The LA Subway that Used to Be

Fun fact: even though the place is ruled by cars (and if my recent trip is any indication, parts of it are ruled by ludicrously expensive ones at that), Los Angeles has a subway system.  I know, I was shocked the first time someone told me, too.

Another fun fact: the LA subway used to be more extensive (and way cooler).

They even ran PCC cars. [Via flickr]

It’s true.  If you know where to look, you can even find remnants of it today.  You can even go on a tour of part of it if you’re lucky.

The Pacific Electric Railway was, at its height, the largest electric railway in the world (this was around 1925), and connected a number of cities in what would now be considered the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area.  The extent of the Red Cars, as they were known, can be viewed on this fine interactive map.

Of course, most of what remains of that system is some sections of tunnel and a few building names.  Not to say those aren’t cool in their own right, because they are, but it’s just not the same.

Still pretty awesome [via flickr]

What I find saddest about the fate of LA’s original subway/streetcar system is that it was integral to the development of the area.  Many parts of the greater LA area were once “streetcar suburbs,” populated by families who earned their bread in downtown LA but wanted to live apart from the hustle and bustle of the city.

I feel a particular bond to the Pacific Electric Railway in that regard because my own childhood neighborhood in West Philadelphia began as a streetcar suburb around the turn of the 20th Century, and my childhood home was likely built around 1910 by one of the principal real-estate developers in the area.  Of course, as was the case in many other parts of the country, transit in LA saw a decline in post-war years, especially after all the land that could be developed had been, and in the 1950’s, the local government saw a network of freeways as a better investment of infrastructure dollars than an overhaul of the transit system, though destruction of the streetcar lines in favor of more roads for cars had already begun decades earlier.

A nice little photoset and writeup of the present state of LA’s historical subway can be found at Gelatobaby’s blog, and a more in-depth history of the Pacific Electric Railway can be found (where else?) over on Wikipedia.


About Hilary B. Bisenieks

Hilary B. Bisenieks (Biss-en-yex) n. 1. An author of fact, fancy, and opinion based out of Oakland, CA. 2. A graduate of the Creative Writing program at Warren Wilson college and Mary Robinette Kowal's Short Story Workshop. 3. A man unable to be trusted to update basic biographical information with any regularity. View all posts by Hilary B. Bisenieks

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