There were, at one time, several funiculars in the Los Angeles area.
The great incline at Mount Lowe, a funicular rather than a cable car line, ran for a distance of 3,000 feet on a grade varying from 48 to 62 per cent from Rubio Canyon to the summit of Echo Mountain.
Professor Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe, who was born in Jefferson Mills, New Hampshire on 20-Aug-1832, led a remarkable life. He apprenticed as a shoe maker, became a "Professor" in a travelling chemistry show, and then, in 1857, became a balloonist. The Civil War interrupted his plan to fly across the Atlantic, so Lowe went to Washington, DC, where Joseph Henry, head of the Smithsonian Institution, persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to allow Lowe to form a Balloon Corps for the Union Army. For two years, Lowe and his fellow pilots provided valuable intelligence for the army at battles including Fair Oaks, Chancellorsville, Mechanicsville, and Chickahominy. Lack of funding and ill health forced Lowe to resign.
In private life, Lowe developed a mechanical refrigeration system and made many improvements in the use of gas for heating and lighting. He moved to Southern California in 1888 and settled in Pasadena in 1890.
In Pasadena, Lowe was approached by an engineer named David J Macpherson. Macpherson had a plan for building a scenic railway to the summit of Mount Wilson. Lowe approved of the plan and agreed to finance it. Macpherson made surveys and began construction on Mount Wilson. He found that the land owners were not cooperative and that the rock wasn't suitable. Lowe and Macpherson decided to go ahead with a different route.
They built the Pasadena and Mount Wilson Railway, a 3' 6" gauge trolley line from the Altadena station of the Los Angeles Terminal Railway to Rubio Canyon in 1891 and 1892. During the winter of 1891, crews began building the great incline to the summit of Echo Mountain. The incline opened on 04-Jul-1893. In 1894 Lowe opened the twelve room Echo Mountain House at the top of the incline. A larger forty room Echo Mountain House opened later and the original was renamed as the Chalet. Lowe also built a hotel and pavilion in Rubio Canyon, at the foot of the incline.
The incline used an electrically powered endless cable to move two counterbalanced cars. The two original cars were named Echo and Rubio. A backup car named Alpine was built in 1920. The incline had three rails with an automatic passing track in the middle.
The line then moved on toward Oak Mountain, which would be renamed as Mount Lowe, building a 3.6 mile narrow gauge electric railway. This scenic line was an exciting ride, on narrow ledges and trestles with many sharp curves. The longest stretch of straight track was only 225 feet. The line climbed 1500 feet. It included the famous Circular Bridge, which climbed a 4.5% grade and formed a full circle with a radius of 75 feet.
Lowe operated both the lower and upper electric lines with single truck open cars. At Mount Lowe, he built the Alpine Tavern at an elevation of 5000 feet in 1896.
A 1905 newspaper article, "Car Crashes Into Woodmen Party", describes operations at the top of the incline.
Lowe ran out of money before he could extend the line to the summit of Mount Lowe, and the properties were taken over by the Pasadena & Los Angeles Electric Railway, which itself was taken over by the Pacific Electric in 1902. Pacific Electric standard gauged the line from Pasadena to Rubio Canyon and ran through cars from Los Angeles. Pacific Electric replaced the single truck cars on the upper line with heavier open double truck cars with extra deep flanges. Pacific Electric operated the Mount Lowe incline and upper narrow gauge line as its Alpine Division. For most of its period of ownership, Pacific Electric ran five electric trains a day to Mount Lowe. The 24 mile trip from downtown Los Angeles to the Alpine Tavern took just under two hours.
The Alpine Division suffered from many problems common to the California mountains. Trestles and short sections of track were regularly hit by landslides and flash floods. The Echo Mountain Chalet and cable winding house burned in 1905, reducing the incline to limited operation for some time. A 1906 newspaper article, "Mt. Lowe Line is Rebuilt", describes the remarkably quick return to service.
The hotel in Rubio canyon was wiped out by a landslide in 1909. In 1936, the Alpine Tavern burned. Most of the upper line was wiped out by floods in 1938. This caused Pacific Electric to abandon the Alpine Division.
Professor Lowe died on 16-Jan-1913. He had never been able to restore his finances. There are a few traces left of his work, but they are hard to find.
Thanks to Michael Patris, founder of the Mount Lowe Preservation Society, Inc , for reviewing this article and suggesting some corrections.
Also visit The Great Incline by Jake Brouwer.
Echo Mountain Echoes has some nice material.
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Angels Flight (no apostrophe), "The Shortest Railway in the World", ran for a distance of 320 feet on a 33 per cent grade from Third and Hill Streets up to Olive Street on Bunker Hill, the same obstacle conquered by Los Angeles' first two cable car lines.
