Angels Flight

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Angels Flight—everybody’s favorite FUNicular—is there a more iconic piece of Bunker Hilliana? All aboard! proclaims the city of LA!

But don’t get too excited. It’s not open, so you’re not riding it today. Despite what you may hear, you’re not riding it anytime soon.

Toodle down Hill Street between 3rd and 4th and eavesdrop on the guy with the clipboard, yelling at the zinc oxide’d folk, and get the five-cent explication:

earlyaf“Up there’s Bunker Hill, folks, and what a pain it was to shlep from your gracious home down to the Grand Central Market below, there, behind you. But then came riding up lawyer, engineer, friend of Lincoln, Colonel James Ward Eddy, who was sixty-nine when he convinced the city that it needed a funicular in the 3rd street right-of-way between Hill and Olive. Eddy built ‘The Los Angeles Incline Railway,’ known to all and sundry as Angels Flight, no apostrophe thank you, complete with a hundred-foot observation tower that housed a camera obscura. Mayor Snyder made the inaugural 45-second journey on January 1, 1902. The cars were biblically named ‘Olivet’ and ‘Sinai’ and were painted a saintly white, though later orange and red, and a trip up the 325 feet of 33% grade was originally a penny, though they jacked that up to a nickel. What’s with the BPOE arch, you ask? Did the Benevolent Protective Order of Elk have a hand in all this? Not really. A hundred years ago the Elk’d go nuts during ‘Elk Week’ and spend lavish sums all over the city with fireworks and aflatercarnivals and since their lodge replaced the Crocker mansion at the top of Angels Flight in September 1908, they elected to donate this swell gate here around 1909. The BPOE lettering on the arch was actually covered up for many decades when the building above became a Moose lodge in 1926. Anyway, as the city moved west, the gingerbread private homes of the 1890s were cut up into rooming houses, and Bunker Hill took on all that charm we now call shabby chic. In 1950, large insurance companies, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and the Community Redevelopment Association proposed the razing of Bunker Hill to develop 10,000 rental units. In 1959 the City Council declared Bunker Hill blighted, a slum to be cleared and redeveloped. The Elks Lodge/Moose Lodge gets wiped away in 1962. In 1969 Angels Flight was finally removed and stored, with a promise to return it shortly. It was reinstalled here, half a block down, a mere twenty-seven years later, though a tragic accident in 2001 has closed it temporarily.”

These are the nuts and bolts to be sure, though what they don’t add are the drops of blood that oil the gears of doom and the cogs of death!

That may be a bit dramatic. There is the small matter of the 1913 derailment, of course.

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Everything was running smoothly during a September evening rush hour, when the control shaft connecting the safety winch leaphostetterleaphoist busted, sending Sinai plummeting down the incline. The worst injury was actually a Mrs. Hostetter (of the Lovejoy Apartments at Third and Grand) who, had she not elected to leap from Sinai, wouldn’t have broken her collarbone. All other injuries were comparatively minor.
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Subsequent death and (near) dismemberment wasn’t the Flight’s fault—in 1937 Jack Claus, 54 year-old salesman, decided to take a midday siesta on the tracks.

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When a car traveling down the incline suddenly stopped, the operator had to amble down, reverse the motors, and find Sleepy Claus. Claus had been dragged fifteen feet, his clothing torn from his body, but luckily no limbs; he survived with a crushed chest. Less fortunate was the sailor who in 1943 decided to walk up the tracks:
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There’s no such repeat incident in the remaining twenty-six years of our hero’s tenure. Dismantled in 1969, reinstalled in ’96, she returns to kill after a scant five years. Why? The Germans, who have a word for everything, have a word for what happened here. Schlimbesserung. Which roughly translates to “the farther ahead we go, the further behind we fall.” It was just this sort of “worse bettering” that has put Angels Flight out of service. In the seventy years Angels Flight did its thing, 1913 notwithstanding, all was fine: it was a funicular like any other, and you don’t improve upon perfection—counterbalance, a cable, a safety cable. It’s not rocket science. But then: as is always the case with people, who feel like they have to do something when they have a job, and therefore complicate matters (if this wasn’t a case of trying to "save money," then it’s got to be nepotism), some City someone crashhired an entity absurdly ill-suited to the task of restoring Angels Flight: Lift Engineering. Lift Engineering built ski lifts. Ski lifts that killed people. This character Kunczynski worked on Angels Flight, added a whole system of independent cables with brake drums interlaced with various gears, which stripped and made the drums useless, and guess what folks, if we’d retained our Edwardian technology, we’d have a surviving survivor (Leon Praport, RIP, survived a Polish death camp, only to be taken out by another piece of ultra-modern cleverness). Kunczynski has fled to Mexico with a briefcase full of your tax dollars.

When will she return? It’s instructive to recall the 27 years she was gone after having been promised a speedy boomerang.

