It’s known as the “World’s Shortest Railway,” and it’s reopening to the public Thursday in Los Angeles. The train, known as Angels Flight, has carried people on and off for much of the past 116 years, traveling about 300 feet on a 33 percent grade in the heart of downtown L.A.
But on many occasions throughout its long history, it almost disappeared for good.
In 1901, the Angels Flight Railway began what would be over 100 million trips up and down L.A.’s Bunker Hill. It was short, but the commute was practical, reports “CBS Sunday Morning’s” Lee Cowan.
Gordon Pattison remembers his first ride as a child in 1946. For him, the twin cars – named Olivet and Sinai – are every bit as iconic as the Hollywood sign itself. He says the ring of the cable over the rollers is “absolutely the same.”
The little railway became a piece of pop culture, making frequent cameos on screen. Perry Mason boarded Angels Flight for a trip to the courthouse far below. It was an extra behind Jimmy Stewart in “The Glenn Miller Story.” And it’s currently the scene of the crime in the upcoming season of Amazon’s streaming series “Bosch,” as in detective Harry Bosch.
“I’ll always be the guy who killed somebody on Angels Flight,” joked bestselling author Michael Connelly.
He says Angels Flight’s place in L.A. lore made it the perfect setting for his famed gumshoe to search for clues.
“To me, Angels Flight is a real live metaphor, it’s a bridge that goes from old L.A. to new L.A.,” Connelly said.
This little railway even won an Oscar with some help from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Their on-board kiss in “La La Land” was no accident.
“Gosling told the story that when he was an up-and-coming actor he was living downtown, about a block away from Angels Flight, and he always wanted to ride it and it was always closed,” said John Welborne of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation.
Like any Tinsel Town titan, its career had its ups and downs.
By the late 60s, progress in the form of downtown skyscrapers had made Angels Flight seem more like a relic than a railway. In 1969, it was dismantled and put in storage.
“It was loved that much by the people of Los Angeles, and the city council on behalf of the people made the promise that it’ll come back,” Welborne said.
It took almost 30 years, but Angels Flight did finally come back.