Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hidden in the City

We took another walk from Charles Flemings' "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles."

The neighborhood of Silver Lake is centered on a large oval reservoir, nestled among steep hills northwest of downtown and east of Hollywood. In the 1950s, the 101 Hollywood Freeway, the 5 Freeway, and the Glendale Freeway rammed through the area, splitting the neighborhood and dividing small enclaves already isolated by the hilly terrain.

Walk #27 takes you through the neighborhood east of the Silver Lake reservoir, and west of Glendale Freeway.

We started at the corner of Fletcher Drive and Riverside Drive, walking down the long stretch on Riverside running parallel to the Glendale Freeway. The author likes to start and finish walks near a place where you can get something to eat and drink. If it weren't for that, I'd rather have forgone Riverside, since it was noisy with traffic and there wasn't much to see.

Even so, the hillside was intriguing. What had been here before, where these ruined garages and steps to nowhere climbing up the grassy hill?

We were glad to turn onto Gleneden Street, near an elementary school, and then make our way up a gentle hill to our first set of steps, off tiny Silver Lake Avenue.

It's a short flight up, but once you crest the top, you find yourself in a very unexpected place.

This is Silver Lake Court. It's a unique and odd piece of real estate. It's an unincorporated strip of land that was once the right-of-way for the Pacific Electric Red Car Glendale-Burbank line, running behind the houses. Trains ran from downtown to Edendale - Silver Lake/Echo Park's first name - and Atwater Village and Glendale. This stretch was between the India Street Station and the Edendale Station.

The line was one of the first lines in the system. In the 1940s the lines were being closed down, victim to the car culture and to the new innovation of freeways. The rails and stations disappeared after 1955. There are no traces of them now.

If you walk down the dirt road, it soon delves into a woodsy area, sheltered on either side by high hills. It felt other-worldly, wild, and it was hard to believe that we were only a few miles from downtown, in one of the oldest neighborhoods of urban Los Angeles.

In this woods, an encampment of sorts, with a shelter and old furniture and stumps of logs looked like a gathering place, but there was no one there. We passed through the narrow canyon, and out into a broad meadow.

To the left of the meadow, we walked onto a cul-de-sac that is one end of Corralitas Drive. Pretty little bungalows are nestled along one side of this little street.

Corralitas is a little street shaped like a corkscrew. It winds to the north, switches back on itself, and coils around a steep hill. Today it's a completely isolated street, due to the freeway cut. The only access to Corralitas is little Rosebud Avenue, which dips beneath the freeway and intersects with Allesandro Street on the other side.

You can read more about this little neighborhood, the peculiarities of real estate development that created it, and the wildlife living in this sheltered enclave, at the blog "Corralitas Red Car Property."

Here Rosebud dips under the freeway, seen from halfway up the Corralitas Steps

At the intersection of Rosebud, a flight of steps rises steeply up to the next loop of the Corralitas corkscrew.

From the top, you can see east across the freeway to the hill beyond, the northern end of Echo Park. At the top of the hill, several log cabins cling to the side of the cliff.

Walking the corkscrew at the top, you get a view to the west, the other side of Silver Lake and Griffith Park beyond. We followed the corkscrew back down to the bottom where we came from, passing this pretty ochre-painted Spanish house.

We retraced our steps to the Red Car meadow.

We passed this house, still cheerfully decorated for Christmas on January 9.

We followed a gently sloping concrete path that rose upward out of the meadow and emerged at the top in a neighborhood of houses, including large old Spanish revival house with a little sign in the window saying "Holyland Exhibit."

This is a museum and the home of the Holyland Bible Knowledge Society, a small non-profit founded in 1924. The place still functions today, and is open by appointment.

Our path took us past the museum and up Earl Street. Here we encountered the formidable Earl Street Steps.

219 steps in all, it zig-zags up the hill, flights of 21 steps alternating with flights of 15 steps, each separated with a brief landing where you can catch your breath and turn for a view across the freeway toward Glendale and the mountains beyond.

Exhausted, we reached the top, a small cul-de-sac with a few houses, and then - amazingly - the street plunged dizzyingly down the hill on the other side. People who lived here during the days of the Red Car could either walk down to Glendale Boulevard, or take the Earl Street Steps to the line.

