Snail's Postcard Post

L.A. as Traintown

La Grandecaption

With Los Angeles Metro building new lines, and plans for the California bullet train to come to the city, today’s Los Angeles Times ran a charming article by Scott Harrison about the car-crazy city’s rail-rich history, dipping into the paper’s own archives. Harrison writes:

“The Moorish-style La Grande Station opened July 29, 1893, at 2nd Street and Santa Fe Avenue. In addition to its exotic architecture, La Grande Station featured lush gardens and, later, a Harvey House restaurant.

“In the 1920s, summer discount tickets by all railroads brought a major influx of tourists to Los Angeles. During the 1924 influx, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe depot at Le Grande Station was featured in the May 19, 1924, edition of the Los Angeles Times:”

Wide-eyed and wondering, the vanguard of the great army of summer tourists that will make their way across the plains of the Middle West and over the Rockies for the next few months arrived in Los Angeles yesterday.

Beginning at 7:30 o’clock yesterday morning, the three great trans-continental railroads into Los Angeles began pouring tourists into the city by the trainload. The climax to the day’s influx came early in the afternoon when the Golden State Limited on the Southern Pacific and the California Limited on the Santa Fe unloaded about 620 passengers. The Los Angeles Limited on the Union Pacific came in with two sections. The last of the day’s travelers from the East got in shortly before 9 o’clock last night. The day’s total reached more than 1,200 passengers.…

Long before the train time at the Santa Fe the crowd of welcomers began to muster. By the time the big iron horses were dragging their human cargoes through the outlimits of Los Angeles, private cars were parked up and down the street for two blocks in front of the station. A regular battalion of taxi drivers were ready to “do their stuff.” Out in the train sheds the red caps and their wagons were deployed strategically to handle the baggage of the newcomers.

Union Station

caption 2

This illustration shows the Southern Pacific train leaving Union Station to the left, the Hollywood sign in the hills in the distance, and Los Angeles City Hall on the right. Harrison writes of Union Station:

“On May 3, 1939, an estimated 500,000 people attended the station’s dedication and parade.

“In a front-page story in The TImes on May 4, 1939, columnist Ed Ainsworth reported on the Union Station festivities:”

Of course they had scads of railroad presidents cluttering up the place. They had millionaires and fellows with private railroad cars. They had Governors and Mayors and brass hats in droves.

…500,000 persons more or less jammed and pushed and fought along Alameda St. for many, many blocks to see a dream come right before their eyes.

They knew the Southern Pacific, the Santa Fe and the Union Pacific railroads had united and built that handsome Spanish structure with the tower and the olive trees and the padded seats and the loudspeaker system and all the rest. They knew it was going to introduce the world to Los Angeles…


This postcard features Los Angeles’ newly built second Chinatown, the Chinatown we know today. The construction of Union Station and surrounding development displaced the original, non-tourist Chinatown dating to the 1870s. But in the 1930’s, as Chinese businesses were forced to close, second-generation Italian-Americans happened to be moving from Little Italy a mile away, dispersing throughout the city. As Italians moved out, Chinese moved in, establishing New Chinatown which the governor of California officially dedicated in 1938.

So Chinatown was replaced by Union Station. Little Italy was replaced by New Chinatown. The trains were replaced by automobiles. But now the trains are coming back. It’s Chinatown.    

This entry was published on March 28, 2016 at 9:12 pm. It’s filed under Americana, Historical and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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