Stepping Aboard Angels Flight, the World’s Shortest Railway

When it comes to Los Angeles, often times things can disappear without a trace, and never return, but thankfully that isn’t what happened to the “world’s shortest railway” known by the charming name of Angels Flight.

While on railroad tracks, Angels Flight doesn’t travel in a loop or even on flat ground, but rather at an incline, a type of railway known as a funicular. With Angels Flight, the two cars counterbalance each other as they travel up Bunker Hill. Just like the cars themselves, Angels Flight seen its fair share of ups and downs over the course of its 120 years of existence.

The Hill Street Station arch, which is orange with black trim. Bulbs flank the archway. Letters at the top read "Angels Flight"

Side view of one of the cars as it sits at the top station. The body of the car is painted orange with black trim. At the top is a white sign that reads "Angels Flight"

The Grand Avenue station building, which holds the operator, painted orange with black trim. Small flags are at the top. A sign on the left reads "Angels Flight"

Angled view of Angels Flight, with its vertical track, and both stations visible at the top and bottom.

Myself, wearing a t-shirt reading "Hollywood" in red letters and images of various Hollywood landmarks, and blue jeans with white stars on them, standing outside the upper station, which is painted orange with black trim.

Gate at the Grand Avenue station with various signs reading "Fares 1 Ride $1.00 With Tap Card .50" "Wait Outside Until Car is Up and Passengers Come Out."

Souvenir tickets for Angels Flight, printed on yellow paper with ornate black frames.

View of the inside of one of the cars. Dark wood paneled walls and seats, which are done in a stair step format.

View of one car as we pass each other.

Myself stepping aboard.

A car sitting at the lower station.

The upper station, an orange building with black trim on the ornate doors and windows.

Myself, wearing a t-shirt reading "Hollywood" in red letters and images of various Hollywood landmarks, and blue jeans with white stars on them, standing outside the upper station, which is painted orange with black trim.

One of the orange and black cars, sits at the top station, a white sign on the roof reads "Angels Flight" in faded black letters.

Aboard Angels Flight, dark wood paneled interior. A sign above the doorway reads "Wait Inside Until Car Stops"

View of the upper Grand Avenue Station while aboard.

Sitting aboard Angels Flight.

The Hill Street Station, which is an ornate orange arch, with black trim details. Black letters at the top read "Angels Flight"

Myself, wearing a t-shirt reading "Hollywood" in red letters and images of various Hollywood landmarks, and blue jeans with white stars on them, standing by the arch of the lower station.

Sign at the Grand Avenue station reading "Positively No Admittance"

Close-up of the white sign atop one of the cars, which is white and reads "Angels Flight" in faded black letters. LA City Hall is visible in the distance.

Opening New Year’s Eve, 1901, Angels Flight served Angelinos by taking them 325 feet up or down Bunker Hill, from either Grand Avenue or Hill Street. Just a handful of years later, in 1905 it was remodeled and moved a few hundred feet. As the decades went on it faced multiple owners, before being sold to the city in 1962. The same year, it also became a LA Historic-Cultural Landmark. The city also chose to hire Oliver & Williams Elevator Company, a private group, to run it, but before the decade was out, the city sold it to Oliver and Williams, only to have it close shortly after, running its final trips on May 18, 1969. By the 1960s, Bunker Hill looked much different than it did at the dawn of the 20th century. The once opulent Victorian homes had turned to slums, and were beginning to be demolished to make way for new high-rise office buildings. As the houses met the wrecking ball, disappearing forever, Angels Flight also fell victim, and piece by piece it was dismantled and put into storage.

After three decades in storage and multiple owners, reconstruction and restoration began in the early 90s, this time about half a block from its original location near the Hill Street Tunnel. Under a dual public-private partnership, Angels Flight reopened February 24, 1996. Still not free from technical issues, the funicular was temperamental, and closed off and on. In 2001 a fatal accident occurred, resulting in Angels Flight closing until 2010. Off and on operations continued through 2014, when it closed yet again. During its closure, the whole public-private ownership had a bit of not-knowing-what-the-other-hand-is-doing moment, when one gave the OK for Damien Chazelle’s 2016 movie La La Land to be filmed aboard.

Screencap from La La Land, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone share a kiss aboard Angels Flight

Screencap from La La Land, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling exit Angels Flight.

The year following La La Land‘s release Angels Flight formally reopened, and has been once again serving the public up and down Bunker Hill, dropping them off right across the street from another LA icon, Grand Central Market.

La La Land of course isn’t the only film to shoot at Angels Flight. In fact it made its screen debut in 1918 with Good Night Nurse, and was featured in various films and series over the years. The latest to film there was the first episode of HBO’s reboot of Perry Mason.

Screencap from Perry Mason, the Gran Avenue station visible at night.

Screencap from Perry Mason, angled view of the track as a car comes down at night.

Screencap from Perry Mason, a man exits Angels Flight on the lower Hill Street station, the orange and black arch visible behind him.

Screencap from Perry Mason, a woman enters one of the cars.

Screencap from Perry Mason, view of the tracks looking upward.

Screencap from Perry Mason, Mason exits a car at the base.

In a city that often is criticized for not caring about its history, I’m extremely thankful that this unique piece of LA has been lovingly brought back to life. Take a ride aboard Angels Flight by starting at either the upper station, located within California Plaza at 350 Grand Avenue or the lower station, located at 351 S. Hill Street. As Angels Flight is over 120 years old, it still has some days where it goes down, and I have found that the Angels Flight Instagram often has the most up to date information. You can also learn more about Angels Flight by visiting its website.

What’s Near By?

Bradbury Building

Cicada Club

Clifton’s Cafeteria

Grand Central Market

Sources
Angels Flight. Los Angeles Conservancy. Accessed 13 January 2022.
Angels Flight: How it works and what it’s been through in its 100-year history.” Los Angeles Times, 1 March 2017. Accessed 13 January 2022.
Angels Flight: The Story of an LA Icon.” Discover Los Angeles, 14 March 2019. Accessed 13 January 2022.
History. Angels Flight Railway. Accessed 13 January 2022.
Kim, Eddie. “Angels Flight Cameo is a No-No.” Downtown los Angeles, 22 November 2016. Accessed 13 January 2022.

Outfit
Shirt: Worn Free
Jeans & Purse: Buffalo Exchange
Belt Buckle: Gift
Shoes: Re-Mix (sadly a style no longer offered)

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