I am always up for an urban walking adventure. Walking around the city is the best way to take note of interesting architectural detail, street art and clues to the history of place.
I like to notice the little pretty spots.
And better understand the neighborhoods.
Los Angeles has been heavily criticized, and rightly so, for eliminating the once excellent public transit system that criss-crossed all over the city until the mid-20th century.
Pacific Electric, also known as the Red Car system, was a privately owned mass transit company consisting of electrically powered streetcars, light rail, and buses that in the 1920s comprised the largest electric railway system in the world.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Where is it now?
There is much written about the dirty dealing and behind-closed-doors political shenanigans of the day–those “follow the money” moments–that shifted support resources from Pacific Electric to the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and multiple oil interests, lining the pockets of the politicians and literally paving the way for freeway systems, creating a dependency on the automobile.
If you happen to remember the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” the subtext is the complete destruction of this once very comprehensive mass transit system. By the mid-60s the Red Cars were gone.
But reminders of that era still exist, and I do wonder how many people walk (or drive) right on by them, not understanding their place in early Los Angeles history.
Much of Los Angeles is elevated and very hilly. Silver Lake, Echo Park, El Sereno, parts of Highland Park, Los Feliz and even Pasadena and Santa Monica–prior to the automobile, relied upon strategically placed stairways to connect elevations, providing homeowners access to leave their homes for the Red Car or trolley.
Today, these public stairs almost blend into the landscape. Trees and homes crowd the access and yet when you know what you’re looking for, there they are!
As curious as I am and eager to explore, sadly I was born without a functioning internal compass. I get lost. Really lost.
So I asked my son and his fiancée if they, and the dogs, could accompany me on my adventure, and armed with my reference book, “Secret Stairs, Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles,” we took off on foot, determined to cover as much of Silver Lake as possible in one afternoon.
Our starting point was “The Music Box Loop,” officially designated because of the famous location where Laurel and Hardy, the comedy duo from the early Classical Hollywood era pushed a piano up the steps in the 1932 Academy Award-winning short “The Music Box.”
The Music Box Loop is 2.5 miles and 705 steps.
These stairs, located at the intersection of Vendome and Del Monte streets, remain exactly as they were in the 1932 film, except that a metal handrail and security lights were added at some point.
We finished that loop and felt energized to continue. A few hours later we completed three distinct loops, covering several miles and I have no idea how many hundred steps.
It was so much fun!
If you had been with us I’d have enjoyed showing you some of the sights and sites.
Look! There’s the Griffith Park Observatory.
And down there is the Silver Lake Reservoir.
And can you see Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park? It’s actually a tourist destination with amazing art and beautiful exhibits, as well as being the final resting place for hundreds of celebrities, from Mary Pickford to Michael Jackson.
There was so much to see…but I’ll have to leave some of it for my next Secret Stair adventure.
If you have an interest in seeing the Laurel and Hardy “Music Box” steps as they appeared in the original film, click HERE for a very brief clip from Turner Classic Movies. The stairs are exactly the same, but you’ll see the surrounding area is quite changed!
I’m not sure which city I’ll tackle for my next adventure, but maybe next time I’ll remember to bring a pedometer.
I want credit for each and every step!