Get Out of Town!
When on the Search for Adventure, Take the Stairs
May, 2015 - Issue #127
We didn't go searching for Hollywood history, but we found it any way.

Our stated goal was exploring some public stairways hidden in L.A. neighborhoods. Largely unknown except to local residents, they are easy to explore thanks to Charles Fleming's "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles," and its resulting publicity.

We didn't have the book, of course. Proper planning shouldn't thwart a Saturday morning whim. A quick Google query gave us enough to go on, so we aimed for the 2.4-mile Hollywood Bowl and Hightower Loop. With common sense and a smart phone, how lost could we get?

"A quick Google query gave us ENOUGH TO
GO ON, so we aimed for the 2.4-mile Hollywood Bowl and Hightower Loop. With common sense
and a smart phone, how lost could we get?"
The uncertainty introduced an element of mystery, which added to our fun. We parked at the Hollywood Heritage museum on Highland, walked east on Camrose Drive, then south on High Tower Drive to the end of the cul-de-sac. There, behind the last garage, we found the first staircase.

"It's like a scavenger hunt, isn't it?" April joked. We climbed the well-maintained concrete steps toward Glencoe Way. Chainlink fence bordering what appeared to be someone's rambling, free-range backyard flanked one side. The other was a mix of paneled fences and houses built into the hillside.

The stairs marched up to Paramount Drive, where our hastily-researched directions left us pondering our next step. After some back-and-forth reconnoitering, I charted a best-guess course on the iPhone.

A couple turns later, we found ourselves at the base of Broadview Terrace. Without prompting, a resident out sweeping confirmed our route. "You found it," he said. "That's the one," indicating the steps and walkway ahead of us.

A map, apparently enlarged from Fleming's book, was posted on the wall, and reassured us that our interloping was at least understood, if not expected.

The houses along Broadview, and the intersecting Alta Loma Terrace, are not accessible by car. Only by the stairs and paths we followed. And by the High Tower elevator, which features in Hollywood history.

Built to serve the neighborhood that sprouted on the hills near the Hollywood Bowl in the 1920s and 1930s, the brown five-story pinnacle appears transplanted from an Italian village. It juts from the bottom of High Tower Drive, a cul de sac faced by single-door garages burrowed into the hillside. Residents with keys can use the elevator. The rest of us hoof it.

An apartment just off the tower's top exit was the home of hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman's 1973 film adaptation of the Raymond Chandler noir classic "The Long Goodbye."

Picturesque gates and meandering paths lead off the terrace walkways to houses tucked behind fences. Bougainvilleas, exploding in spring blossoms, punctuate the yards with color.

Besides revealing a hidden corner of L.A., the walk also showcases the neighborhood's divergent architecture. Classic Spanish Revival. Cottage. Modern. It was an eclectic counterpoint to the suburban homogeneity of our own neighborhood.

Eventually, the walkway deposited us in a parking lot on Highland. The Garmin showed less than two miles covered. Where was our missing half mile? Google Maps on the iPhone didn't offer any clues.

Still exploration-minded, we walked east on Franklin, choosing the unknown over the epicenter of tourist kitsch at nearby Hollywood and Highland.

Our sense of adventure was rewarded at Solar de Cahuenga, a welcoming neighborhood cafe on Franklin and Cahuenga. Calories burned equals breakfast earned, so we ordered a pot of French press coffee, a salmon and goat cheese omelet, and avocado toast (ciabatta smeared with avocado and pesto).

It was another unexpected find in a day of discovery where what we found turned out to be better than what we went looking for.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic, another overlooked pedestrian oasis.

We Walked in L.A.
We found our missing half mile after returning home. The complete directions for our walk, excerpted from "Secret Stairs," are posted online at

Solar de Cahuenga
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