As Tracy and I rediscovered one Sunday morning, Los Angeles does have some history after all. In 1901, in an effort to connect the downtown Los Angeles shopping district below with the posh residential district of Bunker Hill, replete with Victorian frame houses above (see historical photos), the Los Angeles Incline Railway was born.
Known as “The World’s Shortest Railway,” its two counterbalanced passenger cars (dubbed Sinai and Olivet), took L.A. residents up and down the hill (originally 350 feet), running northwest from the west corner of Third and Hill Street, for one penny. In 1915, they raised the fare to a nickel.
The railway was financed by Colonel J.W. Eddy, a lawyer and engineer who in his younger years had been a friend of Abraham Lincoln. It operated until 1969, when it was shut down as part of a redevelopment project, controversial in its nature because it meant displacing 22,000 residents who were living (mostly renting) in the beautifully significant, but rather run-down buildings. Angels Flight was not destroyed, but rather put into storage.
It was not until 1996 that Angels Flight was removed from storage . It was rebuilt, refurbished and re-opened just a half block away from its original site. I had ridden Angel’s Flight numerous times as a kid with my folks before it was shut down in the late ‘60s, and I always said to Tracy, “We should go downtown and hop on Angels Flight just for old times sake.”
Unfortunately, in 2001, that opportunity was taken away when “Sinai, approaching the upper station, reversed direction and accelerated downhill in an uncontrolled fashion to strike car Olivet near the lower terminus.” It killed an 83-year-old tourist and injured seven others. Personally, I thought that would be the end of Angels Flight because maintaining significant historical icons in Los Angeles has never been the city’s strong suit. Fortunately, I was wrong.
One day, Tracy and I hopped into our car and drove to her office for the short walk over to Angels Flight. We strolled across the street and through the “Water Court,” where the water in the fountain was doing its dance, and made our way to the Angels Flight upper entrance.
We bought our tickets (50 cents per ride – damned inflation), hopped on board and rode that bad boy down. Fortunately no one was killed on this journey.
There were a bunch of families with kids, and just like when I was a boy, all the children we saw were having a blast riding the funicular up and down. You see, kids can have fun without playing video games.
We had other things to do that day in Los Angeles, and in a momentary delusion of being physically fit, we decided to walk back up the 172 stairs.
When visiting Los Angeles, check out and see whether Angels Flight is open (it closes every once in a while for mechanical problems). There aren’t many places you can only spend a fifty cent piece (do they still have those) and have this much fun.
351 South Hill Street • Los Angeles, CA 90013
Open: 365 Days A Year from 6:45 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Cost: 50 Cents or Five Rides For Two Bucks