Wednesday, September 08, 2021

P.E. Red Cars to O.C. Streetcar: What goes around...

N. Main St. at Santa Ana Blvd, trolley track removal, Santa Ana, Sept. 1960. (Kim Richards Collection, OCA)
Recently, Kim Richards donated a collection of photos to the County Archives that included scenes of the Pacific Electric Railway trolley tracks being torn out of the streets of Downtown Santa Ana in 1960. They're not just good photos, but also particularly timely since they arrived just as new tracks are being installed through some of those same streets for the forthcoming $407.76 million OC Streetcar project.

N. Main St. at Santa Ana Blvd, Sept. 2021. Striped barriers mark the boundaries of an area where new streetcar track is still under construction. (Photo by author)

The Pacific Electric's big "Red Car" trolleys first arrived in Santa Ana in 1905, to much fanfare. There had been an earlier trolley system -- first horse-powered and then steam-powered -- that ran between Santa Ana, Orange, and Tustin. But the Red Cars were an enormous improvement. Not only were they larger and more reliable, but they also connected Santa Ana to a vastly larger area of Southern California. This private trolley line was an absolute boon to the public.

City crew removes "Red Car" tracks from a Downtown Santa Ana street, Sept. 1960. (Kim Richards Collection, OCA) 

But as the 20th century marched on, the proliferation of the automobile and of bus services made the Red Cars obsolete. Now people could go EXACTLY where they wanted to go EXACTLY when they wanted to go there. And a route change could be made in a moment rather than a period of months and the cost of a huge construction project. The last day of P.E. passenger service in Santa Ana was July 2, 1950. 

Crew installing OC Streetcar tracks on Santa Ana Blvd at Sycamore St., Aug. 2021. The Old Courthouse is behind them. (Photo by author)

The Pacific Electric tried to adapt by switching many lines over to bus service. But apparently it was too little to late. The P.E. is now but a fond memory for a dwindling number of Southern Californians. (Oh, and you can still ride restored cars at San Pedro or the Southern California Railway Museum.)

On Sept. 12, 1960, over ten years after service to Santa Ana ended, city crews began tearing the old track out of the streets in advance of a large repaving project.

Kim Steaffens Richards' father and stepmother both worked for the City of Santa Ana, and she presumes the 1960s photos (including the two samples in this post) came into the family's possession at that time.  

Turning onto 4th St. on a farewell excursion run, 1950. (Old Courthouse Museum)

This final photo is not from the Richards Collection, but shows P.E. Red Car 309 on Fourth St. during it's last run through Downtown Santa Ana on June 30, 1950. Veteran conduction Les Frank bought donuts and coffee for his passengers. 

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