Northern California Funiculars

by Joe Thompson

Where Should I Go from Here? Visit the Map

This page lists some of the funiculars, inclines, and counterbalances that have operated in Northern California. The list is not complete and I always welcome suggestions, information, and pictures

The Fairfax Incline Railway

Fairfax Incline Thumbnail Looking up the line of the Fairfax Incline Railway. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version. Use your browser's "Back" button to return.

Fairfax is a pretty suburb in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad extended its third rail electric line through Fairfax to Manor, on November 15, 1913. This sparked a development boom in Fairfax.

The promoters of Fairfax Manor, a hilly subdivision of Fairfax, built the single tracked 1500 foot long Fairfax Incline Railway in 1913 to help sell lots on Manor Hill along Redwood, Spruce, Scenic and Tamalpais Roads. The incline connected with the Northwestern Pacific commuter trains, which connected with ferry boats to San Francisco.

The real estate market softened in the late Twenties and died during the Great Depression. The incline was abandoned in 1929.

The Fairfax Historical Society has a nice web site with a section on the incline railroad.

Fairfax Incline Thumbnail The Fairfax Incline Railway's single car next to a promotional sign which reads:
1500 FT. 500 FT RISE
Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version. Use your browser's "Back" button to return.
September, 2000 Picture of the Month.

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  • Shasta Springs Incline

    Shasta Springs The car of the Shasta Springs Incline drops towards the valley floor.

    Siskiyou County

    Shasta Water

    springs base of a steep canyon

    Popular stop on SP Shasta Route ("The Road of a Thousand Wonders")

    early 1950s resort sold to a religious organization

    Shasta Springs - Forgotten Resort

    Ken Clark

    Shasta Springs Incline An early postcard of the Shasta Springs incline, showing the steep mountainside which it climbed.

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  • Shadowbrook Restaurant, Capitola

    Court Flight An early postcard view of Court Flight. The double tracks were an unusual feature.

    opened 1947

    cable car added 1958

    Located on steep slope dropping towards Soquel Creek

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  • Yosemite Lumber Inclines

    Catalina The incline on Santa Catalina Island.

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  • Yosemite Portland Cement Incline

    Foot of Mount Washington At the foot of the Mount Washington funicular. The ticket office and waiting room on the left still stands. November, 1999 Picture of the Month.

    The Los Angeles and Mount Washington Railway ran for a distance of 3000 feet on a grade as high as 42 percent.

    Mount Washington is a 900 foot hill near the Highland Park district of Los Angeles. In 1909, real estate developer Robert Marsh built a hotel and laid out a subdivision on the summit of Mount Washington, and an incline railway to allow guests and prospective buyers to reach the top. The developer sold many lots and Mount Washington became a desirable residential area.

    Construction of the railway began during October, 1908. It was tested on 30-Mar-1909, but city inspectors demanded that the open cable trench be planked over to form a conduit. The line opened for business on 24-May-1909.

    The line used two counterbalanced cars running in the street along what would become Avenue 43 from Marmion Way. The line used an endless cable. Each car was equipped with a telephone so the conductor could communicate with the engineer in the powerhouse. The trip to the top took five minutes. The cars were named Florence and Virginia. The seats on each car were arranged in three tiers so that passengers could sit on the level and enjoy the view.

    The tracks were 3' 6" gauge. The line used three rails with an automatic passing turnout in the middle. The conductor crossed from the ascending car to the descending car at the passing turnout.

    The powerhouse used a 40 horsepower electric motor, controlled by a standard trolley car controller.

    The fare was five cents each way. The line ran from 6:00 AM to midnight.

    After the line opened, the operators saw the need for a shelter at the base. They built a two-story mission style station. The ground floor held the waiting room and ticket window, and the upper floor was the residence of the ticket seller. The station opened on 01-Nov-1909.

    In 1918, the Board of Public Utilities stated that the line was unsafe and needed changes. Robert Marsh and Company claimed that the line was an elevator and that the Board did not have jurisdiction. On 01-Jan-1919, the Board ordered the line to close down. The line stopped running and was abandoned on 09-Jan-1919.

    The citizens of Mt. Washington asked California Railroad Commission to order resumption of service. The Board of Public Utilities tried to order Robert Marsh and Company to resume service.

