Editor's Note: John Welborne is the former president of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation. An earlier version of this post misidentified him.
The Angels Flight funicular, billed as the shortest railway in the world, might be out of commission, but there’s a new way for enthusiasts to get their Angels Flight fix without leaving their computer.
An online 3-D simulation of the Angels Flight debuted earlier this month courtesy of Esotouric, a company specializing in tours of historic sites around Los Angeles. It features views of the interior of the railway’s cars as well as views from out of the windows, just as if one were taking the 300-foot train ride. Online visitors can rotate the camera through their keyboards.
“This three-dimensional scan is meant to give people an idea of what it’s like to ride Angels Flight, since no one can ride it at present,” said Richard Schave, one of Esotouric’s co-founders.
The simulation was created by Long Beach 3-D photographer Craig Sauer, using technology from Sunnyvale-based Matterport. Sauer, who has created 3-D views of other downtown landmarks such as the Barclay Hotel and the now-defunct Dutch Chocolate Shop, said he really wanted to take his three children on the Angels Flight railway. But before he could set aside the time to do so, the railway was closed to the paying public indefinitely after a derailment in September 2013.
“My kids and I were devastated,” he said.
But then Schave stepped in with an offer Sauer couldn’t refuse: He and retired Angels Flight Railway Foundation president John Welborne would give Sauer and his kids a free ride in exchange for Sauer producing the 3-D scan. Sauer jumped at the chance and did the work free of charge.
As for the real-world Angels Flight, there’s no timetable for reopening. The state Public Utilities Commission has required an evacuation stairway be built alongside the elevated funicular track. Hal Bastian, current president of the nonprofit Angels Flight Railway Foundation, said design work for the stairway is underway and called the 3-D simulation a welcome morale booster.
“Anything that keeps hope alive that the funicular will run again is welcome,” he said.
There’s another new project paying homage to a downtown landmark, but this one was made in a more traditional medium that also befits its subject.
The book “Los Angeles Central Library: A History of Its Art and Architecture” was released last month by Santa Monica’s Angel City Press. It examines not only the visual history of the 90-year-old building, but also the story of how the structure has remained standing after numerous threats to its existence – both physical and political. For example, author Stephen Gee documents the public’s fight to save the library on several occasions, including the story of a 1986 fire that destroyed or damaged more than 1 million volumes. Then in the early 1990s, the City Council considered, and ultimately rejected, a proposal by Philip Morris International Inc. to buy the library for $71 million at a time when Los Angeles faced a $40 million budget shortfall.