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.
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.
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.
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.