Years before Los Angeles was famous for its freeways, it boasted the largest mass transit system in the world, the Pacific Electric Railway. Locals affectionately called the trolleys either the P.E. or the Big Red Car. The system spanned southern California with over 1,100 miles of track that ran between Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties. The system was begun by Henry Huntington as a way of opening up new land to developers.
Over the years, the many communities of Southern California grew and became congested. This increase in traffic ultimately doomed the Big Red Cars as it became more and more difficult for the trolleys to maneuver on crowded city streets.
As driving a car became more economical and far more convenient a solution to the growing roadway congestion was needed. In 1937, the Automobile Club suggested building a freeway system between communities and eliminating cross-traffic congestion. And in 1940 the Pasadena Freeway was opened and the Los Angeles freeway system was born.
In the late 40’s, General Motors, Standard Oil, and Firestone began buying up other electric trolley systems around the country and replacing them with buses – thus increasing their profits. This became known as the Great American Streetcar Scandal and in 1949 a Federal Grand Jury found the three companies guilty of conspiring to replace electric transit systems in 45 cities with buses. In the end, General Motors was fined $5,000, which was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. But the damage was done and street cars were doomed.
So, what does all of this have to do with Disney? Well, the answer is three-fold.
First, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios you can find a billboard, perched high above Mickey’s of Hollywood at the beginning of Hollywood Boulevard. Here you’ll see and advertisement for the Big Red Car.
At the other end of the street, behind the Tip Board, is a map of the Pacific Electric Railway.
And on Sunset Boulevard you can find a scaled-down trolley parked on the street which sells merchandise.
The tracks embedded in the street are all but paved over, signaling the end of an era.
Next, at Disney’s California Adventure, Sunshine Plaza is being redesigned. The Sun Sculpture will be replaced with a reproduction of the Carthay Circle Theater and show an updated version of the Walt Disney Story.
In addition, this will be the starting point for a new attraction featuring the Big Red Car. Here guests can catch the trolley for a trip down Hollywood Boulevard, passing the Tower of Terror, and finally dropping them off at the entrance to the new Cars Land.
And finally, the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was loosely based on the Great American Streetcar Scandal. In the film, Judge Doom, played by Christopher Lloyd, schemes to buy the trolley system and shut it down so he can build a network of freeways in Los Angeles.
A bit of trivia”¦ The trolleys used in the movie were actually buses that were modified to look like the Big Red Cars. At one time, you could see one of these props while riding the Back Stage Tour at the Disney/MGM Studios.
So, there you have it, the connection between the Pacific Electric Railway and Disney.