Historic Structures

Building and Track Description Angels Flight Cable Railway, Los Angeles California

Angels Flight was built to bridge the change in elevation between the exclusive residential enclave of Olive Heights, as Bunker Hill was then known, to the burgeoning business district below to the east. Late 19th Century residences, mostly designed in the Queen Anne and Eastlake styles, crowned the hill. The area was nearly inaccessible from its eastern edge and could only be reached by steeply graded streets and public steps. The original installation of Angels Flight involved construction of an inclined cable railway on grade from South Hill Street to Clay Street and, at some point past Clay, on trestle work up to South Olive Street. As a result of this configuration, two vertical slopes were involved: a gradual climb of 40'-0" up to the elevation of Clay Street and a steep ascent of 70'-0" from Clay to Olive Street. The two car railway was built as a three-rail system, with a shared common center rail, and an automatic turnout system. Entrance to the railway on South Hill Street was marked by a simple iron arch with an inset signboard bulkhead. This original arch was an identification device for the railway and not used as a portal to enter or leave the cars.

In 1905, improvements were made to the original configuration and equipment. The original cars were replaced by larger ones. In the same year, the track was rebuilt into a direct line system with timber trestles placed to allow the cars to ascend the entire length of the hill at a uniform 33% grade. The length of the track was slightly over 315 feet with a vertical rise of approximately 100 feet. This construction eliminated the on-grade crossing on Clay Street by elevating the tracks above the street. The new three track system also had a turn-out area in the middle of the incline which allowed the new cars to pass each other, albeit with only four inches to spare. The simple iron Hill Street arch was left in place, but was modified by the removal of its infilled signboard in order to facilitate access to the new cars, which were entered and exited from their east (Hill Street) elevation.

In 1913 the railway was again partially reconstructed. Drawings by Mercereau Bridge & Construction Co. indicate partial reconstruction of the decking, support bents, and extension of the length of the turn-out by one additional bay (20'-0"). These drawings were used to accurately design the dimension, size, scale, and placement of the elements of both the trestle and trackage as part of the 1995 rehabilitation and installation of Angels Flight.

Another early feature of the site was an iron observation tower known as "Angels View," "Angels Rest," or "Angels Roost." It is unclear when this feature was first constructed. While the observation tower was located on the site, it was not associated with the function and use of railway itself and was not architecturally integrated with the 1905-1910 improvements to the site.

The historic site of Angeis Flight on Bunker Hill was a narrow piece of land adjacent to the southern boundary of West Third Street. The land was in the 400 block of West Third in the public right-of-way between the retaining walls of the Third Street Tunnel and property lines to the south. The length of the property ran in an east to west direction, rising from a lower site on South Hill Street up to its terminus at South Olive Street. After twenty-five years in storage. Angels Flight was reinstalled at a new location to the south of its original location at Third and Hill Streets. The new site is a steeply graded hillside parcel, located within the same city block on the eastern slope of Bunker Hill, approximately 300 feet south of the original site.

The two-car railway was built as a three-rail system, with a shared common center rail, with a passing bay consisting of four rails to allow the cars to pass. The original trackage and trestle were destroyed or damaged beyond repair after being dismantled in 1969. The current structure replicates the Mercereau Bridge & Construction Company design, although fabricated in modern materials. The three-rail track and midway passing bay are laid on a thirty-inch gauge, as they were originally. The trackage rests on reinforced concrete rail ties, textured to recall the wooden ties of the original construction. The 335-foot tracks are carried by reinforced concrete trestles that replicate the same 33% grade as the original installation. Iron ties crossbrace the trestle for seismic stability. The track is illuminated at night by lights hung on a series of seven original decorative metal arches or 'hoops' that date from 1910 and are placed at intervals along the track. These metal frames are attached to the trestle support members which extend beyond the width of the actual track. The two hoops over the turnout are wider to accommodate the width of the double track at this location.

The two Angels Flight cars, named Sinai and Olivet, are of wood frame construction with wood siding and detailing, metal decorative trimwork, and slightly barrel-arched wood frame roofs clad in canvas. The roofs are curved at the corners and extend past the interior space on the upper end of each car to form an open porch for entry and exit. Rectangular in plan, the cars are stepped in lengthwise section which reflects the angle of the track on which they travel. The stepping of the car interior is reflected on the exterior elevations, in which the windows are also stepped to correspond to the division of bays and seating layout.

