro got a PE-heritage service (first trial runs started in 2002). Historic Pacific Electric 1058 and two 500s replicas operate a vintage service on a 1,5 mile line, using former PE alignment. A depot will be built in due time, including an extension (2008). More information see this link: "For sixty years, the Los Angeles area was served by a vast network of electric railway lines operated by the Pacific Electric Railway. Affectionately known as “Red Cars”, the Pacific Electric’s trolleys and interurban cars blanketed the Los Angeles area on more than 1000 miles of rail lines. The last remnant of the system was abandoned in 1961. Forty-two years later, a small piece of the system has been resurrected in San Pedro, as the Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Red Car Line.
Riders can experience the thrill of a real 1920s-era trolley ride, thanks to the remarkable railcars that have been built to serve the line. Regular operation is conducted with two new replica railcars carefully patterned after an actual 1909 Pacific Electric “Red Car” design. A third car, restored in the 1960’s from an actual 1907-vintage Pacific Electric car, is available for special operations including charters.
The 1.5 mile line connects San Pedro’s cruise ship terminal with other attractions along the waterfront. The $10 million dollar project was financed and constructed by the Port of Los Angeles, the independent City agency which manages the bustling port facility. The line uses parts of an old Pacific Electric right-of-way that continued to be used for freight operation long after the original Red Cars were gone. The line was rebuilt to accommodate trolley operations with traditional 600-volt DC overhead trolley wire. The four stations feature ADA-compliant high-level platforms that make boarding and alighting easier for everyone and the new cars easily accommodate wheelchairs.
The line opened for public operation on July 19th, 2003. The fare is one dollar for everyone, with children 6 and under free. The fare is collected on board the cars, and your ticket is good all day for unlimited rides on the Red Car and the rubber-tired San Pedro Electric Trolleys."


Photos/Assemblage: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl
Courtesy Don Brown/John Smatlak
Los Angeles, San Pedro, CA, 1957/1963/2001

'Blimp'-cars near the Ferry Terminal Building (1957), now the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, and PE 1058 on rubber tyres duties since 1963. Many years later the new 22nd Street/Marina station is already finished (October 5, 2001), waiting to welcome the 1058 again, this time on rails, and the two PE-replica cars 500 and 501, which arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on October 26, 2001. Completion of the cars took place at a Port facility during 2001 and 2002.

Pasadena


Photo/Assemblage: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl
Courtesy 'Security0Pacific0NationaloBank'
Los Angeles, Pasadena, CA, 1920/2001

Once PE-cars dominated the business artery of Pasadena. A car on Colorado Street meets a few automobiles, near a point where the Light Rail Goldline nowadays enters Pasadena centre again. A deepened Light Rail section was under construction (October 5, 2001) at right angle to Colorado Street.

 


Photo: (C) Lightrailnow.org
LA-Pasadena, July 2003

Since June 2003 Pasadena got Light Rail again. The 13.7 mile Gold Line links Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and Sierra Madre Villa in East Pasadena via Chinatown, Highland Park, South Pasadena and Pasadena. The opening of the Gold Line expands Metro Rail to 73.1-miles.

Long Beach


Photo/Assemblage: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl
Courtesy 'Security0Pacific0NationaloBank'
Los Angeles, Long Beach, CA, 1928/2001

First Street Long Beach during the late 1920's. A PE interurban northbound car turns onto Pine Avenue. Nearly a century later, again First Street, a sign warns: "Look, listen, live. Look both ways before crossing tracks." Light Rail is back in Long Beach. September 2001 is Metro Blue Line's Safety Month.


Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl
Los Angeles, Long Beach, CA, summer 1994

Light Rail Atlas shot a MTA-car at the Long Beach terminal of the Blue Line, at First Street and Pine Avenue. The 'Red Cars' left Long Beach in 1961, but Light Rail Vehicles returned in 1990. The corridor of the former Long Beach Line has been chosen as the first new Light Rail in Los Angeles.
In 2000 two LRV's of the Blue Line have been painted in PE livery, and equiped with the nostalgic E-flat note whistles, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Blue Line.

