Back on track: Angels Flight is up and running again on Bunker Hill

Rachel Parsons | Daily Trojan

After nearly four years, a prized piece of Angeleno nostalgia has come rattling back to life in downtown Los Angeles.

Angels Flight, the venerable old cable car funicular with vibrant orange cars, is running again from Hill Street to California Plaza at the north end of the city center.

The 116-year-old incline railway was originally designed to move people up steep Bunker Hill, home to a once-residential community that thrived at the turn of the 20th century. City urban renewal projects razed the area to make room for skyscrapers in the late 1960s.

It holds a special place in the hearts of passengers of all backgrounds, regardless of where each is from. For rider and native Angeleno Tony Petborisooth, the twin cable cars — named Olivet and Sinai — have been a fixture in the area his whole life.  

“I love it,” Petborisooth said. “It is just an iconic piece of Downtown and downtown history. I always have to come by and see it. Love to ride it.”

Los Angeles transplant and USC alumna Janna Smith, who works in the area, has the same sentiment.

“I went on it the last time they reopened it and I was really excited for it to open again,” Smith said. “I missed it.”

From its opening  in 1901, the railway has been through multiple cycles of use and disuse on Bunker Hill, resulting in a spotty safety record. Reports said it was dismantled entirely and stored from 1969 until the mid-1990s.

It was last decommissioned in 2013 when it derailed with one passenger aboard, according to the Los Angeles Times. That person was unhurt.

After a long campaign to raise the necessary funding, the railway went through a complete safety and cosmetic renovation and reopened in early September.

“It’s a lot smoother than the last time I rode it,” Petborisooth said. “I remember the last time I took my nephew, he’d never been and it was really shaky. I was like, I don’t know how long this is going to go.”

The time and work have paid off. On a recent Saturday morning, crowds gathered and lines formed for those waiting to ride. For tourists, it is a quirky novelty. For residents, it is a point of pride. The cars date back to 1905 and have been meticulously refurbished.

“It’s amazing to see how many people are passionate about seeing it up and running,” said Jessica Hurwitch, the vice president of finance at ACS Infrastructure Development, the company that operates Angels Flight. “It’s amazing. I love it. To have people tell me they rode it when [they were kids] — it’s great.”

The entire line originally sat next to the 3rd Street tunnel, at the north end of its current block. When it was dismantled in 1969, the cars, arch and station were put in storage until social and political will were sufficient to pull them out in the ’90s, according to the railway’s website.

A commemorative plaque at the upper station dated 1952 claims Angels Flight might just be the world’s shortest incorporated railway. It is possible to take the stairs that run beside it to the plaza, and one might get there faster. But that would miss the point.

Angels Flight is open every day, 365 days a year, from 6:45 a.m. until 10 p.m. One-way fare is $1. Stations are located at California Plaza, 350 South Grand Avenue and 351 South Hill Street.