Downtown Los Angeles in 1948: A Broadway Trolley Melody

By Ralph Cantos

This beautiful photo taken from atop the LARY-LATL building shows so well the dominance of streetcar transport that was once so prominent in Los Angeles. Here, looking north on Broadway at Broadway Place and Olympic Boulevard is a traction fan’s “Trolley Paradise.”

As a very young trolley fan, I would spend hours on end at 7th and Broadway watching the never-ending parade of LATL streetcars crossing the well-worn diamond at that fantastic intersection. The friendly, beautiful sounds of trolley bells echoed off the tall buildings. Not a harsh BEEP-BEEP of a GM bus could be heard at this wonderful place. I particularly loved the sounds as 2 or more heavy H-4s crossed the diamond in opposite directions; it was “industrial music” at its best. No sooner had an H-4 crossed, than a PCC would “tip toe” across the diamond with half the sound of the preceding H-4.

I was only 12 years old in 1955 and my only knowledge of the coming and goings of LA’s wonderful traction system is from what I saw with my transfixed eyes. It was therefore a traumatic shock to my young life when I went Downtown in the late days of May 1955. I could not comprehend what had happened to all the LATL streetcars that had dominated not only Broadway but Spring and Main Streets as well. I was actually short of breath as I witnessed buses in the Union Station Station Loop from the window as my #2 Trolley Coach emerged from the tunnel under the station tracks.

Even worse, the sight of buses on Main, Spring and Broadway was almost unbearable to me. As I staked out my spot at 7th & Broadway, some of my anxiety faded away as all seemed normal on 7th Street — R-S & J cars still rolled up and down the street with no buses in sight.

But Broadway was a different story.

Gone were the 5 and 9 cars. Now the 5 line was operated with GM buses. The 9 line was gone for good. It was with some relief when I saw W and P cars still rolling up and down Broadway. I did not know it at the time, but the days were numbered for the W line and soon, the P cars would be the only streetcars on Broadway.

Eight years later the wonderful sound of trolley bells echoing of the Downtown buildings would give way to the blasting sounds of hordes of Diesel buses that replaced LA’s beloved streetcars. The charm of Downtown and indeed, LA itself, was gone as far as I was concerned.

If you want to see and HEAR the CHARM that streetcars bring to a city, just head to San Francisco and stake out a spot on Market Street and you will see and HEAR for yourself what LA lost so many years ago…

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Showing 6 comments
  • David Thompson

    Fond memories indeed. I was 11 years old in 1955. My mother would take me to lunch at Clifton’s Cafeteria. We would try to get a second floor window seat which almost looked down on 7th & Broadway and all the action. 1955 was a terrible year – my hometown was Glendale. When both the subway terminal and the 5 line closed – we stopped going downtown.

  • David Sobo

    I was 11 years old in 1943. My father worked downtown at fourth and main and I rode the A line to fourth and hill and stood transfixed for at least 10 minutes each at Broadway, Spring and Main to watch and listen to the red and yellow cars. I agree, and history shows, that downtown Los Angeles died when the buses took over. Thanks, Ralph, for bringing back some wonderful memories

  • Terry Hamilton

    Wonderful memories indeed, Ralph. I was born in 1950. I do have some memories of trolleys in downtown Los Angles but they are very vague. This post helps me try and remember.

  • Gary Starre

    Having been born in Sept. 1951, I have vague memories of riding the W line to my grandparents’ house in 1955 and 1956. On a westbound trip on Washington Blvd., the car was packed full and we were riding in the rear. I was playing with the controls when the car jolted to a stop. I thought I had done something, although today knowing how an H class car operates, I doubt that I was the cause. Anyway, after a few minutes, the motorman had everyone leave the car and we walked home. I remember looking back and seeing other streetcars lining up behind the stalled one. For years, I wondered if I was the reason for that car being prematurely sent to scrap.

    • Pacific Electric

      What an amazing story, Gary – thanks for sharing! Happy New Year from PERYHS! – Ed.

  • mike dunn

    With all the streetcars pictured on Broadway and the cross streets in Downtown using nothing but visual separation of the cars it seems they had a stern hand on operation. Fast forward to today and the MTA insist on a five or more minutes separating their trains although they have more safety measures and a computer generated view of the actual location of the cars. They are such amateurs that the projected new line going thru Huntington Park is projected to use separate tracks where it will follow the same route as the Long Beach line for several miles.

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