Angels Flight: The story of Los Angeles’ incline railway

If you’ve ever stood outside of Grand Central Market on the Hill Street side, you may have noticed the “Angels Flight” entry way across the street.

It’s one of those things in Los Angeles that’s old and wonderful.

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The tiny incline railway was built in 1901, originally two blocks from its current location, as a way to carry passengers between Downtown’s Historic Core and the once fashionable Bunker Hill neighorhood.

Photo from the California Historical Society Collection, circa 1907.
Photo from the California Historical Society Collection, circa 1907.

At just 298 feet, the “world’s shortest incorporated railway” whisked prominent residents from their grand Victorian homes to jobs in downtown. By the 1950s, it had carried more than 100 million passengers, according to the LA Times, and was also featured in several films.

This home movie shows color footage of the original railway:

But the wealthy residents eventually moved to the burbs, and downtown fell on hard times. In 1969, the railway closed as the city bulldozed Bunker Hill’s run-down buildings to make way for modern skyscrapers.

Both of the Angels Flight cars, named Sinai and Olivet (lol), were put in storage for 27 years.

Fast forward to 1996 when the funicular reopened at its current location connecting Hill Street and California Plaza.

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In 2001, the Angels Flight had its worst accident when a car broke loose and sped backward before crashing into another rail car at the bottom of the hill, killing an 83-year-old tourist and injuring several others.

Federal investigators said that faulty mechanical and brake systems, combined with “weak oversight,” led to the crash.

The railway was closed for the next nine years and briefly reopened, only to be derailed for good in 2013 due to regulatory issues.

However, there’s been a growing effort to restore and reopen it. A petition was launched in July 2015 asking Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to cut the beaurocratic “red tape” and save the railway, which you can read about in depth here.

Supporters say the Angels Flight could once again serve as a tourist destination, as well as a convenient way for workers at the top of the hill to reach places like Grand Central Market for lunch ($$$).

In the meantime, if you stop for coffee at G&B—you’ll see Oliver and Sinai across the street, sitting idle and lonely on the tracks.

And now that you know all they’ve been through, don’t forget to stop and say hello.

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