    The ticket office is now a private home at Marmion Way and Avenue 43. The powerhouse and the hotel were purchased by the Self Realization Fellowship in 1925 and are still used by that organization.
    Mount Washington top At the top of the Mount Washington funicular. A boxy white incline car is in the foreground.

    Bob Taylor's Online Real Estate Guide has a section on historic communities of Los Angeles, which includes an excellent article on the Los Angeles and Mount Washington Railway.

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  • Mount Tamalpais Weather Station Incline

    Industry Hills top A car at the top of the Industry Hills Incline. Note the passing track in the middle. Photo courtesy of Ray Long.

    A funicular carries golfers and their carts from the 9th green of the Dwight D Eisenhower Course and the 18th green of the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Course up to a snack bar located in a replica of the Scottish Saint Andrews railway station. The golf resort is part of the Industry Hills Sheraton Resort (One Industry Hills Parkway, City of Industry, California 91744).

    The line is 400 feet long and runs on a trestle at a grade of 33%. Two counterbalanced cars run on a single track with an automatic passing turnout. Each car can carry three golf carts. The Austrian Voest-Alpine system, including the power station, is completely automatic.

    The resort opened in January, 1981.
    Industry Hills top Looking down the Industry Hills Incline. The two cars pass in the middle. Photo courtesy of Ray Long.

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  • Hetch Hetchy Inclines

    This line is not a funicular, but it is a modern cable-driven Automated People Mover (APM).

    Space is tight around the hilltop location of the J Paul Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049). Faced with the task of moving visitors from public transit or a parking garage at the foot of the hill, the architect chose to use a cable-driven APM, the Otis Elevator Company's Hovair (r) Shuttle system.

    Each 7.5 ton Hovair car rides on an air cushion produced by a large blower underneath the car. Each train is made up of three cars. The trains are pulled by a 1 1/16" steel cable. They cover the 4000 foot track in 3.62 minutes.

    The Getty Center, including an art museum, a research library, and educational facilities, opened on December 16, 1997.

    Elevator World Magazine has an article on the Getty Center Shuttle.

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  • Private Funiculars

    In addition to the common carrier funiculars listed above, the hilly topography of Southern California encouraged the building of many private funiculars and inclines, some of which are still operating.

    I received a question from Lauren Weinstein of Professor Neon's TV & Movie Mania about a strange looking round house with a funicular which appeared in "The Duplicate Man", an episode of the great science fiction series The Outer Limits. I put the question to the TrolleysCA email group and got the answer. The Malin House in Silver Lake, CA still has its own funicular. Thanks to Paul Ward, Ray Long, David McCanne, and for the information. And thanks to Lauren for raising the question.

    Paul Ward also reports that "There are several private funiculars in the Silver Lake neighborhood, and until three or four years ago, there was a wonderful funicular at Forest Lawn Cemetery. It was built by the boss in the twenties, because whenever he drove through the gates in the morning, the guard alerted the staff to stop their partying and debauchery and get to work. The manager's house was at the end of a cul-de-sac in Glendale below the cemetery, and when he had the funicular built, he could ascend the grade and coast down the road to his office in his Locomobile, without the staff knowing of his approach. He was then able to catch them in their laziness.

    "The funicular is still there, but the car is gone, and the cable house has been sealed up in concrete."

    From Ray Long: "...there was one (funicular) used for construction of the geodesic dome house in Hollywoodland and one above Hollyridge Drive same canyon. Laurel Canyon had a couple at one time or another. All of them I believe are now among the missing. The dome house was demolished after Buckminister Fuller died.

    "I have been led to believe that there are (present tense) three private funiculars on Santa Catalina Island. They are supposedly little more than inclined elevators for access to private homes.

    "Regarding the two in Hollywoodland. On the west side of the canyon, there was an incline used to haul construction materials up to the now extinct geodesic dome house on the west side of the canyon. One of the houses on the east ridge had an incline of sorts from Hollyridge Drive to the top of the hill. I haven't been up there in 30 years so I don't know the status today.

    "There were a couple more in Laurel Canyon. These private inclines were stretching the definition of the words 'incline' and 'permanent' but they were private and were used as incline elevators or dumb waiters."

    Some homes on steep hillsides use devices called "Hillevators", which are small systems with single cars. There are at least six such homes along Coastline Drive in Malibu.

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    Copyright 1999-2001 by Joe Thompson. All rights reserved.

    Last updated 01-Jan-2001