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Where to Find Remnants of L.A.'s Red Car System

Red trolley cars are parked outside of the North Hollywood depot, a yellow paneled building with dark brown trim and a large sign across the roof that reads "Southern Pacific - Pacific Electric Station." Pedestrians approach the depot on the sidewalk.
Pacific Electric Railway cars at the North Hollywood station, circa 1952. | Courtesy of the Ernest Marquez Collection at the Huntington Library
Though the last of Los Angeles' famed Red Cars officially retired in 1961, there is still so much Pacific Electric history that can be found in the Southern California landscape — in expected and unexpected places.
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At one time, Los Angeles's Pacific Electric (PE) system was the largest public transit system in the country covering 1,100 of miles of Southern California landscape. For over 50 years, the PE's Red Cars transported Angelenos to almost every corner of Southern California but, by mid-century, the Red Cars gave way to buses, cars and freeways. Considering the last of Los Angeles famed Red Cars officially retired in 1961, there is still so much Pacific Electric history that can be found in the Southern California landscape — in expected and unexpected places.

In this episode of "Lost L.A.," "Who Killed the Red Car?," host Nathan Masters investigates what happened to one of the greatest rail transit systems in the nation. Watch now.
Who Killed the Red Car?

Take, for example, the Heritage Square Museum. As soon as visitors step into the premises, they are already greeted by the beautifully-restored Palms Depot, a mustard yellow Queen Anne with gingerbread cornices and brown trim that now serves as the museum's the ticket booth. Originally located National Boulevard and Vinton, before the 10 Freeway was a twinkle in a highway engineer's eye, the late 1880s depot served both Southern Pacific and Pacific Electric lines. It was moved to Montecito Heights in 1976 to stand with the museum's other Victorians. Palms Depot is just one of the many reminders about the importance of the Pacific Electric to the development the region.

The Palms Depot, a mustard yellow Queen Anne with gingerbread cornices and brown trim, stands before a dirt path with trees sparsely surrounding it.
Palms Depot at Heritage Square was originally located National Boulevard and Vinton. The late 1880s depot served both Southern Pacific and Pacific Electric lines. | Courtesy of Wikimedia

More of that transit history can easily be found in Southern California's railway museums such as Travel Town in Griffith Park, the Southern California Railway Museum in Perris and the Pacific Railroad Museum in San Dimas. Our railway past is also cemented in what could be considered concrete monuments to the PE — the 1904 Pacific Electric Lofts and the 1926 Subway Terminal Building in downtown Los Angeles. Humbler artifacts of the PE — depots, exposed tracks, rights-of-way, bridge footings — are still evident decades after the last Red Car retired. Below is a small sampling of these indelible Pacific Electric traces in Southern California:

A black and white archival photo of the Subway Terminal Building — a tall building with uniform windows, spaced evenly apart. Two large arches serve as entrances at the bottom.
The Subway Terminal Building in downtown Los Angeles, circa 1923. | Courtesy of the California State Library
An old black and white photo of aa Pacific Electric Railway station. A red car approaches the terminal. Exposed tracks and a tangle of wires above the street are reminiscent of the red car heyday.
A Pacific Electric Railway station at 6th & Main Streets, circa 1941. | Courtesy of the Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library and Archive at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Long Beach Rights of Way

In 2018, Long Beach residents and officials celebrated the opening of the Red Car Greenbelt established along an old stretch of the city's Pacific Electric right-of-way. Where trolleys once clicked and clacked down the Newport-Balboa line, joggers, bicyclists, pedestrians now trek down a path lined with patches of California poppies, yarrow and California brittlebush. A number of Long Beach parks and green spaces dot this old right-of-way, such as Rotary Centennial Park, Jenni Rivera Memorial Field, NAACP Freedom Park and Veterans Park. A stainless steel replica of a Red Car's front end titled "The Train Has Left the Station" stands in Orizaba Park. This public art piece by Patrick Vogel, combined with a concrete path designed like train tracks, pays tribute to the important role the PE line played in the development of Long Beach. Follow this right-of-way further south to Electric Avenue in Seal Beach, where a small museum is housed in an old Red Car.

