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Friday, August 22, 2014

Life’s last journey on a street car named Descanso

Railway fan and Angeleno Heights resident Kevin Kuzma was checking out a railroad preservation forum when he came across a photo recently posted by forum member Bob Davis of the Descanso, a 101-year-old Los Angeles street car built to transport mourners as well as the deceased to burial services. The Descanso – originally named Paraiso – and a second car served Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights as well as other burial grounds in East Los Angeles, said Ralph Melching in a story posted on the website of the Pacific Railroad Society. The Los Angeles Railway Company operated the funeral cars – which could be chartered for $25 – until about 1921, when motorized hearses became common, according to the website of the Orange Empire Railway Museum, where the Descanso now resides. The museum websites describes how the cars worked:

“The small doors below the oval window on the side of the car
permitted a casket to be loaded inside. Upon arrival at the cemetery, the casket would be transferred to a special rubber-tired carrier and wheeled to graveside. The interior is divided into a chapel area (where the casket was placed) and a passenger compartment. The passenger compartment could be divided with a curtain to separate the immediate family from the other mourners if desired.”
The Descanso is perhaps the last existing funeral street car in the country.

Photo by Bob Davis/Railway Preservation

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