This Was Pacific Electric

This Was Pacific Electric

Sky City Productions

Format: DVD

Length: 1 hour 30 minutes

Time Period: 1861- present

Locations: Los Angeles County, Orange County,    San Bernadino County, Riverside County

Sources: Don Olsen,Huntington Library, Transit Gloria Mundi, more.

Not a trolley man? Then, this is the trolley video for you!

Sky City has made a PBS style documentary. It far exceeds the scope of just a trolley line. The history of Pacific Electric cannot be properly told, without inclusion of how the trolley service created and was so intertwined with the development of Los Angeles, and its subsequent suburbs.

stThis comprehensive program could be shown as a history lesson. Seems like there are hundreds of early photographs, as seen above. There are also many movie snippets from all eras. The script is razor-sharp and weaves its tale smoothly.


Stephanie Edwards is our female narrator. Other voices are heard, as quoted from letters, and newspaper accounts of the time. Knowledgeable interviewees provide much back story and personal experiences. This is a long and complex tale. There are even a cast of characters that are central to the PE development.

Henry Huntington was the main, driving force that built the original lines. Southern Pacific’s E.H. Harriman was the chief rival, always after the perceived threat of a succesful competitor in Pacific Electric. Sherman and Clark are a somewhat dubious pair that also were railway developers and provide the intrigue and some mischief, that eventually would lead Huntington away from the business.

Huntington, was a visionary man. He went and had the theory, build it and they will come. His ambitious expansion would define the sprawling LA and SoCal area. Where New York had vertical growth, LA inhabitants could take the trolley into the city for work. Cheap land and comfortable living in outlying towns made trolley service, an overwhelming success . Overnight growth of towns like Long Beach became a reality.


We follow the trials and tribulations of both; Huntington, and his beloved Pacific Electric.Now, Sherman and Clark had Pasadena and Pacific, on the other side of the city. Southern Pacific and Pacific Electric both needed the west side lines. A turning point now. Huntington sold out to the rival Southern Pacifc. Now, the big consolidation of the interurbans created the big PE system. I am not going to write the complete history here. I wouldn’t do it justice, compared to this compelling show. Do have your attention?


Pacific Electric eventually links 50 communities. It has tracks to the city, the beaches, the suburbs, and the mountains. In 1936, a rider could ride unlimited for only $1. Hundreds of miles could be ridden on any Sunday for $1.00. At its peak, PE had over 1,000 miles of track. There were 2,700 trains a day. The system was vast, and carried over a million passengers a year.

Nice work on the maps. Clear and effectively referenced to keep track of locations, distance and direction. Viewers will know where they are, at all times. Great!


Although there are plenty of trolley views, their screen time is nearly secondary. I think that this makes for a better show. Why? There is so much else to see. After viewing all of the pictures and some illustrations, there is a familiarity with a bygone era. How people lived, what they did, how they looked. Also, vacant LA area farmland and it’s exploding growth is seen. The 50 years of existence is compressed into this 90 minute journey.

Mt. Lowe is a perfect example. An incline line to the top of a San Gabriel mountain. The grade was a whopping 60%. Vintage film will put you on the mountain. A trolley travels across the mountains, many years before Disneyland!

Ralph Cantos is a present day historical expert on PE. He offers much insight. Ralph is a great man to tie past and present together. Having experienced the original PE, he can show you physical remainders of PE. Old photos give a striking comparison.

This producer has used all of the elements of a PBS style broadcast quality program.

ftA multitude of old films are included. Highway department films show early car usage and sometimes have a red car shown , by mistake! Freeways under construction and the reasons why the trolleys ended up in the middle are examined. Cars and buses erode the trolley business. Trolley removal, could economically hurt. You’ll see why that occurred.

Audio has a balanced mix of sounds and it does work well. Period music and natural sounds are seamlessly integrated in the scenes.

A feature on the subway, with its 800 trains a day, and a length of 4/5 mile, is key to the story. Retired at 25 years old. Was this a mistake?


Red Cars once proliferated the landscape. They were clean and popular. Automobiles, buses, and business influences led to the demise of red car service. An unbridled MTA had the authority to discontinue service. Today, with choked traffic and a smog laden climate, was abandonment a mistake?

Ralph Cantos answers many of those questions in the bonus section. He gives us a tour of the PE remnants. His arguments of how PE would work and relieve congestion seem viable ones.


Sky City has a wonderful presentation on Pacific Electric. Like other pbs style documentaries, this is one your woman will watch. History buffs will enjoy viewing the growth of Southern California.

Highly satisfying trolley show, with a history channel type format.

This show is spot on!

Rating: 5 Stars


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