Angels Flight®: The Story of an L.A. Icon

Angels Flight®: The Story of an L.A. Icon

Learn about the fascinating history of “The World’s Shortest Railway”

You can see it in more than a hundred movies, read about it in dozens of books and even do skateboard tricks on a video game version of it. And once again, you’ll be able to ride Angels Flight®.

After gathering dust for four years, the legendary, century-old funicular has been rehabbed and restored to its early 1900s glory. (It has also received a few 21st century safety upgrades.) The “world’s shortest railway” is back in action, and once again you can see its famed orange and black cars running up and down Bunker Hill.

Angels Flight Top Station at California Plaza
Angels Flight® Top Station at California Plaza | Instagram by @finalgravityus

1. What is Angels Flight®?
Technically, it’s a funicular – a short, cable railway built on an inclined surface, often a mountainside or cliff. Funiculars have two trams or passenger cars that counterbalance each other. The two cars of Angels Flight® are named Sinai and Olivet.

2. Where is it?
Built into a hillside in Downtown Los Angeles, it’s easy to miss this vintage gem. Angels Flight® only runs for one block (298 feet to be exact), but it’s a steep one. It links the Grand Central Market at the bottom to the Water Court shopping mall at the top, connecting Hill and Olive streets.

Angels Flight Lower Station, original location at 3rd & Hill (October 1960)
Angels Flight® Lower Station, original location at 3rd & Hill (October 1960) | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

3. How old is Angels Flight®?
The original Angels Flight® opened in 1901 — but at a different location half a block away. During its heyday, it was both a tourist attraction and a practical way for pedestrians to avoid one of Downtown L.A.’s steepest streets. Angels Flight® had several owners over the decades and eventually closed in 1969. Sinai and Olivet were warehoused for 27 years until 1996, when the railway was reopened.

Angels Flight® was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #4 in August 1962, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 2000.

4. What’s new?
Several new safety features have been installed. The control and communication systems used to operate the railway have been modernized. The trams now have higher plexiglass end-gates. And a stairway has been added to the hillside in case riders need to be evacuated.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone at Angels Flight in
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone at Angels Flight® in “La La Land” | Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

5. Didn’t I see Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling on Angels Flight®?
You did — and they weren’t supposed to. In the 2016 movie La La Land, they play lovers who share a ride and a kiss on one of its trams. Not only was it closed to the public at the time, it wasn’t supposed to be used for film shoots.

6. Wait, haven’t I seen it somewhere else?
Almost certainly. Angels Flight® has been in more than 100 movies, including the 1949 film noir Criss Cross, the 1963 cult trash horror classic The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies and the 2011 movie The Muppets, when Jason Segel sings the song “Man or Muppet.”

Angels Flight® has also been in tons of TV shows from “Perry Mason” to “The Biggest Loser.” Aren’t you glad you don’t have to walk up and down those stairs 20 times in a row? Angels Flight® will be in the upcoming season of the detective show “Bosch.”

Inside an Angels Flight car
Inside an Angels Flight® car | Instagram by @mayorofla

7. What does Angels Flight® look like now?
Pretty much the same as it did in the early 1900s, i.e. kind of like Halloween. Steve DeWitt, who oversaw the restoration for ACS Infrastructure, says the company took pains to restore the trams and the two stations to their original Beaux Arts splendor — including the orange and black paint on the cars. “It has never been our intent to make it look like a 21st century facility,” he says. “There are scratches and things that have been there for many years. We wanted to ensure it looked how it was supposed to look when it was well loved and used for many years. When the public steps on one of these cars, they’re stepping back 100 years literally.”

Angels Flight Lower Station on Hill Street
Angels Flight® Lower Station on Hill Street | Instagram by @60by80

8. How do I catch a ride?
Angels Flight® operating hours are 6:45 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year, including all holidays. A one-way ride costs $1. Flash your Metro TAP card and you’ll only pay 50 cents. Five-ride and 40-ride discount commuter books, good for one person only and valid for 30 days, will also be available. No reservations needed. Simply show up and hop aboard.

Angels Flight® – Top Station
California Plaza, 350 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles 90071

Angels Flight® – Lower Station
351 S. Hill St., Los Angeles 90013 (across from Grand Central Market)

Source: Discover Los Ángeles

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