Jason Cochran

Stuff you never knew you never knew

Feb

3

2012

Just a happy, pleasing video designed to bring you the feeling of being somewhere, without quick cuts or commentary: Like I did for my drive through South Dakota’s Badlands, I shot a ride on the Angels Flight railway in downtown Los Angeles.

Most people don’t know that downtown Los Angeles is steep in places, and this funicular was constructed in 1901 to haul locals up Bunker Hill, which is now the heart of the city but then had some pretty mansions. It’s only 298 feet long (although its historic plaque, installed before the railway was moved slightly south, gives the old length of 315 feet—and adds an apostrophe for “Angel’s”). That it managed to survive at all is a miracle, but the ride has been bumpy. It started as transportation in a residential district, as did Pittsburgh’s Monongahela and Duquesne inclines, which are also still in operation.

It was later engulfed in stone skyscrapers, followed by dismantling, storage, a move slightly south, and a period of benign neglect that climaxed when one of the trolley cars disregarded its brakes, hurtled downhill, and crushed someone. This video was shot 15 days after it re-opened following a nine-year closure and refit. The locals were curious and not a little bit nervous.

Downtown L.A. is actually one of my favorite places. It’s bizarre to me that an entire city, one that is about the size of Chicago’s Loop, would be pretty much abandoned, as L.A. was in the 1940s. The whites went west and left it to the incoming Mexicans. What remains is a fascinating mix of the untouched and the decimated. Part of the city is a stately example of incredible American wealth in the years between the San Francisco Quake and World War II. And part of the city is parking lots. Downtown Los Angeles lost the thread of what its personality was. Angelenos are figuring it out.

Citizens of Beverly Hills, perhaps regretting the white flight that abandoned the Angels Flight, installed this plaque in its old location. They wrongly made its name possessive, too.

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