Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Angels Flight and Lost Victorian Mansions - All in Downtown L.A.

I never knew Los Angeles had a funicular until my recent visit (see yesterday's post about L.A.'s fabulous "Last Bookstore").  Observing this little cable railway known as "Angels Flight" - practically engulfed by the surrounding skyscrapers - I was reminded of Virginia Lee Burton's nostalgic books The Little House and Maybelle the Cable Car.  Both books deal with city growth and urban development.

We started at the lower entrance to the Angel's Flight funicular on Hill Street.

And just like Maybelle, Angels Flight has a story of its own...In 1901 a funicular railway was built to carry passengers down from hilltop homes to the burgeoning downtown area. The funicular ran between Hill St. and Olive Street, a distance of some 300 feet. The railway was dubbed Angels Flight (no apostrophe) and was billed as the world’s shortest railway with a fare of five cents each way. 

It operated uninterrupted until 1969 when it was dismantled and the cars put into storage. In 1996 the railway was rebuilt a block away using the same cars and much of the original structure. However in its new life it serves more as a tourist attractions than a functional part of the City.

Looking up toward California Plaza
Inside the funicular, beginning our ascent.
At the top - anyone going down?

Arriving at the little railway station at the top of the track in an area called "California Plaza", we paid our 50 cents and asked the kind man in the ticket booth, "What used to be here at the top of the hill before the modern skyscrapers, museums, condominiums, and hotels that we see now?"

The little station/ticket booth/information center at the top
of the incline, where you arrive at what is now California Plaza

He told us, "This is part of an area known as Bunker Hill.  By the late 1890's it had become a very wealthy and prestigious neighborhood, full of Victorian homes and luxurious hotels.  People loved the view...

But after World War I, with increasing urban development, wealthy families began relocating to areas like Pasadena. Bunker Hill became pretty seedy, especially after the Great Depression. Many of the old homes were subdivided to accommodate renters...

From Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House

After World War II, the freeways pushed even more people out, finally causing the downtown area to become empty of residents...

During redevelopment in the 1950's and '60's, the abandoned houses were eventually torn down or moved to other neighborhoods."

He finished his little history lesson by saying, "Go home and google 'Bunker Hill Victorian homes' on the internet so you can see how it once looked."

So I did.  And I was sad that at least some of the original areas of Bunker Hill couldn't have somehow been saved in the redevelopment!  All that's left is the funicular.  Look at what's been lost...
Bradbury Mansion, 1890 (Hill Street)
Bunker Hill 1900
And gained...
Bunker Hill today

Interesting side note:  In the 1940's and '50's, Los Angeles - especially Bunker Hill - became the perfect backdrop for Film Noir movies.  This intriguing photo montage video,  from the website American Film Noir, gives you a tour of how Bunker Hill looked back then.  Go here to see vintage photos of Angels Flight from Film Noir.

There is a blog post, "The Lost Victorian Mansions of Downtown LA" with lots of images of the Bunker Hill neighborhood before it was demolished in the late 1950's and '60's -  here.

This website has an amazing progression of photos of the original site of Angels Flight, beginning with how the street looked in 1898 and ending in 2003!

Does your city have any hidden (or lost) treasures?  Get out and explore - on foot, or from your computer!

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