At L.A.’s Streetcar Inauguration, Who Told 8-Year Old Shirley Temple, “Buy Yourself A New Automobile”?

This week marks the anniversary of the 1937 National Transportation Week celebrations in Los Angeles.

We reviewed the event for last year’s 75th anniversary, and included video footage of child actress Shirley Temple helping out with the launch of the new PCC streetcars in Los Angeles.

In the newsreel footage, 8-year old Shirley receives an official “gold card” of the City of Los Angeles.

Later, she has been deputized as “Conductor Number One” and takes fare from inaugural riders, including Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw and Los Angeles City Attorney Ray Chesebro.

Library, Archives and Records staff have viewed this footage countless times, but this week, we caught something we never heard before.

At the 0:42 – 0:43 mark, viewers can see one of the dignitaries boarding the streetcar while saying “Shirley, buy yourself a new automobile.”

Who was it?  We may never know, but it does offer an opportunity to look at the interplay between automobiles and streetcars less than a decade later.

In 1945, the controlling interest in Los Angeles Railway was purchased from the Huntington estate by National City Lines, run by the five Fitzgerald Brothers.

They renamed it Los Angeles Transit Lines, and at the end of World War II, they sought to substitute buses on most of the existing streetcar lines.

One time railroad man E. Roy Fitzgerald had bought up dozens of small and medium sized transit companies in the late 1930s and almost without exception, quickly motorized them.

General Motors, Mack Truck, oil and tire companies were among NCL’s stockholders.

Could one of the Fitzgeralds been on the scene eight years earlier advising Shirley Temple to buy a car?  Probably not.

But the true history of Los Angeles Transit Lines and streetcar demise in Los Angeles has been debated for decades.

One thing is certain:  It is far more complicated than what has been perpetuated in various urban myths as well as in the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

At any rate, it is rather unimaginable that anyone would attend a public transportation event today and suggest that the host buy an automobile, even as a joke!

As for Mayor Shaw, his administration (1933-1938) was seen as one of the most corrupt in Los Angeles history.

He was recalled the following year by the electorate — the first successful recall ever of a mayor of a major American city.