The length of each car is divided into seven bays with an eighth open air bay located on the west (upper) end of each car. Seven, singlepane windows on the north and south elevations enclose the interior car section; open metal mesh grillework encloses the open air bay. The cars do not contain doors. Sign boards reading "Angels Flight", extant when the cars were removed from storage, are located on the roof and painted with dark lettering on a light background as seen in early photographs.

The longitudinal elevations (north and south) of the cars are composed of a wide base board, an angled three panel bulkhead, a plain frieze panel, an angled upper midsection which contains a framed banding of stepped windows, and two fascia boards which denote the roofline. Flat wood trim frames the window openings and steps with the windows, while the bulkhead paneling on the lower part of the cars is set at an angle parallel to the track and roofline.

The side (north and south) elevations are mirror images of each other. The lower (east) elevation is symmetrical with a centered open doorway flanked by vertical, rectangular windows, metal stairs leading to the doorway, and metal hand rails. The porches at the upper (west) ends of the cars are sheltered by the overhang of the roof and enclosed on the sides by metal screens composed of wire square mesh framed by metal channels. The metal channels and the roof are joined by decorative wrought iron brackets.

The interiors of the cars are symmetrical about a center aisle which is flanked by slatted wood seats facing the aisle. Between the windows and the floor, a vertical tongue and groove wainscot extends to the underside of the wood trim of the windows. Coved signboard tracks run the entire length of the cars at the ceiling line. The floor, constructed in wood planks, is partially covered with a non-slip material. Metal strips protect the edge of each step. The open bays located at the upper (west) end of the cars feature tongue and groove floor decking.

The ceiling of the cars is constructed of a series of curved, transverse beams which define the slight barrel vault of the roof. The ceiling of the cars is wood slats set lengthwise above these beams. Interior passenger stanchions consist of vertical metal tubing which steps the length of the cars and is connected to tubing which runs parallel with the ceiling. Vertical metal grab bars are also located at the exterior doorway of the metal enclosed bay of each car. Illumination is provided by a series of lights which are placed in the center of the roof and are original. The conduit which services the lights is inset into the wood plank ceiling and left exposed. This conduit connects to an exposed exterior conduit which runs vertically down the side of each car from the roofline and continues below the base plate of the car. This originally allowed an electrical power connection with a trolley mechanism located on the track assembly

As part of a 1995 rehabilitation, the cars were removed from storage, original materials repaired, and the cars restored. A very high level of care was brought to the retention of historic fabric; the amount of replacement was negligible and that which was required was done in kind. Limited areas of the cars' undercarriage that had rotted were replaced in kind using scarf joints and dutchman patches. The inner core stratum of the lower wood paneling was replaced by plywood to stiffen and strengthen the overall structure of the cars; all the outer framing and inner finishes were retained and reinstalled. The finished appearance has not changed and the great majority of those finish elements are original. Tempered safety glass was installed in the original window frames, as extant glass neither met current safety standards nor dated from the period of significance. After completing a chromochronology study that identified thirty paint strata, the orange and black paint scheme of the 1930s to 1960s was restored. The mesh grilles of the open air bays were modified to open for disabled access from the side of the car.

A station house is located at the upper end of the railway at the South Olive Street terminus and is aligned with the center of the rails. Offset to the north of the rail bed is an open pavilion for passengers. The one story structure was designed in a Beaux Arts Classical Revival style, with a composite of Doric and Tuscan detailing. The roof is gabled, with the ridge line running from north to south. Parapet elements on the east and west elevations obscure the gable itself. The present station house reflects its appearance since the 1920s, when the northern four bays of the original building were removed due to site settlement. At that time they were replaced with a simple pavilion-type structure which was essentially square in plan. This flat-roofed pavilion addition was attached to the north elevation of the remaining two bay structure. This is the current configuration of the building, though the pavilion portion was reconstructed in 1995 when the station house was reinstalled at California Plaza.

The east and west elevations of the station house are constructed using a post and beam system with arched infill elements. The framework is composed of solid cast stone columns and beams, infilled with cast stone arch elements, and braced at the roof line by three wood trusses which correspond to the three columns on the east and west elevations. The ends of the heavy timber trusses are set into masonry pockets located on the interior face of the cast stone beam above each column.

