80 Years Ago This Week: Los Angeles Welcomes (And Transports) The World To The 1932 Summer Olympics

Millions around the globe begin to set their sights on London for the next few weeks, making this a great time to take a look back at Los Angeles’ experience with the Olympics.

As one of the very few cities to have hosted the Summer Games more than once (along with Athens, London and Paris), Los Angeles was honored with an encore opportunity to welcome the entire world to visit.

However, the city faced unique challenges in both 1932 and 1984 in transporting athletes and spectators around town.

The Games of the X Olympiad as they are officially known were held during the worldwide Great Depression, running from July 30th to August 14, 1932.

We’ve taken a look through some of our own resources as well as the Olympic Committee’s Official Report to understand how participants and the public moved around through the events.

Both Los Angeles and the staging of an Olympic Games eighty years ago were obviously much different than today.

The 1930 U.S. Census pegged the population at just over 1.2 million.

As for the Games, 1,332 athletes from 37 nations participated in 116 events in 14 sports.  Less than 10% of the athletes were women.

Event tickets were $1-$3 each, with an all-access pass to Olympic Stadium setting you back twenty-two bucks.

No other city even made a bid to host the 1932 Summer Olympics and fewer than half the number of participants in Amsterdam’s 1928 Games came here to Los Angeles due to the worldwide economic downturn.

Despite the Depression, the Organizing Committee provided a complete transportation system for all contestants and officials living in the Olympic Village in Baldwin Hills and the “Women’s Hotel” (Chapman Park Hotel) downtown.

Parking facilities for a maximum of seventy motor coaches of 30-person capacity were provided outside the Olympic Village, together with an office building, repair pits, wash rack and service station.

During the training period, regular transportation schedules serviced thirty training locations.

In addition to this regular service before the Games began, special bus coaches were operated to training locations where the size of the team or other circumstances warranted increased service.

According to the Official Report of the local organizing committee, “thousands of interested spectators visited the Olympic Village daily to watch the arrival and departure of the busses carrying the athletes.  The early morning hours, when busses were coming and going at an average of one every minute, attracted the most attention.”

Transportation needs reached a peak on July 30, the day of the Opening Ceremonies.

Sixty-eight buses carried nearly 2,000 athletes and officials from four meeting points to the Olympic Stadium (the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum) and back “without a minute’s delay en route,” despite heavy traffic induced by 100,000 spectators.

The Los Angeles Police Department was instrumental in ensuring traffic did not disrupt transportation of the Opening Ceremonies’ participants.

Over a period of six weeks which included training and the actual Games, motor coaches carried more than 68,000 athletes and officials a total of 83,360 miles without a single injury, delay, or failure of the system.

In addition to the Organizing Committee’s plans, several other public and semi-public transportation options were made available.

Motor coach lines connected the streetcar system to connect the Olympic Village to the Olympic Stadium.

Bus service linking downtown Los Angeles and the Olympic Village remained in place beyond the conclusion of the Games.

Special arrangements and schedules were made for Pacific Electric service to the rowing events at the Long Beach Marine Stadium.

Although Los Angeles was a much smaller city 80 years ago, traffic control was nonetheless a major concern for Olympic planners.

At the time, approximately one million automobiles were already in use withing a 100-mile radius of the the Olympic Stadium.

Despite large and wide boulevards, road congestion was already commonplace in 1930’s Los Angeles.

A five-member Traffic Committee was organized consisting of experts from the Los Angeles Police Department and traffic management for the Organizing Committee.

Besides road traffic, an anticipated half-million spectators along the marathon course presented further logistical challenges.

LAPD Chief Roy E. Steckel and the four other committee members planned for several months how to deploy 650 police officers dedicated to traffic control every day of the Games.

The City’s restricted budget caused the Chief to appeal to police officers to work 12-hour days instead of the regulation eight, and to postpone vacations.

One hundred fifty university students assisted the police to bring the total number of traffic officers to 800.

Streets were converted to one-way traffic heading to the Stadium prior to events, and to one-way traffic leading away upon their conclusion.

The official Program of Events urged the public to “travel via the Big Red Cars” of Pacific Electric Railway to enjoy “no traffic worries, no parking nuisance or fees [and] money saving fares.”

The September, 1932 issue of Two Bells, the Los Angeles Railways employee newsmagazine recapped the local transportation service for the games.

It noted that the company transported all of the athletes and others jointly with Pacific Electric Railway, each company providing half the equipment and operators.

We wish to thank the LA84 Foundation Sports Library, one of our partners in the LA as Subject network, for their generous assistance in providing source material for this story.

LA84 is one of the premier sports libraries in the world and serves as a tremendous asset to the research community in Los Angeles.

Their collection highlights include more than 8,000 volumes on the Olympic Games alone, along with 90,000 photographs and slides, 5,500 instructional and historical sport videos and over 500 periodical titles.

Their Official Report of the Xth Olympiad, Los Angeles 1932, the source for the images in this story, is an excellent review of the entire planning and execution of the Summer Games.

(Note: This links leads to the entire 840-page PDF file of the official Olympic Report. It may be difficult or time-consuming to open)