Downtown


Map: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl (Los Angeles, 2005)
YELLOW: Pacific Electric Subway; RED: Metro Red Line; BLUE: Metro Blue Line

Light Rail is back in Downtown LA. Metro Red and Blue line reach the central city by means of tunnels. Still a third tunnel exists. It's a leftover remnant from the old Pacific Electric. Unfortunately the tunnel has been sealed off and totally covered by graffiti. The Toluca substation near the closed tunnel entrance at the corner of Glendale and 2nd suffers from graffiti too. The downtown section of the tunnel can't be accessed either as it was filled in when the Bonaventure Hotel was constructed early seventies. The tunnel served as set for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers' clip 'Under the Bridge' - "Is the city I live in / The city of angel / Lonely as I am / Together we cry." (1991)
For a long time some citizens of LA do promote a 'Downtown Red Car Loop'. According to this grassroots initiative Red Car replicas should run in a circle connecting main attractions in Downtown Los Angeles, including the Convention Center, Staples Center, the Financial District, Civic Center, the new Disney Concert Hall, and the Broadway District.

 

Culver City


Drawing: Courtesy "Blotto" Magazine 1986


"A fast-growing City between Los Angeles and the Sea. Produces more motion pictures than any city in the world.... Three electric lines and 15 major traffic arteries provide transportations facilities in ALL directions."
This is Culver City, this is where Hal Roach Studios established, this is where Laural and Hardy made their famous movies. Many exterior film scenes were shot
in Main Street, while in the background PE-trains were running. Main Street runs through Culver City, but also through the neighbouring Palms district of Los Angeles.
Laural and Hardy in 'Angora Love' (1929) are passing the tailor shop. Venice Boulevard (in Palms!) serves as a background. Red cars en route to the beach cross Bagley Avenue. A 'crossing railroad' sign is behind 'the boys', no protecting crossing gates or flashers at that time.
George Garrigues (Palms, Los Angeles - Palms-Village Sun) wrote LRA: "Your drawing is showing L&H standing in front of the "Culver City station", which is actually in Palms, the boundary line between Culver and L.A. running just south of the station. You can see where the dotted boundary runs across "Main Street" on the right side of the drawing, where the two arrows are. Bagley actually continues south of Venice Blvd to that boundary line (but the extension is not shown on your drawing); that is why Culver City proclaims itself as having "the shortest Main Street in the world," principally because Bagley (which is in Palms) takes up half the block."
Three PE-lines served Culver City in the times of the Laural and Hardy epoch. Firstly the Venice-line, which ran along Venice Boulevard to the coast (Machado, Venice, Ocean Park). Secondly, Culver Boulevard hosted the line to El Segundo and Redondo Beach (nowadays domain of the Green Line). The third PE-line (Santa Monica Air Line) crossed the first two at Culver Junction (off the picture to the right). Coming from National Boulevard the cars of this service rolled straight on to Palms and Santa Monica.

LA, Culver City, 3826 Mainstreet

Culver City is named after its developer Harry H. Culver, like Hotel Culver City (block 9501). This hotel was called the 'skyscraper', being the tallest building between downtown Los Angeles and Venice. The cars of the Redondo Beach-Del Ray line followed the tracks of the Venice Short Line to Culver City and passed the hotel at 9.50 mile. Leaving the hotel-block at Washington Boulevard the trip covered a bit more than 14 miles to Redondo Beach and Clifton. Passenger service to Redondo Beach ended in May 1940. Venice Boulevard lost its PE-cars in 1950. Culver City lost its PE-service completely when in October 1953 the last passenger car of the Santa Monica Airline passed Culver Junction.


Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl
Los Angeles, Palms/Culver City, CA, October 5, 2001
Venice Boulevard; proposed Light Rail section

Venice Boulevard could be served again by Light Rail if the 'Expositon Line', from Downtown LA to Santa Monica, will be come reality. The Expo Line will start in downtown Los Angeles (sharing the existing Blue Line track), also serving Staples Center and the Convention Center and connecting to the rest of L.A.'s rail network.
It will run south past L.A. Trade Tech College to Exposition Park and the University of Southern California. Farther west along the Exposition the line will use right-of-way to Culver City and will continue to West Los Angeles's Olympic and Pico Boulevards, as well as the Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Beach.
The first phase of the Expo Line will run from LA to Culver City, so the line will stay within the territory of LA-city. Though this is not as clear as it seems.

George Garrigues wrote this to Light Rail Atlas: "
When Culver City was incorporated, the northern boundary followed the property lines, irregular as they were. Most people around here don't even know where the boundary is (it is not marked). Sony Studios is in Culver City, but the Sony Studios mail room is just across the street in Palms (yet still within the Culver City Post Office line). Anything south of Venice Boulevard is in the Culver City Post Office, but some of it nevertheless is within the city limits of Los Angeles." (February 2003).

Santa Ana


Map: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl, Amsterdam, 2000-2005
Santa Ana's PE Corridor (top left)

PE's Watts-Bellflower-Santa Ana line covered the southeast of the system. It has always been a remote service of the PE. Tom Wetzel wrote: "In the PE era the area beyond Bellflower was still agricultural and in fact the line had very small ridership - the entire 30-mile line to Santa Ana handled only about 4,000 weekday boardings in the late '40s. The line's revenue barely paid half its operating costs - despite the fact that the operating costs were artificially depressed by a practice of deferred maintenance (most of the rail was the original track when the line was built). The area that it runs through since WWII was built into a vast low-density auto-oriented sprawl. There are few concentrated destinations along the line (Cypress College is one of the few I can think of)."
Spencer Crump ('Henry Huntington and the Pacific Electric', 1970, p. 99) presented figures on the deteriorating scheduled travel times for the Santa Ana line: "1911 - 75 min.; 1941 - 83 min.; 1943 - 96 min.; 1946 -97 min."
These figures do indeed reflect the line's hundreds of busy grade crossings.


Santa Ana Line - Pacific Electric Corridor
Garden Grove (CA), Trask Av. & Newhope Av.
Assemblage: (C) Light Rail Atlas; Photos: (C) Thomas Miller

Nowadays a plaque commemorates the Santa Ana Line. A map represents the local "Pacific Electric Corridor". Parts of this corridor can still be visited. Other PE-Maps: click here...
The plaque states: "'BIG RED CARS' of the Pacific Electric Railway - For more than half a century the Pacific Electric Railway served Southern California. The system was established by Henry Huntington in 1865 and linked Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino counties with over 1,000 miles of service and up to 2,700 scheduled trolleys daily. Through the years, the trolleys were painted different colors, but the most famous and symbolic of the era were the 'Big Red Cars'. The electric trolley system carried commuters and sightseers through Southern California cities, fruit groves, beach areas, ranchland, and the Spanish Missions.

The 'Santa Ana'line (1905-1950) extending before you is one remnant of the vast Pacific Electric system. This portion of the corridor diagonally traverses central Orange County from the Los Angeles County line to Santa Ana. It crosses through the cities of La Palma, Cypress, Buena Park, Anaheim, Stanton, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana. To remember this colorful part of Orange County's development, this corridor is dedicated to preserving the history of the 'Big Red Cars'."

San Bernardino


'Rails to Trails'

The PE was once the world’s largest 'Light Rail' system, extending from Los Angeles to its outlying regions, to San Bernardino and villages like Pomona, Claremont, Fontana and Rialto. The building of the railway through the Inland Empire was crucial to the development of the area, particularly to support the agricultural industry that fueled the local economy.
The Pacific Electric Trail corridor is an opportunity to convert old PE alignments into new infrastructure which allow to ride a bicycle from Claremont to Rialto along a bike path separated from automobiles. The City of Rancho Cucamonga, acting as the lead agency, has joined together with the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) and surrounding cities, to develop a multi-purpose trail that would link the cities of Claremont, Montclair, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Rialto. The rail trail would also connect to a 6.9-mile rail trail project being planned from Claremont to San Dimas.

