The last train on the last line of greater Los Angeles’ Pacific Electric streetcar network made its last run on 9 April 1961. You can see the final days of this once-robust public transport system for yourself in the short film Ride the Last of the Big Red Cars.
This footage of the remaining “red cars” (as the Pacific Electric’s fleet was commonly known) strikes an elegiac tone, especially to modern Angelenos. They have little more than history books and the rose-tinted memories of old-timers from which to reconstruct the heyday of urban rail in Los Angeles, a city which spent decades after the disappearance of the red cars saddled with the reputation as a car-dependent, smog-choked, freeway-bound yet traffic-paralysed dystopia – and not without cause.
The Pacific Electric, along with the “yellow cars” of the Los Angeles Railway, made up the young southern California metropolis’ rail transit system throughout the first half of the 20th century. At the peak of their combined coverage and accessibility, they made Los Angeles’ public transportation the best in the country, if not the world. Why, then, did they vanish from the cityscape by the mid-1960s, their tracks yanked from the streets and their rolling stock tossed on the heap (or sent to Argentina)? What forces could have replaced the proud red and yellow cars with a fleet of plain old buses, the likes of which so many Angelenos still disdain today? It looks, to some, like the work of a conspiracy.
Read the whole thing at the Guardian.