Trolley funeral service was available in many of America’s large cities in the early decades of the 20th Century. The Los Angeles Railway offered funeral car service from 1909 until about 1924. In the days of unpaved roads and horse-drawn hearses, the trolley funeral car offered a more dignified ride to one’s final resting place. For $25, the car could be chartered to transport the funeral party to and from one of several on-line cemeteries. 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 was built in 1909 as Funeral Car “Paraiso” (Spanish for “paradise”). Two years later, it was relegated to back-up service by the arrival of another, larger, Funeral Car, called “Descanso” (Spanish for “rest”). By 1921, automotive hearses had cut into the business, and the larger car was converted into a passenger car, with the smaller "Paraiso" being remodeled to become the second “Descanso”. Some members of the riding public were reportedly reluctant to ride in the remodeled version of the former funeral car, and it was subsequently remodeled yet again to make it appear more like an ordinary car. Meanwhile, the second "Descanso" sat in storage.
In 1940, the Descanso was sold to the Railroad Boosters (later to become the Pacific Railroad Society), who moved it to the summit of Cajon Pass. Fitted with bunks and other amenities, it was used as a clubhouse for train-watching until 1967, when construction of a new rail line through the pass forced its removal. It came to the Museum that same year, and was restored to its 1921 appearance by Museum and PRS volunteers in 1990. The interior configuration, half with moveable wicker chairs, and half with fixed seats, represents both of the car's in-service interior appearances, having originally been equipped with wicker chairs and then later changed to the fixed seats.