A photo of a red wooden sign that reads, "Red Car Greenbelt" in yellow paint. Below that reads, "City of Long Beach" in smaller, yellow lettering. The sign stands against a bright blue sky and amidst a lush green space.
A sign in Long Beach commemorates the Red Car Greenbelt that once stretched the city's Pacific Electric right-of-way, down the Newport-Balboa line. | Victoria Bernal
A stainless steel replica of a Red Car trolley stands in a lush, green park. On the trolley replica are the numbers, "1001." At the top of the replica is a sign that reads, "Long Beach."
Located in Long Beach's Orizaba Park is "The Train Has Left the Station" by Patrick Vogel, a stainless steel replica of a Red Car’s front end. | Victoria Bernal

Lynwood and North Hollywood Depots

A number of PE depots still stand including two beautiful examples in Hollywood and Lynwood. Originally known as the Lankershim Depot in North Hollywood, this prefabricated 1890s depot served both PE and Southern Pacific lines. Thanks to efforts of the Save Lankershim Train Depot Committee, the LA Conservancy and Metro, the Valley's oldest unmodified railroad structure was preserved and restored. Groundwork Coffee now serves Metro Red and Orange line commuters in "one of the San Fernando Valley's few nineteenth-century landmarks" — to quote the Los Angeles Conservancy, which awarded the depot its Conservancy Preservation Award in 2018.

A train depot with yellow wood horizontal paneling and dark brown trim stands against a bright blue sky. A large sign is posted on the roof and reads, "Southern Pacific - Pacific Electric Station." At the back of the depot, where passengers would typically wait for trains, is outdoor seating for a café. Patrons sit in clusters around tables.
The North Hollywood Station, formerly known as the Lankershim Depot, in North Hollywood is now the location for Groundwork Coffee. This prefabricated 1890s depot once served both PE and Southern Pacific lines. | Victoria Bernal
Red trolley cars are parked outside of the North Hollywood depot, a yellow paneled building with dark brown trim and a large sign across the roof that reads "Southern Pacific - Pacific Electric Station." Pedestrians approach the depot on the sidewalk.
Pacific Electric Railway cars at the North Hollywood station, circa 1952. | Courtesy of the Ernest Marquez Collection at the Huntington Library

Before it was on the National Register of Historic Places, the Lynwood Depot was a PE depot, bus station, taxi stand, lunch stand and typing school. It even survived the 1933 earthquake. This 1917 station originally stood at Long Beach Boulevard and Fernwood Avenue before it was moved to make way for the 105 Freeway. In the application for its historic status, engineer Andrew Swan explained "The style of the Lynwood station is unique in that it apparently was never repeated and had no precedent." This Classical-Revival-meets-California-Bungalow depot is located at the Lynwood City Park, next to the city's 1954 aqua-colored indoor swimming pool and is currently home to the Lynwood Union Gallery.

Lynwood Station, a small former train depot with ornate ivory columns and a small sign across the roof that reads, "Lynwood." The station stands amidst a public park and against a bright blue sky.
The Lynwood Depot, now the Lynwood Union Gallery, is located near the entrance of Lynwood City Park. | Victoria Bernal
A black and white photo of the Lynwood Depot, with columns lined with Christmas decorations. The depot stands next to a set of train tracks. Passengers and pedestrians walk in the sidewalks near the depot while others sit on benches, waiting.
Lynwood Depot, circa 1950s, at its original location on Long Beach Boulevard and Fernwood Avenue. The 1917 station was a PE depot, bus station, taxi stand, lunch stand and typing school. | Courtesy of the Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library and Archive

Irving Gill's Bridge and Depot in Torrance

In Torrance, pioneering modernist Irving Gill designed two Pacific Electric structures that still stand. Gill worked as Torrance's chief architect and designed both residential and business properties. He built the PE depot in 1912, which has been transformed into a lovely restaurant appropriately named The Depot. Reflecting Gill's graceful use of concrete, the 1913 El Prado Bridge transported freight along with commuting workers to the Torrance factories (and later the PE maintenance shops that spread over 60 acres in the city). Red Cars rolled under the bridge along Torrance Boulevard transporting riders between San Pedro and Los Angeles. The bridge no longer carries any rail cars but it does serve as a gateway to Torrance.

El Prado Bridge in Torrance — a concrete bridge with arches that go over two roads.
El Prado Bridge in Torrance was built by Irving Gill and once carried rail cars. | Victoria Bernal

West Hollywood's Formosa Café

At West Hollywood's legendary Formosa Café, parched Angelenos can grab a cocktail along with a bite to eat in one of the oldest Red Cars in Los Angeles. Originally opened in 1939, the Formosa Café hosted many famous (and infamous) celebrities during Hollywood's golden era. The famed watering hole was shut in 2017 and reopened in 2019 under the management of the 1933 Group, known for restoring other historic spots, like the Idle Bar and Highland Park Bowl. During restoration of the Formosa, the 1933 Group paid close attention to the restaurant's historic car #913 — recreating parts for the 116-year-old trolley (like brass handles) and removing architectural features to draw more attention to this historic car. It's one of the few eateries that blends both Hollywood and railway history.