top of page

Los Angeles' Lost Red Car System ::


Los Angeles has been served by public transit since 1873, and once ran, essentially, on a system of streetcars rather than the freeways and cars used today. There are many conspiracy theories involving this topic, the most popular, perhaps, being the acclaimed “Red Car Conspiracy.” The theory goes something like this: there once was a trolley system that covered the entire city, and after WWII, GM or Ford or some large company bought the cars so they could dismantle them, forcing dependency on the freeways.




The theory is even featured in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? As our antagonist, Doom, tells our protagonist, Eddie, that he will destroy all of the red cars, making room for “a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night… a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see.”

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Henry Huntington, railway mogul of his time, completed his first line in 1902. The line ran from Los Angeles to Long Beach. In 1911, what is known as “The Great Merger” occurred, combining several different companies into one: Pacific Electric Railway Company. The railway system was now divided only between Los Angeles Railway (LARy – Yellow Car System) and Pacific Electric (Red Car System). Pacific Electric was the largest electric railway system in the world during the 1920s, connecting cities in Los Anglees, Orange County, San Bernadino County, and Riverside County.


You can look at an a interactive timeline provided by Metro Transportation Library and Archive of the History of Transit in Los Angeles here


As well as an interactive map of the old Red Car maps here



In looking into the history of transit in Los Angeles, I came across the Orange Empire Railway Museum located in Perris, CA. The museum has collected over 35 pieces of rail equipment from the Red Car empire, including some very classic pieces like the “Hollywood Cars” (PE-655) of the 1920s. (x)(x)




I was able to visit the museum and take pictures of the PE655 model using photogrammetry (photographing the object 360+ around. The PE 655 (Hollywood Car) – like many – is not running mechanically, so it stays in the garage, making it hard to get proper photos using photogrammetry, because not all angles were available. I got some good ones and put the photos into 123D CATCH and it created a model that is partially missing one side (the side I had a hard time photographing because of its close proximity to the wall). Here’s what I got:

Now That I’ve made a cleaned up model of the PE-655 (Red Car), I am looking to explore the old route ( San Fernando Valley Line ) that the car took. In looking at the sign on the car I photographed at the Orange Empire Railway Museum, and the model I made, I could see the streets taken along the route:

I then looked on the interactive map of the old railway system to get a better idea of the route, which I plan to travel and get some key images of for Daqri use.


“The San Fernando Valley Line followed the Santa Monica Boulevard line as far as the intersection of Santa Monica and Highland Ave. (7.12 miles). There it turned north on Highland Ave, using the tracks of the Highland Avenue Line to the mouth of Cahuenga Pass (MP 8.66). Once through the pass, the line passed Universal City (11.11 miles) and arrived at Lankershim (North Hollywood) where double track ended, 13.83 miles from Subway Terminal. From North Hollywood to Kester Junction, a distance of 2.26 miles, this line originally shared the right of way and finally the rails of Southern Pacific’s North Hollywood Branch. Prior to 1938, PE had its own single track line paralleling the SP line to the south; severe floods in early 1938 washed out PE’s bridge in this portion of the line and it entered an agreement with SP whereby it leased the SP track and electrified same. From Kester Junction. this line proceeded on its own single track to the town of Van Nuys, passing through the town on double track to North Sherman Way, 19.93 miles, where the line branched into two lines. One branch turned west on Sherman Way, arriving at Reseda, 24.91 miles, and finally at its terminus, Owensmouth (Canoga Park), 29.10 miles.”(x)

Santa Monica Boulevard

Santa Monica Boulevard

Santa Monica Boulevard to Cahuenga Pass (now 101 freeway)

Cahuenga Pass

Van Nuys/Sherman Way

I took pictures along this route, using these as my "key Images" to link the 3D virtual model of the red car to. The final result being a series of photographs of the old route, present day, linked with a virtual red car, taking it's old route in a new medium.  Here are the key images:

bottom of page