Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Seal Beach Red Car Museum


It wasn’t all that long ago that Southern California had a comprehensive mode of public transportation system known as the Pacific Electric Streetcar, or more commonly, the Red Car. Running for 60 years from 1901 to 1961, the privately-held system connected Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties in one of the nation’s largest network of trolleys, railcars and busses.

Largely running on a standard gauge track powered by overhead electric cables, the sprawling network of tracks ran routes connecting Los Angeles to Covina, Redlands, Corona, Baldwin Park, Torrance, La Habra and Newport Beach. They were efficient and comfortable, giving riders easy access to downtown Los Angeles and neighboring communities.

Photo: The Seal Beach Red Car Museum
The Red Car partnered with another system, the downtown Los Angeles Yellow Car, and met with much success as developers began to construct new communities like Angeleno Heights and Huntington Beach.  Over 900 miles of track made up the network in its heyday in 1920, and everyone used the Red Car.  The history of expansion, ownership and partnering companies is complex, yet amazingly, it all worked.

As the Southern California population grew, officials began to realize the lumbering Red Cars (top speed 14.8 MPH) were not going to meet the demands of traffic generated by all these communities. The Automobile club came up with a proposal in 1930 for an “elevated motorway system” that would replace many of the major Red Car routes. As traffic mounted, the street-bound Red Cars were often delayed.

Sections of the line that were least travelled began to be closed.  The Whittier/Fullerton area lost their line in 1938; in 1940 more closures hit Redondo Beach, Newport Beach, Sawtelle, and Riverside. The freeway system began construction, and when the San Bernardino Freeway began construction to connect to the Santa Ana, the junction area near Union Station in Los Angeles became nearly impassable for the Red Car.

The Red Car’s fate was sealed, and the system steadily declined as it became obsolete. Under new ownership by the MTA, the last car ran the Long Beach run in 1961.

A truncated homage to the Red Car’s is paid at Disney’s California Adventure sporting a streetcar designed in a typical Red Car style.  But to see a real Red Car that actually ran on the tracks, take a visit to Seal Beach, where the Red Car Museum resides.
The museum is small and housed in what was once the Red Car system’s maintenance vehicle, the Tower Car, vehicle No. 1734.  You can find it on Electric Avenue near Main Street, next to the Library. You can watch a video that recreates a ride on the rails, see artifacts, and visit with docents who can show you signs, tickets, hats, pictures and other memorabilia.  It is open the second and fourth Saturdays from Noon to 3 p.m Donations are accepted. Call: (562) 683-1874.

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