History

He lived on the streetcars in Los Angeles

Manuel-Rodriguez-1950.jpgManuel H. Rodriguez, a retired teacher at Valley College — and the father of Zocalo founder Gregory Rodriguez — writes at his son's website about growing up in South Los Angeles when the streetcars were his ticket to bookstores, libraries and the movies of Downtown and Hollywood. It was World War II, and the kid and his friends rode all over. His adventures included being robbed and smashed on the head with a pistol at the liquor store where he worked as a teenager, but there were a lot more good times. A sample from his piece:

On Sunday afternoons I liked to ride the H car to the other end of the line. Just for pleasure. For two or three hours, I could forget the unpleasant realities of home and see the world. Sometimes I traveled alone. Other times I rode with my brother Raul, two years my junior. Eddie Ferrall, an amiable and voluble schoolmate of Raul’s, often accompanied us.

We sat in the back, where we raised the windows high to feel the breeze rush through as the car moved along its rails. At departure time, the conductor, who wore a dark uniform and a round cap with a visor, pulled a cord that sounded a clang to warn away pedestrians and motorists. The fare, which we deposited in a metal and glass box, was seven cents.

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I had a nostalgic instinct and enjoyed the movies at revival houses. I saw The Good Earth at the Olympic Theater on West 8th Street between Main and Broadway. It featured Paul Muni and Luise Rainer, but for me the main attractions were the swarms of grasshoppers. At the Silent Movie Theater on North Fairfax, which we got to by taking the H car to Beverly Boulevard and then a bus to Fairfax, we saw D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. And Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and City Lights.

Thanks to the H car, the Philharmonic Auditorium at 5th and Olive downtown was within easy reach. For days after he and Eddie attended a musical there, Raul regaled us with a song that began, “Poor Jud is dead, poor Jud Fry is dead…” He loved Oklahama.

In 1949, he adds, "I bought my first car, a Ford sedan, and ceased to ride the streetcars." But he still misses them.


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