Friday, February 12, 2010
Did Henry Ford, Firestone, and fossil fuel conspire to drive public transportation out of Los Angeles? Maybe, but maybe they got a push from the enemy -- the electric trolleys, Henry Huntington’s Red Car system.
In the early part of the last century, Huntington’s hand held more than a deck’s worth of aces. He owned the Southern Pacific, or major shares in it, and he owned the Red Cars. He laid the tracks, straight to his door and the door of his friends. Huntington also owned a great deal of real estate; one can do the tycoon math.
So the automobile brought some measure of independence to the common man in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and thereabouts. Allowed him to express lese majeste, give Huntington and his ilk the universal roadsign. What’s a few blown tires and dusty roads compared to autonomy? How good did it feel when no one could tell you where to go or what time you had to leave to get there.
And eventually freeway architects would speed past the best the railroads and trolleys and electric cars had to offer.
But the romance of the open road left broken hearts along the way. Romance will do that.
There are two one-way streets that sidle up to the Foothill Freeway, the 210 freeway, the dividing line between the Denas, the freeway that connects us to all points north, east, south, west. During the daily 300-minute rush hour, most drivers use the side streets to hop hopefully on the freeway, then limp, sadder but wiser, off again.
You may be more observant than I, most people are. So I never noticed what lined the street south, parallel to the 210, until I left the car and walked it. Some things live, some thrive, some died, some are just fading away. In the context of what came before, it kind of makes sense.
Next installment, next month: Foothill Freeway: Tracking the Southside