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June 2004

I Climbed Los Angeles

One small step for our stair-obsessed man, one giant leap for fitness freaks everywhere.

Finding stairs in Echo Park required a refinement of skills I’d developed in Silverlake. I knew less about the neighborhood, and there were more places to walk, with steeper hills. The staircases were more eclectic as well. Some wound through what was almost urban woodland; a series of steps in an area called Fellowship Parkway practically cut through backyards, passing tiny, crackerbox houses. (One resident told me that living on stairs, instead of a street, was like “living in the country in more ways than one.” He meant that regular city services, like garbage collection, were more difficult–you had to cart your own trash up and down the flights; parking, carrying groceries up, and especially moving furniture all presented logistical challenges to what he called the “stairway lifestyle.”) I learned that Fellowship Parkway was originally settled as a summer retreat for bohemians and free thinkers–in the cooler hills, 700 feet above and 2 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

This was getting to be more like hiking than I had imagined. But instead of looking for birds and animals and flowers, I learned about houses and streets and neighborhood legends. One house, I discovered, had been moved here from downtown in the 1940s–cut into pieces and rolled on telephone poles. Some stairs were extinct; they’d been made of wood and rotted away, not to be replaced. There were spots where I could view the snowy San Gabriel Mountains in the wintertime and the Hollywood sign on clear days.

I found another cinematically notable staircase, one that had been featured in a Three Stooges rip-off of the Laurel and Hardy piano scene. I even helped a friend find an apartment, noting “for rent” signs as I passed. I began to engage in a sort of natural history study on some of the houses I saw. Which had their original oak siding? Which had been stuccoed? Why did one family have a trio of pet rabbits hopping in their yard? Didn’t they know that coyotes prowled the area? (I did because I’d seen them on night hikes nearby.)

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