The cast stone framework of the east and west facades is composed of a row of Tuscan columns, which support a Roman Doric entablature and parapet features. The monolithic columns have integrated rectangular plinths, with the capitals modified by the bisection of vertically oriented cross members. The bays between the columns contain cast stone arch orders, meaning arches which are framed by the engaged columns and entablature. The arch order contains a projecting, scrolled cast stone keystone flanked on either side by integral cast stone bas-relief ornamentation composed of a laurel branch overlaid by a laurel wreath. The edges of pilasters are also included in the arch order.

The Doric entablature carried on the columns is composed of a simple architrave, ornamented frieze and overhanging cornice. The frieze is divided into a series of triglyphs (vertically scored panels) and metopes (flat panels) which contain a plain round medallion in low relief. Below the taenia (a flat string course below the triglyphs and metopes) and corresponding to each triglyph is a row of five small cone shaped ornament known as guttae. Over the triglyphs, on the soffit of the overhanging cornice, are mutules (projecting flat blocks) decorated with guttae.

The stone parapet assemblies are composed of three piers on the west elevation and two piers on the east elevation with Neo-classical open balustrades located between them. The piers contain a stylized form resembling the shape of an acanthus leaf on their exterior face only, with the exception of the southern most (corner) piers which also contain the leaves on their south face. Piers are capped with a composition of small domes atop stepped horizontal planes. The finial detail of each dome features a mounting hole which according to photographs and postcards held flagstaffs.

The two cast stone arches on the west elevation (originally South Olive Street) are infilled with single wall wood frame construction of double sided, double beaded 1" x 6" vertical tongue and groove wood siding which rests on a stepped wood sill plate. There is a window in the northern bay and a doorway in the southern bay. Both openings are surrounded by wide, flat wood trim and crowned with a pedimented cornice supported by wood consoles.

The east elevation of the station house faces the route of the railway and is the elevation seen from the cars while in transit. It is also the elevation where passengers pay fares and enter exit the cars. Its main feature is an open porch which functions as a 3' 6" deep passenger loading platform. The roof extends over the platform beyond the east elevation with an open soffit of exposed roof decking and block eaves.

It resembles the detail of the west elevation, but there is no central column in order to provide space for entry and exit. The wood infill and windows are recessed within the porch, and the cast stone framework is open to frame the porch. The arch orders seen elsewhere are contained in the side edges of the porch. A flattened arch, as seen in the entrance arch at the bottom of the hill, extends between the two columns at the edges of the porch and is lined with twelve light bulbs.

The fenestration on the east elevation, within the porch, is composed of four connecting window openings with the same window surround and trim detailing of the other elevations. A continuous wood sill unites the window assembly and is supported with concave brackets. The two windows to the south are the original single sash with two panes. Upper panes are divided into a series of margin lights. The second window from the north was altered over the course of time to include a slider type window and transom. The northern most window retains its upper pane margin lights, although the bottom pane now contains a wood insert with cut-outs for operational purposes. An exterior stem lamp with metal hood is located above the window assembly which contains the slider unit. Additional details include the placement of a series of five electrical insulators set on projecting wood supports above the windows. These insulators held the feeder wires from the station house to the railway source which it served.

The south facade is the simplest of the four elevations. The facade is bracketed by the end columns and end parapet piers of the east and west elevations. The material between these cast stone elements is wood, including the end truss of the gable roof which surmounts the wall. The truss is exposed and infilled with double-sided, double-beaded vertical wood siding. The wall itself is clad in vertical tongue and groove siding. The eastern portion (approximately one-third) of the facade below the truss is open, where the porch which forms the loading platform occurs on the east facade. Plans drawn at the time of dismantling indicate that the loading platform stopped short of the southeast column, which was freestanding and supported by a battered concrete pier. One downspout and its metal bracketing which appeared to be original remain on the south elevation. A low wood balustrade of turned wood balusters closes the loading platform to access from the south.

The north elevation of the station house structure is partially obscured by the attachment of the open pavilion structure below the bottom chord of the roof truss. The openings are surrounded by wide wood trim and surmounted by pedimented window and door hoods supported by wood consoles. Located to the east (left) of the window, a two panel door originally contained a lower panel of wood and a glazed upper pane divided into margin lights. The single sash window contained a lower single glazed pane and an upper pane with margin lights.

Attached to the north elevation of the station house is the pavilion structure which added in the 1920s after the removal of the four northern pavillion-style bays of theTrain & Williams design. The current pavillion structure is constructed of two hollow clay tile piers, lintel beams and tall hollow clay tile parapets finished in stucco. The ceiling is clad in tongue and groove wood planking. A metal downspout is located at the interior (south face) corner of the northwest and northeast columns. Although greatly simplified, this addition references the pre-1920 remainder of the station house in the capital of the columns and the stepped pressed metal cornice. The historic turnstiles, railing and signs from this pavilion are still present.