What would it be like to live up here? You'd better have good brakes!

A sign on one gate warns "drive slow" in care of cats, but how could you do otherwise in a tiny circle like this, here at the top of the world?

From the top of Earl Street, you can see across the lake to the houses on the other side. We walked down half a block, and then turned north on Hidalgo Street, which runs lengthwise parallel to the lake shore.

Here at one house, early Douglas irises were blooming.

Hidalgo Street rises and falls like a roller coaster.

The houses here climb up the hill, or tumble down away from the street. This house has the remnants of an old funicular rail, used to bring groceries and other cargo uphill from the street.

As the street goes on, you can catch views of the hills of Griffith Park, rising beyond the Silver Lake hill in the foreground.

At the end of the street, beside this lovely little cottage, another stairway goes down, picking up another twisting street called Electric Street, which we followed to find another stairway back down to unpaved Silver Lake Court.

I am always delighted and surprised by the hidden facets of Los Angeles. This city, which can seem so overwhelming, massive, and unfriendly, is full of secret neighborhoods, little treasures. So we can find a hidden informal park, a rural meadow, an isolated street, like a small town nestled within minutes of downtown.

If the closest you ever came to it was a drive along the Glendale freeway, you'd never know it was here.

What hidden places are in your city? Explore them, and share.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The author likes to start and finish walks near a place where you can get something to eat and drink.

The author sounds like a hobbit! At one point in your pictures, it looked like you were on a journey to Rivendell.

Mike P. said...

I used to live at the corner of Fletcher and Riverside. Right above Home restaurant, which used to be a tiny nightclub, is an odd cement platform. The hillside across Fletcher is littered with large cement blocks. I learned that those blocks used to hold a bridge that carried the red car across Fletcher and that platform used to be a station stop. The train continued along Riverside drive and eventually crossed the LA River near Glendale Boulevard heading to Atwater Village. If you drive Glendale Boulevard across the river you can see the large cement pilings still standing in the river. I never walked south on Riverside the way that walk suggests, but I know the neighborhoods up in those hills and they are amazing! I love all these hidden treasures around our city!

By the way, I found your blog via The Jason Show and I love it! I love exploring LA and I already have many places you've suggested that I am eager to visit!

Sue said...

Oh my goodness...I'm exhausted just walking with you through the pictures! It is amazing that in one walk you can go past so many interesting and unique places! It looks like fun, but I might need someone to carry me on the last leg of the journey!

JCK said...

So many great treasures revealed on your blog this week. I love how you took us along with you on this walk. The 3rd picture looks so mysterious.

I love our city. And how trees and hills can be tucked right into the urban areas.

M. Bouffant said...

I'll be durned! My friend & sexual associate lived just a blk. east of the lake (around which we often walked) for several yrs., but I had no idea of those stairs & wide open spaces so close.

There are indeed many hidden things to find here in the city of mystery.

Anonymous said...

I continue to be amazed that these staircases still exist -- and now especially that the canyon/meadow/wildland area exists! Since I live between 2 small towns, there really aren't any hidden spaces like you describe so very well, but if I was still in El Paso, I would have to share some wonderful spots there.

Susan B said...

I've really enjoyed your travelogues of these hidden LA treasures. Fascinating!

Diane E said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your tour of our neighborhood. We tend to forget the public staircases make it a regional attraction.

The Holyland Exhibition has been instrumental in preserving the history of our neighborhood in photos since 1924. You can see their photos on our neighborhood blog:

Anonymous said...

You captured our neighborhood well. It's a great place to live.

Glennis said...

I am so grateful to the visitors who live in that neighborhood for visiting my blog and commenting. Thanks!!!

And JKG - buy or borrow the book and take your kids on some walks - they are just about the age where they will have fun in these explorations!

Anonymous said...

When we were buying our current house (or starting to consider it) and exploring the area directly around it we were equally surprised by the woody 'other worldly' canyon just steps from our front door and minutes from downtown. It is truly a treasure and is visited regularly by us. :) Thanks for documenting it so well. JS (Riverside Pl.)

Kelsey Christine Photography said...

This is great! What time of year was this? I'd like to go when it's this green!