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Nov. 30, 1925: An old horse-drawn car makes a trip during grand opening ceremonies for the higher-tech Pacific Electric subway, the city's first subway, which stretched a mile between 1st Street and Glendale Boulevard and Hill Street between 4th and 5th streets. This photo was published in the Dec. 1, 1925, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

November 1924: Workmen removing material during construction of Pacific Electric Railroad tunnel. This photo was published in the Nov. 5, 1924, L.A. Times along with article reporting the tunnel's halfway mark toward completion.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

October 1925: Sam Florence, on knees, inspects safety signal devices in new subway. Florence is head of Pacific Electric signal system. This photo was published in the Oct. 15, 1925, L.A. Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Stagg Photographer

April 1925: Construction at the 1st Street and Glendale Boulevard entrance to the Pacific Electric subway tunnel. The line opened at end of 1925 and was closed in 1955.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 30, 1925: D.W. Pontius, left, vice president and general manager of Pacific Electric, hands Mrs. Fred Billhardt a bottle of ginger ale for the bottle breaking christening of the first electric trolley to leave the company's Subway Terminal Building and travel through the new subway.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 30, 1925: D.W. Pontius, vice president and general manager of Pacific Electric, leads officials into the new station during grand opening ceremonies at Subway Terminal Building.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 30, 1925: Officials at grand opening ceremonies for the new Pacific Electric subway. Standing in front of car at station at 1st Street and Glendale Boulevard are from left: Sylvester Weaver; D.W. Pontius, vice president and manager of the Pacific Electric; R.W. Pridham; Joseph Scott; and James E. Shelton. This photo was published in the Dec. 1, 1925, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Portion of the Nov. 22, 1925, Los Angeles Times with map showing route of new Pacific Electric subway through downtown Los Angeles. Going north, the Pacific Electric lines went to Hollywood, upper left, and Glendale, upper right.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: ProQuest

Dec. 8, 1942: Crowd waits at Pacific Electric Subway Terminal station while rescue crews worked to remove a woman from under a car's tracks. This photo was published in the Dec. 9, 1942, L.A. Times. Parts of the background were lightened by a Times staff artist.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ray Graham / Los Angeles Times

Pacific Electric red cars emerge through the subway entrance at 1st Street and Glendale Boulevard, but service ended in 1955. The line was closed and replaced with buses. This photo by railroad enthusiast Donald Duke was published in the June 17, 1955, Los Angeles Times accompanying a story on the subway line closure.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Donald Duke

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Pacific Electric Subway opens

Nov. 30, 1925: During opening celebrations, this 1800s era horse-drawn car, loaded with officials and guests, made the trip through the new Pacific Electric Subway.

This photo, published the next morning on the Los Angeles Times local news section front, accompanied a story that began:

Marking the beginning of a new era in transportation in Los Angeles, the city’s first section of underground electric railway was opened yesterday with appropriate exercises, including a luncheon given by the Chamber of Commerce at the Biltmore at noon, and the operation of the first train immediately afterward. The passenger list included many city and county officials, H.W. Brundige, president of the State Railroad Commission, heads of the different departments of the Pacific Electric Railway and the Chamber of Commerce and numerous other citizens of prominence.

Regular service on the new subway line will begin at 5 a.m. this morning, operating from the terminal on Hill street, with sixty-seven trains running daily over the underground line to Glendale and thirty-two to Burbank.

The completion of the new tunnel, which is one mile in length, terminating at First street and Glendale Boulevard, marks a triumph in construction of the character, only fourteen months having been required for the work. Work is still going forward on the terminal building, which it is estimated will be completed next July. The entire improvement, including tunnel and building, will represent an aggregate investment on the part of the Pacific Electric Railway Company and the Subway Terminal Corporation of $9,250,000.

Within months additional trains began service to Hollywood. Anticipated additional subway lines were never built. This subway line was a great success – especially during World War II –  but ridership dropped off quickly as freeways were expanded. In 1955, the subway line was closed and tracks removed.

In a Nov. 22, 1925, article the Times listed some facts about the new subway:

Los Angeles’ first subway is one mile long.

Begins at First street and Glendale Boulevard.

Ends at Hill street, between Fifth and Fourth streets.

Tunnel is twenty-eight feet wide and twenty-one feet high.

Thirty feet underground, downtown end; sixty feet some places.

Bore lined with steel-reinforced concrete, two to four feet thick.

New building to be thirteen stories high and contain 600 offices.

First construction work on subway began May 3, 1924.

In 2007 the Subway Terminal Building was renovated and renamed “Metro 417.”

13 Comments

  1. July 5, 2012, 4:40 pm

    Just as a nod to L.A.'s past efforts the folks at Metro should reopen this mile long subway with a vintage subway car. Hey, we have Angel's Flight in operation not far from the Hill St. point where this subway starts.

