Pacific Electric’s Hill Street Tunnels: An LA Icon

By Ralph Cantos

Pacific Electric Hollywood car no. 614 poses for the camera at 1st & Hill Street in this 1923 photo. The south end of the Hill Street tunnel portals dominate the scene. For almost four decades, the twin tunnels stood proudly at the top end of the Hill Street business district.

The rail portion of the twin tunnels was first proposed in 1903. Then as now, bureaucratic “BS” delayed the start of construction for almost 4 years. Finally in 1907, the LA & Pacific took matters into their hands, secured the necessary permits and began construction. Construction of the rail tunnel was completed in 1909.

The rail tunnel saved LAP cars 15 minutes by not having to go around the ‘The Big Hill.” So impressed by the time saved by LAP cars using the tunnel, LA City officials got off their duffs and built an identical auto tunnel in 1913.

Around 1939, the LARY began using the rail portion of the twin bore for car lines 2 and L.

The last use of the tunnel by the LARY cars was in late 1947 thanks to the dirty deeds of the new LATL. PE cars continued to roll through the tunnel until the end of 1950 with the last Echo Park Avenue franchise car.

City of Los Angeles management wasted no time in converting the rail portion of the tunnel for auto and bus use.. The end of the iconic tunnels would come in 1954 when the BUNKER REDEVELOPMENT Project leveled the entire hill over the tunnels. By the end of 1955, there was no trace of the tunnels to be found.

Ralph Cantos Collection

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PE West Hollywood Car HousePhoto by Harold F. Stewart from the Craig Rasmussen Collection