Seeing the little moving Red Car Trolley magnet from Disney California Adventure (DCA) on my fridge recently I thought, “If you took the real Pacific Electric Red Cars in the 1920s, how would you get to these stops?”
For those who haven’t been to Anaheim recently, Disney’s Red Car Trolley is a recreation of the Pacific Electric “Red Cars” that traversed Southern California from the year Walt Disney was born to around when Disneyland opened. In 1944 over 100 million passengers rode Pacific Electric’s 1,000 miles of rail.
Once the automobile reigned supreme, the trolleys quickly and controversially disappeared (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit). At their height, the Red Cars traveled as far east as Redlands, out west toward the end of the San Fernando Valley and all the way to Newport Beach in the south. Or as Eddie Valiant said, “Who needs a car in L.A.? We have the best public transportation system in the world.”
The DCA system stays mostly within Hollywood of the 1920s with four iconic stops. Beginning at Buena Vista St. near the entrance to the park, the line continues to Carthay Circle at the roundabout in front the theater, stops at Hollywood Blvd. in front of the Disney Animation building and ends at the Sunset Blvd./Hollywood Tower Hotel stop tucked behind the Tower of Terror.
Obviously, some creativity was required to match locations from Disney’s amalgamated Hollywood to its pre-Depression predecessor. For example, there were numerous stops along 1920s Hollywood Blvd. so I chose the one closest to the Pantages Theatre (which is the model for the storefront next to the Disney Animation building). Also, there was no “Sunset Blvd.” stop in Hollywood, definitely not one near the historic Hollywood Tower apartment complex that inspired the attraction. Fortunately, when the Tower opened in 1929, a Pacific Electric trolley stopped right next to the landmark.
So, pay a couple quarters, hop on board and enjoy the “Comfort, Speed and Safety” of a sightseeing tour on the Pacific Electric Red Car.
Top: The Barham Boulevard stop of the San Fernando Valley line. Bottom: A Red Car waits to load passengers at Buena Vista St.
Buena Vista St. to Carthay Circle
via the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood-Venice, Sherman Cutoff and Santa Monica via Sawtelle lines
The main street of the revamped DCA is Buena Vista St., named for the thoroughfare that runs to the west of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. (which, oddly enough, did not exist in the 1920s). So, to begin our fictional Red Car tour, we walk a couple miles west from the corner of Buena Vista St. and Riverside Dr. along the LA River and past both the Warner Bros. and Universal studios uphill to the Barham Boulevard Station of the San Fernando Valley Red Car line.
Taking the San Fernando Valley line south down what would later be the center of the 101 Freeway, we traverse the Cahuenga Pass into Hollywood, with the Hollywood Bowl to our right. After travelling a few blocks south on Highland Ave. past Hollywood High School, we stop at Santa Monica Blvd. and switch over to the Hollywood-Venice Line toward Beverly Hills.
We continue along Santa Monica Blvd. past the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio until we hit La Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood (called Sherman back then). Here, we take the short Sherman Cutoff to the Santa Monica via Sawtelle line toward Vineyard and continue down San Vicente Blvd. toward the planned community of Carthay Center and its centerpiece, the Carthay Circle Theater.
Top: A Red Car passes Fairfax on San Vicente just SE of Carthay Circle. Bottom: The first true Carthay “circle” is at DCA. There was no similar traffic roundabout in Los Angeles.
Carthay Circle to Hollywood Blvd.
via the Santa Monica via Sawtelle, Sherman Cutoff, Hollywood-Venice and Hollywood Boulevard via Hill Street lines
We backtrack up the Santa Monica via Sawtelle and Sherman Cutoff lines past mostly undeveloped land to the Hollywood-Venice line where we’ll transfer to the northern part of the Hollywood line at Crescent Junction (Fairfax and Santa Monica). The Hollywood Boulevard via Hill Street line will take us on a private right-of-way up to Hollywood Blvd.
On world-famous Hollywood Blvd. we’ll pass some of the world’s most famous movie palaces: Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (opened in 1926), the El Capitan Theatre (also in 1926), and – after crossing back over the San Fernando Valley line – Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre (1922). At the storied intersection of Hollywood and Vine, we’ll exit the Red Car to catch a show at the Pantages Theatre. (Here, we have to fudge it a bit since the Pantages opened in 1930.)
Top: A Red Car continues east past the Pantages. Bottom: An outbound DCA trolley approaches the Pantages.
Hollywood Blvd. to Hollywood Tower Hotel
(with continuing service to Sunset Blvd.) via the Western & Franklin Avenue line
Back at Hollywood and Vine, we’ll take a short jaunt north up Vine on the Western & Franklin Avenue line. We ride for just one stop and arrive at the Hollywood Tower which, when built in 1929, featured luxury apartments but no hotel rooms. If we want to make it to Sunset, we continue on the line, turning right on to Western Ave. Exiting the Red Car, we walk three blocks to Sunset Blvd.
Top: A Red Car on Franklin passes the Hollywood Tower (right of photo) Bottom: The terminus of the Red Car Trolley in the shadow of the HTH.
While Red Cars didn’t run along Buena Vista St. in Burbank, there was a Buena Vista line elsewhere. It was in what is now LA’s Chinatown and ran less than .5 miles.
If Buena Vista St. were “real life,” Red Cars - not monorails - would traverse the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge (which they did until 1959).
The Santa Monica-Sawtelle line that ran by Carthy Circle was replaced by bus lines in 1940, just 3 years after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs debuted at the Carthay Circle Theatre.