A Short History of Angels Flight By Nathan Marsak

Angels Flight began as a spark from a now little-remembered trope called “Yankee Ingenuity.” Like so many Victorian-era transplants into Los Angeles, Col. James Ward Eddy (his military rank gained during time spent as bodyguard for Lincoln during the Civil War) saw a need and filled it: the folks atop Bunker Hill made a great trek into town down Third via a set of zigzag stairs, and it was Eddy, sixty-nine year-old restless widower and retired railway man, who in May of 1901 petitioned the City Council to build a funicular up Third, from Hill to Olive, out of his own pocket.

The “Los Angeles Electric Incline Railway”—a funicular whose biblically-named cars “Olivet” and “Sinai” were to forever be known as “Angels Flight”—made its inaugural trip on December 31, 1901. Mayor Meredith Snyder was the Flight’s first passenger on that 325-foot, 33%-grade one-minute trip. From there, Angels Flight was an enormous hit. It shuttled the Hill denizens, to be sure; but its role as a piece of Twentieth-Century technological utopianism was cemented immediately. Countless postcards were printed, purchased, and sent home. Tourists took the flight to the observation deck looming above. Col. Eddy sold the enterprise in 1912 and left a comfortable fortune to his family.

Angels Flight had some changes over the years—her “jog” at Clay Street was replaced in 1905 with an elevated track, at which point her cream-colored, open-air cars were swapped for enclosed ones (to be famously painted orange and black), for example. In 1910, noted architects Train & Williams were hired to construct its wonderful Beaux-Arts station house up on Olive and the Doric-columned arch on Hill Street.

She persevered without incident until 1969, when the City removed and stored her as part of the Bunker Hill redevelopment project. Twenty-seven years later, she was returned a half-block down the street. The City, however, decided that Edwardian technology, which had hurt no-one in the funicular’s operative sixty-eight years, required updating, and subsequently hired some ski-lift firm with a bad safety record to install a plethora of expensive modernities that subsequently killed a man and shut the Flight down. Mysteriously, it took nine years to reopen. It was then closed in 2011 and 2013 due to failures in its new technology.