Back in 1961, my mom took me on one of the last Pacific Electric trolley runs down to Long Beach – a train ride exactly like the one depicted in this film. Although I was only 6 at the time, I still have some very clear memories of that day-trip, half-a-century ago. Looking back now, I realize that this was my first-ever excursion into Los Angeles past.
One morning at breakfast (I think it was actually a school day), Mom just told me out-of-the-blue that we were going Downtown to ride the last of the street cars. She wanted me to experience something that was an important part of her daily life when she was young; something that was now about to vanish into history.
Before we rode the Red Car, though, we went to Angels Flight. That was the first of the two times I got to ride it, and it was a big thrill. Afterward, we stood at a busy street corner for awhile – it was probably Third and Hill – waiting for a bus to take us to the PE station. I'll never forget the NOISE of that intersection; how LOUD the general hustle-and-bustle of the city was. It was nothing like out in the suburbs. I was especially impressed by the electric arcs and sparks that shot out from the trolleys' contact with the overhead wires. Snap! Crackle! Pop!
The Red Car ride to Long Beach was actually pretty boring for a fidgety 6-year-old, despite it being my first time ever on an inter-urban train. I do remember the car was filled to capacity. I guess nostalgia was thick among the passengers, as there was little talking. Mostly just the sound of the train wheels going clickity-clack, clickity-clack, all along the rail road track.
When we got to Long Beach, Mom took me to an immense old cafeteria downtown. The ceiling seemed like it was two stories high. It was crowded and noisy, and kind of dark inside, even though it was mid-day. I can't recall the name of the big cafeteria, but I think my mom probably went there a lot when she had relatives living in Long Beach in the '40s.
I don't remember the ride back at all. Likely I slept all the way. But overall, it was a very memorable day! I think Mom would be surprised how much I remember. At the time, she probably concluded that the experience was wasted on a little child like me, but it turned out it wasn't at all. I really wish I could tell her now how much it meant to me, and thank her accordingly.
I'm really struck by how ancient and worn this film looks. Knowing I was on one of those trains, well, it makes ME feel old, too. I have to say, though, that I am in much better shape after 50 years than this footage is! That's at least some consolation for a man my age. :-)
Richard Schave of Esotouric recently uncovered some remarkable film footage of 1940s Los Angeles on Archive.org.
Go to this page and have a look! (I tried embedding the video here, but it doesn't play satisfactorily at all at DSL speeds.)
The 6-minute film consists of three clips. In the first two, the car with the camera drives west up Second Street starting just west of Olive, then turns south on Grand. In the second clip, the car turns west from Grand onto Fifth Street and drives past the Central Library. The third clip starts just north of Fifth and Flower, proceeds up Flower to First, and ends just as the camera car crests the very top of Bunker Hill.
I think I can date this film pretty precisely to Summer, 1948. Just north of Fifth and Flower is a billboard for RCA Victor televisions that depicts a cartoon donkey and elephant wearing boxing gloves, with a caption saying "Pick a sure winner!" This suggests to me that this is a post-war national election year, with the national party conventions soon to be broadcast (these have always taken place in mid-summer). The style of television depicted on the billboard also looks post-war.
Then, just as the car turns east on First, another billboard advertises a show at the Hollywood Bowl running from July 25-Sept 5; another clue that this is summertime. Also, several of the cars in the film are post-WWII models. Although I'm no real expert on the subject, I don't see any autos here that date later than the 1948-49 model year.
Anyway, I highly recommend downloading the hi-resolution 217.8 MB MPEG4 file on the Archive.org webpage. The size and detail of the image is amazing. It really brings Bunker Hill back to life!