Climbing the Secret Stairs of Los Angeles

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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It was so much fun!

View of downtown Los Angeles, looking down over the rooftops

View of downtown Los Angeles, looking down over the rooftops

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.

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And down there is the Silver Lake Reservoir.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

71 thoughts on “Climbing the Secret Stairs of Los Angeles

  1. bruce thomas witzel

    So crazy, the dismantling of a perfectly good transit system. We enjoyed the new transit system when we stayed in Pasadena a few years ago. The freeways terrify me though. . . Cool about the stairs. Thanks Debra, for more LA history.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      You’re referring to the Gold Line, Bruce. I enjoy that line so much. We waited and waited for that to be completed, and now they are approaching the finish of a new extension to the Gold Line that will actually take me to work, east of Pasadena (going the other direction away from downtown). I am so glad that we are constructing new lines of public transportation, but it sure is ironic, given that we had a really broad and consistent system at one time. I suppose that’s true of so many things. Hindsight! 🙂

      Reply
  2. M-R

    And you deserve it, Debra !!! My heart sinks at the very thought … GOODONYERMATE !
    Super post; I had no idea LA is so good-looking ! Keep ’em coming, OK? 🙂

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I’m glad I could share a little different perspective of Los Angeles, M-R. There are some wonderful places I still hope to explore. I’m glad you’ll enjoy hearing about them.

      Reply
  3. Chatter Master

    How beautiful. And imagine how less congested our world would be if these transit systems were still in use and appreciated. I wonder how much of the world would LOVE to have them back.

    I just did some urban hiking with my friend. We disagree on how far we went. I say 10 miles, she says 7 or 8. I want credit too! 😉 We also said we would get pedometers before our next adventure.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      After I published this post last night I went right to the Reader to do some blog reading and definitely smiled when I saw that you had enjoyed your own urban hiking adventure, Colleen. We tried to figure out how many miles we’d walked and we couldn’t agree either. I still can’t believe we didn’t think to bring a pedometer! Next time! 🙂

      Reply
  4. nrhatch

    Fun post, Debra.

    I’ve got a riddle for you: The more we take, the more we leave behind ~> what are we taking and leaving? (Answer below).

    I enjoyed the Laurel and Hardy clip . . . but OUCH! and OW! and OOPS!

    I do believe that transit systems were dismantled at the behest of oil, gas, and auto companies who wanted demand for their products to skyrocket. Some politicians may have been short-sighted, not corrupt, but I expect that corruption abounded.

    Have you solved the riddle yet? (Answer below).

    I love your photos of the secret stairs. They have blended well into the landscape of encroaching homes and plants.

    Next time you go walking, wear your pedometer so you can measure the footsteps you take . . . as well as those you leave behind. (That’s the answer!) 😎

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      The staircases are fun to see all nestled in between some lovely old properties, and I’ve seen them for years and wanted to know more. I have enjoyed digging up the stories. One of the major contributors to Los Angeles losing the public transportation was heavy lobbying by the owner of the Los Angeles Times, who “coincidentally” was on the board of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company as well as other big oil interests. He made sure that anyone who stood in the way of “progress” was labeled (libeled?) as a Communist! LOL! I read that and though the terms have changed perhaps, but everything old is new again! Your riddle was very clever, Nancy. You gave me a good chuckle. 🙂

      Reply
  5. AuAu

    Very nice places.
    I like it better now than at the music box movie, seems more cozy.
    Its such a shame about the detriment of the public transportation in favor of the automobile business, the same happens where I live, and I guess in most parts of the world too.
    “Why give a good public service when you can charge every household with a couple of expensive cars, high price gasoline, repairs and overpriced parts, taxes, insurance, etc; its a gold mine that never ends” 😦

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      You definitely understand the way it works, AuAu. The great public transportation system in Los Angeles was really very effective, but in the name of “progress” they were slowly eliminated, and one of the first freeways in the entire west was initiated in Los Angeles. Now we are absolutely overrun with cars and freeways. I’m not sure about that progress! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Tom McCubbin

    I remember the Laurel and Hardy movie scene. What what a piece of history! It makes me wonder too why so much of our past is forgotten. The sense of community pride seems lost, but we can get it back if we go out on foot to see what’s around us. Nice photos!

