LA’s popular Angels Flight about to reach for heavens again

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Los Angeles natives have countless childhood memories of taking rides along railway’s narrow-gauge track. Trips cost a penny when Angels Flight opened in 1901. It carried tens of millions of people from Bunker Hill’s stately Victorian mansions to downtown shopping areas.

Angels Flight, Los Angeles’ beloved little railroad, is about to start reaching for the heavens again. The funky little funicular that carried Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling to the top of downtown LA. in the movie La La Land is scheduled to reopen to the general public Thursday morning.

After a ceremonial first ride by the mayor, the transit system the city proudly calls the world’s shortest public railroad will resume doing what it first did on New Year’s Eve 1901, ferrying riders up and down the city’s stunningly steep Bunker Hill. A funicular, it operates by using the counterbalancing weights of its cars to pull one up while the other descends.

It was closed four years ago after a derailment left a handful of passengers perched precariously above a downtown street for hours. No one was hurt, but a subsequent investigation revealed numerous safety flaws and the state Public Utilities Commission shut the railway down. To the surprise of the public and the commission, which didn’t know the funicular would be used in La La Land, Stone and Gosling climbed aboard for a scene that depicted a romantic nighttime ride.

By the time the Oscar-nominated film was released last year, officials were considering plans to reopen Angels Flight. But the movie seemed to give them added incentive. While it was closed, the public had to use an adjacent steep, smelly, trash-strewn stairway. “La La Land was the last straw,” laughed local historian and preservation activist Richard Schave, “It was like, OK, we have to get a yes on this now.”

Schave and his wife, Kim Cooper, had launched a popular petition drive to reopen the railway after an ugly graffiti attack damaged its two antique rail cars in 2015. “I’m thrilled to see it back again,” said 71-year-old Los Angeles periodontist Gordon Pattison, who like countless other Los Angeles natives has countless childhood memories of taking a scenic ride along the 298-foot railway’s narrow-gauge track. “I think the first time I rode it was in my mother’s arms. In 1946,” said Pattison, who plans to ride it again on Thursday.

Round trips cost a penny when Angels Flight opened in 1901. For the next 68 years, it carried tens of millions of people from Bunker Hill’s stately Victorian mansions to popular downtown shopping areas. Round trip rides will cost $1 when service resumes, and those who use transit cards will pay just 50 cents.  The little railway was still a must-take ride for tourists and locals alike when it closed in 1969 for a decades-long redevelopment project that saw Bunker Hill’s mansions replaced by high-rise office buildings, hotels, luxury apartments and museums.

Four years after it reopened in 1996 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was closed again in 2001, however, after a failure of the counterbalancing system caused a crash that killed one rider and injured several others.  The railway finally reopened in 2010, only to be closed three years later after riders had to be rescued by firefighters.

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