L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks: Angels Flight

This past March, hot on the heels of Downtown’s years of resurgence and months of teasing, we welcomed back the “World’s Shortest Railway” – Angels Flight. What sat for nine years as a sadly locked-off, abandoned wonder that I yearned to experience (or at least climb onto like a kid whose city is her entire playground) on the north side of Angels Knoll park was finally real.

Angels Flight, archived image

Now I can really feel it – I feel the wooden seats that remind me of historic streetcars other cities have been spoiled to have. I poke at the hanging light bulbs I probably shouldn’t be touching. I feel the car rattling up the steep incline, and the California sun beating on my shoulders through the open windows. I drop a quarter into the old-fashioned fare box, save a souvenir ticket for my collage, and run my fingers along the woodwork outside the little building housing the operator, overlooking California Plaza.

I make sure to ride on each car – both Olivet and Sinai, whom I’ve come to know as individuals via their ridiculous Twitter Account.

The railway may have moved a bit from its original location 100 years ago, but it acts like a little time machine. Moreso than the new downtown skyscraper on the site of what once was, or a snazzy, remodeled loft inside an historic piece of architecture, the simple ride makes me feel as if I’m inside those black-and-white photos of Angels Flight I downloaded from library archives, and transports me to the Bunker Hill of yesteryear – when one might take the funicular to get back to work up the steep hill after a lunch date. I think of how I need to get around to taking this ride at sunset, who I need to bring along with me next time, and out-of-towners I should take here on their next visit. It connects us to the rich history of Downtown L.A., the kind you don’t get anywhere much further away from the river on which this city was founded.

And just like that, after a few brief moments, the ride is over. But it’s only a quarter, so why not take it back down the hill again?

Check out the rest of the L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks series here.

4 Replies to “L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks: Angels Flight”

  1. A long time ago I lived in a small town in the northern Sierras and was a member of a high school academic club that had two annual conventions, one in Sacramento (where we were allowed to use the Assembly chambers) and one someplace in Southern California.
    The year I went we came to Los Angeles, stayed at the Biltmore and when (bravely!–small town–never even ridden in an elevator!) I went exploring with others we found Angels Flight. Of course I had to ride it. This was before Bunker HIll was destroyed and the area was seedy, but riding the cars was the strongest memory of that trip.
    I think they’re so iconic because other things refer to them—real history or fiction—while they are what they are, even if they had to be restored, we haven’t really changed them.
    I’ll have to go take a ride and revisit my past and pay homage to Olivet & Sinai.

    Thanks for making them one of the greatest landmarks.

  2. My Other Half took a week off work this week, so I took her to visit Angel’s Flight and the Water Court and the Well Fargo History Museum across the street in the Wells Fargo tower.

    The Wells Fargo Museum was fascinating, with its in-depth documentation of the grueling 23-day near-nonstop trip from St. Louis to LA. Any time flying out of LAX starts to get to you, come visit this museum and remind yourself how easy you’ve got it. :-)

    (Also, on a whim, we took the Red Line over to Union Station, then rode the Metrolink up to Newhall and back just to say we’d been through the historic San Fernando Tunnel. And then took the Gold Line over to Mariachi Plaza and back, then back to Pershing Square on the Red Line. Quite a day, all around.)

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