Colonel J W Eddy promoted the line, which opened in 1901. Colonel Eddy had been a friend of Abraham Lincoln before the Civil War. When the war broke out, Eddy, who was in Washington DC, volunteered to defend the Union. After the war and some time in the Illinois legislature, Eddy headed west.
Angels Flight was built to allow residents of the wealthy Bunker Hill neighborhood to get to and from the business district near the Plaza. Eddy also set up a telescope and later a 100 foot tower to attract tourists. "Truly one of Los Angeles' greatest attractions is the Angels' Flight, with its rest pavilion, park, electric fountain, observation tower, camera obscura and searchlight." - Los Angeles Herald / Saturday, September 9, 1905. Page 4.
Eddy sold the company in 1912. He passed on in 1916.
Two thirty-inch gauge counterbalanced cars, seating thirty-eight passengers each, operated on the line. The track had three rails with a passing siding in the middle.
Only up-bound passengers had to pay. The city required the company to maintain a parallel stairway for people who didn't want to pay.
The initials "B.P.O.E." on the lower entrance stood for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, which built a large lodge building at the top of the line in 1906.
The Bunker Hill neighborhood gradually declined over the years until the 1960's when the city decided to "renew" it. The city promised to save the line's equipment and to rebuild it. The last day of service was 18-May-1969.
In early 1995, construction began at a new location, 4th and Hill Streets, using the original railcars, station house, and the two end station arches. The original driving mechanism was put back, but is no longer used. The trestle and track structure are new.
The line reopened on 24-Feb-1996.
Angels Flight is now operated by the Angels Flight Railway Foundation. The fare is 25 cents a ride. Ticket books are available in books of five for $1 and forty for $7.50. It operates seven days a week from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm. It is closed on the first and third Tuesdays of each month from 6:30 am to 8:00 am for maintenance.
There was a serious accident on the restored line on 01-Feb-2001. Sinai, the upper car, ran away and struck Olivet, the lower car. One person died, two were seriously injured, and at least five injured less seriously. The accident may have been caused by a problem with the winding mechanism. This was only the second fatality in the entire history of the line.
On 24-Jan-2007, a Los Angeles Times article reported that Angels Flight, should reopen in the summer. The cars and trackway had been renovated, and work would start soon on replacing the driving machinery and adding some safety devices that had not been included when the line was restored in 1996. The article stressed how the neighborhood has changed since the accident. On 15-March-2010, Angels Flight returned to operation.
On 09-June-2011, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered that Angels Flight shut down immediately because of excessive wear on the wheel flanges of its two cars. The foundation which operates the line said it was planning to replace the wheels. The line returned to service on 07-July-2011.
Later in July, 2011, we were finally able to visit Angels Flight.
One of the cars derailed on 05-September-2013. No one was injured. The operator of Angels Flight blamed the derailment on an electrical interruption that caused the emergency brake to engage. Apparently the brake lifted the car off the rails.
On 01-March-2017, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that Angels Flight, which had been shut down since 05-September-2013 would resume service by Labor Day. A petition organized by the Angels Flights Friends & Neighbors Society (FANS) Preservation Campaign deserves much of the credit. Thank you to everyone who signed. Petitions can work.
ACS Infrastructure Development and a team of other transportation and engineering firms have made a deal with the nonprofit Angels Flight Railway Foundation, which owns the railway, to refurbish it, improve the mechanism, and operate it for thirty years.
Angels Flight returned to service on 31-August-2017.
Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park has had a copy of Angels Flight since 1971. It may have been renamed the Orient Express in 1988.
Some newspaper articles about Angels Flight:
Angels Flight has appeared in many movies, including The Glenn Miller Story, Act of Violence, Kiss Me Deadly, and La La Land.
Back in 2016, while the line was still closed, an article in Los Angeles Magazine, If Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone Can Make Out on Angels Flight, We Should Be Able to, Too said that the trailer for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's new movie, La La Land includes a shot the two stars necking on Angels Flight. I enjoyed the movie.
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The Court Flight was built by Attorney R. E. Blackburn of the McCarthy real estate firm and Samuel G Vandegrift, to serve the wealthy Bunker Hill neighborhood. Completion of the line was delayed by heavy winter rains. It opened on 24-September-1905.
The Court Flight Incline Railway ran for a distance of 180 feet up a 42 per cent grade between Broadway and Court Streets, in the middle of the block between Temple and First Streets.
The line was double tracked throughout and used a pair of thirty-inch gauge counterbalanced cars.
The incline was intended to server an observation tower and hotel, to be built by the promoters, but an injunction filed by neighbors prevented the building of the tower. The owners claimed that the line failed to turn a profit.
In later years, the line was heavily used by motorists who took advantage of cheap parking at the top of the hill. They rode the incline to and from the nearby Civic Center. World War II restrictions on civilian driving hurt the company's revenue. On 20-October-1943, a fire damaged the line and it went out of business.
