View Full Version : A nervous ride on Angels Flight

12-31-2006, 01:03 PM
December 31, 2006

Dec. 31, 1901: "In the presence of an admiring and awestruck multitude," Los Angeles Mayor Meredith "Pinky" Snyder was among the first passengers on Angels Flight, the 298-foot funicular from Hill Street to the top of Bunker Hill, The Times reported.

A large crowd gathered at the top to watch the "new double-barreled railroad," The Times said:

"A hush fell upon the vast concourse and enveloped it like a wet towel. Inside the little engine-house came the sharp tinkle of an electric bell, and the engineer grasped the lever and threw it back. Behold, the cars began to move! The one at the top moved down and the one at the bottom moved up."

The crowd watched for the mayor, who finally made the trip, "holding on by the dashboard with one hand and his other hand back to his pistol pocket, prepared to shoot the cable in two if the car showed any symptoms of shooting over the hill and into space," The Times said.

Later, Snyder "spoke of the time when as a lonely young man, far from his home and people, he had climbed up to the top of this same hill and looked out over what was then a little city. He contrasted the present view that presented itself, looking over a metropolis."

12-31-2006, 01:54 PM



01-24-2007, 08:30 AM
Rebirth of Angels Flight
Six years after it was closed following a fatal crash, downtown L.A.'s landmark railway is slated to reopen.
By Cara Mia DiMassa, Times Staff Writer
January 24, 2007

Angels Flight, the L.A. landmark dubbed "the shortest railway in the world," closed in 2001 after a fatal crash, many wondered whether it was gone for good.

Officials announced Tuesday that the funicular will reopen this summer — but Angels Flight will return to a decidedly different downtown Los Angeles.

In the six years during which Angels Flight has been out of operation, downtown has seen a remarkable residential transformation. Luxury lofts and high-rise condos have sprung up nearby, adding thousands of people to downtown's residential population and changing downtown's profile from a sleepy city center into a much more vibrant, hip neighborhood.

With the massive Grand Avenue project about to break ground atop Bunker Hill, there is a growing feeling that the new Angels Flight will actually serve as a valued form of transportation downtown — not just as a tourist attraction.

It's a strange turn of events for the fabled railway, which has served as both an icon for L.A.'s sense of daring and its long neglect of its city core.

In many ways, the two rail cars that climb up Bunker Hill — known as Olivet and Sinai — would barely recognize their old haunts.

Cultural institutions, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, have opened their doors, and the Colburn School is in the midst of a major expansion. A Ralphs market will open in June — the area's first supermarket in half a century. And other amenities, including new restaurants and bars, are mixed in throughout the corridor.

At a news conference Tuesday, officials showed off the refurbished railroad and announced that they were about to begin the third phase of the railway's $2.6-million restoration, which will include installation of a new drive system and safety improvements. They also expressed excitement that as new developments, including the nearby Grand Avenue project, reach completion, Angels Flight might actually be used again for commuting.

"Angels Flight was an interesting part of downtown," said John Welborne, president of Angels Flight Railway Foundation, which took over the railroad after the 2001 accident and has raised funds for its restoration. "Even more so now."

The development boom has an ironic twist for Angels Flight.

The rail line was designed to connect downtown with the once-bustling residential community on Bunker Hill. But when the city leveled that neighborhood as part of a 1960s redevelopment push, Angels Flight was left moribund.

The funicular closed at the end of that decade. It was revived in 1996 after years of efforts by preservationists.

The railway — then as now — plays an important role: connecting the historic downtown core along Broadway, Spring and Hill streets with the newer office towers, condos and cultural centers on Bunker Hill.

Marie Condron, a seven-year downtown resident who founded a popular neighborhood Internet bulletin board, said many residents who live in the historic core would frequent Bunker Hill if there were an easier way to get there. Right now, it involves hiking up several streets that are not exactly pedestrian-friendly.