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I have been so thrilled to see that there are many organizations and grass roots efforts to keep the history alive, Tom. They are very small in number compared to the population, but I appreciate what they contribute. I so agree with you that community pride is very hard to find. I think it remains in small pockets, but we could have so much more. I hope we can get it back. I love California, even with all of its problems. I am so glad you enjoyed the photos. Those old neighborhoods are really pretty great! 🙂

      Reply
  7. nancytex2013

    I just love how you provide such a great back story for all your lovely photos, Debra, even when the back story is about political and big-business corruption. 🙂
    Now you have me wanting to get back to LA just to see how many secret staircases I can find!

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Thank you, Nancy. It’s the context of the city that most interests me. You can find some of these staircases on the web. But if you come to Los Angeles let me know. I’d love to walk with you!

      Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I honestly feel there are wonderful things about California, Kate, but like everywhere, many things that are far less appealing. There are many socio-economic pressures that make California living very hard, but it is beautiful. That seems to keep me happy for now. I hope someday you might come for a nice visit. 🙂 That will probably be more than enough for you. Come in winter! LOL!

      Reply
  8. lifeonthecutoff

    . . . and you deserve credit for each and every step!
    What a fun adventure, Debra, and an interesting story of the demise of the Red Car system. Shame. Chicago still has a transit system, but, used to have electric cars. My elders always referred to them as street cars. Outside of the city, other than the trains, we have a mass of expressways that are clogged up daily during rush hours.
    Fun to see the original steps of Music Box fame. I loved this post.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I think my family always just called them the Red Cars, but that may be because by the time I was aware of them all the others had probably disappeared. I do remember the tracks in the streets and some remembrance of the transit system. Now, of course, billions of dollars are in play putting them back. LOL! Isn’t that the way. I had such a good time with my walking tour. I might do it again sometime just taking photos of the houses. They were so interesting, too. I won’t be walking again too soon unless we can do it early in the morning. It’s getting too warm. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the Music Box steps, Penny. I got a kick out of seeing them as they were! 🙂

      Reply
  9. Mustang.Koji

    705 steps just in that loop? OMG! You are in great shape!

    I had not heard of these forgotten stairs in LA. Thanks for the insight. When dad first returned from Japan after having us kids, we moved to Indiana and First Street in LA. They had, I believe, the blue P-car line? The overhead wires remained up for years after they stopped running.

    The sights you photographed so nicely from “up there” were superific. I had no idea of that vantage point. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I am thankful for good health and a lot of determination. I’m not sure I’m in marvelous shape, but I did it! LOL! And it inspired me to do a lot more. I really did have a good time. I think there were several mass transit lines at one point, but the only one I actually remember is the Red Line. My grandfather made sure that we kids had a chance to ride it in 1963 when it was being phased out. THe last ride was in Long Beach. Now we are spending billions basically putting some of these systems back. It’s pretty ironic, isn’t it!

      Reply
  10. Slow Happy Living

    Good job climbing all those stairs! As you’ve probably surmised about me, I seldom go anywhere (especially somewhere new) without wearing my GPS watch. I enjoy taking credit for every step I take, and my gadgets keep me motivated not just to be active, but to be ever-more active.
    And yes, at walking speed you do see your city in new and exciting ways. Thanks for taking us along on your explorations!

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      My son has an app on his phone we could, and SHOULD have used, Lori. I was so disappointed not to have an accurate record of our steps, but I won’t let that happen again. 🙂 I had such a good time, and I feel inspired to do a lot more!

      Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      It was so fun for me, Cathy, because I know these neighborhoods by car, and have never walked them. I really loved just noticing detail and you would have enjoyed the landscaping in many of the postage-stamp sized front yards. The homes are large, but because of the contour of the hills, they are multi-level and narrow. People do such wonderfully creative things with small spaces. I’m going to do this walk again sometime and pay less attention to the stairs, and instead take photos of the landscaping. I’ll be sure you don’t miss that post. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Did you hear me laugh out loud? LOL! I didn’t say how quickly (slowly) I took some of those stairs. My son was very patient and kept cheering me on. This was a challenging walk in many ways, but I was so motivated and excited about doing something I’d wanted to do for years. Motivation took over where age might have been a deterrent. Now that I know I can do it, I’m all in for the next one. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Andra Watkins

    We must take this walk together sometime, Debra. This is my kind of urban tour. Every time I read a post like this, I wish I’d known you when I visited Los Angeles.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      You know, I have thought the same thing so many times! And the funny thing is that we aren’t the best traveled people, but we spent some time in Charleston and I adored it…if only I had known you then, too! I think there will be a time we may share some adventures. It pleases me to no end that you’d be interested. ox

      Reply
  12. hotlyspiced

    That sure is a lot of stairs! I’m not sure I could manage to climb my way to the top. You must be super fit! It’s so sad that dirty dealings destroyed LA’s public transport system. It does seem utter madness xx

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      In the 1950s no one could have predicted that one day there would be so many people in California that we would practically live in freeway gridlock, making our cars our second homes. I’m sure they thought an electric trolley car was an antique! Now we’re spending billions of dollars trying to put it back. Go figure! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the walking tour. I sure enjoyed my little adventure. I hope you’re doing well, Marie? It’s so good to see you here. 🙂

      Reply
  13. raisingdaisy

    That’s such an interesting walking tour. I’m like you, I always go for the small, off the beaten path, pretty places. Those are always the most interesting.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      It is fun to have the luxury of time to be able to just explore with no particular purpose other than to enjoy following an impulse. And it is so much more delightful when I can share it with friends who “get it!” Thank you. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Arlee Bird

    I’ve lived in the L.A. area for over 20 years but have never visited any of these stairs. I’ve heard of them and I remember seeing the Laurel and Hardy film a number of times since I was a kid. Some great photos here and fun to visit these place through your eyes.

    Lee
    A Faraway View

    Reply
  15. rommel

    I didn’t know where these stairs are going. Unbelievable. Exactly why I love your history digging posts. 😀 Nice turn there, Debra.

    Reply
  16. Karen

    I love your posts, they are always so interesting. I hope you had a big meal after climbing all those stairs and a good night’s sleep. 🙂

    Reply
  17. restlessjo

    I’m feeling super fit after all those steps, Debbie 🙂 Or do I mean exhausted?
    Shame about the Red Cars but I loved your walk. I’m off to post one too. Happy Memorial Day!

    Reply
  18. Dee Ready

    Dear Debra, your postings are always . . . always . . . so interesting, When days are good for me health-wise and headache-wise and tiredness-wise, I read blogs 4 days a week. Yours gets read on Monday and so when I know that I’m going to be reading something you wrote, I’m always excited to see just what you’ve been doing in your fair city and what I’ll learn. What of the joys of life is learning and one of the joys of being retired is having more time to learn. Right now I’m researching Bronze-Age Greece and the Aegean. It’s fascinating. You’re there in LA and I’m in Attic in the 13th century BCE! Peace.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Dee, I really appreciate your enthusiasm and support, my friend. I enjoy sharing with you, and given how little time you have to devote to more reading, I’m really grateful you choose to read what I have to share. I am fascinated with all the study and research you must be doing in addition to your writing. I just don’t know how you do it! I’m hoping you’re continuing to do well and maintaining your health. I look forward to reading your book when it is published. I’ll feel privileged to have traveled that 13th century BCE road with you. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Dee Ready

        Dear Debra, I just so hope that this novel–when it’s completed–and the Palestine novel/first-century CE–WILL be published. That’s not going to happen until I get an agent and finding someone who would like to represent my work is being difficult. I don’t know whether it’s my writing or whether I’m choosing topics to write about that are not of interest to the agents and the general public. I’m trying to get an agent for that angel manuscript you read but thus far, no luck. So when you think of me, please see me as published!!!!!! Peace.

