This story is about a funicular.

But one picture grabbed my attention. Have you spotted it?

On the morning of December 31, 1901, a new train opened for business in downtown Los Angeles. There were crowds and many speeches about progress, and Mayor Meredith Snyder took one of the first rides. Wealthy women who lived in the Victorian mansions atop Bunker Hill served free punch to the passengers. The new railroad’s official name was the Los Angeles Incline Railway, but a nearby metal archway already contained the words, “Angels Flight,” so that’s what everyone called it. Passengers paid a penny for a one-way ride that lasted just 50 seconds. Advertised as “The Shortest Railway in the World,” Angels Flight’s track was only 315 feet long. It wasn’t a typical train, either, and didn’t have an engine car, boxcars, or a caboose—there were only two small, 32-passenger trams.

The cars were named Olivet and Sinai (for two mountains in the Bible). They traveled on an incline between Hill and Olive Streets that was so steep their floors and seats had to be built on different levels like stairs, to keep people from sliding off their benches. Painted white with black trim, Olivet and Sinai worked in tandem: one car carried passengers up from the corner of Third and Hill to Olive, while the other car was heading down.

Some people complained that the ceremonies in 1901 made too much fuss over a train that just traveled a couple of blocks. But Angels Flight went on to carry more passengers per mile than any other railway in the world. More than 100 million people traveled on its tracks in the first 50 years.

The man who brought Angels Flight to L.A. was Colonel James Ward Eddy, a Civil War hero and a friend of President Abraham Lincoln. Eddy lived in the downtown area with his teenage grandson—a kid who often complained it would be a lot easier to climb Bunker Hill if the city would put in a cable car.

The colonel was an entrepreneur, always looking for a new business. He knew that the wealthy families who lived in the expensive Bunker Hill neighborhood would be willing to pay to not to have to climb the dirt road between Hill and Olive. Eddy had practiced many professions, including railroad construction and engineering. He knew that a cable car would be impractical on the short, steep slope to Bunker Hill, but certain types of railways might work very well.

In May 1901, the city gave Eddy permission to build the railway if he also included steps for pedestrians. By the end of the year, Bunker Hill residents returning from downtown shopping sprees could either haul their packages up 123 concrete steps or zip up the hill on Olivet or Sinai. Needless to say, Angels Flight was a success.

To entice tourists up to Bunker Hill, Eddy also built a 100-foot tower behind the Olive Street railway terminal. He called it Angels Rest and advertised its viewing platform as “grand beyond compare overlooking city, sea, and mountains.” Eddy also put a camera obscura in the tower. This dark room worked like the inside of a camera, using a pinhole light to project the view of the street outside onto the room’s walls. (finish reading….)

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  1. redneckgeezer says:

    Gotta be the vegetarian cafeteria.

  2. antzinpantz says:


  3. Pat says:

    Stuck out like a sore thumb

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