In 1901, real estate mogul Henry Hunington purchased several small Southern California transportation providers and consolidated them into the Pacific Electric Railway. He boosted ridership by extending the light rail routes throughout Los Angeles County and into the adjacent Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino Counties. Under Hunington's leadership, all of the Pacific Electric's urban cars were painted red, leading to the iconic Red Car nickname.
At its height, more than 900 Pacific Electric cars served approximately 100 million passengers a year. Although the light rail system enjoyed its busiest year in 1944, the advent of the automobile led to a steep decline in ridership post World War II. The icon's luster finally faded on April 8, 1961, as the Red Car Trolley made its last trip on the line connecting Los Angeles and Long Beach.
When Walt Disney moved to Hollywood in August of 1923, he would have seen dozens of the Southland's iconic Red Car Trolleys. Before the evolution of Southern California's freeway age, Red Cars were a transportation fixture. From 1901 to 1961, the electric Red Car system covered more than 1,000 miles of track throughout Los Angeles and its neighboring counties. Inspired by the Red Cars of the 1920's and 30's, Disney's Imagineers paid homage to the past by installing a trolley line between Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land.
Buena Vista Street's Red Car Trolleys are based on the light electric rail cars operated by the Pacific Electric Railway in urban areas like Hollywood. DCA's Red Car Trolley #623 is patterned after the St. Louis Car Company's 600-series of trolleys that were comissioned by the Pacific Electric Railway in 1922 & '23.
The 23 in #623 refers to 1923, an important year for Walt Disney. His Laugh-O-Gram Studios in Kansas City, Missourri had gone bankrupt in July, so in August of 1923, Disney decided move to California. The great storyteller traveled to Hollywood, determined to try his luck making films.
Red Car Trolley #717 is a direct tribute to July 17, 1955, Disneyland's Opening Day. The numbering for 717 is also inspired by the trolley's type, since it is patterned after the St. Louis Car Company's 700-series of trolleys, used in city areas by the Pacific Electric Railway in the mid 1920's to 30's.
In recent years, high gas prices and heavy auto traffic have led to a resurgence in public transit. Several of L.A.'s current Metro Rail lines even follow historic Red Car routes. To acknowledge its transportation history, the Port of Los Angeles operates a restored 1.5-mile trolley route called the Waterfront Red Car Line.