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Angels & Elks

“Elks Convention Coming!” Electrifying words to any city in the early 1900's, but especially to Los Angeles when it meant that, for one glorious and tumultuous week, upwards of 2,000 Elks and families would pour out of the train depots to wander its streets, fill its hotels and restaurants, and cart home countless souvenir plates, postcards and pillows. Scenic excursions- official and unofficial- would be scheduled and plotted on maps, radiating out from the city in every direction, land or sea. The Chamber of Commerce was ecstatic! When Sunday, July 11th, 1909, dawned, the eyes of the World would all turn to California and the activities in the city christened on August 2, 1769 as “Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles—Our Lady Queen of the Angels” (native Indians called the site “Yang-Na”). Learning in 1908 of the upcoming event, the Board of Directors of the Angels Flight Funicular Railway company must have felt like “los Angeles” had carried them to heaven, since Elks Lodge No. 99, THE HOST LODGE FOR THE WHOLE GATHERING, sat conveniently perched just outside the upper terminal of its tracks up the side of Bunker Hill! Visions of revenue danced in their heads, and infused with this euphoria, the Directors decided to both show their gratitude for this windfall AND ensure that every itinerant Elk with a fare in his pocket knew where to deposit it to reach venerable “99.” The lower arch had already been erected, but it was a simple matter to have their own workers carve into its austere surface the bold initials of the B. P. O. E. (who in less than a year's time would be smiling at those letters in happy recognition). Whodunit? Why, the “Angels” did! Just for the “Best People On Earth”!

Angels Flight Railway

In 1901, a funicular railway called the Angels Flight Railway commenced operation in downtown Los Angeles, carrying passengers in either of two counterbalanced tram cars named Olivet and Sinai to cover the 600-foot slope between Bunker Street (now Hill Street) up in the affluent Bunker Hill area and the commercial district (literally) "downtown."

In 1968, the Angels Flight Railway -- dilapidated and fallen into disuse -- was dismantled and stored by the city. A little over 27 years later, it was restored to operation a few hundred feet from its original location and continues as an impressive tourist attraction to the present, carrying visitors in the Turn-of-the-Century style to the heights above the City of the Angels. However, many riders are puzzled by the inscription on the cast-iron arch that serves as the lower entrance gate: Immediately below the words "Angels Flight" are four letters known to our members well -- "BPOE."

Research in the Chicago Headquarters has failed to find the connection between the Order and this curious little railway. If anyone has information that will shed some light on how the letters got there, please let Grand Lodge Historian Mike Kelly know so the facts get into the record. You can reach him by e-mail at mikek@elks.org or by phone at 773/477-2750, ext. 313.

The Angels Have Landed

Back in March of 1997, we piqued our readers' curiosity with mention of the Angels Flight funicular railway in Los Angeles and the mysterious lower-end arch bearing the letters BPOE. Since that time we have been searching for the link-up or proof that the arch was connected with Los Angeles Elks Lodge No. 99 beyond a shadow of a doubt (so what if some historians have "tunnel vision"). The enclosed postcard photo, circa 1908-10, discovered by Missouri Elks Historian Lee Sparks, clearly shows the Elks Lodge perched on the top of Bunker Hill at the high end of the railway. The arch beckoned to any visiting Elks like a voice in the wilderness, promising a fraternal welcome if only they would undergo a short "Angels Flight" to get there. Ninety years later, the Los Angeles Lodge may have moved, but this turn-of-the-century PR effort and many more have made our Nation see our Order and its Members for the true "Angels" that we have always been. (Say, does anyone want to know about the FOUR funicular railroads once found in Cincinnati?)

 

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