When I created this page I wrote: "Rumors persist that the cars are owned by a private collector in Woodland Hills."
Thanks to Harry Marnell and Ray Long, we know what happened to them: Lindley F Bothwell, a famous collector of diverse stuff, had them at his ranch in Woodland Hills. Ray Long saw them there and says "...they were in sad shape. Very basic plywood construction and that old stuff would delaminate for little or no cause. They were stored outside..."
An article in the 05-February-1949 Los Angeles Times, "Fire Destroys Antique Autos," reported that a fire the day before had "destroyed 32 antique automobiles, streetcars, fire engines and a covered wagon ... Only one horse-drawn streetcar was saved ... Also lost were a San Francisco cable car, several horse-drawn streetcars and a horse-drawn fire wagon." I wonder what cable car he had.
Some newspaper articles about Court Flight:
Many early movie producers rented space in the Bradbury Mansion near Court Flight.
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Santa Catalina Island Incline Railway
The Santa Catalina Island Incline Railway had two funiculars. One line carried passengers from the Amphitheater on the lee side of the island to the top of the mountain and the other carried passengers down the ocean side to Pebble Beach in Lovers' Cove.
The railway was built in 1905 by the Banning family, which owned the island.
A great fire in 1915 burned most of the town of Avalon and hurt the finances of the Bannings and their Santa Catalina Land Company. They offered the island for sale and suspended operation of the railway in 1918. They sold the island to William Wrigley in 1919. The railway was reopened in 1921 for a Knights of Pythias convention. The lines were scrapped in 1923.
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Playa Del Rey Incline Railway
In 1904 and 1905, developers began to lay out an ambitious project at Playa del Rey. Playa del Rey was connected to Los Angeles by a line of the Los Angeles and Pacific, which later became part of the Pacific Electric. They built an inclined railroad to connect the station to homes on top of the bluff.
I don't have much information about this incline, and some people have expressed doubt that it operated, but I have seen one photograph of it. It would be impossible to trace its path today because of cliff erosion.
I like the variety of designs used by these real estate advertisements.
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Griffith Park Incline Railway
Colonel J. W. Eddy, who built and operated Angels Flight, proposed building another incline to reach the top of the mountain in Griffith Park. According to the article "Incline Railway/To Griffith Park," from the Los Angeles Herald / Sunday, August 27, 1905, Colonel Eddy had sold his franchise for the line to the Mount Hollywood Scenic Railway Company. This deal must have fallen through because a later article, "Col. Eddy Gets More Time/ for Griffith Park Project" (Los Angeles Herald, Thursday, November 28, 1907) says that Colonel Eddy "has been granted an extension of time until January 31 for his incline elevator enterprise at Griffith park."
In any event, it didn't happen.
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Los Angeles and Mount Washington Railway
The Los Angeles and Mount Washington Railway ran for a distance of 3000 feet on a grade as high as 42 percent.
Mount Washington is a 900 foot hill near the Highland Park district of Los Angeles. In 1909, real estate developer Robert Marsh built a hotel and laid out a subdivision on the summit of Mount Washington, and an incline railway to allow guests and prospective buyers to reach the top. The developer sold many lots and Mount Washington became a desirable residential area.
Construction of the railway began during October, 1908. It was tested on 30-Mar-1909, but city inspectors demanded that the open cable trench be planked over to form a conduit. The line opened for business on 24-May-1909.
The line used two counterbalanced cars running in the street along what would become Avenue 43 from Marmion Way. The line used an endless cable. Each car was equipped with a telephone so the conductor could communicate with the engineer in the powerhouse. The trip to the top took five minutes. The cars were named Florence and Virginia. The seats on each car were arranged in three tiers so that passengers could sit on the level and enjoy the view.
The tracks were 3' 6" gauge. The line used three rails with an automatic passing turnout in the middle. The conductor crossed from the ascending car to the descending car at the passing turnout.
The powerhouse used a 40 horsepower electric motor, controlled by a standard trolley car controller.
The fare was five cents each way. The line ran from 6:00 AM to midnight.
After the line opened, the operators saw the need for a shelter at the base. They built a two-story mission style station. The ground floor held the waiting room and ticket window, and the upper floor was the residence of the ticket seller. The station opened on 01-Nov-1909.
In a foreshadowing of competition to come, in 1909, intrepid motorist Ralph C Hamlin drove his air-cooled Franklin, which he had named Greyhound II, up the incline's tracks and back down again.
In 1918, the Board of Public Utilities stated that the line was unsafe and needed changes. Robert Marsh and Company claimed that the line was an elevator and that the Board did not have jurisdiction. On 01-Jan-1919, the Board ordered the line to close down. The line stopped running and was abandoned on 09-Jan-1919.
