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99% Invisible-70- The Great Red Car Conspiracy

2013-01-11 | 🔗

When Eric Molinsky lived in Los Angeles, he kept hearing this story about a bygone transportation system called the Red Car. The Red Car, he was told, had been this amazing network of streetcars that connected the city–until a car … Continue reading →

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars, and this is Eric moments. I America, Eric is an independent producer in New York City Brooklyn, of course, like most public radio answers here, but before Brooklyn Eric spent, ten years in LOS Angeles yeah when I was now lay icy here. This story, pretty often in this story, some of the feeble play had asked. You know, amazing transportation system called the Red Car and it was a trolley that cover the entire city. Then after world war to either Ford or GM bought, the red car had it dismantled and then build this. You know horrible freeway system that created the sprawling gridlock of today s state of cement, running slow aspect of the pact, and you have for some heard this story. I thought well that that sounds from
It must be true. I filling up definite her this way before. That's because, as the plot of who framed Roger Rapid you, or at least it's the evil scheme that was for Lloyd, reveals at the end, the movie nobody's gonna, try this lousy greatly when they can take the lead car for night. After the c I a rat past I put this mental when this isn't totally ridiculous. Remember the plot of Chinatown, LOS Angeles mobile was stealing water from Northern California. That actually happened as I learned More about the history of L. I learn that
red car, was actually not the victim of a massive conspiracy. The red car actually was the conspiracy. The red car helped create the sprawl in the gridlock. To understand how this all came about better, go way back to the mid nineteenth century, a boy Henry Huntington was born into a middle class family in upstate New York, but he has a very wealthy uncle named Collis Huntington Collis has no kids any sort of latch on to his few and I mean I assume you must see something in Henry Yearly thinks is kicking me moulded into a business. Man he's right and so call us takes little Henry under his wing. He teaches them everything, but the family business, which is railroads jump tonight in college and Henry thinks you're going to inherit the company Southern Pacific. But the boar doesn't want another Huntington in charge, so Henrys out Andy consolation prize, which is fifty million dollars, but back then was about
we like four hundred million dollars today and he takes his cash and he go south to LOS Angeles, the city of LOS Angeles. Really, exist, and it goes beyond the Ellie river- was a mess and was so prone to flooding when actually changed its location on the map. The only decent Where is long beach, but San Diego, has a bigger centre of commerce and Montana away is like way forward. The east disconnected flatland, but where Many people saw the desert robber barons. The late 19th century saw something else a blank slate,
so the modern city of LOS Angeles. As we know it was created as a sort of like a counterweight to San Francisco, which was liberal even back then, and very strong unions and allay was an open shop. A business man like Henry Huntington had free rein and he starts by purchasing the biggest transportation system in the city, which was the LOS Angeles Railway, otherwise known as Larry incorporated into a new company called Pacific Electric. I talked to a bunch of historians about this, including a bill Fredericks, who grew up in LOS Angeles. I have this vague recollection of a street car running up and down the main drag, which was brand boulevard, and I think I think I can remember the bell. The Bell ringing industry, car really would atomic Ding Ding Fredericks actually write a book about Henry Huntington. The key to Henry Huntington's operation was that this was before a lot of regulation in the the area, so Henry pretty much decide
where development would occur by building a street car line out to the area just ahead of development and most frequently he was building the street car lines out to where he on the land. So to put this in modern terms, the red car, with kind like the Kindle Amazon, loses money on the Kindle because they want you to use this e reader is a portal to buy lots of you, no bigger stuff on their website, and so the red car was a portal. Yet you too, by other bigger stuff from Henry Huntington like your entire life. He never really made money with the Pacific Electric, but it took people out to love to his subdivisions where he sold them land frequently sold them water. He controlled some water companies. He also established an electric operation called the Pacific light and power company. It was essentially set up to provide electricity to his trolley cars, but he ended up selling electricity to the city of us. Angeles.
Now, even back, then this was not business as usual. There are lots of other street car developers, but they're much smaller and they freely went bankrupt, other developers own land and they build a trolley out to some land, but not the immense amount of land that Huntington Control, so Heath sort of a complete package. Down so from nineteen o four to nineteen. Thirteen Huntington opens five hundred new subdivisions every year. He controls more than nine hundred red cars on more than eleven hundred miles of track. That's about twenty five percent, more trust! My legs than New York City has today a hundred years later now historically, American Citys grow organically and rings. You know out of a downtown and Huntington really forces LOS Angeles, to expand outward at twice the rate and
