Main Street Revisited

Main Street

I picked up “A Southern California Album: Selected Photographs, 1880-1900” at the Last Bookstore the other day and was pleased to discover a number of pictures by C.C. Pierce, including this shot of Main Street looking south from 3rd Street in 1906.

Main and 3rd, Los Angeles

And just for contrast, here it is now via Google’s Street View.

There are many intriguing aspects of the Pierce photo, but this caught my attention:

Main Street

I don’t recall ever seeing what I assume are double-gauge tracks in the street, on Main or on any other downtown artery.

“A Southern California Album,” by Wayne Bonnett with a foreword by Gary F. Kurutz, was published in 2006 by the Windgate Press  and features photographs from the California State Library. Unfortunately, the book is apparently out of print but is listed on Bookfinder from $13 to $88.  My copy happens to be inscribed by Mead Kibbey, the collector who found hundreds of photos and negatives by William H. Fletcher and turned them over to the state library.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1880, 1900, Books and Authors, Downtown, Photography, Streetcars, Transportation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Main Street Revisited

  1. Eve says:

    Omigod, that is so depressing.

    I have “Then and Now” photo books from cities all over the US (and Europe)–the best ones are from Dover Publications. And in each and every case, the comparison makes one weep.


  2. Mary Mallory says:

    Yes, the former photo is much more elegant and warm than the latter. How I wish they hadn’t gotten rid of all the streetcar tracks! The tracks photos should also be shown to all those who complain the trains are too dangerous, etc., to show that they were around for decades, and by god, people survived and watched where they were going.


    • lmharnisch says:

      @Mary: I have spent years reading copies of The Times from the 1905-1911 period and I’m convinced that people were no different then than they are now.

      Everything we encounter today — reckless drivers, speeding vehicles, hotshot motorcyclists, daredevil bicyclists and distracted pedestrians — they had a century ago, but with far fewer safety regulations and almost no traffic signals. Plus runaway horses!

      Streetcar accidents were a weekly if not daily occurrence. Streetcars overturned going around corners, they ran into one another, they got backed up in long traffic jams, passengers would jump off instead of waiting for the cars to stop or cling to the outside of a car if it was crowded. Those comic shots of Harold Lloyd hanging onto to the outside of a streetcar (I think it’s in “Safety Last”)–that’s not a joke. That sort of thing actually happened.

      Los Angeles made several efforts to separate streetcars from other traffic, experimenting (briefly) with elevated tracks and digging tunnels like the one from Glendale Boulevard to the Subway Terminal Building. Most of the reason was efficiency by avoiding other vehicles but there was also a safety component. The logical successor to the streetcar would have been the monorail — Los Angeles spent years studying monorail plans and designing stations and routes. But the concept was too futuristic for people living at the time.

      Streetcars like the ones in the photo have wonderful nostalgia value. But as a mode of transportation — with overhead wires and fixed tracks in the pavement — they reached the end of their life cycle.

      These days, we have pat answers from the Internet on “what killed the streetcars,” but anyone who is interested in what actually happened should dig into the old copies of The Times for a far different narrative. What killed the streetcars was not some shadowy conspiracy but changing times, a railroad (Southern Pacific) determined to clear its tracks of commuter rail so it could focus on more lucrative freight traffic, and an endless series of committees and studies that produced reports that were shelved.


  3. Always enjoy these before & after pics. Nice to know which graves I’m walking or riding over nowadays.


  4. Mary Mallory says:

    Well, Toronto still has streetcars with electric wires above; I rode them about 7 years ago. They had subways in the main part of town, and streetcars to take you out to the suburbs, and passes were good between them as well as buses. Very efficient, very safe, and much quicker than cars. There are places in Europe that still have the streetcars with wires too, with little or no problem.


  5. Mary Mallory says:

    San Francisco has its streetcars, as does New Orleans, and they do the job well, and have for a 100 years.


  6. About five and a half years ago I was employed by a Geotech Company from Torrance, CA and we were hired by The Metro District to install “Monument Markers” into the asphalt of First Street at what is now the Metro Station at Mariachi Plaza. Monument Markers were required to monitor the potential movement of ground in preparation for the Metro District Gold LIne Tunnel being proposed for the route of the Gold LIne along First Street. It was a safety issue. As I mechanically bored through the 16+ inches of asphalt of the street I noticed that the original street car iron rails and wooden ties were still in place under the (existing) street. I reached down and touched them…it was like a time machine for me.


    • lmharnisch says:

      @Daniel: Thanks for sharing! Kim Cooper of the 1947project once found some brick pavement that had been concealed beneath a layer of asphalt. Whenever I see a crew digging in Little Tokyo or anywhere downtown, I always wonder if they have found anything down there.

      By the way, even though the streetcars are gone, you can see the rings used to tether the electric cables on most of the older buildings downtown. They’re about two stories up.


  7. Belmont Bob says:

    The former Los Angeles Transit Lines (Yellow Cars) were narrow gauge, but the Pacific Electric (Red Cars) were standard gauge. If my memory is still a little correct then there were streets which both companies ran using the three rails system. I know it’s been a long time but I remember riding both as a teenager. The new Red and Blue and other lines are great but there was something about riding down the middle of the street in bumper to bumper car traffic in those big machines that can’t be duplicated. Or standing in the “Safety” zone with cars zooming by on both sides of you.


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