Not far from Pasadena, on Zoo Drive in historic Griffith Park, lies a popular destination for Southern California train lovers. Travel Town, founded in 1952, educates and entertains families and children on the history of railroad transportation.
“It was formed by a gentleman who worked for the Department of Recreation and Parks,” said Nancy Gneier, executive director of the Travel Town Museum Foundation.
In 1947, William Frederickson Jr., the city’s superintendent of recreation, “saw at that time that a lot of the steam locomotives were going to the scrap yard and he thought it was an important piece of American history that should be preserved for the children of Los Angeles,” said Gneier.
For more than 60 years the railway museum has been a local hotspot for birthday parties, picnics and family day trips. That’s largely because Travel Town has the largest collection of steam locomotives west of the Mississippi.
“Travel Town has been free to the public since 1962 and we’re kind of excited about that because there are very few places you can go in Los Angeles that are free, where they don’t charge you for parking or something.” said Gneier.
“We give tours to school kids during the week, and we give tours one Saturday of the month to general visitors who want to come and see what the inside of a passenger car looks like,” Gneier said.
It’s easy to forget Los Angeles is shaped the way it is because of transportation arteries like the Pacific Electric Railroad created in the first half of the last century. Unlike New York and Chicago, which are vertical cities, and have transportation systems which radiate out from a central downtown area, L.A. is a maze of long-forgotten railroad lines leading to outskirt destinations.
“Pasadena was one of those destinations. When LA was just being formed, Pasadena was the exotic place that people could go to and go up to Mount Lowe and ride the train, and things like that,” said Gneier.
The oldest locomotive at Travel Town is a “Fox Turntable Engine” built in 1862, with the classic “head to head” engine look. “It’s one of those types of engines, called an American, if the style has four leading wheels and four driving wheels,” said Gneier.
Travel Town is often offered donations of decommissioned trains by private owners, but rarely accepts. Gneier said that, in general, the museum collects nothing later than from the 1950s.
Still, the collection has satisfied families for more than 50 years.
“With three small children, Travel Town is a blessing. Free parking and admission. Lots of things to see and do. The train ride is just perfect for the little ones and the big locomotives let the older one explore and make believe. We love it!” writes Angie on the Travel Town website.
“My sons love the trains. We are here with them almost every weekend,” writes Jose.
Beloved by many LA residents, Travel Town hopes to continue providing free education to children of all ages for generations to come.
Travel Town, which is free and open every day of the year except Christmas from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday , is located at 5200 Zoo Drive in Griffith Park, next to the 134 Freeway at the Forest Lawn Drive exit. After exiting at Forest Lawn, take the first left and you can’t miss it.
For information, call (323) 662-5874 or visit traveltown.org.