Back in 2009 I took my kids and some visiting family members over to Travel Town in Griffith Park. Here's a link to their website. Admission is free.
Travel Town began in the late 1940's when steam trains were being decommissioned and replaced by diesel engines. Charley Atkins, a Parks and Recreation employee, and some friends wanted to create a playground of sorts, a "petting zoo for trains," where children could climb on top and play on these old train engines.
Over the next few years, Los Angeles Parks and Recreation was able to obtain a couple dozen engines, as well as freight and passenger cars. According to their website, the engines pictured above were built in 1899 and 1904 - and donated in 1953 and 1952 respectively.
Travel Town also has a unique collection of Pacific Electric rolling stock andpassenger cars. The Pacific Electric was a huge electric rail system that at it's height included over 1,000 miles of track stretching from the Inland Empire to the Pacific Ocean.
Here's a great example of a Pacific Electric "Red Car". These cars carried millions of passengers throughout metro Los Angeles from the early 1900's up until the early 1960's. Los Angeles, which now has the nation's worst traffic congestion, can only dream of a system like that today.
At closer inspection, it's obvious that the effects of time and elements have taken their toll on the old PE "Red Car" - as well as everything else at Travel Town.
By the 1980's Travel Town had evolved from a playground into a museum. A large covered shed was eventually built at the southern end of the park, protecting a few of the engines and rolling stock from the effects of time and damage from the elements.
Perhaps more importantly, it allowed a space for volunteers to begin the restoration work on the individual cars and engines.
I have fond memories of visiting Travel Town in the 1970's. As kids, we were able to not only climb into the cab of these engines, but literally climb on top of and explore them. They were like giant jungle gyms.
Dangerous? Sure, a little. But that's what made it fun. There were a few railings and handholds, but for the most part we kids just had to use common sense.
Today, there are large "KEEP OFF" signs preventing anyone from climbing on top of anything. Why?
First, the threat of lawsuits. Los Angeles, like every other city and corporation in America, is afraid of being sued by someone getting hurt.
Second, the effects of time: a few of the engines have deteriorated so much that it would be dangerous not just to climb on top of them, but literally walk around in the cabs.
Third, what were considered unique climbing toys in the 1940's today are now considered museum pieces. Most of these engines are now over 100 years old, and Travel Town is working to restore them for future generations. If not to climb on top of like a jungle gym, at least to at least to step inside and look at.
© 2011 www.experiencingla.com - originally posted 12/5/2009
The effects of time: a San Francisco Cable Car (above) awaits restoration.
I heard that there was some sort of operating trolley car just a few miles away at a new outdoor shopping center called "Americana at Brand" in Glendale. Having never been there, we decided to check it out, see what it was all about. You can read about it in Part 2.