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The streetcars

June 11, 2008 |  1:11 pm


Photograph by the Los Angeles Times, 1911
Dropcap_i_1886_2 seem to have antagonized some people by having the audacity to question the notion that Los Angeles' streetcar system was anything less than a shining glory and by poking fun of the idea that it was the victim of a shadowy cabal (think wheels within wheels of corruption). In Los Angeles, this is, of course, heresy of the worst sort. (And here are the results of a Google search for cabal, shadowy, conspiracy, streetcars, "Los Angeles")

OK, let's go reality. Above, here's a photo of the Los Angeles streetcar system on Main Street in 1911, with a detail at left. Note how the streetcars are flowing with clocklike efficiency. Notice that the streetcars aren't backed up at the intersection. Yes, the wonderful old streetcars are gliding along the shimmering tracks, whisking  passengers to their destinations quickly and safely without a care in the world. (It's a bit difficult to tell from the photo, but I believe these are the "Huntington Standard" cars of 1902).

Don't take my word for it, read The Times editorial (Aug. 19, 1911) at left about the wonders of the city's streetcar system.

Let me quote a bit of it:

"Each car clings tenaciously to its overhead wire, waiting like a sailing vessel in the doldrums to catch some favoring breeze; "as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean." Once in a while a barnacle is detached and creeps painfully and laboriously from its resting place on the corner of 2nd and Main to another snug berth prepared for it between 2nd and 3rd. Then the great calm returns, the delicious peace of eventide settles again on the motorman and the conductor. The yellow and red dragon wags its tail and goes to sleep once more."

Don't get me wrong. I support mass transit and I use the Red/Purple Line almost daily. But history shows that congested traffic in Los Angeles is a century old and that the city's streetcar system was problematic at best. 

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