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A man who grew up on Bunker Hill says 'Get Angels Flight running again!'

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

Angels Flight Railway first opened in 1901 in downtown Los Angeles. The funicular, which runs from South Olive Street to South Hill Street, has been closed since 2013. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

"Angels Flight has been closed almost two years now, and it just breaks our heart every time we go by." — Richard Schave

The two cars of the Angels Flight funicular railway in downtown Los Angeles have been stuck for years, figuratively and in reality. What looks like a good old-fashioned bureaucratic impasse has kept the historic railway from being reopened to the public for two-plus years now, and boosters are trying a second-order solution.

In a Change.org petition, the Angels Flight Friends and Neighbors Society is asking Mayor Eric Garcetti to nudge Sacramento politicians into switching the agency that oversees Angels Flight from the PUC to CalOSHA.

"Angels Flight is one of the great historic attractions of our city, a palpable link between the lost Victorian neighborhood of Bunker Hill and the vibrant new Downtown below. It is heartbreaking to see the cars and track structure as they are today, dusty and tagged with graffiti. Please, will you step in personally to help cut the red tape in Sacramento and San Francisco so that a pathway to a solution can be identified?" — Angels Flight Friends and Neighbors Society petition

Last week, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) voted to look into getting Angels Flight going again.

(In an undated photo, Angels Flight in its original location, next to the Third Street tunnel at Hill Street. Credit: LAPL/Security Pacific National Bank Collection)

Angels Flight ran without a hitch from 1901 to 1969, when it was dismantled as part of the remaking of Bunker Hill, when the run-down neighborhood was razed in the name of progress.

(1969: Working at night, the archway for Angels Flight at Hill Street is being prepared for moving day when it will be put in storage for future use. LAPL/Herald-Examiner Collection)

In 1996, it was moved down the street and ran again until a fatal accident in 2001 — the first in its history. It reopened again in 2010, and ran until 2013, when a mechanical problem occurred that led an investigator to shut it down. 

Gordon Pattison, 69, remembers riding Angels Flight every day as a child — he even had a favorite seat that he still considers "his seat," and he claims what he calls "effective ownership" of the railway. "Effective ownership," he says, "really gets down to who gets to decide the fate of a neighborhood. Is it the people that own the property, the politicians, the business owners? And what I say is that the people who live in the area who make use of the facilities every day, those people have part ownership in it, too, and should have a say in the fate of that neighborhood and the fate of things like Angels Flight."

(1969: "The Castle" and "The Saltbox," historic Bunker Hill homes owned by Pattison's family, sit on blocks awaiting their removal to Montecito Heights. They later burned in arson fires at the Heritage Square site. LAPL/Herald-Examiner Collection)

Listen to the audio above to hear Angels Flight booster Richard Schave (of Esotouric Tours, and a founder of the Downtown Art Walk) and Pattison talk about the need to get Angels Flight moving again — not only as a link in the city's mass transit system, but as a vital link in L.A.'s history — and to hear Pattison's memories of growing up on the Bunker Hill. It's a history fewer and fewer people are living witnesses to.

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