Pacific Electric Building
The historic Pacific Electric Building (also known as the Huntington Building, after the Pacific Electric founder and developer, Henry Huntington, or 6th & Main for its location) opened in 1905 as the terminal for the Pacific Electric Red Car Lines running east and south of downtown Los Angeles, as well as the company's main headquarters building. It was designed by architect Thornton Fitzhugh. Though not the first modern building in Los Angeles, nor the tallest, its large footprint and ten-floor height made it the largest building in floor area west of Chicago for several decades. Above the main floor terminal were five floors of offices and on the top three floors, the Jonathan Club, one of the city's leading businessmen's clubs. The club moved to its own building on Figueroa Street in 1925. After the absorption of the Pacific Electric into the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1911 (called "The Great Merger"), the PE Building became the primary Los Angeles offices for the Southern Pacific.
In 1914, a total of 1626 PE trains entered or left Los Angeles in 3262 cars daily. With the increase in automobiles in Los Angeles in the 1920s, congestion of shared street running with the Los Angeles Railway city streetcars and auto traffic delayed PE trains traveling to the north and west up Main Street to Glendale, Hollywood, and Santa Monica. In 1922, the California Railroad Commission issued Order No. 9928, which called for the Pacific Electric to construct a subway to bypass downtown's busy streets. The Subway Terminal Building, a second PE terminal, was then built across downtown at the base of Bunker Hill at 4th and Hill Streets across from Pershing Square to serve the subway, which opened December 1, 1925, speeding passenger service considerably to Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Glendale.
Interurban rail service remained the 6th and Main PE Terminal's sole function until 1942. Trains entered the back (east side) from San Pedro Street, loaded and unloaded passengers inside the building concourse, then exited onto Main Street (west side)and turned north or south. (See the attached photograph accompanying this article.) In 1942, the terminal was converted to accommodate the Pacific Electric's growing fleet of buses. Trains continued to enter and use the original concourse on New Year's Day to carry crowds to and from the Tournament of Roses events in Pasadena until 1950 when Northern District (Pasadena-Sierra Madre-Glendora-Monrovia) rail service was abandoned. After that, the PE concourse saw no trains and Main Street tracks were no longer used. Remaining service to Long Beach, the Harbor, and to Bellflower was provided at the rear of the PE terminal on outdoor passenger loading platforms and stub tracks at the rear (east side) of the PE Terminal. Trains used a ramp up from San Pedro street that crossed Los Angeles street to reach the loading platforms. Passengers walked into the terminal concourse via an enclosed bridge.
Over the next decade, interurban rail routes to Bellflower, the Watts local, and Long Beach and harbor area were abandoned and replaced by motor coaches. The last active route was the Long Beach line. The final "Blimp" multiple unit interurban train to use the terminal (so named for their unusual plump size and round front windows) to Long Beach was on April 9, 1961 and was in MTA green livery: no longer painted the famous and classic Pacific Electric red. MTA Bus service continued to operate from Sixth and Main until 1964. The MTA ran "Freeway Flyer" motor coach service to all the old PE destinations from the basement of the nearby Greyhound Terminal, and this continued during Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) operations.
Following the closure of the terminal's main floor depot, the former waiting room and bus concourse were converted to a parking garage. With the commercial and social decline of Main Street and the east side of downtown in general, the rented offices on the upper floors of the building became less desirable and gradually emptied out. The building was largely vacant for many years, though it became a popular location for the movie and television industries. Over 400 location shoots have taken place there, including scenes from Forrest Gump, LA Confidential, Jumpin' Jack Flash and interior shots for the 1970s Streets of San Francisco TV series.
In 1908, Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet was opened on the lower floor of the building. Cole's claimed to be Los Angeles' oldest restaurant and pub that has been in continuous operation, but it was closed in 2007 for renovation, reopening in December 2008. It is one of two local establishments which lay claim to having invented the French dip sandwich. Additionally, the structure held the architectural offices of Greene and Greene around 1905
In 2005, the building was converted by ICO Group into residential live/work lofts and is occupied by tenants. Several commercial tenants have filled the first floor spaces along 6th Street. The original Cole's space was renovated and divided to add another restaurant and bar. The building lobby currently displays a number of artifacts left over from its days as once an exceptionally active interurban rail terminal. "DANGER" warnings are set into the sidewalk at the Main Street location where trains once entered and left the building, remaining as evidence of its original grand purpose.
- Crump, Spencer: Ride The Big Red Cars: How Trolleys Helped Build Southern California, (1977) 256 pages. Trans-Anglo Books, Corona Del Mar, CA.
- Crump, Spencer: Henry Huntington and the Pacific Electric Railway: A Pictorial Album, (1982) 112 pages. Trans-Anglo Books, Corona Del Mar, CA.
- Swett, Ira L.: Lines of Pacific Electric, Interurbans Special #16, (1953), and supplements (1954-1960). Interurbans Press, Glendale, CA.
references and Notes
- Middleton, The Interurban Era, p304.
- Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California
- History of PE Building: Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California article
- Emporis Buildings entry for Pacific Electric Lofts
- History and photos: Los Angeles Conservancy and Los Angeles City and Library article.
- Pacific Electric Lofts Commercial website of developers for the Pacific Electric Building conversion.
- Los Angeles Library and Conservancy: History and photographs.