Clang, Clang, Clang, Went the Trolley: Automobiles Killed the Los Angeles Red Car Trolleys


Santa Ana Line

Santa Ana Line

If you ever ask an Angeleno why there is no efficient public transportation system in Los Angeles, chances are you will hear this widely believed myth: Los Angeles is too widely spread out to ever support an effective public transportation system.  Actually, for more than half a century, Los Angeles served as a public transportation model for the rest of the United States.

The Pacific Electric (PE) Railway strategically served Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and Los Angeles counties with an efficient Red Car Trolley system.  Essentially, the PE railways allowed working-class people to affordably live further away from their work and commute daily to Los Angeles.  Workers then were able to raise families in working-class suburbs in neighboring counties.  The trolleys provided sufficient transportation for work, home, and sightseeing.


Growing up in Garden Grove, I remember passing by a few open dirt pathways that diagonally cut across the city.  Usually these awkwardly positioned paths were desolate and dusty.  The surrounding neighborhoods are mostly apartments, condos, and mobile homes faced with economic pressures.  Perhaps this is due to the close proximity of these residential areas to the once Santa Ana PE railway line.

Although I have passed by the PR railways all of my life, I had never realized what they were or why they were important in Los Angeles history.  I resolved to learn about the PE railways by visiting as many locations Santa Ana PE railway locations possible.


I visited the PE monument at Brookhurst St. and Bixby Ave. on 02/15/16

First, I visited the once Pacific Electric railroad monument at Brookhurst St. and Bixby Ave.  Unfortunately the monument here only consisted of a concrete replica of the railroad tracks that once lined the path and a statue with the PE logo.  I personally found it frustrating that there was no plaque with the history of the PE railroad line posted here.

After searching at other locations, and finding removed plaques, I finally found a PE monument with a plaque slightly defaced at the Knott St. and Ball Rd. intersection.  Posted below is a picture of the monument with the plaque intact.  The Santa Ana PE line ended at the Bellflower Depot (16400 Bellflower Blvd) while this depot connected other lines from San Pedro to Los Angeles.

Bellflower Depot Then

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Bellflower Depot Now (02/15/16)

With the advent of the automobile, Los Angeles residents found themselves swayed by the freedom of owning a car.  At the same time, the PE lines were deteriorating.  The PE lines could either be reconstructed or dismantled.  Since Angelenos loved their automobiles, the PE Lines were discontinued and city busses provided the bulk of public transportation.  As Los Angeles looks to its future, its love of automobiles is unsustainable.  Perhaps Los Angeles will look to its past and reinstate the PE lines, to which most of the railroad spaces still lay fallow.



Transcribed from the plaque located off of Knott Street and Ball Road:

“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 1895 and linked Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties with over 1,000 miles of service up to 2,700 scheduled trolleys daily.  Through the years, the trolleys were painted different colors, but the most famous and symbolic of this 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 Pacific Electric System.  This portion of the corridor diagonally traverses central Orange County from 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”.

You can also visit a Red Car Trolley in Seal Beach on Main Street, near the Seal Beach Pier.



For more information on the Red Car Trolleys, consider visiting the following websites:

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