Santa Monica Air Line
The Santa Monica Air Line, which stopped passenger service in 1953, traveled along Exposition Boulevard on its route between downtown L.A. and the beach. (Photo/Alan Weeks/Metro Library and Archive)

On May 20, 2016, Los Angeles celebrated a milestone in public transit: the opening of Los Angeles Metro Rail’s E Line to Santa Monica. The much-anticipated 6.6-mile light rail extension connects downtown Los Angeles to the beach. On opening day, hundreds flocked to the line’s 19 stations to experience a traffic jam-free ride between downtown and the Westside —  a rare experience for many Angelenos.

Pacific Electric’s Santa Monica Air Line, a predecessor to today’s Metro E Line train, connected downtown L.A. to Santa Monica before it closed in 1953.

Though maybe not for some. Older locals might recall Pacific Electric’s Santa Monica Air Line, a predecessor to today’s E Line train that operated until 1953. It carried passengers between Santa Monica and its station at the corner of Sixth and Main streets in downtown L.A. Today’s E Line runs along much of the Air Line’s original route, which included a tunnel under the 405 freeway and stops near the University Park Campus.

In this picture from 1953 — taken just eight months before the Air Line closed for good — a rail car cruises down Exposition Boulevard. The Mudd Hall of Philosophy’s distinct brick facade and 146-foot clock tower are unmistakable in the background. Mid-century Angelenos could take this route through South L.A., Culver City, Palms and West L.A. to the end of the line, which was within walking distance of the Santa Monica sand.

Low ridership led to the Air Line’s closure, but 63 years later, Metro rail lines revived regional interest in public transit. The E Line alone ferried 18 million passengers in 2019. The line has three stations adjacent to the University Park Campus, making train cars once again a fixture along Exposition. Running past Mudd Hall every few minutes on weekdays, they keep the campus community linked to the city after more than a half-century.

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