Waiting Room Gallery, Union Station, Exhibitions

The Yellow Car and Los Angeles

The Yellow Car and Los Angeles at Union Station

Featuring materials sourced from the Metro Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library and Archive, Metro Art’s new exhibition in the Union Station Waiting Room Gallery, The Yellow Car and Los Angeles, offers a fond look back at two foundations of public transit in the region: the Yellow Cars of Los Angeles Railway Corporation and the transition to LA’s first years of bus service. Together, these early rail and bus lines shaped the Metro system we have today.

While the Pacific Electric Railway’s Red Cars are one of the best-known fixtures of Los Angeles rail history whose name evokes trolley trips to the beaches or mountains for Angeleno history buffs, the Yellow Cars of the Los Angeles Railway Corporation (or LARy, for short) were equally important.

Both forecast today’s Metro Rail lines, with the Red Cars serving suburban commuters in the greater region and the Yellow Cars connecting downtown LA to a six-mile radius of surrounding neighborhoods, going as far west as La Brea Avenue, as far south as Hawthorne, and as far north as Eagle Rock.  In 1923, these two transit providers jointly formed LA’s first bus system with its first line beginning on Western Avenue—which still runs as Line 207 today, from Hollywood to the C Line (Green). 


After World War II, Americans embraced the automobile as their favored means of transportation, and public policy around transportation infrastructure in LA followed suit. Rail service in the region declined. The last Yellow Car trolley was retired in 1963, and a region that once boasted more miles of rail than almost anywhere in the country became one with more miles of highway than almost anywhere else.

All things come full circle, however.  The routes laid by early rail and bus service in the region are still evident in the rail and bus lines Metro is restoring today as we work to deliver a robust transportation system that meets our customers’ mobility needs and offers sustainable solutions to the global threat of climate change. 

About the Exhibition

The Yellow Car and Los Angeles was designed for the Union Station Waiting Room Gallery. The exhibition features reproduction photographs, design drawings, tickets and other materials in the Metro Transportation Library and Archive. Its design also incorporates hand painted place names, map-like dots and lines, and colors inspired by period signage and vintage transit maps (1926-1944) in the archive’s collection.  All images © Metro.


LARy Route Map – Rail and Bus

Rail service flourished in LA during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the region was home to numerous disparate rail service providers. LARy was founded in 1895 and purchased by rail tycoon Henry E. Huntington in 1898. In 1911, Huntington and other rail magnates engineered the “Great Merger,” which consolidated and streamlined the smaller rail companies into two large operations: Pacific Electric Railway, roaming throughout the greater LA region suburban commuters, and LARy, serving the day-to-day needs of the Central Business District. In the years that followed, the LARy Yellow Cars carried more than twice as many passengers as the Pacific Electric Railway Red Cars: in 1924, LARy’s 642 miles of track served nearly 256 million riders, while Pacific Electric’s 1,000 miles of track had just over 100 million. 


LARy Type B: Huntington Standard, 1902–52

The classic Type B aspired to be the ideal local streetcar for Southern California’s climate, with its open-air ends and a glassed-enclosed center section featuring deep mahogany woodwork. In early examples, benches padded with patterned upholstery lined the center section while wooden double seats filled the end sections. The pay-as-you-enter (PAYE) cars were nearly 45 feet in length and were distinguished by their signature five-pane end windows with curved corners—an elegant safety feature. At their peak, there were 747 Huntington Standard streetcars in operation.


LARy Type E: Descanso, 1911–50

The Descanso was designed to be a funeral car that would service the cemeteries along LARy’s routes. These included Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Rosedale Cemetery in West Adams, and Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights. The Descanso’s interior resembled a chapel with seating for 24 in wicker chairs, drapes dividing the compartments between family members and other mourners, and stained-glass fixtures. By 1922, automobile hearses had cut into the funeral car business, and the Descanso was converted to regular passenger service. Clues to its former use carrying the dead and their mourners were erased to ease passengers’ minds. In 1928, it underwent a full remodel.


