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Pacific Electric Railway Company Photographs: Finding Aid
photCL 91  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Overview of the Collection
  • Access
  • Administrative Information
  • Historical Note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement
  • Related materials in the Huntington Library
  • Indexing Terms

  • Overview of the Collection

    Title: Pacific Electric Railway Company Photographs
    Dates (inclusive): approximately 1870s-1950s
    Bulk dates: 1910s-1940s
    Collection Number: photCL 91
    Creator: Pacific Electric Railway Company.
    Extent: 27 boxes (21.59 linear ft.)
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo Archives
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2191
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: The collection consists of 3396 black and white photographs (many with corresponding original and copy negatives), 116 unprinted glass plate negatives, memos, correspondence, press releases, and notes related to the Pacific Electric Railway, ca. 1870s-1950s. The collection provides a comprehensive overview of the routes and areas served by the Railway during the years of its operation, and thus a picture of the growth of Southern California during the first half of the twentieth century.
    Language: English.


    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, contact Reader Services.

    Administrative Information

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    Pacific Electric Railway Company Photographs. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


    Donated to The Huntington Library by the Pacific Electric Company, April 1955.

    Processing Information

    The collection was rehoused and the original finding aid created in February 2006 by Sue Luftschein. The collection originally included ephemeral materials such as timetables and promotional materials which were moved to the Library's Prints and Ephemera Collection. Consult the Curator of Historical Prints and Ephemera for access to these materials.

    Historical Note

    The Pacific Electric Railway was established by railroad and real estate tycoon Henry E. Huntington in 1901; it grew out of Huntington’s early ventures in both real estate and transportation in the Los Angeles area. In 1898, Huntington and a group of investors purchased the financially strapped Los Angeles and Pasadena Electric Railway; this company operated the first interurban rail line in Los Angeles, running between Central Los Angeles and Pasadena. Huntington, seeing an opportunity to invest in the still small public transportation market in Southern California, began buying land in growing areas not yet reached by existing public transportation. The Pacific Electric was designed to serve these areas.
    Only a few years after the company’s formation, most of Pacific Electric’s stock was purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad, of which Huntington’s uncle, Collis P. Huntington, was a founder. Henry Huntington had tried and failed to gain control of the Southern Pacific a decade earlier; in 1911, Southern Pacific bought him out completely and also purchased several other passenger railway operators in the Los Angeles area resulting in the “Great Merger” of 1911. Henry Huntington purchased the Los Angeles Railway (LARy), which provided local streetcar service to Los Angeles and nearby communities.
    As a result of the Great Merger, the Pacific Electric became the nation’s largest interurban electric transport system with over 1000 miles of track. The first interurban line constructed by the Railway ran from Los Angeles to Long Beach, and opened July 4, 1902. By 1914, riders could go from downtown Los Angeles to San Bernardino, Santa Ana, San Pedro or San Fernando. Pacific Electric offered low cost trips to a variety of southern California destinations. One of the most popular was the Mount Lowe trolley trip, which included a narrow-gauge cable car ride to the top of Echo Mountain. The Pacific Electric also ran frequent freight trains under electric power throughout its service area, and was responsible for an innovation in grade crossing safety that was adopted by other railroads, a fully automatic electromechanical grade crossing signal nicknamed the “wigwag.”
    In 1905, Huntington opened the Pacific Electric Building at 6th and Main Streets in Los Angeles. At the time, it was the largest building in the city. The Pacific Electric Building housed office and commercial space and served as the terminal for many of the interurban routes. Twenty years later, the Pacific Electric opened the Subway Terminal Building at 4th and Hill Streets, and completed a mile-long subway (the “Hollywood Subway”) as a means of avoiding the growing automobile congestion in downtown Los Angeles.
    The 1920s witnessed the rise of automobiles, and ridership on the Pacific Electric’s lines was down. Tracks were being paved over and trains had to yield their high speed rights of way to traffic crossings. The onset of World War II, however, saw an increase in ridership, but by the 1950s it was clear that the automobile would become the primary means of transportation in the region. The last Pacific Electric line in operation, the Los Angeles to Long Beach trolley, ceased operation on April 8, 1961.

