Built in 1901 as the Los Angeles Incline Railway, running northwest from the west corner of Third and Hill Streets, Angels Flight consisted of two carriages pulled up a steep incline by metal cables powered by engines at the top of the hill. As one car ascended, the other descended, carried down by gravity. The two cars were named Sinai and Olivet.
The first Angels Flight was a conventional funicular, with both cars connected to the same haulage cable. Unlike most more modern funiculars it did not have track brakes for use in the event of a cable breaking, but it did have a separate safety cable which would come into play in case of breakage of the main cable. It operated for 68 years with a good safety record.
The railway was closed in 1969 when the Bunker Hill area underwent a total redevelopment which transformed it from a declining community of mostly transients and working-class families renting rooms in run-down buildings to a modern mixed-use district of high-rise commercial buildings and modern apartment complexes. All the components of Angels Flight were placed in storage in anticipation of the railway's restoration and reopening.
After 27 years in storage, the funicular was rebuilt and reopened in 1996 a half block south of the original site. Although the original cars were used, a brand new track and haulage system was designed and built, a redesign which had unfortunate consequences five years later. As rebuilt, the funicular was 91 meters (298 feet) long on an approximately 33-percent grade. Car movement was controlled by an operator inside the upper station house, who was responsible for: visually determining that the track and vehicles were clear for movement, closing the platform gates, starting the cars moving, monitoring the operation of the funicular cars, observing car stops at both stations, and collecting fares from passengers. The cars themselves did not carry any staff members.
Angels Flight was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 13, 2000.
On February 1, 2001, Angels Flight suffered a serious accident that killed passenger Leon Praport, 83, and injured seven others, including Praport's wife, Lola. The accident occurred when car Sinai, approaching the upper station, reversed direction and accelerated downhill in an uncontrolled fashion to strike Olivet near the lower terminus.
Several reopening dates have been announced, but none have come to pass. In early 2008, the railway president indicated that the railway would open soon. The Automobile Club of Southern California reported that Angels Flight would open in late 2008.
On November 1, 2008 both of the repaired and restored Angels Flight cars were put back on their tracks and, on 16 January 2009, testing began on the railway;however Angels Flight has not yet reopened to the public.
The decorative Beaux-Arts archway entrance and station house were added around 1910. The original archway was a simple cast iron pipe structure with a two-feet-high cherub and the name Angel's Flight (with an apostrophe) above it.
The correct name for the railway is Angels Flight, which is grammatically incorrect as there is no possessive apostrophe before or after the 's'. The film of the same name, however, does include an apostrophe.
The initials that appear on the archway, 'BPOE', stand for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, who once had a lodge in a large building adjacent to the top of the original flight.
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