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The Pacific Electric Railway, nicknamed the "Red Car", was the largest electric railway system in the world in the 1920s. It was first brought to Huntington Beach, then known as Pacific City, in 1904 by Henry Huntington. The railroad made the seaside town, previously reached overland on country roads, easily accessible. Pacific City was renamed Huntington Beach to recognize Henry Huntington.

  • Waiting for the first train at Huntington Beach in 1904. Source: City of Huntington Beach archives.
  • The Pacific Electric Railway station at Ocean Avenue, now Pacific Coast Highway, and Main Street in Huntington Beach, circa 1904. Source: City of Huntington Beach archives.
  • Pacific Electric Railway Station at Huntington Beach, circa 1904. Source: City of Huntington Beach archives.
The Pacific Electric Railway system was created in 1901 by railroad executive Henry E. Huntington. He was a Vice President of the Southern Pacific Railroad, operated by his uncle, Collis P. Huntington.  Henry Huntington had a background in electric trolley lines in San Francisco where he oversaw the Southern Pacific's effort to consolidate smaller street railroads into one organized network.

Coaxed by local leaders who needed financial support to realize the dream of an Atlantic City style resort town, land shares of Pacific City were deeded to Henry Huntington. Huntington routed the Pacific Electric Railway line, also known as the Red Car due to its red-painted trolley cars, to the re-named Huntington Beach in 1904.

Now more easily accessible to the general public, the Red Car began to transform the ocean town as visitors came to the beach on day trips organized by community boosters and real estate developers.

The original Pacific Electric Railway station was located near the foot of the Huntington Beach pier, next to Ocean Avenue which is today's Pacific Coast Highway. The Red Cars turned around on a track at
Railroad Avenue, now named Lake Street. The tracks at Huntington Beach ran along the beach, directly on the sand. Sand drift onto the tracks was an ongoing problem, as was the occasional farm animal.

C.M. Pierce
took on the management and promotions of the "Balloon Route Excursion" site-seeing and booster trips in 1904, the year the Red Car came to Huntington Beach. In a 1955 interview, at age 90, he described the turn-of-the-century experience on the Red Car: "the car was somewhat ornate on the outside with electric lights around the roof as was customary with excursion cars in those days. But the inside had no fixed seats, just folding camp chairs. We went to work assembling a staff of guides and advertising men. For guides I hired big men of commanding presence. When they said anything, the people listened."

The Red Car became fancier in later years, with parlor cars sporting drapery, leather club chairs or upholstered wicker chairs and fine carpeting. Locals rode the Red Car north into Los Angeles, including to Little Tokyo. Wealthy businessmen from Los Angeles rode the Red Car south to the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, a weekend duck hunting lodge in the wetlands to the north of Huntington Beach. Angelenos also rode the Red Car to the Huntington Beach Township for holidays at the beach, picnicking on the beach near what is the present day resort shopping area nostalgically called Pacific City.

World War II, the Pacific Electric Railway was bought by a consortium of companies--with both petroleum and automotive interests--which began touting "the modern trend...buses."  It spelled the end of the Red Car, which ceased operations in the mid 20th Century.
Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California. . Accessed April 07, 2018.

Urashima, Mary. Take a ride on the Red Car: When the Pacific Electric Railway came to town. Historic Huntington Beach. March 05, 2013. Accessed April 07, 2018.

The Pacific Electric Railway: Comfort, Speed, Safety. . Accessed April 07, 2018.

Wattenhofer, Jeff. Mapping the Historic Routes and Few Remains of Los Angeles's Massive Streetcar System. Curbed Los Angeles. November 09, 2015. Accessed April 07, 2018.

Burnham, Daniel. Map of Southern Pacific Company and Pacific Electric Railway Company Lines (1910). Make Big Plans. . Accessed April 07, 2018.