"Most downtown residents are rooting for any of the bells and whistles that would make it more of a functioning neighborhood," she said.

In many ways, the downtown that Angels Flight will return to is more similar to the one it was originally built to serve in 1901, when Col. J.W. Eddy built the funicular as a way to spare Angelenos the walk up Bunker Hill — for the price of one cent a ride. At the time, Victorian mansions lined the double-barreled railroad's tracks, and an observation tower at the top offered residents a view all the way to Boyle Heights.

These days, the area is ringed by different sorts of residences. The recently opened Metro 417 building, once the Subway Terminal building, offers upscale lofts starting at $1,400 a month. The Douglas and Pan-American buildings, a few blocks away, offer condo-style loft units. Farther east, the Historic District includes a handful of old bank buildings that have been revamped as housing. The projects join the Angelus Plaza Senior Citizens Housing Complex, opened in the 1980s, as well as several residential towers on Bunker Hill.

George Takei, a member of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation board who is perhaps best known as "Star Trek's" Sulu, was at the news conference Tuesday. He remembered riding the funicular as a young child, when he visited downtown with his mother, and said he was glad to see downtown's renaissance linked to the funicular's resurrection.

"What is going on is that people get downtown," Takei said. "They want the 24-hour lifestyle."

A key piece of that lifestyle, he said, is transportation. "For the city to work, we need transportation to tie it together."

As he spoke, volunteers from the Painters and Allied Trade Unions were putting the final touches on the Hill Street arch at the bottom of Bunker Hill. Officials did a spectrographic analysis to arrive at the black-and-orange color scheme that the funicular sported in the 1960s. In the previous restoration, the arch and the upper building were painted red and black.

Although Angels Flight has gotten a new paint job, much remains to be completed before its late summer opening.

Welborne said that before then, workers must replace the old drive machinery and install a number of new safety measures, including track brakes. Officials also are looking at additional safety measures, including a second cable or cable brake, designed to prevent the kind of accident that occurred in 2001. In that accident, a car broke loose and sped backward for almost a block before smashing into another rail car at the bottom of the hill, killing an 83-year-old man and injuring seven others. Federal investigators concluded that faulty mechanical and brake systems, combined with weak oversight, were to blame for the crash.

The entire system must be certified by the state Public Utilities Commission before it can be reopened, Welborne said.


01-24-2007, 01:23 PM

We had to take that "flight" several times a week after our hangout at the original Main Street Gym burned to the ground circa 1951.

You see the boxing mob needed a place to work out in downtown L.A. and they needed it fast, so I think it was Babe McCoy who bankrolled the opening of the facility at the top of Angels' Flight in the old Moose Lodge building. Of course, if became known as the Moose Gym.

Joe La Barba, Fidel's brother, was put in charge as manager of the place and very soon business went on as usual. I have only one photo of the interior taken when we are watching Champion Jimmy Carter sparring.

It was not a bad layout at all, and served the guys well until the new Main Street Gym was opened right across the street from the one that burned down.

I think we paid a nickel to ride the "flight" round trip, from the bottom of the hill on Figueroa and Third street...55 years ago!

By the way Frank, I answered your reqiuest for information on Berry Gordy on the Diana Ross thread, in case you have missed it.

hap navarro

01-24-2007, 02:11 PM

Thanks for your inside on the Angels Flight.

I did read you answer on Berry Gordy

Btw did you know, of course you did, Joe Kelly?
Who I met when he was the door man at the Teamsters gym.


01-24-2007, 02:58 PM
Yeah, Kiki, I knew old Joe well. There was mever a voice like his in my lifetime, except maybe Mike McNulty's voice.

There is a whole fresh story waiting to be told about the many gyms and training spots in southern California during boxing's good old days. I personally visited Main Street, Moose Gym. Hoover Street, Gladstone Bell's Gym on Woodlawn (south central L.A.), Legion Stadium gym, Wilmington Bowl Gym,Teamsters' Gym, Gig Rooney's Newsboys' Gym by the Eastside Brewery on San Fernando Road, etc.

