rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,

Los Angeles Transit, and a Link to the Past

I remember being about four years old and being in a quiet store building on Garfield Avenue at the south end of Alhambra, California, where there has now long been a freeway onramp. Then, it was one of those small suburban business districts that grew up next to the tracks of the Pacific Electric Railway early in the 20th century. I heard the distinctive air horn of on of the trains passing just north of the store. It is my first memory of the red cars, and not too far from the last. Within a few years, they were gone.

I also remember riding a P.E. train from downtown to Washington Boulevard on the Long Beach line. My father worked at the family business, a print shop, across the street from the right-of-way just north of the boulevard. We were meeting him because we were going somewhere after he got off work that day- I don't remember where. All I remember from that day is being on the big old train with its plush velvety seats, and, when we got off of it, climbing down the stairs that magically popped out from under the car with a whoosh of compressed air.

My father grew up near the lines of the Pacific Electric, first in Manhattan Beach, and later in the San Gabriel Valley subdivision of Walnut Acres. Like many boys who grew up in Los Angeles in the first few decades of the century, he dreamed of becoming a P.E. motorman. That dream never came true, but he did spend a time as a motorman on the Pacific Electric's complementary local system, the Los Angeles Railway. For a while, he drove the cars on the Eagle Rock line, which had several miles of private right-of-way. Being lightly traveled, it was a fairly fast line, and he enjoyed working there. But he was later transferred to one of the busier lines running southwest of downtown along surface streets shared with automobile traffic. He found this frustrating. When his streetcar was hit by a motorist one day, he decided that he had had enough, and he walked away, abandoning his car and its stranded passengers in the middle of the intersection, and never went back.

If he had succeeded in becoming a motorman for the P.E., however, he would not have fared much better. The system was shut down and replaced by buses long before he would have reached retirement age. He would have hated driving a bus. While it lasted, the Pacific Electric's interurban system carried a sense of adventure no bus line could ever equal. I recall seeing some of the last runs when, riding in the car, we would be stopped by the dinging bell and swinging wigwag at the crossings while the huge four-car trains would rush by, their air horns blaring. It was a splendid sight, which vanished too soon.

All this personal history is by way of an introduction to a web site I discovered last night. I have found other sites dedicated to the Pacific Electric, but this one is something special. It was put together by a transit fan named Tom Wetzel, who has managed to gather an impressive collection of pictures of the streetcar era in Los Angeles, and it includes a couple of pages about the new lines recently built, as well. If you are at all interested in the subject, then his Los Angeles Transit History is a site you shouldn't miss. In particular, take a look at the page about the area of downtown around the old subway terminal building on Hill Street. It has some interesting then and now pictures.

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