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Community's Trolley May Roll Again

Residents of Angelino Heights hope to resurrect a rail link to downtown. They're refurbishing a Yellow Car to make the point.

June 12, 2004|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Residents of Los Angeles' oldest suburb say they know how to steer their forgotten neighborhood back on track.

They want to resurrect a trolley line that for 60 years carried passengers between Angelino Heights and downtown.

Service on the Angelino-Crown Hill Line lurched to a halt in 1946 after Los Angeles Railway Corp. was sold to a consortium of automobile, truck and tire companies and oil firms that replaced its trademark Yellow Car electric-powered trolleys with buses.

But Angelino Heights residents have acquired an 84-year-old Yellow Car that once clang-clang-clanged past their neighborhood's elegant Victorian homes. And they've launched a campaign to refurbish the old coach and get it running once more.

The goal of nonprofit Angeleno Heights Trolley Line Inc., is to construct a 5 1/2-mile rail loop that will once again provide passenger service between Angelino Heights, Echo Park and downtown.

In Angelino Heights itself, restarting the trolley could be as easy as scraping the asphalt off the old narrow-gauge tracks hidden beneath hilly neighborhood streets and stringing a 600-volt electric line overhead, advocates say.

New tracks would be required along busier streets that have been repeatedly dug up and repaved since the original trolley service was discontinued.

The trolley would connect their historic neighborhood with such tourist sites as Olvera Street, light-rail and subway commuter service at Union Station, the Civic Center and Chinatown.

It would also cross Grand Avenue, which some urban planners are touting as the future Los Angeles version of Paris' Champs-Elysees. Now lined by such showpiece structures as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Music Center -- including Walt Disney Concert Hall -- and office towers, the street has been targeted for $1.2 billion in new development.

That means that antique cars, riding on tracks and powered by low-voltage electricity drawn from an overhead wire, could someday connect L.A.'s newest with its oldest: Laid out in 1886, Angelino Heights is considered the city's oldest suburb.

"It would be something people would ride," predicts Bruce Lash, president of Angeleno Heights Trolley Line. "It would connect a lot of the attractions that draw people to downtown Los Angeles."

Trolley backers say restoration of the line could help introduce new generations of gingerbread-architecture lovers to their colorful, Midwestern-looking neighborhood.

Tucked between the Hollywood Freeway and Sunset Boulevard, it is close to downtown, forcing its residents to fight to protect the quaint, small-town look from overdevelopment.

Trolley supporters estimate that it would cost $15 million to build the line. But they say grants from various urban renewal, historic preservation and transportation funding sources could easily cover that cost if governmental agencies got behind the project.

So far, $6,000 in seed money "raised by Angelino Heights garage sales" is being used to launch the campaign, said David Goldsboro, the nonprofit group's vice president for fundraising.

It was the donation of old Yellow Car No. 1030 to Angelino Heights neighborhood leaders in late 2002 that sparked the trolley line plan, however.

The austere, slat-seated Birney Safety Car was built in St. Louis in 1920 and rumbled along neighborhood streets until June 30, 1946.

That the 28-foot-long, wood-sided coach survived at all is amazing. It was sold for scrap after its last run. But collector Ray Younghans and a friend pooled together $100 and bought it from a Vernon salvage yard before its cab could be crushed and its three-ton metal undercarriage melted down.

Younghans' friend kept it in Pasadena for 10 years before moving it to Younghans' Cypress Park home.

Younghans hoped that the old car would eventually be placed in a proposed trolley museum at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument.

That never materialized, however. And No. 1030, along with Younghans' extensive collection of memorabilia -- Pacific Electric Co. blueprints, Los Angeles Railway destination signs, Red Car timetables and Yellow Car tokens -- ended up in the possession of the Electric Railway Historical Assn. of Southern California after his death three years ago.

It was the railway historical group that persuaded Angelino Heights residents to take on No. 1030. The trolley was donated with the stipulation that it be refurbished and put into working order once more, said John Heller, association vice president.

Rebuilding the car will cost an estimated $600,000. At least two other Birney-style cars would be needed for the line to operate, and Lash said his group was already negotiating to have a second car donated.

Eduardo Santiago, secretary of the Angelino Heights group, said preliminary talks had been held with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about resurrecting the line. At the suggestion of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office, his group is initiating a formal feasibility study into renewed trolley service, Santiago said.

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