At one time, as some residents already know, Larchmont Blvd. was serviced by a streetcar trolley operated by the Los Angeles Railway (LARY). Local residents and others could grab a street car along Third Street and head over to Larchmont Blvd. for shopping. The LARY 3 Line operated along West 3rd Street and Larchmont Boulevard, providing residents of the local neighborhoods access to three different rail lines in the neighborhood.
Thanks to local historian and train enthusiast Ralph Cantos, we are delighted to share these photos from his collections, showing the operation of the streetcars that were part of the convenient network of streetcar lines operated by the Los Angeles Railway.
According to Cantos, the streetcar tracks were first laid down on Larchmont Blvd. around 1915. The cars operated on a private right-of-way down the center of the wide street. The median extended from Third Street to First Street, then in pavement in the shopping village from First Street to Beverly Blvd. Then, north of Beverly Blvd., the tracks returned into a center median until reaching the end of the line at Melrose Avenue.
Cantos estimates that sometime in the 1930s, the center medians were paved over, placing the streetcar tracks in pavement. But the center trolley wire supports remained in the center of the roadway because Larchmont Blvd was wide enough to have the trolley wires suspended from poles on both sides of the street. The street poles were the setting for several Keystone Cops and Three Stooges movies that were shot along Larchmont Blvd. Cars dodging between the poles in the center of the street made for hilarious antics. (We’ve seen some photos of these fun screwball comedies, but the cost of reprint rights for the photos are prohibitive, so we haven’t posted any…though they are easily found on the internet.)
Once the cars got to the top of street at Melrose Avenue, the motorman or driver would turn the car around for the return trip back down the street. According to Cantos, the single end PCCs* would pull forward to Melrose facing north, then the motorman would go to the rear of the car where there was a set of “back-up” controls. He would back the car into the “Y,” and then the car was facing east. When it was time to go, the motorman would pull the car out of the Y, and head south. The track setup formed the letter Y. The switches were all automatic, explained Cantos.
Also, explained Cantos, the car in the photo below is an example of how the railway would paint a car for promotional purposes, sort of like an early form of the bus advertising so commonly used today. In this case, the car was painted to help recruit volunteers needed for the nation’s war effort during World World II. The streetcars blanketed the city with transportation options, allowing people to get around quite easily, despite shortages of gasoline and rubber during WWII.
Here’s another image of a car that was turned into a recruiting station for the war effort.
Rail service on Larchmont ended in 1954 with no bus replacement. According to Cantos, rail line management must have figured that anyone living along Larchmont Blvd. could easily walk the three blocks that separated bus service on 3rd Street, Beverly Boulevard and Melrose Avenue.
Recently, Cantos has been sharing photos with neighbors on Nextdoor.com and was happy to share his stories with the Buzz when we reached out to him last week. We have more photos and more stories to share about this fascinating part of our local history. Cantos says he has been fascinated with trains and trolleys his entire life. He is a contributor to the Pacific and Electric Railway Historical Society, a group of dedicated volunteers who happily share railway memorabilia and stories to keep the memory of these amazing cars alive for the rest of us. We learned that his email address, 525Trolley, is taken from a special car he spent years refurbishing. He also shared the photo below of LARY car #525. It was built in 1906 and is known as a “Huntington Standard,” explained Cantos. The car style was named after railway founder Henry Huntington, who developed the railways to connect his vast real estate developments.
According to Cantos, “Henry loved curved glass, so all of his early cars, both PE and LARY, had his famous 5-window front end, with the curved side window ends.”
The car can be seen in person at the Southern California Railway Museum in Perris, California.
To learn more about our old railways, Cantos recommends checking out the website of the Electric Railway Historical Assoc. of Southern California, where he has been a member since 1958.
“It has all the info that all of us have put together over the decades,” said Cantos.
We are thankful to Cantos for his photos and his stories!
(* Cantos says “PCC” stood for Presidents Conference Committee. These were cars that were developed after owners of the various rail lines became concerned that riders were favoring buses and decided to spiff up the design and amenities of the cars so they would be more appealing to passengers. The resulting new car was called PCC after the name of the conference.)