A Guide to the Restoration and Reconstruction of Angels Flight: The Historic Inclined Railway in Downtown Los Angeles

Text from the brochure, [n.d., probably 1990s]:
A Promise Made

Angels Flight has been one of Los Angeles' most enduring landmarks. (It is City of Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument No. 4, one of the original six such monument so designated.) First installed in 1901, the Angels Flight inclined railway provided reliable transportation to tens of millions of passengers at its Bunker Hill location in downtown Los Angeles for nearly seven decades. Billed as the "shortest railway in the world," Angels Flight shuttled its patrons up and down a steep incline of 315 feet, between the lower station at 3rd and Hill Streets, in the heart of downtown, and the Olive Street station, near the summit of Bunker Hill. For 68 years, Angelenos regularly ascended and descended the hill in either Olivet or Sinar, the twin cars that constituted Angels Flight's rolling stock.

The little funicular remained a familiar and dependable landmark throughout the decades of Los Angeles' transportation from small boom town to sprawling metropolis. During this period of vast expansion, Olivet and Sinar continued to negotiate the slope of Bunker Hill, indifferent to the changes in the neighborhoods surrounding the FlightÕs upper and lower stations. By the late 1950s, however, civic leaders were decrying the Bunker Hill area as blighted and a problem. The solution adopted was for the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to undertake an urban renewal project to create a commercial-residential centerpiece for a "new downtown" atop Bunker Hill.

The make way for the redevelopment, Angels Flight was dismantled in 1969. Considerable controversy had erupted in anticipation of the removal of the landmark. Therefore, realizing the importance of the funicular in the history of Los Angeles, the City Council first mandated that Angels Flight would be restored, preserved and maintained as part of the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project.

A Promise Kept

With the successful redevelopment of Bunker Hill now assured, the plans for the re-installation of Angels Flight have begun. As in earlier years, the funicular will provide the much-needed link between the top of Bunker Hill and the area now described as downtown's Historic Core. Following completion of the reconstruction, Olivet and Sinar will once again be serving Angelenos by offering them easy passage between the now-modern edifices of Bunker Hill and the adaptively-reused buildings that comprise the Historic Core.

The Restoration and Reconstruction of Angels Flight

The restoration of Angels Flight will be completed in several phases and includes work to be done both on and off the site.

The on-site restoration work is being conducted in full view of the public at the "Angels Flight Restoration Workshop." The Workshop is located on Hill Street at the eastern foot of Bunker Hill, just north of 4th Street, adjoining the site where the working funicular will be re-installed. The on-site work will involve both the station house, which was located at the upper Oliver Street arch, which was located at the foot of Bunker Hill, on Hill Street.

The restoration of the twin cars, Olivet and Sinar, will be done off-site. One question yet to be resolved by the restoration team is whether or not the original cars will be reused or replicated. If new cars are constructed, the original cars will be restored for display purposes.

The remaining elements of the little inclined railway, such as the supporting trestles, tracks and mechanical equipment, will be built from scratch during the reconstruction phase of the project. (Few of these pieces were preserved when the funicular was dismantled in 1969.)

The actual restoration and reconstruction duties are being undertaken by historic preservation and engineering professionals whose work is overseen by a team representing the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Conservancy. The efforts of this team are, in turn, guided by a broad-based coordinating committee of government officials and private citizens.

Once the cars, station house and Hill Street arch are completely restored, the next challenge will be to combine them into a working inclined railway. Angels Flight will be an integral part of the exciting, mixed-used California Plaza complex that includes office and residential buildings, a hotel and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Angels Flight will be re-built in a location only a half-block south of its historic location. The lower station at the foot of Bunker Hill will be near the 4th and Hill Street entrance to the Metro Rail Red Line. From there, Angels Flight will run up the hill, adjacent to the third office tower of California Plaza. The relationship of cars, riders and buildings will be similar to that which existed during Angels Flight's heyday.

At the Flight's upper station, passengers will board and disembark in the heart of California Plaza at the "Watercourt" retail and performance space scheduled to open in the summer of 1992. Also planned for this location is a small interpretive museum that will tell the story of Angels Flight and its relationship to the history of Los Angeles.

To coordinate with the construction scheduled for California Plaza's third office tower, the reconstruction of the Angels Flight trestle and tracks may occur twice. The first installation would be temporary, to be removed during the construction of the third office tower on the mid-to-late 1990s. The permanent installation, which will be on top of the third towerÕs foundation structure, will be completed along with that tower and its adjacent plaza.

The History of Angels Flight

Bunker Hill was considered one of Los Angeles' most desirable residential neighborhoods by the time that Colonel J.W. Eddy conceived the idea of Angels Flight in early 1901. The town's commercial district lay to the east, just below the hill. Extravagant Queen Anne and Eastlake mansions, built for prominent Angelenos such as the Crockers and Bradburys, crowned the hill. The mansions were followed by elaborate hotels and apartment buildings as the popularity of the hill grew. The only problem was access-the hill was steep and the walk up formidable.

As a professional engineer with railroad experience, Colonel Eddy recognized the remarkable potential of the situation. In 1901, he decided to take the risk of personally financing and building a funicular railway to provide easy access up and down the hill. On May 10th, the petitioned the Los Angeles City Council for a franchise. Construction began on August 2, 1901, and was completed in just five months, Angels Flight opened on December 31, 1901. Over 2,000 passengers "made the flight" on the funicular's first day of operations.

The railway was an immediate success and it wasn't long before the residents of Bunker Hill began to regard it as an old friend. With its economic viability assured, Colonel Eddy improved the Flight in 190 by re-grading its roadbed to a uniform 33-degree angle. Three years latter, in 1908, he added the decorative Hill Street arch. Thus Angels Flight remained until 1969.

During its first 68 years of service, Angels Flight began operations each morning at 6:00 a.m.-making a round trip approximately every 6 minutesÐoperating until 20 minutes past midnight, when it closed for the day. The basic round trip fare was raised only once when, in the 'teens, the penny fare was increased to a nickel.

What Is A Funicular?

A funicular is a special kind of inclined railway. The traditional inclined railway is comprised of rolling stock (cars) with steel wheels that ride on a fixed guideway made up of steel rails laid out on an incline. Unlike steam or diesel driven conventional railroads, inclined systems are not powered by machinery in the cars themselves. Instead, the cars are attached to cables that pull the cars up the incline. The cables, in turn, are moved by team or electrically driven motors in a powerhouse.

What distinguishes a Funicular is that it has two cars that operate in tandem and that are connected to each other by the same cable. When one car goes up the incline, the other one comes down. The two cars counterbalance each other, minimizing the need for power. More precisely, the weight of the downward car works with gravity to neutralize the weigh of the up-moving (which is working against gravity). Therefore, the power required for operation is overcome friction.

Funicular was very popular in the late 1880s. Wherever there were hills with a constant supply of potential passengers, funiculars were in demand. In both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, several sets of inclines were constructed. Two of the funiculars in Pittsburgh are still operating today, as is one in Dubuque, Iowa. Funiculars use several different track configurations. The Angels Flight cars operate on a three-rail track, sharing the center rail at the upper and lower portions of the incline. At the center, the cars switch onto two sets of parallel tracks as they pass each other.

Back to: Bunker Hill ||| Historic Core of Los Angeles