Angels Flight Is Back

Angels Flight Reopens
... and You Are There

Note: Did you miss the opening-day celebration of L.A.'s Angels Flight? No problem. You can come along with me and my family on our pilgrimage to the little funicular. I've also provided some hypertext links that might help. So come on!

Step aboard. You hold e-ticket number
The virtual ticket booth opened on March 26, 1996.

by Mike Eberts

The sky was clear, the sun was warm and traffic was unusually light. Los Angeles was on its best behavior, and for good reason: Olivet and Sinai were back home.

Saturday, Feb. 24, 1996 was a special day in the city. Angels Flight, the quaint two-car funicular once touted as "The Shortest Railway in the World," reopened a half block south of its original site after being gone for almost 27 years.

Rail fans brought video cameras to chronicle the milestone. Local dignitaries of all types milled about. But more than a rail or civic event, it was a family event. Adults brought their parents, and parents of small children tried to explain the significance of the occasion. My wife, Maria, and I prepared our not-quite-three-year-old son Albert by telling him about the old train that goes up and down a hill in the city he and his parents were born in.

Deciding to make it an urban rail day, we drove from our Los Feliz District home to MacArthur Park, where we boarded the MTA's Red Line for the short subway trip to Pershing Square. The MTA stations are big and modern, as is the train itself. Trains run every 10 minutes during the day. The fare is a quarter each way.

Hill Street was closed off for a couple of blocks surrounding the Flight. A street fair was in full swing in front of another of Downtown's gritty survivors, the Grand Central Market.

One of the day's few discouraging moments came when I discovered that the wait to ride the Flight up the hill was about an hour-and-a- half long.

We decided to see if it was less crowded at the top. Up the steps we went. I counted 152 of 'em; someone else counted 156. Whatever the number, Albert's little legs made the climb.

We found a different Los Angeles up top. Here, facing Olive Street, were the glass skyscrapers and high culture of the new Downtown. The Nigerian Talking Drum Ensemble was performing at a graceful amphitheatre called the Watercourt Stage. The line waiting to ride down was maybe a half-hour long. I bought three commemorative round-trip tickets for 50 cents apiece.

This would not be my first trip on Angels Flight. Around 1966, my dad made a point of bringing my mom, my brother and I to Third and Hill to ride the little train with windows that slanted at a funny angle.

It won't be around much longer, he told me; it was important that we ride and remember it.

It was night. I remember that ride as dark, cold and short. The car seemed old and worn out. I don't remember any passengers besides us.

But today is different. This is a historic day, I told myself as the line lurched forward. I fussed with my point-'n-shoot camera. After all, I was shooting for posterity.

We boarded Olivet. Outside, she was painted orange, with black trim and a white top. Inside, she was made of dark, well-varnished wood and painted iron railings that looked like plumbing. There were small ads above the windows. Passengers, 32 of us, sat facing the aisle.

Olivet, I asked silently, was it you I rode that cold night 30 years ago?

We began moving. The ride was smooth. If Olivet creaked, I didn't hear it.

Olivet and Sinai were built for the steep incline; they provide views almost like a slowly-moving grandstand. I peered downhill over the heads in front of me and saw the arch that I've seen on so many old postcards grow larger.

About halfway down, Olivet and Sinai did a little dance step. Olivet veered right onto a little loop of track while Sinai passed in the other direction. They brushed by with an inch or two to spare, close enough to get a ooh! reaction from the paying customers.

We were down in 1:02. Physically, we had travelled 278 feet. But we had also taken a trip from the city's past, rolled right through the present and ridden clear into its future.

Other Links to Look at

The USC Architecture and Fine Arts Slide Collection has a fine black and white image of Angels Flight in 1906. The slide is part of its Document L.A. Project. This page will take a little while to load, but it's worth it. You get 100 thumbnail historic photos that serve as buttons that take you to larger photos.

In addition, I am writing a history of Griffith Park. Please drop by my Griffith Park History Page.

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Los Angeles is a city with a past ...
and a future.