    So this original underground rail was a way of getting folks from downtown to the begining of what was surely in those days the West side, without having to go over Bunker Hill. It was a good start but the oil companies had other plans for our city.

    By: rafaelc@racen.com
  2. July 6, 2012, 2:52 am

    I’m afraid they won’t be able to reopen the tunnel because the foundation for the Bonanventure Hotel cut it off midway in the 1970s.

    See: http://blogdowntown.com/2011/06/6293-45-years-ago

    By: rwgutmann@yahoo.com
  3. July 6, 2012, 8:50 am

    It was indeed the oil companies that made this disappear. Thank you for bringing them onto the carpet.

    By: S. Kovacs
  4. July 6, 2012, 11:58 am

    I can still remember the rush of anticipation as the coach exited the subway to Glendale Blvd and continued on north, when I rote on it in late 40's and early 50's.

    Then in late 1960's I worked in the Subway building on Hill Street…a nice place to have one's office then.

    –Ray B

    By: raybacon1@gmail.com
  5. July 6, 2012, 3:12 pm

    Actually, neither the oil companies nor GM had anything to do with the demise of the Pacific Electric. Learn the fact. What did the rail side of PE in was a fixed infrastructure that limited routes and had to be maintained with private funds, combined with the PUC-predecessor that limited rates, leading to old equipment being used. This lost favor with the public, who found greater flexibility and more modern equipment on bus routes. During the period of the PE (which was the entire subway period – the PE successors didn't operate through the subway), the supposed arrangements with GM were not in place (those were done by National City Lines; the LA equivalent, Metropolitan Coach Lines never abandoned a rail line). You can't reopen the subway; the center portion has been blocked by the parking garage of the Bonadventure Hotel (or was it ARCO Plaza).

    By: cahwyguy
  6. July 6, 2012, 9:18 pm

    It was the Bonaventure. In '74 as I recall. Same time the Biltmore was restored.

    By: aviationhs71
  7. July 7, 2012, 12:49 pm

    re cahwyguy. Partially right. “Flexible routing” was a bus company propaganda word, and was never of much importance to a transit agency. The public did NOT favor buses. Everyone likes modern equipment (and why not buy modern rail equipment?), but even so they favored rail – – more comfortable and often faster. Fixed infrastructure did not do PE in. Using profit as the only measure of benefit for a public utility, did. Public ownership, as happened in other cities, could have saved much of it. The rail system could have been saved if voters had approved ballot measures. Corporate interests, lead by the LA Times, vigorously opposed rail transit and propagandized against it. . When the public MTA came in, it was led by the same old bus-loving crew, in bed with the oil, bus and rubber business, which ignored the public and continued to junk rail for slower, smelly, bouncy buses. You hear the same type propaganda today against high speed rail in California.

    By: Robert Anderson
  8. July 8, 2012, 11:36 am

    Bus routes pushed by oil companies and GM. Learn the fact.

    By: Andy V
  9. July 9, 2012, 8:02 am

    If it wasn't for oil you would be living in a grass shack by the LA river scratching out a living by catching some fish here and there!

    By: mmystics
  10. July 9, 2012, 8:51 am

    That poor horse. How cruel!

    By: tomgarcin@gmail.com
  11. July 11, 2012, 12:30 am

    Back in the 1980's, a friend and myself decided to take a look at the old subway portal at Glendale and 1st. We found that the iron gate in front of the tunnel was open, so we decided to see how far we could
    walk in there. The tracks were long gone along with the overhead wires. There were a few wood ties
    scatterd here and there and the ground was somewhat muddy from water that always leaked in the
    tunnel. The air had a heavy musty smell to it. As the tunnel curved toward Hill st. there was less and less
    light, with no flash lights, it got very erie down there not to mention very heavy cobb webs hanging from old
    light fixtures built into the walls. As we continued in near darkness my friend, who was walking in front of me, suddenly fell, with a loud thump into a shallow pit. At this point we decided to turn around and walk
    back to the car. We had to clean a lot of mud from our shoes. At least I had a chance to see part of the
    subway tunnel in person, I never had a chance to ride The Big Cars through the tunnel.

    By: rlw29@live.co
  12. August 3, 2012, 10:10 am

    Regarding the filling of a small section of the subway tunnel, in 1967 this took place during the Bunker Hill
    Redevelopment project. It was thought the tunnel was not reinforced concrete therefore it wasn't safe to
    Build on. A photo of a wrecking ball breaking through the concrete reveled heavy rebar was used in the
    construction of the tunnel. Interestingly The Corps of Army Engineers felt the the tunnel was strong enough
    To build the Harbour Freeway over it.

    Ron

    By: rlw29@live.com
  13. October 24, 2012, 12:09 pm

    Huell Howser took a tour of what's left of the tunnel a few years back: http://www.kcet.org/shows/huell_howser/visiting-w

    By: leroysmom

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