        Reply
        1. Three Well Beings Post author

          I certainly will, Dee. I don’t believe that your writing would be a hindrance to finding your book publishable. You are a very strong writer! And as for topic, if there’s anything that concerns me it is the fact that too many people appear to settle for reading pablum. Of course there are many, many people who want to read a quality novel, yearn to learn something when they read, and enjoy the challenge of reading a book with some depth and heft. I think the right agent will understand there is an audience. I will continue to visualize your book sitting on my library shelf. 🙂

          Reply
  19. Otto von Münchow

    Credit given! What an adventure – in the middle of the urban jungle. You really get to see LA from a different angle. Thanks for taking us along. I hope you enjoyed the rest afterwards.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Thank you, Otto. I was rather proud of myself for keeping up with my son, although I think he was kindly taking it easy for my sake. 🙂 I had a great time, however!

      Reply
  20. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen

    Wow.. I’m tired just looking at all those stairs, lol! I think that’s a trip I’d love to try, though:) I always enjoy your ramblings around the city and countryside.. and your photography, Deb. It makes me long to be a tourist in your city. I enjoyed the clip of L&H too. What a shame about your rail system.. but we’ve done a full circle haven’t we, it won’t be long before we begin putting that sort of system back in out of necessity!

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      That’s exactly what is happening, Barb. We took out all the electric bus lines and now we’re spending billions of dollars putting them back! It’s a shame we don’t have better foresight!The city is so much more interesting when visited on foot. There are dozens of stairway walking tours to enjoy, and I hope to do a few more while I am still able. I think you’d enjoy them, too. 🙂

      Reply
  21. Perpetua

    Gosh, the inhabitants of Los Angeles must have strong knees, Debra! Mine are twingeing at the very sight of all those steep steps. 🙂 I really enjoyed this and love your atmospheric photos. There are long flights of steps like this in many European cities – the Spanish Steps in Rome or the steps of Montmartre in Paris and I climbed up and down lots in Prague too.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      There aren’t too many people who walk the steps now, Perpetua, and I have a feeling that back in the day when they were necessary, people did so much more walking and were probably in much better shape. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. 🙂

      Reply
  22. 2e0mca

    I think you might get some challenges to the ‘the largest electric railway system in the world’ claim 😉 But you have hit a fascinating piece of history with your photographs and narrative. We are busy recovering our lost railway lines and opening new transit routes as the realisation has finally sunk in that the car isn’t anything other than a personal privilege, When those who live in major cities realise that the car is a luxury rather than a necessity then we may see moves to a more sustainable world. This needs the rich to recognise their responsibility like the kings of old to lead the citizens by example – unfortunately I doubt that they have the moral fabric. Getting into the Range Rover and turning on the aircon is sooo much more acceptable than working up a sweat walking the 5 minutes down to the shops and back 😦

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Ah, the Metropolitan Transit Authority made the claim of it being the largest electric railway system in the mid-1920s, but maybe that was for one day. 🙂 A great deal of money is now being invested in an attempt to establish light rail and mass transit methods once again. It’s too bad we didn’t hold onto any of the infrastructure. Separating Southern Californians from their cars, and the larger the better, is an effort that doesn’t make sense to me. Gasoline prices increase and the public wouldn’t think of cutting back. We finally purchased a small hybrid and have been thrilled with the economy. I think of that with a smile every time I park next to a Range Rover. 🙂

      Reply
  23. Pingback: She Took Me In And Gave Me Breakfast | The Accidental Cootchie Mama

    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      We had such a lovely visit with Andra and MTM, and since it wasn’t at all planned, I felt fortunate to have the time we did have…but they’ll need to come back so we can hit all the hot spots. LOL! She did get to meet Darwin–a real highlight I’m sure. hahaha!

      Reply
  24. Inger

    I liked living in Los Angeles all those years and it is so nice to see someone doing the city some justice. There are many interesting places to explore in the city and this is certainly one of them.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I have somewhat stumbled upon the “assignment” of bringing little slices of Los Angeles to the blogging community. I find so many places really of interest and so it falls naturally for me to share. I have really enjoyed hearing that so many are surprised at some of the points of interest. I think the media attention to Hollywood has given a false impression of the city, don’t you?

      Reply
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