In 1962 taxpayers gave the CRA $35,000 ($240,000 USD2007) to “buy” Angels Flight, so that the CRA could, according to its chairman William T. Sesnon Jr., relocate the railway in Griffith Park or the Hollywood Bowl.

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CRA officials change the plan slightly when they announce in September 1968 that Angels Flight would have to come down—temporarily—to be stored for two years, and then replaced at the same site (shortened, of course, given as they were grading thirty some-odd feet from the Hill). By the time of the CRA’s brief civic ceremony “dismantling event” held in May 16, 1969, they’d already realized the railway would have to be stored until the Hill was completely developed. Surely that wouldn’t take so long.

clatterclatterCertainly many breathed a sigh of relief. Gone was that clattering anachronism, garbed in the orange and black of an Edwardian Hallowe’en, which could no longer connect the downmarket quaffers of cheap chop suey with the newly ensconced deadbolted seniors and senior bankers and the like.
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But still, a promise was a promise, and in a scant twenty-seven years, the CRA did in fact make good on its promise. With the needling of one John Welborne, and the Conservancy, and some other interested parties.
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Waiting for their return, once more:

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Many long for the return of the cars and restoration of the Flight, and demand that the City get involved—again. Granted, that Angels Flight is privately run (Welborne’s Angels Flight Railway Foundation) can mean problems, as anyone who’s ever passed a hat can tell you. Fears of an MTA takeover appear to have been unwarranted, however, and apparently, the long road toward repair may be at an end. People can take all the potshots they want at Mr. Welborne, or execrate the heavens for the very existence of delays in general, but if it takes another ten years, the fact that we’d have Angels Flight in Los Angeles at all would be nothing less than a miracle.

Photo credits:  from top, author’s collection; courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; author’s collection; courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; author’s collection; (grouping of three) William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; author’s collection; all newspaper images from Los Angeles Times

5 thoughts on “Angels Flight”

  1. Angels Flight Railway Cars Return

    Crane Lifts Sinai and Olivet Over Arch Onto Track

     
     

    by Jon Regardie

    DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES

    — On Saturday, Nov. 1, the two cars that long ran on Angels Flight
    were returned to the track that connects Bunker Hill and the Historic
    Core. The cars, named Olivet and Sinai, were brought to Hill Street
    Saturday morning and were lifted by a 275-ton crane over the arch at
    the bottom of the funicular and placed on the track.

    It is a significant step forward for the railway, which has been
    closed since a deadly accident in 2001. Last year, new drive machinery
    was installed, and late last week, a cable for the drive was being
    tested. No date has been set yet for when the railway could resume
    operations.

    “While there still are many weeks of fine-tuning and testing yet
    to be undertaken, we are hopeful that Angels Flight will reopen to the
    public late this year or early in 2009,” said Dennis Luna, chairman of
    the Angels Flight Railway Foundation.

    John Welborne, president of the Foundation, has spent significant
    time in recent years raising money for a renovation of the railway and
    the new drive system.

    http://www.downtownnews.com

  2. THE QUIET old folks who live near the upper level of Angels Flight at 3rd and
    Olive are not easy to surprise but they got a good one yesterday.

    A bunch of maniacs showed up at noon and stood on the launching platform
    and sipped champagne, munched barbecued ribs and rode up and down on
    one of the two cars, commandeered for the lunch hour.

    Not only that, photographers kept shooting pictures of some joker named Jim
    Hawthorne as he stood on the west end of the ascending and descending
    car like a touring politician. For the occasion a sign had been placed
    on it, "Save Angels Flight." What had the natives nudging each other
    was the tuxedo Hawthorne was wearing. This is strictly sport-shirt
    territory.

    It seems, Hawthorne, who has a show on KTTV, had some
    time to spare yesterday and decided to save Angels Flight whether it
    needed saving or not. No one is certain. The owners, L. B. Moreland and
    his wife, who were present, attended the recent hearings on the
    proposed redevelopment project and there was no mention of the
    one-block railway’s future. Neither was it included in the bright new
    plans for the hill after it is leveled and the architects start fresh.

    Odd thing about yesterday’s proceedings was that hardly any of the
    gentlemen busily saving Angels Flight had ever ridden on it before.

    Matt Weinstock, May 12, 1959

    …from Larry Harnisch’s Daily Mirror blog

  3. Bring back our Angels Flight……Born & raised LA. Dad worked in & loved the city & brought us to Cliftons & GCM as kids & as adults. Learned about homelessness with our eyes. Shopped downtown, May Company basements & @ tea room. Took public transportation to high school, work, shop & DNTN. Rode Angeles Flight @ old & new locations. Took the train East as a child & adult. From West Hollywood (county then, city now) did as much the same for the child as dad did for me. The story has repeated itself. Child is getting married & works @ GCM. 3/2016 MPV

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