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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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