The interior of the station house contained a raised wood tongue and groove tloor set on wood floor joists with perimeter rim joists. Plans of the station house prepared at the time of its dismantling confirm the location of the operating equipment for the cable, with the engineer in the partially enclosed southern third section. Owner records indicate that the operating motor was bolted to a floor-plate which was in turn bolted into concrete. At least part of the cable drive machinery extended into a sub-surface concrete pit.

The interior of the station house is utilitarian in design without the architectural detailing found on the exterior. It has exposed wood framing supporting the interior face of the tongue and groove wood wall cladding. A majority of the windows are boxed out with wood framing without finish trim. The open gable truss work features three wood trusses braced by wood purlins. Truss work is constructed of eight by eight inch members which support the tongue and groove construction of the roof deck. Wood trim details the top edge of the bottom chord of each truss. Metal tie-rods which brace the cast stone facades pierce the slope of the gable ceiling.

Plans indicate that the south end of the building originally contained a small storage closet and a room with a toilet and sink. The storage closet remains in place, enclosed by single wall construction composed of vertical tongue and groove paneling with the framing support exposed on the interior. It is capped by a tongue and groove paneled ceiling at a level below the truss system.

As part of a 1995 rehabilitation, the station house was removed from storage and original material repaired. New operating machinery is housed below the station house; the original motor and works are reinstalled in their original location inside the station house.

The signature of Angels Flight on South Hill Street is its decorative entrance arch. The original arch was replaced in approximately 1910 with a more substantial and ornate masonry structure, which remains today. It was designed in Beaux Arts Classical Revival style, with a composite of Doric and Tuscan detailing to complement the station house at the top of the hill designed in the same style. Built as a freestanding element, it is finished on all sides. The framework is composed of two solid cast stone columns carrying a Doric frieze.

The cast stone structure is composed of elliptical Tuscan style columns with partially flat sides supporting a Roman Doric entablature and stylized parapet features. The monolithic columns contain integrated stepped plinths and rectangular bases, and capitals modified by the bisection of vertically oriented cross members. The bay between the columns is spanned by a suspended wood and metal canopy, the depth of which is greater than that of the arch itself in order to provide shelter within the arch. The arch of the canopy has a slightly flattened top. The ribbed, galvanized sheet metal cladding of the canopy is typical of the metal used for this type of construction in the early 1900s. The edges of the hood are framed with a three piece wood fascia trim, cut and assembled in sections to create the curvature of the flattened arch. At its springing, flat portions extend to either side to surround the columns. The canopy is lined with rows of twelve light bulbs at the edges following the arch profile. The canopy is supported from the entablature by iron chains which are attached to the fore edges of the flat side portions. The cast stone infill around the canopy contains bas-relief ornamentation composed of a laurel branch overlaid by a laurel wreath.

The Doric entablature carried on the columns is composed of a simple architrave, ornamented frieze and overhanging cornice. The frieze is divided into a series of triglyphs (vertically scored panels) and metopes (flat panels) which contain a plain round medallion in low relief. Below the taenia (a flat string course below the triglyphs and metopes) and corresponding to each triglyph is a row of five small cone shaped ornament known as guttae. Over the triglyphs, on the soffit of the overhanging cornice, are mutules (projecting flat blocks) decorated with guttae.

The cast stone parapet assembly above the cornice, similar to that of the station house, is composed of two piers with a neoclassical open balustrade spanning the space between them. The center of the balustrade is occupied by a rectangular panel bearing the initials "B.P.O.E." for the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, whose local lodge was formerly located at the top of the flight on Olive Street. The piers have stylized decoration resembling the shape of a single acanthus leaf on each face. Each pier is capped with a small dome. The finial detail of each dome features a mounting hole which, according to photographs and postcards, once held flagstaffs. A cast stone panel mounted on top of the balustrade, also set between the piers, bears the words "ANGELS FLIGHT" flanked by stylized scrolls and tassels. This panel is surmounted in the center by a small, oval tablet surrounded by rosette work.

As part of a 1995 rehabilitation, the structure was removed from storage, original materials repaired and the entrance arch restored. The columns had deteriorated and were not seismically stable. The shaft of both columns were recast with new steel reinforcing.