Public Places : A Heavenly Railway Links Two Sides of L.A.


After an absence of 27 years, “Olivet” and “Sinai” once again will carry passengers up Bunker Hill on the Angels Flight inclined railway, which reopens late next month.

Constructed in 1901, the funicular is counterbalanced so that as one car rises, the other descends. It carried tourists and residents up and down from Los Angeles’ business district until it was closed by the city in 1969.

At the bottom of the hill, Angels Flight Plaza is nearing completion. The plaza will connect the Red Line subway to Angels Flight and a new stairway that will climb the hill beside the funicular. Across Hill Street, an outdoor dining court is planned next to Grand Central Market. The projects are part of Angels Walk, an ambitious plan to make downtown more pedestrian friendly.


JOHN H. WELBORNE, president of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation, spoke with Public Places columnist JANE SPILLER.

Question: Did you ever ride on the original Angels Flight?

Answer: As a child, I came down with my parents to take rides. My memories are prejudiced by Ed Penney’s film where you can hear the bell and horn and you get the feeling of it creeping up the hill.

I have sat in the cars as they have been restored and it’s an extraordinary feeling of deja vu. It is like an old friend, very much somebody coming back into your life. I think that will be the experience of thousands of people.

Q: What’s the history of Angels Flight and Bunker Hill?

A: When the Indians were here, Bunker Hill was just a hill. Later, presumably it had a bunker, as Ft. Moore was at the top of the hill. When my grandmother lived here from 1895 to 1900, Ft. Moore had become Los Angeles High School.

By the time Col. J.W. Eddy got a franchise and put in Angels Flight, Bunker Hill was a residential district of Victorian frame houses. People would ride to shops down below on Spring Street and Broadway and Los Angeles Street. Then there was a western migration and expansion of the city and a lot of those houses became rooming houses. By the late 1940s and early ‘50s, Bunker Hill was regarded as a slum area. Under the California Redevelopment Act, the area became an urban renewal project and everything was demolished. The plan was to put Angels Flight back later as part of the California Plaza third phase. But that fell apart with the collapse of the real estate market, so a lot of us pushed to get the Community Redevelopment Agency to do it independently. The city is turning Angels Flight back over to the private sector through the Angels Flight Railway Foundation, which will run it in the public interest. The fare’s only going to be a quarter. It was nickel up to 1969.

Q: What are your goals for Angels Flight?

A: It has long been felt that Bunker Hill was a barrier; the people at the top were the corporate banker types and the people at the bottom generally were Latinos enjoying the street life on Broadway. Angels Flight is an invitation for one group to come up the hill and enjoy the free concerts at the Watercourt and for the other to go down and enjoy the historic core. For the grand opening festival Feb. 24-25, we’re closing Hill Street between Third and Fourth. You can walk through the Grand Central Market, by carnival rides and food booths on Hill Street and go up the new stairway or take Angels Flight up to the Watercourt, where there’ll be bands playing, and wander over to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Angels Flight is central to everybody, it’s a place to come together.