The citizens of Mt. Washington asked California Railroad Commission to order resumption of service. The Board of Public Utilities tried to order Robert Marsh and Company to resume service. The California Railroad Commission refused to order a resumption:
The ticket office is now a private home at Marmion Way and Avenue 43. The powerhouse and the hotel were purchased by the Self Realization Fellowship in 1925 and are still used by that organization.
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Victoria Station Restaurant at Universal City
Thank you to John Heller for telling me about the existence of a funicular which connected the Victoria Station Restaurant at Universal Studios with a parking lot up the hill. Victoria Station was a restaurant chain that included some railcars into their structures. The Universal City outlet was particularly elaborate, incorporating glass and iron elements from a dismantled British train station.
"Originally there was a funicular to bring diners up a steep hill from a large surface parking lot directly into the restaurant. As I recall it was a 'Westinghouse horizontal elevator' and had a single car with a counterweight that rode rollers in the trackway passing beneath the car at midpoint. The car was user-operated by elevator-style pushbuttons and an automatic car door. I believe the incline ran for about 15 years before being replaced by an enormous parking garage whose top deck was level with the restaurant. Patrons simply rode conventional elevators to the roof level then walked a short distance to the restaurant."
The restaurant was open from 1977 to 1997. The funicular was replaced in the 1980s.
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Industry Hills Incline
A funicular carries golfers and their carts from the 9th green of the Dwight D Eisenhower Course and the 18th green of the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Course up to a snack bar located in a replica of the Scottish Saint Andrews railway station at the Industry Hills Golf Club.
The line is 400 feet long and runs on a trestle at a grade of 33%. Two counterbalanced cars run on a single track with an automatic passing turnout. Each car can carry three golf carts. The Austrian Voest-Alpine system, including the power station, is completely automatic.
The resort opened in January, 1981. At present (2009), the incline is not in operation.
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Getty Museum Shuttle
This line is not a funicular, but it is a modern cable-driven Automated People Mover (APM).
Space is tight around the hilltop location of the J Paul Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049). Faced with the task of moving visitors from public transit or a parking garage at the foot of the hill, the architect chose to use a cable-driven APM, the Otis Elevator Company's Hovair (r) Shuttle system.
Each 7.5 ton Hovair car rides on an air cushion produced by a large blower underneath the car. Each train is made up of three cars. The trains are pulled by a 1 1/16" steel cable. They cover the 4000 foot track in 3.62 minutes.
The Getty Center, including an art museum, a research library, and educational facilities, opened on December 16, 1997.
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In addition to the common carrier funiculars listed above, the hilly topography of Southern California encouraged the building of many private funiculars and inclines, some of which are still operating.
I received a question from Lauren Weinstein of Professor Neon's TV & Movie Mania about a strange looking round house with a funicular which appeared in "The Duplicate Man", an episode of the great science fiction series The Outer Limits. I put the question to the TrolleysCA email group and got the answer. The Malin House in Silver Lake, CA still has its own funicular. Thanks to the late Paul Ward, Ray Long, David McCanne, and LAPRY@aol.com for the information. And thanks to Lauren for raising the question.
The late Paul Ward also reported that "There are several private funiculars in the Silver Lake neighborhood, and until three or four years ago, there was a wonderful funicular at Forest Lawn Cemetery. It was built by the boss in the twenties, because whenever he drove through the gates in the morning, the guard alerted the staff to stop their partying and debauchery and get to work. The manager's house was at the end of a cul-de-sac in Glendale below the cemetery, and when he had the funicular built, he could ascend the grade and coast down the road to his office in his Locomobile, without the staff knowing of his approach. He was then able to catch them in their laziness.
"The funicular is still there, but the car is gone, and the cable house has been sealed up in concrete."
From Ray Long: "...there was one (funicular) used for construction of the geodesic dome house in Hollywoodland and one above Hollyridge Drive same canyon. Laurel Canyon had a couple at one time or another. All of them I believe are now among the missing. The dome house was demolished after Buckminster Fuller died.
"I have been led to believe that there are (present tense) three private funiculars on Santa Catalina Island. They are supposedly little more than inclined elevators for access to private homes.
"Regarding the two in Hollywoodland. On the west side of the canyon, there was an incline used to haul construction materials up to the now extinct geodesic dome house on the west side of the canyon. One of the houses on the east ridge had an incline of sorts from Hollyridge Drive to the top of the hill. I haven't been up there in 30 years so I don't know the status today.
"There were a couple more in Laurel Canyon. These private inclines were stretching the definition of the words 'incline' and 'permanent' but they were private and were used as incline elevators or dumb waiters."
Some homes on steep hillsides use devices called "Hillevators", which are small systems with single cars. There are at least six such homes along Coastline Drive in Malibu.
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Last updated 01-November-2018