I remember Art Aragon training at clothier Irving Berman's plush home in Beverly Hills for a publicity stunt. Irving had a men'ss clothes shop around 9th and Broadway, catering to all who fancied the English drape styling in men's suits. (House of Berman) All the young guys shopped there or at Richard's where boxer Nick Diaz worked, or at Burt Burton's, also on Broadway.

hap navarro

01-24-2007, 05:09 PM
There is a whole fresh story waiting to be told about the many gyms and training spots in southern California during boxing's good old days.


That would be one heck of a story, so what are you waiting for? get going and start writing.
I would love to read a story like that.

Old Joe Kelly was truly one of a kind, he would get in anybody's face that had to pay to watch the figthers train and who refuse too pay, he would throw them out.


01-24-2007, 08:46 PM
that building with the round edge at the top is california plaza. the black stripe is the 18th floor. the 18th is the air conditioning equipment floor. i know...cause i built it. spent 2 1/2 years in that tower. i put in the first ductwork beneath the parking garage and the last in the 42nd floor. my kids names are on the last beam that went up there. it was the topping off party that was attended by mayor bradley that that beam was installed. that tower had me in the best shape of my life as i covered every foot of it and every stair. it was from there that i saw the wrecking ball take down the main street gym a few blocks away. i am very proud of my time there.

01-24-2007, 09:34 PM
Frank and Greg:

It seems to me we may be looking at two different "angels' flights" in the shots posted here. I remember hearing that the original flight had been moved about 3 blocks south, nearer Sixth street.

Could the newer flight be "California Plaza" Greg, as you suggested?

Just curious

hap navarro

01-24-2007, 10:02 PM
Los Angeles Landmarks: Angels Flight
Dace Taube
Regional History Collection

Hill and 3rd Streets circa 1898 before construction. This was a largely residential area at the turn of the century.

Angels Flight, the "Shortest Railway in the World," opened in 1901 and quickly became a city landmark. Col. James Ward Eddy was the visionary who convinced City Hall to grant him a 30-year franchise to construct and operate an inclined railway.
The funicular system of two counterbalanced cars moving up and down parallel tracks was an efficient means of transporting passengers along the steep grade between Third and Hill Streets and fashionable Bunker Hill. The ride lasted one minute and cost one cent.

Over the years operations were transferred to other powers, tracks were relaid, and the station house redesigned. However, the single-trip fare rose only once, in 1914, to five cents.

In 1959 Angels Flight was destined for demolition as part of the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project but loyal riders and enthusiastic supporters thwarted those plans, at least temporarily. During the next ten years the community of Bunker Hill changed dramatically as apartment houses were razed and residents dislocated by the redevelopment project. Ever decreasing numbers of commuters and tourists and lack of funding contributed to the inevitable. Even the designation of Historical Cultural Landmark could not save the Angel and she was dismantled in 1969.

Twenty years later, the Community Redevelopment Agency approved final plans for the California Plaza, which incorporated a restored Angels Flight. Although it took another six years and a good supply of bureaucratic activity, restoration and reconstruction started in 1995 and on February 24, 1996 Angels Flight was re-dedicated, now half a block from its original site.

To fully experience the charms of the city's favorite angel you may visit her daily from 6 AM to 10 PM, at Fourth and Hill Streets. The one-way fare is 25 cents. And yes it's true: there is NO apostrophe in the name.

