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What This Town Needs Is a Trolley Car Line

June 02, 2002|EMMETT BERG

Can't stand the music in the car next to yours? Picture this: the teenage Buddy Collette and Charles Mingus jamming together while riding downtown from Watts during the '30s on L.A.'s bygone Red Car trolley line. Along with serving as a rhythm section for budding jazz legends, the Red Car's woody squeaks, bells and clacking steel embodied on-the-move Los Angeles for decades--and now there are signs of a Red Car revival.

The nonprofit Los Angeles Red Car Concept hopes to reconnect downtown's entertainment, business and government centers for tourists and downtowners with a nine-mile loop line from USC/Exposition Park to Chinatown using replicas of the Pacific Electric Red Cars that ran throughout Los Angeles from 1903 until the last cars were discontinued in 1961.

For better or worse, the MTA is not involved at this point, but through the efforts of Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), $100,000 in federal funds has been earmarked for a feasibility study. (LARC, which has a mailing list of nearly 500, hopes to raise $250,000 to $300,000 in additional funds from downtown businesses and other sources.) Roybal-Allard recalls flushing with pride while riding Red Cars on dates during her Boyle Heights girlhood. Then and now, she says, "people need a fun way to get from one end of downtown to the other."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 07, 2002 Home Edition Times Sunday Magazine Part A Page 6 Lat Magazine Desk 20 inches; 740 words Type of Material: Correction
A photograph that accompanied "What This Town Needs Is a Trolley Car Line" (Metropolis, June 2), about the revival of the Pacific Electric Red Cars, showed a Los Angeles Railway streetcar, also known as a Yellow Car. Below is a Pacific Electric Red Car.

The Red Car group's chief conductor-in-waiting is George Eslinger, 63, a retired city engineer formerly in charge of L.A.'s street lamp department. A LARC co-founder in 1997, Eslinger has been volunteering for the group since his retirement in 1998.

Would a trolley attract patrons other than tourists-- Mr. Wingtip and Ms. Stiletto en route to the opera, dare say? It's an open question, though a Red Car renaissance is also afoot in San Pedro, where a 1.5-mile line linking Port of Los Angeles tourist spots is scheduled to launch in September.

Revived lines have flourished in New Orleans, Seattle and SanFrancisco, but success has been mixed in smaller cities. Planners agree that success would take collaboration between government agencies and neighborhood groups, and regular use by downtown workers and residents. Says Rick Laubscher, president of the support group for San Francisco's popular Market Street F Line: "If it's a toy, my advice is don't do it, because it's going to be a real expensive toy."

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