California Cultural and Historical Endowment project: Angels Flight Railroad

Downtown Los Angeles has seen a tremendous rebirth since businesses fled for the airy, and cheaper, suburbs after World War II.  Today Los Angeles residents have planted roots in the historic district and at the end of this summer a singular Los Angeles landmark, the Angels Flight™ Railway, “the shortest railway in the world,” will reopen there.  The historic urban railway’s rehabilitation is possible, in part, thanks to a grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE).

 

A steep funicular, the long-popular Angels Flight™ once again will shuttle passengers between the city’s nineteen-twenties era lofts and condos at the bottom of Bunker Hill and a completely reincarnated destination spot at the top that includes the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Colburn School of the Performing Arts, and the nearby Los Angeles Central Library.

 

Angels Flight™ spared Bunker Hill bulldozers, Los Angelenos “cry” for preservation

Private owners ran Angels Flight™ from 1901 until 1962 when the city, branding all the Bunker Hill land as “urban blight,” bought the railway.  The city kept the funicular running until May 1969 when engineers dismantled and stored its two slanted cars, Olivet and Sinai.   Bunker Hill ’s Victorians and other turn of the century treasures weren’t so lucky: bulldozers already had flattened the rest of the neighborhood.

“There has always been a hue and cry from the public for Angels Flight™ to be preserved and remain in operation,” says Angels Flight™ Railway Foundation president and project manager John H. Welborne.   “Los Angelenos love this unique and charming Southern California icon.”  In January 2007, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wrote to the Foundation’s Chairman of the Board Dennis Luna that, “the distance the railway travels may be short, but its long suit is its charm, its authenticity, its historic connection, and the literal connection it makes for the downtown community…”

Welborne explains that, in 1995, concerned citizens formed the non-profit Foundation and, in 1996, reopened the railway, which provided more than 4 million passenger trips between 1996 and 2001.  A 2001 failure of the new drive equipment that had been manufactured and installed in 1995 destroyed that machine and damaged the two historic cars. Angels Flight™ has been closed since then. Beginning in 2004, the “Campaign for Angels Flight™” has focused on raising funds to restore the railway. Welborne reports that the current restoration includes new safety features, and “an entirely new drive and control system.” “We are expecting to reopen at the end of the summer,” he says.

Angels Flight™ restoration a 3-phase process

The CCHE awarded the Angels Flight™ Railway Foundation $996,350 from Round I to aid in the third, and final, phase of the railway’s restoration. The CCHE grant is matching $1.2 million in private funds that the non-profit Foundation has already raised. The total cost of the Angels Flight™ restoration is $2.2 million. 

Restoring Angels Flight™ has involved three phases. Phase I, repairing the badly-damaged cars, Olivet and Sinai, was completed several years ago. Phase II, restoring the exteriors of the Station House at the top and the Arch at the bottom of the hill, was largely completed at the beginning of this year. The third and final phase involves the manufacture and installation of an entirely new drive system for the funicular’s cable, plus state-of-the-art safety improvements.   The new Angels Flight™ contains 60% original material from its first life, which includes the railcars, the Station House, the Arch on Hill Street , and the (now unused) gear mechanism from the 1920s. 

For more information about the Angels Flight™ Railway, please contact John H. Welborne, President, at (323) 935-1914 or email at john@welborne.net.

For more information about the California Cultural and Historic Endowment, please contact Executive Officer Diane Matsuda at (916) 651-8768 or email at dmatsuda@library.ca.gov.

 

  

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