    Scope and Contents

    The collection consists of 3396 black and white photographs (many with corresponding original and copy negatives), 116 unprinted glass plate negatives, memos, correspondence, press releases, and notes related to the Pacific Electric Railway, ca. 1870s-1950s. The collection provides a comprehensive overview of the routes and areas served by the Railway during the years of its operation, and thus a picture of the growth of Southern California during the first half of the twentieth century.
    The images include views of landscape along, and towns served by, the Pacific Electric routes, including Central Los Angeles; Pacific Electric track and stations; Pacific Electric advertising, publicity, and public relations photographs; Los Angeles and surrounding area parks; Pacific Electric employees and employee activities; construction of Pacific Electric facilities, such as the Hollywood subway, the 6th and Main Street terminal, and the Subway Terminal Building; and Pacific Electric trolley cars and buses.
    The views along the Pacific Electric routes include beach communities such as San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, Redondo Beach, Laguna Beach, Venice, Ocean Park and Santa Monica. These images include views of the coastline, the towns, and the amusement areas of Long Beach, Redondo Beach, Venice, and Ocean Park. Also included are many photographs of Mount Lowe—the cable incline railway, the trolley up to Ye Alpine Tavern, the Tavern itself, and the Mount Lowe Tavern. The Riverside, San Bernardino, and Orange County views document the landscape and popular sites in and around the towns served by the Railway; these include the Glenwood Mission Inn and Rubidoux Drive summit. Also of note are the photographs documenting activities of Pacific Electric employees, including construction of and activities in the Pacific Electric Club and outings sponsored by the Railway; and the construction of the Pacific Electric and Subway Terminal Buildings.


    The collection remains in its numerical order and is described at the folder level. The first half of the collection is generally arranged by route; the remainder seems to be arranged by general subject. There is some chronological logic to the arrangement; photographs with later dates are placed later in the collection. Numbers 2559-2581 are open numbers with no photographs assigned. Some folders contain memos, correspondence, press releases, or notes; their presence is noted. Every attempt has been made to be as inclusive as possible in the description of the folder contents; some folders, labeled “Miscellaneous”, contain images that span two or more subjects.
    The collection has also been intellectually described by subject matter in a "Subject List" in this finding aid. Entries are arranged alphabetically.

    Related materials in the Huntington Library

    For materials related to the Pacific Electric Railroad:
    • Balloon Route Excursion, approximately 1900-1910 (photCL 176)
    • Mount Lowe Railroad Construction, 1892-1893 (photCL 194)
    • Pacific Electric Advertising and Employees (photCL 209)
    • Pacific Electric Railroad Southern California Scenes, 1910 (photCL 65)
    • Pacific Electric Views, ca. 1910. (photCL 75)
    • Califorina Ephemera: Pacific Electric Railroad (Rare Books Department)
    For construction of the Pacific Electric building and the Jonathan Club:
    For local Los Angeles streetcar transport:

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Huntington Library's Online Catalog.  

    Corporate Names

    Casa Verdugo (Glendale, Calif.)—Photographs.
    Hollywood Bowl (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Photographs.
    Mission Inn—Photographs.
    Motor Transit Co. (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Photographs.


    Amusement parks—California—Photographs.
    Business districts—California—Los Angeles—Photographs.
    Commercial buildings—California—Los Angeles—Photographs.
    Electric railroads—California—Photographs.
    Electric railroads—Cars—Photographs.
    Electric railroads—Design and construction—Photographs.
    Electric railroads—Maintenance and repair—Photographs.
    Electric railroads—Substations—Photographs.
    Parks—California—Los Angeles—Photographs.
    Railroad bridges—Los Angeles—Photographs.
    Railroad repair shops—Photographs.
    Railroad stations—California—Photographs.
    Railroad terminals—Los Angeles—California—Photographs.
    Railroads, Cable—Photographs.
    Railroads—California—History—20th century—Photographs.
    Railroads employees—Photographs.
    Railroads—Buildings and structures—Photographs.
    Scenic railways—Photographs.
    Street-railroads--California--Los Angeles--Photographs.
    Soldiers' homes—Sawtelle—California—Photographs.
    Strikes and lockouts—Railroads—Los Angeles—California—Photographs.
    Subway tunnels—Los Angeles—California—Photographs.


    Covina (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Glendale (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Glendora (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Photographs.
    Laguna Beach (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Long Beach (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Los Angeles (Calif.)—Photographs
    Lowe, Mount (Los Angeles County, Calif.)—Photographs.
    Monrovia (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Newport Beach (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Pasadena (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Pomona (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Redondo Beach (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Riverside County (Calif.)—Photographs.
    San Bernardino County (Calif.)—Photographs.
    San Pedro (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Photographs.
    Santa Ana (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Santa Monica (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Sierra Madre (Calif.)—Photographs.
    Venice (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Photographs.
    Whittier (Calif.)—Photographs.

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Black-and-white negatives.
    Press releases.