The Pacific Electric (PE) Building is significant under Criterion A for its association with the Pacific Electric Railway and, subsequently, Southern Pacific Railroad, a locally significant mass transit system. The property retains a high degree of integrity following an adaptive reuse project that converted the rail station and offices into residential apartment units. Its integrity of location, setting, design, workmanship, material, feeling and association remain strong. The building operated as the primary downtown streetcar terminal from the time of its construction in 1905 until the completion of the nearby Subway Terminal Building in 1926. The property continued to function as a street rail terminal until the mid-twentieth century, when street rail service was finally suspended altogether in favor of bus service for the city’s mass transit needs. The period of significance for the property extends from 1905, the year of construction, through 1950, when the concourse was last used for rail service. The building was determined eligible for the listing in the National Register of Historic Places through Part 1 of the Historic Preservation Tax Certification process in 2002.

The Pacific Electric Railway Company

The Pacific Electric (PE) Railway Company operated streetcar service in Los Angeles and its surrounding communities from 1901 until the mid-twentieth century. Established by Henry E. Huntington, the interurban line was created as part of Huntington’s strategy for the sale and development of large tracts of open land in Southern California. Huntington bought and expanded an existing railway system that linked Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles. In 1911, PE owned 415 cars and ran them as one-, two-, or three-car trains, powered by overhead electrified copper wire.

At the company’s peak the Pacific Electric streetcar line ran over 1,000 miles of track in Southern California. The 50-foot-long Pacific Electric cars were made of wood and steel, and painted red with gold letters and trim and became known colloquially as the “Red Cars.” A second streetcar company, Los Angeles Railway Company, which was also owned by Huntington, operated yellow streetcars primarily in the downtown district (known as the “Yellow Cars”).

New Headquarters

In 1905, Huntington constructed the building now known as the Pacific Electric Building at Sixth and Main Streets in downtown Los Angeles. (The building has also been known as the Huntington Building and the Main Street Station.) The building was intended for use as a combination terminal and office building. The Huntington Building, as it was known at its opening, opened on January 15, 1905.

Local architect Thornton Fitzhugh designed the building with elements of the popular turn-of-the-century Richardsonian Romanesque and Beaux Arts styles. During downtown Los Angeles’s first major building boom from 1900-1917, Beaux Arts became an exceptionally popular architectural style for the buildings of the city’s financial and commercial district. According to architectural historian Paul Gleye, “In Los Angeles, a conservative but well executed vision of Beaux Arts Classicism began to unfold along Spring Street after 1900.”1 Architects typically employed the style in ten- to twelve-story office buildings on the blocks west of Main Street.

The Pacific Electric Building was considered the city’s first skyscraper. It was the largest building in Los Angeles at the time of its opening and, in the years following, created a focal point to the business district’s shift from 2nd and Spring Street to the fledgling areas south. At the time of its construction, the building was compared to the Metropolitan Life and Broad Exchange Buildings in New York City.

Multiple Functions

Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway streetcars turned into the Main Street Station from Main Street into the double track concourse beneath the building where they changed ends, picked up new passengers at the passenger platform, and returned to the street.

In addition to the building’s various public uses at street level, floors two through seven of the PE Building provided 693 office units, of which 95 were used by the Pacific Electric Railway. The two top floors of the building provided a new quarters for the Jonathan Club, an exclusive men’s social club founded in 1895 for Republican supporters of William McKinley. At the time of the building’s construction, Huntington served as the club’s president. The club’s quarters included a ballroom and theater, billiard room, card room, gymnasium, tap room, dining hall, breakfast room, smoking room, library, and conversation room. In addition, a large garden covered the rooftop’s expanse. Henry Huntington maintained a private suite in the club for his personal use.

The Jonathan Club occupied the top two stories of the Pacific Electric Building until its own building was constructed at 545 S. Figueroa Street in 1924. Schultze and Weaver, the same New York-based architectural firm that was responsible for the Subway Terminal Building in Los Angeles, designed the new club headquarters.