One vehicle reminiscent of a popular mode of transport in the early days of Venice is making a return to the streets of the beachside community.
The “Red Cars” of the Pacific Electric Railway system were frequently visible in the early part of the 20th century as they criscrossed cities in Southern California, traveling routes such as Venice Boulevard into the then newly developed community of Venice. The mass transit system, which operated distinctive streetcars, light rail and buses, was a primary transportation mode for visitors who came to tour Venice and its neighbor to the north, Santa Monica.
The days have long passed since the Red Cars were a regular sight across Los Angeles, but a vintage red tram from the Pacific Electric era is seeing a rebirth in Venice.
The Venice Historical Society has acquired a 1948 tram that the organization intends to use for events such as First Friday on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and other happenings, giving riders a view from an old-fashioned vehicle and touching on the area’s historic connection to the Red Cars.
“I saw it as a wonderful asset to bring a little history and charm back to Venice,” said Jill Prestup, Venice Historical Society president. “What would be better than to have an original tram come back, take people around Venice and bring them back?”
The tram is not intended to be used as a bus, but rather by groups such as non-profits for specific events and activities. The vintage design of the tram may remind some longtime residents who lived during the Pacific Electric years of the streetcars that used to traverse the area, Prestup said.
Passengers will have the opportunity to take a route down Abbot Kinney Boulevard to Main Street and the Windward Circle, touring historic locations of the seaside community as well as some current hot spots.
The old tram previously took part in the Venice High School centennial parade last year and was well received by children and pedestrians alike when it made a stop at the Abbot Kinney First Friday event May 4, Prestup said.
“I knew it would be well received, I just didn’t think it would be this well received,” she said of people’s reactions when the tram has appeared on the streets.
The historical society will officially debut the tram at an event celebrating its “maiden voyage” for invited guests at Hal’s Bar and Grill, 1349 Abbot Kinney Blvd., from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12. The event will feature tram rides and an exhibit Venice: Yesterday/Today, including photographs from the historical society archives coupled with modern images by Venice photographer Helen K. Garber.
The historical society has not determined a fee structure for use of the tram, which can fit up to 26 riders. A retired city bus driver will be in the driver’s seat for most of the events.
The acquisition of the 1948 tram comes after the historical society has completed some other projects highlighting Venice’s history in recent years, including the restoration of colonnades along Windward Avenue and the placement of a vintage gondola that used to cross the local canals at the Windward Circle. Such projects are intended to pay tribute to the community’s early years, Prestup noted.
“Venetians are so proud of Venice,” she said. “This is to educate people and get them to appreciate Venice’s history.”
The historical society purchased the tram last year from two businessmen from the Monrovia area who bought it from the state. Little is known about the vehicle’s exact origin and where it was operated locally. The former owners had an appreciation for antiques and used the tram in events like car shows and parades, Prestup said.
Most of the restoration work was done by the previous owners, but the historical society has done a recent tune-up and installed “Venice” and “Historical Society” banners.
In addition to the experience of an historic tram ride, the historical society and merchants along Abbot Kinney believe the vehicle can help address some parking issues associated with occasions like First Friday as well as during the summer season.
“We want people to know this can be an alternate option for First Friday,” said Prestup, adding that some visitors can park further away and have the chance to use the tram.
Don Novack, co-owner of Hal’s Bar and Grill, agrees the tram can be one way to ease the parking problems during First Friday and other popular events.
“We definitely have a parking issue in Venice; this is not going to solve it but it may alleviate a little of it,” Novack said. “If it successfully helps alleviate some of the parking issues and people can park further away and get to and from their cars, I think it will be a good thing.”
If the tram rides are eventually able to bring more people to shop and dine along Abbot Kinney, many of the merchants might be interested in using the vehicle on a more full-time basis, he suggested.
Touching on the area’s history, Novack said the Red Cars used to travel close to Abbot Kinney Boulevard and he believes the return of a vintage tram can help recognize Venice’s ties to that era.
“When people see it they get a kick out of it,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing to look back on what happened and how it evolved.”
Prestup said, “This to me, is going to bring people back,” adding that the mission of her organization is to educate people and allow them to appreciate the history of Venice.