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A Nickel's Ride to Nowhere?

August 18, 1985|EVELYN De WOLFE

In the spring of 1969, Angelenos bid a tearful farewell to Olivet and Sinai, the little orange-and-black cars that had borne more than 100 million passengers up and down Angel's Flight since 1901.

Older residents of Los Angeles still talk about those nickel rides up Bunker Hill where one could see clear across the city. And for those of us who worked in downtown Los Angeles in the 1950s and 60s, it was a chance to go up the hill on a lunch hour to admire the remnants of classic Victorian dwellings, in their original setting.

The little two-car railway, that traveled only 315 feet but did it 400 times a day, made funny little whining, scraping noises. Olivet and Sinai each had seven small windows staggered so that each had a horizontal bottom sill as it crawled up at a 33-degree slope.

Repeated attempts have been made to save and rebuild this sentimental symbol of Bunker Hill's past glory, after the Community Redevelopment Agency dismantled it in 1969 to make way for the hill's high rises.

The city even set aside $1.5 million to restore or duplicate the system, which means that if those funds have been gathering interest since 1969, there should be leeway for some fancy restoration.

However, the promise of making Angel's Flight once again a part of the retail center and housing complex on Hill Street, dangles unfulfilled. Its rescued parts continue to gather dust at a warehouse on 25th Street.

The latest on the fate of Olivet and Sinai is that one car will be housed at a proposed Angel's Flight Museum at Bunker Hill and the other will be installed at Heritage Square.

With all the talk about duplicating the friendly little funicular, could we ever recapture the spirit of that opening day on New Year's Eve of 1901, with trombones playing, passengers waiting in line for a free ride and a drink of punch.

Perhaps a son et lumiere show duplicating the sound of nickels dropping into the conductor's coin counter, the shimmying of the little wooden cars and idle chatter of contented passengers, might help a little.

The cries of the 60s: "We must save it because it's there," seem quite faint . . . now that 315 feet on an incline no longer measure the distance between an urban center and a residential community.

Like the man said: a nickel's ride today gets you absolutely nowhere.

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