November 18th, 2011

carole lombard 05
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The city of angels' fascinating funicular



Occasionally, we at "Carole & Co." like to examine facets of Los Angeles, where Carole Lombard called home for nearly three decades. As Jane Alice Peters (shown above around 1919 or so), she fell in love with the city, and by 1930, when she posed with a friend, she was quite familiar with it, traveling to various studios for work.

Today's entry is on a Los Angeles landmark that, like the city, has had its ups, downs and changes. And in this case, the "ups" and "downs" are literal ones. We are referring to Angels Flight, the beloved funicular that will celebrate its 110th anniversary on New Year's Eve. While I don't have concrete proof that Carole ever rode Angels Flight, one would guess that Elizabeth Peters probably took her daughter and two sons on the funicular at one time or another, either as a way to get to downtown, which stood at the bottom of the incline, or simply as a fun recreational trip.



That's Angels Flight on its opening day, Dec. 31, 1901; funding came from Col. J.W. Eddy, a one-time friend of Abraham Lincoln. It stood at the corner of 3rd and Hill streets, next to the 3rd Street tunnel. The incline traveled 315 feet, at a 33-degree angle, traversing two blocks to reach Olive Street at the top of Bunker Hill.

By 1910, a permanent portal was built at the bottom of the hill. The fare was still a penny; in 1914, it rose to five cents, which it remained for many years:



Note the observation tower at the top of the hill, which later was dismantled, and also note a building has been erected next to the portal. Bunker Hill was developing as a popular neighborhood.

But neighborhoods -- and perceptions of neighborhoods -- change, and so did Bunker Hill's after World War II. As Thom Andersen wrote in the narrative script for "Los Angeles Plays Itself" (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/334941.html),

"The movies loved Bunker Hill. The lords of the city hated it. Rents were low, so it put the wrong kind of people too close to downtown. Bunker Hill became a target for slum clearance or urban renewal. They had to destroy it in order to save it. And destroy it they did, although it took more than ten years.

"Bunker Hill was the most photographed district in Los Angeles, so the movies unwittingly documented its destruction and depopulation. In the late forties, it could represent a solid working-class neighborhood, a place where a guy could take his girl home to meet his mother. ...

"It was film noir territory, but it was a refuge from the meaner streets of the city."


And Angels Flight made for a superlative noir location; several such films, including "Criss Cross" with Burt Lancaster, used it. Here's Paul Henreid of "Casablanca" fame, playing a murderer on the run from mobsters, in 1948's "Hollow Triumph":



The following year, Van Heflin played a stalking victim who runs along Clay Street (which ran under Angels Flight) to escape in "Act Of Violence":



Anderson also commented in the film's script, "By the mid-fifties, it had become a neighborhood of rooming houses where a man who knows too much might hole up or hide out."

As was the case with Chavez Ravine not far away, Los Angeles officials waged war on Bunker Hill, and by 1959, fans of the funicular rallied on its behalf:



Some celebrities rode the funicular, including singer Peggy Lee in the 1960s, though I don't know if she lived nearby:



But the neighborhood was changing; buildings around Angels Flight disappeared one by one. The wrecker's ball had begun its work in November 1962...



...and for most of the '60s, much of the funicular was exposed...



Eventually, the developers achieved final victory, and in May 1969, the two cars, named Olivet and Sinai, chugged up and down for the final time, although there was a promise they would return after Bunker Hill was redeveloped:





The cars, portal and Olive Street station were placed in storage, and they did return...but it took 27 years and were now a half-block away, as Angels Flight now linked Hill Street to the California Plaza (and the Museum of Contemporary Art), and Olivet and Sinai now traveled a mere 298 feet. A new track and haulage system was built for the 1996 version, but it led to a fatal accident in 2001, and Angels Flight was shut down for more than nine years until winning approval to resume operations. (The original Angels Flight had only one fatality in its 68 years of operation, that of a sailor who tried to walk up the tracks in 1943.)




The fare is now 25 cents, though there's talk it may rise to cover expenses. It runs from 6:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. year-round, and you can learn more about this fascinating funicular at http://angelsflight.com and http://www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/23044083. Angels Flight can also be found on YouTube, even a few films of its old location.

Andersen called the reconstructed Angels Flight "a tourist ride, a simulation, because it had lost its original purpose. Bunker Hill, the residential neighborhood at the top of the Angels Flight, had vanished." And that's true; look at the area around the 3rd Street tunnel today:



But at least Angels Flight is still around -- and who knows, you might be sitting where Jane Alice Peters (or Carole Lombard) once sat.

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Some questions about Carole...

Hello! I was a member of this community under my old account, but I recently re-joined Livejournal, and I need some help from my fellow Carole fans. Over the summer, I decided to put my film history degree to good use and write a book about Carole. I started research in June, and although I've made a good deal of progress, I still have a few questions that I haven't quite been able to get a handle on.

- First (and perhaps most importantly), does anyone know if there's an easily-accesible print of I Take This Woman floating around out there? I've read that the existing print is tied up in a lot of red tape, so I'm not holding out too much hope, but I thought I'd ask!

- While we're on the subject of Gary Cooper, can anyone shed some light on his relationship with Carole? I've read scraps of information from various sources that say the two were romantically involved, but I'm having trouble corroborating it with anything truly substantial. 

- One last question about Carole's romances: Can someone give me a balanced account of Carole's affair with Russ Columbo? He is proving to be the bane of my research thus far, and I've actually asked for help re: Lombard and Columbo under my old username. It continues to baffle me - it's the ultimate roadblock of my research! The problem is that people seem to write him off as either a trifling affair or The Only Man She Ever Loved, and I'm caught between the two extremes. Based on everything I've come across, it seems that she loved Columbo, albeit somewhat maternally, and was truly grief-stricken when he died. But I've also read that she never SERIOUSLY considered marrying him, and since I certainly don't want to overstate (or downplay) the importance of the Lombard-Columbo relationship, I'd appreciate a nice, unbiased account.

The best account I've found thus far is in Adela Rogers St. Johns's gorgeous piece about Carole that was written after her death, in which she states that "it was always plain that Russ loved Carole much more than she did him. That she knew of some dark shadow that hung over young Columbo...there can be no doubt. Perhaps it was the reason she was so tender with him, gave in to his wish never to be separated from her." That seems to allign with everything I've read about that relationship, but as of right now, it's (unfortunately) the only source I feel comfortable giving any significant weight to. 

And finally...


- Can anyone give me a bit more information about Carole's (supposed) miscarriage when she was trying to have a baby with Gable? All I've been able to make out is that MAYBE they were able to conceive; apparently she was elated and wanted to surprise him on their first anniversary, but then she miscarried due to too much physical exertion. Can anyone throw some more light on that?
Thanks in advance for any additional information you might be able to offer. This community is a godsend, truly!