Skip to main content
Los Angeles Railway

Los Angeles Railway

Los Angeles Railway

The Los Angeles Railway (LARy) was the city’s local streetcar system. The streetcars used a yellow paint scheme, so they became known as the Yellow Cars. Guided by real estate and utility tycoon Henry Huntington, the system grew rapidly through the first decade of the 20th century, when the population of Los Angeles more than tripled. After Huntington’s death in 1927, LARy was owned by the Huntington Estate until its sale to National City Lines in 1944. To help its new owners de-emphasize the use of rail equipment, it was renamed Los Angeles Transit Lines (LATL).

During the 1940s about a million people lived within about a half mile of the bus and streetcar lines of LARY/LATL. By 1950 some LATL bus lines penetrated as far as Beverly Hills on the westside, and the 5 streetcar line – the longest line – reached 13 miles south to Hawthorne. But for the most part Yellow Car services were concentrated in the area that today would be called central Los Angeles, and it covered this area fairly intensively.
Ridership declined significantly in the years following World War II. The public increasingly saw the private automobile and the expanding freeway system as the preferred method of travel. In 1958 LATL was sold to the newly formed Los Angeles MTA, which instituted a program of replacing the streetcars with buses. The final five streetcar routes were converted to bus in 1963, ending an era of more than 65 years of electric railway transportation within the city.

The Museum has a collection of over 25 streetcars from the Yellow Car system, spanning the history of the company from 1895 to 1963.

A Brief History of the Los Angeles Railway

An investor group led by Henry E. Huntington bought control of the Los Angeles Railway in 1898. Forced off the Southern Pacific board by E. H. Harriman in 1900, he moved permanently to Southern California and became actively engaged in the operation.

The Los Angeles Railway, best known for its Yellow Cars, ran on 3 ½ foot gauge track, common to street railways. This reduced costs, and incidentally, kept freight cars off city streets. It ended up sharing dual gauge trackage with the Pacific Electric along Hawthorne Boulevard, on Main Street, and on Fourth Street. The Los Angeles Railway, unlike the Pacific Electric, was an urban railway, serving the City of Los Angeles and the immediate surroundings.

In 1910, Huntington began negotiations with the Southern Pacific to sell his interest in the Pacific Electric. In the “Great Merger” of 1911, rail lines of several companies, including Huntington’s Pacific Electric, the Los Angeles & Pacific, and other lines were consolidated and merged, leaving the interurban standard gauge lines under the name Pacific Electric owned by the Southern Pacific, and the local inner city narrow gauge lines, known as the Los Angeles Railway, under Huntington’s control.

Huntington is best remembered for Huntington Beach and the Huntington Library. After the merger, he retired from active management, and devoted his time to his art and literary collection that you can see at his mansion and library in Pasadena. Huntington died in 1927. The railway remained property of his estate.

In 1945, the Huntington Estate sold the Los Angeles Railway to the infamous National City Lines that promptly renamed it Los Angeles Transit Lines, and started dismantling the streetcar lines. General Motors, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone Tire were among the shareholders, hence the term the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy.

In 1958, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority acquired Los Angeles Transit Lines and the successor to the Pacific Electric passenger service, Metropolitan Coach Lines. The color scheme of the cars changed from the Los Angeles Transit Lines’ yellow and green, or “fruit salad,” to the purportedly smog resistant dark green and light green adopted by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority ran the last trolley on March 31, 1963. The new Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Agency (LACMTA or Metro) reintroduced trolley operations in 1990, when they opened the Blue Line to Long Beach.

Henry Huntington

Henry Huntington was not only a railroad magnate. He was one of the greatest collectors of fine art and rare books of his day. The Huntington, his home in San Marino, California is on the former San Marino Ranch, originally owned by the Shorb family, which he purchased in a 1903 foreclosure sale. One of his neighbors was George S. Patton, Sr., father of the famous World War II general.

Huntington recognized the economic potential of Southern California and contributed to the development with his Pacific Electric. After the sale of the Pacific Electric, he devoted his time to the collection of rare books. He married Arabella Huntington, the widow of his uncle Colis P. Huntington, in 1913 when they both were in their 60’s. Arabella was one of the wealthiest women in America and a collector of fine art. Together they amassed a world-class collection of British and French art.

The Beaux-Arts mansion, completed in 1914, now houses the European art collection. The literary collection arrived on the property in 1921 when the library was completed. William Hertrich, a landscape architect, created the many botanical gardens you can view today. The Huntingtons made careful plans for the preservation of their collections. In 1919, he and Arabella transferred the property to a non-profit trust and established a research institution to serve scholars.

Arabella passed away in 1924. Henry passed away in 1927. Both are interred in a mausoleum on the property.

The Huntington opened to the public in 1928.

The Huntington Library, Arts Collection, and Botanical Garden is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, CA. 91108. It is open the public all days of the week except Tuesdays.