LARy Type H: Steel Car, 1921–59

The bigger, heavier steel cars of this period represented an advancement in rail safety. They were also the first ones equipped for multi-unit operation. Following successful testing, two-car Type H train sets entered regular service in January 1922. After power station and substation upgrades, some lines saw six-car train sets in areas with heavier ridership. The original design had wooden seats, wooden floors, bare bulb lighting, and plain wooden ceilings. The newer H-3 subtype offered a higher level of style and comfort, with enclosed ends, leather upholstered seats, bright white ceilings, mastic tile floors, frosted light globes, an electric bell communications system, multiple ventilation ports, and a visor atop each end.


LARy Type L: Low-Level Car, 1925–50 

Originally designed and built as a sample car, the innovative Type L boasted a low floor that eased the process of boarding and alighting. It also came with smaller wheels, a shorter overall length, air-operated doors, folding steps, double front doors, and variable load brakes that automatically adjusted braking pressure to match the loaded passenger weight of the car. Inside, a mix of front-facing and side-facing seats could accommodate 46 seated passengers. In 1927, the Type L was upgraded: hardwood seats were replaced with leather upholstered seats, the ceiling was painted bright white, new lighting was installed and the wooden floors were covered with mastic tiles.


LARy Corporation Type P: Streamliner or PCC Car, 1937–63 

In 1929, a group of 25 representatives from railway companies across the United States formed the Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC). Their goal was to design a modern, standardized rail car that would enable the industry to compete with the automobile, which was quickly dominating the transportation market. By 1936, the first production models were delivered. Over the next 26 years, an equal number of transit companies would order Streamliners, or PCC cars as they became known. At the peak of popularity, nearly 5,000 PCC cars were in service in the US and Canada. In Los Angeles, Mayor Frank Shaw declared March 22-28, 1937 as Transportation Week, with a huge publicity campaign that included Shirley Temple inaugurating two of the shiny new cars at City Hall. The PCC’s plan was a success: the public took a liking to the faster, quieter streetcars and ridership went up. 


Los Angeles Motor Coach Company

By 1923, rail construction in Los Angeles had peaked. The two transit operators, Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway Corporation, joined to found a bus system called the Los Angeles Motor Coach Company. They wanted to create connections among their rail lines and expand service to streets that had no rail. The first two bus lines that were created serviced Western Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. These are still in operation today. 


In 1945, LARy was purchased from the Huntington Estate by National City Lines, which renamed the system Los Angeles Transit Lines and converted most of it into buses. LA Transit Lines was then purchased by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority—the transit planning agency formed by the State of California in 1951, which eventually evolved and expanded to become the Metro we know today. The agency retired the last trolley on March 31, 1963, leaving only buses to service the city. With the automobile the dominant transportation method during the postwar era, rail transit would not re-emerge in LA until the launch of the Metro Blue Line (now called the A Line) in 1990.


LARy and Los Angeles Transit Lines Weekly Passes

Similar to Metro’s commemorative TAP cards, LARy produced colorful weekly passes which used period design to highlight local destinations and upcoming events. An assortment of LARy paper tickets, many with a strong Art Deco influence, are featured in this gallery. A second pass advertises 24-hour Owl Service on Los Angeles Transit Lines.

About the Metro Transportation Library and Archive

Metro’s Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library and Archive is one of the most comprehensive transit operator-owned library resources in the United States. As the only multimodal transportation library in Southern California, the library serves employees, the public, governments and research institutions. Its origins date back to the days of our public transportation predecessors, the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway (1895) and Pacific Electric Railway (1899).  

To view the more images from the Metro Transportation Library and Archive online, visit metroprimaryresources.info, explore the Flickr page and follow @metrolibraryarchive on Instagram.  

Los Angeles Railway: The Yellow Cars and Coaches, 1942, route map cover.