Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 7, 2010

Vintage Vertical Public Transport

We continue our walk across part of downtown Los Angeles, today leaving 3rd and Broadway and heading west. To see the previous three posts, click back at the bottom of this entry, or scroll down, depending on how your browser displays this blog. Or, to start at the beginning, CLICK HERE.

Note: Angels Flight ceased operation in 2013 due to safety concerns. As of January 2017 it is still not running. 

Although I completed more than 99% of my downtown Los Angeles adventure last week via the customary mix of personal automobile and foot power, I did travel on public transportation for a short distance. A very short distance.

If you read the previous entry in the current series about downtown L.A.,  you know that we left off at the corner of 3rd and Broadway, the Bradbury Building. CLICK HERE to see that post. Now, with less than 15 minutes before my meeting on Bunker Hill, I have to travel about four blocks due west, but, since going due west runs me into the steep side of the hill, I also have to swing south to the foot of the hill and then climb back up north a couple of hundred feet in elevation. I’ll never make it, you say? Ah, that’s the secret that I share with my fellow Angelenos of more than a hundred years ago! I have a rare public transportation option: Angel’s Flight.

In 1901, Bunker Hill was occupied by the homes of the city’s businesspeople and the well-to-do who occupied an extensive neighborhood of gracious Queen Anne-style frame houses. Those houses are gone, now, torn down long ago to clear the Hill for commercial development which, today, consists of 40- and 50-story commercial and condominium structures. You should note that a tiny enclave of Queen Anne architecture is preserved in Angeleno Heights west of downtown. There’s a tour that includes a look inside some truly remarkable houses which is a great addition to any visit to L.A. Click on that Angeleno Heights link to learn more.

Back at the turn of the 20th Century, to provide a connection up and down the steep grade between Bunker Hill residences and the downtown below, the city built Angel’s Flight in 1901 (click on photos to enlarge).

Although it’s no longer in exactly the same location as the original, Angel’s Flight has been reconstructed using the original cars. Any of you who are fans of railroads and rail travel will recognize this establishment as a funicular: two cars that run in opposing directions, counterweighting one another. Restored, they make the ride up Bunker Hill in a couple of minutes. I’ve ridden funiculars up to Corcovado in Rio De Janeiro, and up Mount Victoria in Hong Kong, and there are many examples in other parts of the world.

Today, most people who ride Angel’s Flight do so purely as a tourist novelty, but, for me, it saved me a walk up Grand Avenue wearing a suit and a tie on a 90-degree day.

As you can see, I had the car to myself. Like funicular and cog-driven trains everywhere, the car is built in stairsteps, so that there’s always level sitting and walking. This car, and its counterpart are the original cars from 1901, restored to their Victorian grandeur.

For the two minute ride the fare is, um, reasonable: 25 cents.

The ticket collector is at the top of the ride. If, as I did, you start at the bottom, you simply wait until a green light goes on, indicating that it’s safe to enter the car, go through a little turnstile, and take your seat. In less than a minute, the car heads up the hill, passes the downbound car halfway, and you exit at the top and give the person at the ticket window your quarter. Neat. Perfect.

CLICK HERE to read a little more about Angel’s Flight. Look it up if you’re in downtown L.A. It must lose a scad of money every year, and this is an operating piece of the past that may not come back if it fades away one more time.

Tomorrow I’ll wrap up this L.A. adventure, heading home through some of the sights we can catch as we drive south.

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017

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