Angels Flight

Dace Taube

Regional History Collection, University of Southern California

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Angels, besides the one sitting on your shoulder, seem to be everywhere, as subjects of books and documentaries, and themes of calendars and greeting cards. It is appropriate during this renaissance of seraphs that this city's own angel has taken to wing again.

Angels Flight, the "Shortest Railway in the World," opened in 1901 and quickly became a city landmark. Col. James Ward Eddy was the visionary who convinced City Hall to grant him a 30-year franchise to construct and operate an inclined railway. The funicular system of two counterbalanced cars moving up and down parallel tracks was an efficient means of transporting passengers along the steep grade between Third and Hill Streets and fashionable Bunker Hill. The ride lasted one minute and cost one cent.

Over the years operations were transferred to other powers, tracks were relaid, and the station house redesigned. However, the single-trip fare rose only once, in 1914, to five cents. In 1959 Angels Flight was destined for demolition as part of the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project but loyal riders and enthusiastic supporters thwarted those plans, at least temporarily. During the next ten years the community of Bunker Hill changed dramatically as apartment houses were razed and residents dislocated by the redevelopment project. Ever decreasing numbers of commuters and tourists and lack of funding contributed to the inevitable. Even the designation of Historical Cultural Landmark could not save The Angel and she was dismantled in 1969.

Twenty years later, the Community Redevelopment Agency approved final plans for the California Plaza, which incorporated a restored Angels Flight. Although it took another six years and a good supply of bureaucratic activity, restoration and reconstruction started in 1995 and on February 24, 1996 Angels Flight was re-dedicated, now half a block from its original site.

Those who were out of town or asleep in late February may have missed the coverage of the re-dedication ceremonies and the numerous articles which appeared in local publications, accompanied by then and now photographs. To remedy this oversight historic photographs of Angels Flight are hereby presented for your visual pleasure. To fully experience the charms of the city's favorite angel you may visit her daily from 6 AM to 10 PM, at Fourth and Hill Streets. The one-way fare is 25 cents.

To read more about Angels Flight look for Angels Flight by Walt Wheelock in Special Collections HE 4491 L75 W45.

(Editor's Note. The following photos span the six decades during which Angels Flight's first incarnation operated. They are arranged in chronological order, and a large version of each picture may be accessed by clicking on the small picture. There are many interesting details, such as modes of transportation, clothing styles and architectural changes. We have noted a few in the captions.)



This is what the area looked like at about 1898 before construction. Compare the pictures as we go along, and watch the changes. This was largely residential at the turn of the century. Note the "rush hour" traffic.




Here is our first picture of the new Angeles Flight. At the base, only a rudimentary arch with the name, at the top a simple waiting area. Note the lack of vehicular traffic, the single one-horse wagon constitutes traffic. I guess the trash pickup hadn't arrived.


This picture is not dated, but various structures point to it's being dated before 1910. The victorian house is now gone, replaced by a square brick building. Note the dress on the woman at the right side of the photo.



Here we are in 1910, in what is now a bustling downtown. For those who thought that vegetarianism was a relatively late invention, we offer the Vegetarian Cafeteria. One wonders what culinary delights would be found therein... There are still horses towing wagons, dresses with bustles, and parasols visible in the picture. And Angels Flight now has a formal portal, along with some credit to the B.P.O.E.



This picture is a larger scan of the center part of the previous picture, showing greater detail of the portal, plus the pedestrians. Note also the more formal waiting area at the top of the Flight, echoing the style of the portal at the base.



This picture, taken around 1927, is apparently a direct positive from a negative, and is shown full-size. While somewhat out of focus, it shows much more activity around Angels Flight, lots of old cars and a trolley. The Marsden Drug Company has a new neon sign, and the building is now called the Ferguson Building.



Here we are in 1939. Quite an ostentatious portal for a nickel ride, wasn't it. Note that the B.P.O.E. logo has been erased or covered up. And check out the new traffic signals. The sign to the right of the tunnel says "No Unnecessary Noise." I wonder how they determined which noises were unnecessary.



Here is another larger scan -- with a good picture of one of the cars.



Here is a picture of a group of commuters waiting for a ride, in 1953. Wouldn't you like to have that "woodie" Ford wagon? Over to the left, parking is $.95. Across the street, only partially visible, the Undertakers...



As the '50s ended, a group dedicated to saving the shortest railway in the world had what looks like the shortest party in the world. I guess safety concerns like drinking and riding weren't so important. I wonder if anyone ever fell under a car...



Kept alive just a little while longer, here are the final pictures of Angels Flight as it was. The traffic signal has moved to the other side of the intersection, now augmented by a policeman. The Ferguson Building is now unnamed, and the young man near the portal is stylishly dressed in jeans with the legs folded up and a James Dean collar arrangement...



Finally, a view from the car looking up the slope. This was taken in 1960, not long before Angels Flight closed and the system was dismantled.

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