Looking Back at Court Flight, Downtown LA’s Little Lost Railway

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Court Flight began operating on September 24, 1905 and soon found a greater use as a public utility. At the time, Bunker Hill was a neighborhood of Victorian mansions that overlooked the Downtown courthouses and civic offices below; the only way to get to and from the neighborhood was by a rather tall and steep staircase. Court Flight became invaluable to the wealthy residents of Bunker Hill who loved the view, but hated the commute. For the cost of a nickel, the train would bring riders up the 180-foot hillside at a 42 percent grade. Riding down was free.

In later years, as the wealthy left the Bunker Hill neighborhood and cars became more fashionable, the train became more of a shuttle for courthouse employees who parked at the top of the hill. During World War II, Court Flight struggled with ridership woes, fuel shortages, and a lack of engineers in the job market. For the last few years of its existence, the railway was operating at a loss, and since Court Flight was considered a public utility, the owners petitioned the city to shut it down in the early 1940s. Not long after, on October 20, 1943, a discarded cigarette ignited a fire that shot up the hillside. The overgrown weeds and leaves covering the neglected tracks fueled the blaze, and when it was all over, fire had destroyed all that was left of Court Flight.

Here are photos of Court Flight in its better days:

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