01-24-2007, 10:06 PM
A Guide to the Restoration and Reconstruction of Angels Flight: The Historic Inclined Railway in Downtown Los Angeles
Text from the brochure, [n.d., probably 1990s]:
A Promise Made
Angels Flight has been one of Los Angeles' most enduring landmarks. (It is City of Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument No. 4, one of the original six such monument so designated.) First installed in 1901, the Angels Flight inclined railway provided reliable transportation to tens of millions of passengers at its Bunker Hill location in downtown Los Angeles for nearly seven decades. Billed as the "shortest railway in the world," Angels Flight shuttled its patrons up and down a steep incline of 315 feet, between the lower station at 3rd and Hill Streets, in the heart of downtown, and the Olive Street station, near the summit of Bunker Hill. For 68 years, Angelenos regularly ascended and descended the hill in either Olivet or Sinar, the twin cars that constituted Angels Flight's rolling stock.

The little funicular remained a familiar and dependable landmark throughout the decades of Los Angeles' transportation from small boom town to sprawling metropolis. During this period of vast expansion, Olivet and Sinar continued to negotiate the slope of Bunker Hill, indifferent to the changes in the neighborhoods surrounding the FlightÕs upper and lower stations. By the late 1950s, however, civic leaders were decrying the Bunker Hill area as blighted and a problem. The solution adopted was for the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to undertake an urban renewal project to create a commercial-residential centerpiece for a "new downtown" atop Bunker Hill.

The make way for the redevelopment, Angels Flight was dismantled in 1969. Considerable controversy had erupted in anticipation of the removal of the landmark. Therefore, realizing the importance of the funicular in the history of Los Angeles, the City Council first mandated that Angels Flight would be restored, preserved and maintained as part of the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project.

A Promise Kept

With the successful redevelopment of Bunker Hill now assured, the plans for the re-installation of Angels Flight have begun. As in earlier years, the funicular will provide the much-needed link between the top of Bunker Hill and the area now described as downtown's Historic Core. Following completion of the reconstruction, Olivet and Sinar will once again be serving Angelenos by offering them easy passage between the now-modern edifices of Bunker Hill and the adaptively-reused buildings that comprise the Historic Core.

The Restoration and Reconstruction of Angels Flight

The restoration of Angels Flight will be completed in several phases and includes work to be done both on and off the site.

The on-site restoration work is being conducted in full view of the public at the "Angels Flight Restoration Workshop." The Workshop is located on Hill Street at the eastern foot of Bunker Hill, just north of 4th Street, adjoining the site where the working funicular will be re-installed. The on-site work will involve both the station house, which was located at the upper Oliver Street arch, which was located at the foot of Bunker Hill, on Hill Street.

The restoration of the twin cars, Olivet and Sinar, will be done off-site. One question yet to be resolved by the restoration team is whether or not the original cars will be reused or replicated. If new cars are constructed, the original cars will be restored for display purposes.

The remaining elements of the little inclined railway, such as the supporting trestles, tracks and mechanical equipment, will be built from scratch during the reconstruction phase of the project. (Few of these pieces were preserved when the funicular was dismantled in 1969.)

The actual restoration and reconstruction duties are being undertaken by historic preservation and engineering professionals whose work is overseen by a team representing the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Conservancy. The efforts of this team are, in turn, guided by a broad-based coordinating committee of government officials and private citizens.

Once the cars, station house and Hill Street arch are completely restored, the next challenge will be to combine them into a working inclined railway. Angels Flight will be an integral part of the exciting, mixed-used California Plaza complex that includes office and residential buildings, a hotel and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Angels Flight will be re-built in a location only a half-block south of its historic location. The lower station at the foot of Bunker Hill will be near the 4th and Hill Street entrance to the Metro Rail Red Line. From there, Angels Flight will run up the hill, adjacent to the third office tower of California Plaza. The relationship of cars, riders and buildings will be similar to that which existed during Angels Flight's heyday.

At the Flight's upper station, passengers will board and disembark in the heart of California Plaza at the "Watercourt" retail and performance space scheduled to open in the summer of 1992. Also planned for this location is a small interpretive museum that will tell the story of Angels Flight and its relationship to the history of Los Angeles.

