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.
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.