Red Cars

The history of the Red Car - Venice Short Line

Starting in 1894, Moses Sherman and Eli Clark began acquiring the various Southern California cities' horse-car and cable-car systems, eventually forming the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway, a network of rail lines and electric streetcars that connected Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

By 1896, tracks ran from Los Angeles through what would one day be Beverly Hills and Hollywood to Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean.

In 1898, financial difficulties forced Sherman and Clark to give up control of their company. A group of investors, including Collis Huntington and his nephew Henry Huntington took over control of the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway. This period also marked the birth of "Red Cars". Prior to Huntington's takeover, the trolley cars had been olive in color, trimmed with yellow.

Henry Huntington, seeing an opportunity to move in on the still small public transportation market in southern California, began buying land in growing areas not yet reached by existing public transportation. In 1901 he established the Pacific Electric Railway to handle these holdings.

In 1902, a Los Angeles Pacific line was built as the Palms Division from Vineyard – today’s Culver City - to Ocean Park. This line was practically level, had few curves and traversed a much more direct route to the west beaches than did the line through Beverly Hills.

In 1903, a connection was built between Venice City Hall and the Lagoon Line and the development of Venice a year later found the LAP ready with fast, direct car service to the new resort. In 1908, this line featured LAP's biggest inter-urban cars with trains which sometimes reached five cars in length. This line immediately became the heaviest traveled beach line out of Los Angeles and retained that distinction for many years.

In 1911, Southern Pacific bought out Huntington, and Pacific Electric took over this line. The result was called the "Great Merger" and Pacific Electric became the largest operator of interurban electric railway passenger service in the world, with over 1,000 miles of track.

No other south land beach rivaled Venice as an attraction, and the Venice Short Line continued to be a spectacular performer in hauling crowds to the shore. The VSL was the "big" line of the Western District. It was the shortest, most direct rail route to the western beaches and traffic hauled on good beach days reached the highest volume recorded on the entire Pacific Electric system.

Major 1920s PE business was "taking the Red Car" for inland folks, such as in the Pasadena area, to the beaches at Santa Monica, Del Rey, and Venice. The Balloon Route ran from downtown through Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice, Redondo Beach and back to Los Angeles via Culver City. On weekends, extra service beyond the normal schedules was provided, particularly in the late afternoon when everyone wanted to return at the same time.

They reached their peak in popularity in the 1920s, then slowly fell victim to Angelenos' love of their automobiles, and by the 1950s it was clear that the automobile had become the premier means of travel in Los Angeles.

Final abandonment of rail service occurred on September 17, 1950 when blue buses (“rubber for rails”) were substituted for the Red Cars.

The renovated PE511 Red Car is the featured component of the Venice Heritage Museum, which will serve as a museum for all collections of Venice materials, a meeting place, and a working classroom to help educate our children on the rich and unique history of Venice.