To coordinate with the construction scheduled for California Plaza's third office tower, the reconstruction of the Angels Flight trestle and tracks may occur twice. The first installation would be temporary, to be removed during the construction of the third office tower on the mid-to-late 1990s. The permanent installation, which will be on top of the third towerÕs foundation structure, will be completed along with that tower and its adjacent plaza.

The History of Angels Flight

Bunker Hill was considered one of Los Angeles' most desirable residential neighborhoods by the time that Colonel J.W. Eddy conceived the idea of Angels Flight in early 1901. The town's commercial district lay to the east, just below the hill. Extravagant Queen Anne and Eastlake mansions, built for prominent Angelenos such as the Crockers and Bradburys, crowned the hill. The mansions were followed by elaborate hotels and apartment buildings as the popularity of the hill grew. The only problem was access-the hill was steep and the walk up formidable.

As a professional engineer with railroad experience, Colonel Eddy recognized the remarkable potential of the situation. In 1901, he decided to take the risk of personally financing and building a funicular railway to provide easy access up and down the hill. On May 10th, the petitioned the Los Angeles City Council for a franchise. Construction began on August 2, 1901, and was completed in just five months, Angels Flight opened on December 31, 1901. Over 2,000 passengers "made the flight" on the funicular's first day of operations.

The railway was an immediate success and it wasn't long before the residents of Bunker Hill began to regard it as an old friend. With its economic viability assured, Colonel Eddy improved the Flight in 190 by re-grading its roadbed to a uniform 33-degree angle. Three years latter, in 1908, he added the decorative Hill Street arch. Thus Angels Flight remained until 1969.

During its first 68 years of service, Angels Flight began operations each morning at 6:00 a.m.-making a round trip approximately every 6 minutesÐoperating until 20 minutes past midnight, when it closed for the day. The basic round trip fare was raised only once when, in the 'teens, the penny fare was increased to a nickel.

What Is A Funicular?

A funicular is a special kind of inclined railway. The traditional inclined railway is comprised of rolling stock (cars) with steel wheels that ride on a fixed guideway made up of steel rails laid out on an incline. Unlike steam or diesel driven conventional railroads, inclined systems are not powered by machinery in the cars themselves. Instead, the cars are attached to cables that pull the cars up the incline. The cables, in turn, are moved by team or electrically driven motors in a powerhouse.

What distinguishes a Funicular is that it has two cars that operate in tandem and that are connected to each other by the same cable. When one car goes up the incline, the other one comes down. The two cars counterbalance each other, minimizing the need for power. More precisely, the weight of the downward car works with gravity to neutralize the weigh of the up-moving (which is working against gravity). Therefore, the power required for operation is overcome friction.

Funicular was very popular in the late 1880s. Wherever there were hills with a constant supply of potential passengers, funiculars were in demand. In both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, several sets of inclines were constructed. Two of the funiculars in Pittsburgh are still operating today, as is one in Dubuque, Iowa. Funiculars use several different track configurations. The Angels Flight cars operate on a three-rail track, sharing the center rail at the upper and lower portions of the incline. At the center, the cars switch onto two sets of parallel tracks as they pass each other.

01-24-2007, 10:16 PM


01-24-2007, 11:16 PM
california plaza sits at 4th and b if i remember right. this angle apears to be looking north with century plaza and the harbor freeway to the left. the flight i believe, as it apears, was not there when i worked on that tower. the building with the round side is definatly cal. plaza. it was very unique. looking north past the building would be the museum of contemporary art or MOCA. i was also the foreman at the MOCA site and remember it well as i almost KO'D mayor bradley with a 16 foot ladder i was struggling to get up a stair well as he was departing the site. 16 foot ladders do not fit in elevators so with the crew i had refusing to move it i took the stairway route and happened upon bradley whom was carrying a plate of ribs and corn on the cob back to city hall. he was very friendly and i got a kick out of the fact that he realy apreciated the topping off BBQ we had at the plaza that day.