that really weak in downtown la because he was creating these little downtown the longest trolley routes. So you know you think, he's crazy empire he's got the trains he's got. The electricity he's got the lamp he's got the water only needed now we're people back. Then you know there are a lot of reasons not to like sittings having they were dirty. There were crowded their dangerous in LOS Angeles, who's gonna meet be very different kind of city. That was the dream. On a hunting turned and Harry Chandler, and all these other sort of a l, a power brokers when others, media blitz and during the winter they would blanket the MID west with advertisements that LOS Angeles is a paradise full of orange trees. The climate will cure your asthma ngo surfing. And serving, was actually a relatively unknown sport until Henry Huntington hired a hawaiian surfer, name, George free to if along hunting in beach- and it worked.
I mean for while long Beach was known as Iowa by to see so many islands live there, but eventually the dream went bust. So now remember: Pacific Electric is designed to lose money. It's a portal to Huntington's real estate in other companies, and so the Board of Pacific Letter does not happy about this. In the meantime, the red car is becoming a threat to southern Pacific railroad, which was you know the compass, that hunting and thought he was gonna inherit from his uncle. So southern Pacific wants to buy Pacific Electric Huntington says no, his own board overrules him he's forced to make a deal in once again is power and his ambitions are cut short
but Henry Huntington gets the last laugh in a pretty weird way, because his uncles fortune was split between him and his on our Bela. So Huntington marries his aunt and consolidates the family fortune. Now it's actually not quite as Ikey as it sounds, because they were not related by blood. She was his uncle second wife, but still so Huntington actually live. Happily, ever after with as well, in his on his aunt, Slash, wife and But he brings a lot of beauty to LOS Angeles. He creates Huntington Gardens. The Huntington library He dies in nineteen twenty seven and I dont know if he knew yet, but it was clear already to historians. Looking back that, the red car was doomed
even though the overall track mileage rivalled New York, the red car wasn't comprehensive enough to go everywhere. You needed to go by red car alone and they started become poorly maintained, a mean people start calling them slums and wheels. The big turning point comes in nineteen: twenty: six: a year before Huntington dies, Southern Pacific which now owns Huntington's Pacific Electric offers this massive plan, El subways an elevated trains all around downtown alike and is to be paid for by the taxpayer. So it's put up for a public, Referendum there's a lot of money spent a lot of advertising spent on both sides, just like referendums today and the voters reject the plant people just didn't like, southern Pacific. They had meddled in California politics for so long that they called it. The octopus.
Ok. So I remembered the original sort of conspiracy theory that the car companies bought up the red car and tore them down and built up the freeways so there's a subsidiary of General Motors called national city lights and they did by trolley cars and they converter them into bus routes when there are people the time that thought it was a conspiracy. This wasn't this conspiracy that suddenly guenaud people discovered fifty years later, but the fact is specific. Electric was doing the same thing. Their own trolley cars. As freeways became the norm in the red car became a thing of the past. You can see how a conspiracy theory could become cemented into the public imagination. So when I first saw a map of the red car lines, I actually thought it was an early map of the freeways which makes sense be the routes that people are using to get around. In some cases like the cooling pass, trains were actually dismantled to make way for the Hollywood Freeway Santa Monica Boulevard is paved over a trolley route in sometimes
was heading two, the four or five actually drive over these phantom tracks: alleys First Freeway, the Arroyo Seiko Parkway, which connects downtown capacity that opened in nineteen forty a few years later, city planners proposed another point four elevated railroads that was rejected by the city council. The last red car ran in nineteen sixty one, and you have to think it was in a way a victim of its own success. Henry Huntington's goal was to connect, is far flung properties and create a decentralized city. That problem need a mass transit solution to get around the problem. Was he couldn't? The red overtime was so spread out at liked overtaxed? What the red, if capable of servicing. I like to imagine you know if it's nineteen sixty m driving along the ten free way. I mean he I'm sure, there's traffic, but it must have been pretty smooth because
the freeways that exists now we're the same freeways back then, but bill for a much smaller population, so they must have seemed like a really impressive solution at the time, and today, Angelinos can appreciate the great solution of their highway system for hours and hours and hours an hour and hour an hour an hour and a half hours and hours. Ninety nine percent invisible was produced this week by Earth Molin scheme with help from same Greenspan and me roman Mars is a product of ninety one point: seven local public radio. A L w in San Francisco and the american instead of architects in San Francisco, often dont, think of winter, is a time of growth or creation. But if you think about it, it's the perfect
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-15.