MAP

More maps...
Map: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl, Amsterdam, 2000-2005
Larger map: click here...

Reyner Banham (1971) gave the following description of the PE-system: "The Big Red Cars ran all over the Los Angeles area - literrally all over. The route map of the PE at its point of greatest extensions, when it operated 1.164 miles of track in fifty-odd communities pretty well defines Greater Los Angeles as it is today. Services ran down the coast to Balboa and along the foot of the Palisades to the mouth of Santa Monica Canyon; up into the valley and to San Fernando; to Riverside, Corona, and San Bernardino; out through La Habra and through Anaheim to Orange; through the foothill cities of the Sierra Madre to Glendora, and via Pasadena to Echo Canyon and Mount Lowe. Within the area laced by this network the stops and terminals already bore the names of streets and localities that are current today."

Glendale/Burbank (San Francisco)


Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Herman R. Silbiger
San Francisco, CA. 1999

In San Francisco a PCC on the F line is disguised as a PE-car: in the famous red and gold butterfly wings livery. PE used (not this kind of !!) PCC cars on the Glendale and Burbank branches of the system. In 2005 local citizens took an initiative to bring back streetcars in Glendale.

MTA (Redondo)


Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl
Los Angeles, Redondo (SD460 entering Marine), CA. October 5, 2001

Today MTA's Blue Line (1990) covers the last PE line (closed in 1961) between Downtown LA and Long Beach. The Green Line (1995) serves a new corridor, but the third Ligt Rail line, the Gold Line, northern Blue Line-branche, runs to old 'PE'-place Pasadena.
To Redondo Beach: the new Siemens SD460 cars have been placed in revenue service on the Green Line in August 2001.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit


Assemblage: (C) Light Rail Atlas; Photos: Collection Bill Volkmer

Some shots were made on Hope Street in LA between 11th and 12th St. about a block from the Blue Line subway portal. The cameras always aiming south to avoid getting the skyscrapers in the movie! The lip on the car provided a place for the cartoon Roger Rabbitt to stand.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is a technically-marvelous film which combines live action and animation. A cartoon rabbit (Roger) lives in LA (Hollywood/'Toontown') during the late 1940's, when PE's 'Red Cars' ran throughout the Los Angeles conurbation. In one of the scenes character Valiant tries to board a PE-car bound for Sunset Boulevard, but is denied entry by the conductor (James O'Connell) when all he can come up with is his paper check. He joins a group of young boys already hitching a free ride on the back of the Red Car. Valiant's comment to one of the boys: "Who needs a car in LA? We got the best public transportation system in the world." In reality all PE-lines were replaced with buses. In the film however the Redcars and Toontown survive, because in Hollywood's movies good triumphs over evil.

LINKS



Light Rail Atlas - European History
Our history page on Europe.

Light Rail Atlas - PE Map Our map of the Pacific Electric Railway.

www.railwaypreservation.com/page8.html Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Redcar Line.
www.railwaypreservation.com/ Homepage of Railway Preservation Resources
.
www.redcar-la.com/cmp/home.html PE Heritage. Feel free to donate!
www.uncanny.net/~wetzel/pery.htm Tom Wetzel's splendid Pacific Electric Railway Tours Page. A must see...!
Union Station - The Los Angeles Rail Transit Web Page
City of Pasadena: The Gold Line
Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California
ERHA.ORG - Pacific Electric

Some more links:

http://www.pelofts.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Electric_Railway


Photos: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl, San Francisco, CA. 1998


Some books:

Pacific Electric In Color, Volume I & II, by P. Allen Copeland, 1997 & 1999, Morning Sun Books, Inc., ISBN 1-878887-88-2
The life and times of the Pacific Electric: The World's Greatest Interurban, by the Orange Empire Railway Museum, 1985
Trolley Days in Pasadena, by Charles Seims, 1982, Golden West Books, (excellent history of the PE Pasadena lines).

 


C) RVDB Amsterdam 2000-2007