This is 30: On campaigning for rail during the 1960s

Our first rider story in our 30 Stories for 30 Yearsanniversary series features Glen Norman, a longtime transit enthusiast and streetlight expert … since long before Metro was around! Read on to learn how new transit corridors in Los Angeles can help us remember journeys taken in the past. 

By 1968, I was already a regular rider of the SCRTD bus.[1] I was heading to the yearly SESCAL stamp collectors show at the Statler Hilton Hotel, located on the corner of Wilshire and Figueroa.[2] My mother feared the freeways––throughout her life, she never drove on them. But she was more than happy to drop me off at the #93 stop at Bellaire and Chandler in North Hollywood.  My parents told me that the #93 generally followed the former route of the old Pacific Electric Van Nuys line—lamenting that it should have never been discontinued.

That year, a new way to get downtown presented itself. The SCRTD had drafted a ballot proposal for a Five-Corridor Rapid Transit System.[3] As I was a somewhat experienced, albeit infrequent rider, this piqued my interest. And, pressed for an idea for a current events project in my 11th grade history class, the ballot measure looked like a good bet for a presentation.

Glen Norman. Photo by Tom Bertolotti

I eagerly wrote to the SCRTD asking for any information the agency could provide. Shortly afterwards, a stack of maps and pamphlets showing the proposed routings appeared on my doorstep. The one that interested me most, of course, was the plan for the San Fernando Valley Corridor … which served my own neighborhood.

“Here we go again,” my father noted as he looked over the materials. “They’re using that old Red Car route.”

Did you know that all gas stations used to provide free road maps? The best ones came from Standard Oil Company stations (now Chevron) because they were in full color. I raided a few so I would have visual aids for my classmates. I tried to interpret from the SCRTD maps just where the somewhat vague lines would fit on the detailed gas station street maps.

Map of the ’68 Five-Corridor System.

My main selling point to the class was the fact that there would be a rapid transit stop close to our school, a very convenient connection. The class wasn’t all that interested. During the 1960s, the car was king. If you didn’t drive to school, you just didn’t admit to it.  (It wouldn’t be until 1970, the year Earth Day began, that my classmates discovered “ecology.” After that, the bicycle racks at my high school were always full to overflowing.)

My teacher, however, was VERY interested in my presentation. He clearly had an emotional attachment to the streetcars, the last of which were put out of service in 1963. He noted the “scandalous” (his words) dismantling of the Pacific Electric Railway—alluding to the San Fernando Valley Corridor proposal that followed that old Red Car route.[4] Not only did he echo my plea, but he asked my classmates to urge their parents to vote yes on the ballot measure.

Sadly, it didn’t pass [44 percent of voters supported it].[5] I doubt that my parents even voted for it … after all, it was a tax increase. The following year, I was poised to take another trip downtown. My father had informed me that a display of street lighting equipment and photographs by street light chronicler Eddy Feldman was on display in the City Hall Rotunda. This time, I walked directly from school to another #93 stop nearby. As I made the journey, which passed an abandoned Pacific Electric viaduct on Vineland that traversed the LA River, I reflected on how cool it would have been to be riding a train rather than the pokey #93 bus.



[1] The Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) was Metro’s predecessor.

[2] The Statler-Hilton hotel was torn down in 2013. It’s now home to a skyscraper.

[3] What was in this 1968 Five Corridor Plan? Read the whole thing here! Metro librarians have also compiled a ton of additional information, including this summary of SCRTD’s ballot measure (scroll down a bit) and this piece about one of its most ahead-of-its-time proposals.

[4] Regarding “The Conspiracy:” As echoed by my 11th Grade History teacher and my parents, the theory was that General Motors (buses), Standard Oil (gasoline), and Firestone (tires) bought up the Red Car so that the companies could put it out of business and sell their own products. The gasoline and tire boogeymen would vary (Shell, Goodyear, etc.) but General Motors was always mentioned. Later, this conspiracy theory would find renewed life in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Transit historians now often refer to this grand scheme as the “Roger Rabbit Theory.”

[5] Finally, this note: a pair of ballot measures also failed in 1976 to fund transit expansion. It wasn’t until 1980 that L.A. County voters finally approved a half-cent sales tax (Prop A) for transit. Voters also approved the half-cent sales tax Prop C in 1990, half-cent Measure R in 2008 and half-set Measure M in 2016. Measure R and M are funding the ongoing expansion of our system.


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1 reply

  1. Its a crime that the current MTA was created abandoning a well run RTD where well qualified leaders were replaced by amitours who know little about public transit and instead focus on anything except transporting the public in an efficient manner.