I’d imagine there have been hundreds to thousands of operators over the history of Angels Flight funicular at its original location at Third Street for its first 68 years (1901-1969), and then for these last 26 (1996-2022) at its present location a half-block south.
However many operators there have been, these last several months I have been proud to be counted among that legion doing what may very well be one of the most quintessentially LA jobs — one that I expressed interest in on total impulse when I saw a social media posting last summe that the railway was hiring.
I was not yet five years old when the final nail in Bunker Hill’s coffin was hammered and Angels Flight was closed down and dismantled in May 18, 1969. Frankly I can’t recall even being aware of its existence until it was announced in the mid-1990s that after sitting in storage Angels Flight was being restored and returned to service.
As a Los Angeles native who had lost so many personal touchstones and civic landmarks to a city that has no rearview mirror, the idea that one that had been destroyed was being reborn really struck me as nothing short of a miracle.
And that miracle happened when Angels Flight reopened on February 26, 1996. My first ride was about a month later on the afternoon of March 25, 1996. I know the exact date, because as coincidence would have it, a fellow passenger on the ride down from the Station House to the Hill Street Archway was actor Nicolas Cage, who the following evening would be awarded the Best Actor Oscar for “Leaving Las Vegas” at the 68th Academy Awards taking place then at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I surmised that Cage, resplendent in a bright white leather sportcoat, had been at the nearby Pavilion for rehearsals and was on a break heading to Grand Central Market for something to eat.
Admiring his attire while sitting across from him on the rickety ride down, I said “That is one nice jacket, Mr. Cage,” to which he tossed me back a thank you. Once out of the car and through the turnstiles, I wished him luck tomorrow night, to which he turned back and said with a smile, “It’s in the bag!”
Back in the present day as a current operator, I find myself taking opportunities to document the railway with photos and videos. In the past I’ve mounted a cam to the cars and just gotten clips of them moving up and down the tracks. Most recently this past Saturday, I memorialized via timelapse, a bit of the mundane in my pre-opening duty of sweeping the decks and cleaning the windows and seats. After that I moved the camera inside the station house, and timelapsed a couple hours of the literal ups and downs of doing the job I am honored to perform.