Fun with maps: Los Angeles transit in 1928

Since last week’s “fun with maps” seemed to spur a robust discussion among readers, I wanted to post another of my favorites: this Los Angeles transit map from 1928. Click the image for a high resolution scan by the David Rumsey Map Collection. Be warned, the file weighs in at a potentially browser busting seven megabytes.

Click through for a high resolution scan by David Rumsey Map Collection.

In past headlines, I’ve pointed readers to other historical transportation maps of the region, but this one adds something new: A whole lot of fine grain detail of the city’s transit system before the first freeway crisscrossed the region.

My first impulse when looking at a map like this is to think, gosh, it’s too bad we didn’t keep all those streetcar lines running. That said, the Blue, Gold and soon-to-be Expo Lines all run on former rail rights-of-way that you can see here, and each represents a serious upgrade on the trolly service that covered the same routes in the 1920s.

However, what catches my eye from this map is not the old rail lines. Rather, it’s the bus lines — marked with green dots — that have served many of the same corridors for nearly a hundred years.

For instance, check out the Pacific Electric “P.E. Bus” that ran down Pico Boulevard from the Santa Monica beach to Rimpau Terminal. To this day, Big Blue Bus serves nearly the exact same route with its Route 7 bus. Or check out the “Beverly Bus” which followed largely the same path as the Metro 2 bus [PDF] today.

This continual bus service is particularly interesting because conventional wisdom suggests that only transit lines with rails are “permanent.” The irony is that Los Angeles’ transit history indicates that rails were no more permanent than bus routes. In fact, while the trolly from downtown to Rimpau Terminal is long gone, the bus from Rimpau to the beach still cruises along down Pico — just as it did when Herbert Hoover was president.

The important permanent feature, it turned out, was not the rails in the ground, but the market for travel along those busy corridors. After all, some of the most iconic buses in the region are often referred to colloquially by the route they travel rather than their designated number, i.e. the “Wilshire Rapid” versus the 720 or the “Venice Rapid” instead of the 733.

What does this map reveal to you about L.A.’s transit history? What interesting details are you able to find — like streets that no longer exist or ones that had yet to be christened? Are there any historic rail lines that you think are ripe for a revival?

7 replies

  1. @Irwin, couldn’t agree with you more. Although I still need to make 2 transfers to get to Rapid 7, I’d much prefer to do a Red Line/Purple Line/Rapid 7 combo than a 754/730/Rapid 7 combo to get to SM. The Rapid 7 extension has cut my commute by 20-30 minutes, as long as the rail transfer at Wilshire/Vermont comes correct.

  2. I agree with Bob’s comment about the Glendale line. I often wonder why reviving it has been passed over in favor of, say, extending the far reaches of the Gold Line down the 60 freeway to…. nowhere. So much of the Glendale line was on a private right of way and it ran on frequent headways – it was one of the most popular routes in the Red Car network. Now car commuters jam the 2 and Glendale Boulevard every morning and afternoon, taking much longer to reach downtown LA than they did 60 years previous.

  3. The timing of this article is very interesting because LA public transit entered a new era this past Monday without much notice and fanfare. It may have taken nearly 100 years to accomplish but as of this Monday, August 29, 2011, buses on Pico Blvd now runs past the fabled (hated is probably a better word) Rimpau terminal.

    Big Blue Bus began new service for Rapid 7 bus that connects bus rider to Wilshire Western subway station instead of an abandoned 100 years old streetcar depot that no one wants to visit but are forced to transfer.

  4. Well, maybe most of the Los Angeles Railway streetcar routes (the ones labelled with letters) didn’t have to be preserved but it was a colossal mistake not to take over the Pacific Electric interurban lines with their dedicated ROWs. Some parts of the routes to Pasadena and Long Beach were 4-track, allowing for local and express service, imagine that. Pacific Electric had already made the investment in its large network, it just had to be maintained. Years later, rebuilding parts of this network has cost taxpayers billions. It’s still not known if or when Santa Monica and Hollywood will be connected by rail again and this is 2011. How’s that for progress? I think about this alot when I’m riding the 733/33 on Venice Bl stuck in traffic knowing that my trip would have been quicker in 1928.

  5. I love all of the interesting maps posted on this site. Keep it up! What I find most amazing about this map is how the city sprawl hasn’t filled up the entire basin yet.

  6. Lots of fascinating stuff.

    Interesting, for me locally as a Beverly Hills resident, to see that there once was a bus heading up Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills to Sunset.

  7. One of my friends gave me an original print of this very map over 30 years ago so I can see the rail system that once was.

    When I moved here from Chicago back in 1979, I was appalled that there was no effective way of getting from one end of the city to the other on public transit rapidly. Glad to see that has much changed for the better within the last 3 decades.

    The PE Glendale Line is one that I’d like to see revisited with light rail, although key points of it been obliterated since its abandonment just over 51 years ago, like the Subway and it’s portal, the Fletcher Viaduct, the Allesandro cut, etc.. I would imagine the ridership on this line would be fairly high!

    The only other PE ROWs that still somewhat exist are San Vicente & Culver Blvds. I’m not sure either of which would generate much ridership.

    But then again, there’s Huntington Drive…

    Thanks for this great post!