(All images (unless stated) courtesy of Alissa Walker, reproduced with permission)
The LA subway has never been one of the city’s most popular destinations, and doesn’t seem to garner the same respect as other underground railways such as those of London, Paris and New York. But it may come as a surprise to some – including urban explorers unfamiliar with Los Angeles – that, like those of Cincinnati and Rochester, downtown LA is home to another older subway system that has been abandoned for decades.
Just a block away from the LA Metro’s current Red Line, a luxury apartment building known as Metro 417 occupies a 1925 Renaissance Revival structure originally called the Subway Terminal Building. It was here, several stories below street level, that Hill Street station served 65,000 commuters each day at its peak in the mid-1940s. And as journalist Alissa Walker discovered during a tour of the building, the abandoned ghost station on the so-called ‘Hollywood Subway’ still exists, a silent time-warp beneath the busy streets of downtown LA.
Passing through an unassuming door that separated the building’s upscale public areas from its less visited corners, the tour literally stepped back in time. Ornate tiles lined the walls below a decaying ceiling that revealed its original craftsmanship above. Descending further, a sub-floor left visitors in no doubt that the space they were in was an old subway station, similar in style to those found in New York City.
An arrow on the wall pointed the way to Hill Street station, the original terminus of the Pacific Electric Railway’s Hollywood Subway branch. Other signage, untouched for decades, identified tracks one and two, their rails long since removed.
From here, a ramp descends to the platform. The vast open space, empty since the 1950s, give way to a series of dark, damp tunnels that once catered to busy trains operating between the Westlake neighbourhood and downtown Los Angeles.
But ridership peaked in 1944 and thereafter passenger numbers began to decline, fueled by competition from automobiles and an improved freeway system connecting the LA metro area. On the morning of June 19, 1955 the last passenger train rumbled through the tunnels, ominously displaying a banner that read “To Oblivion” as it echoed into history.
Soon after, tracks were torn up and the tunnels were sealed off. Nowadays, Pershing Square station on the LACMTA Red Line services the city’s downtown. Other remnants of the Hollywood Subway, meanwhile, can be seen at Toluca Substation and Yard, a designated historic monument by the sealed entrance to the original Belmont Tunnel.
Unfortunately, early 2014 spelled bad news for the historic Hollywood Subway. Alissa Walker reported on her blog that “according to Metro 417 the tunnels are now condemned and no longer available for touring of any kind”.