Friday, November 30, 2007

Walking Echo Park

When my mother Mary was in town this month, we filled up the hours between drinking wine, eating food and sleeping with a walking tour of Echo Park. In true Los Angeleno style, the walking tour started at a location you had to drive to, and were strongly advised to drive between the 4-5 different sub-neighborhoods as opposed to walking between them. I laughed. Then I got in my car.

This particular walking tour was a tour looking at houses built on the intricate stairway system in Echo Park that gave early Angelenos access back and forth from houses on the hill to the streetcars running down below. Houses were built on these hills prior to the time when automobiles became the prevalent form of transportation in Los Angeles. The irony of the "walking tour" does not escape me.

The steps were built originally in wood, and slowly since late in the 19th century the wood has been replaced by concrete. Most stairs were built in partnership between the city and private interests including the street car providers. The thing that endlessly fascinates is the constant nagging thought of not just traveling up and down these steps every time one wants to come and go from their house, but also the fact that the materials and machines that built the structures had to be carted up and down the stairs as well. Even house #1 on the tour. It was just built in 2005, and despite all the mod cons we enjoy, all the materials had to be carted by hand up the hillside. There is just no other way to do it. There is literally no access to these homes by car. Some of the hills have small parking areas down at the bottom of the stairs. People who live here must do their shopping in small bits daily as opposed to the suburbanite custom of one massive haul per week. This is the view from the porch that hangs off the back of that brand new house.

We walked four main sets of stairs, the tallest being the Baxter stairs with close to 250 steps. Off most of the stairways were two or more houses open to the walking tour to come in, view the architecture and marvel at someone's housekeeping and decorating skills. I was told off early on during the tour for taking pics, so I don't have many of the interiors. And due to the small size of the real estate lots it was hard in some cases to get a great pic of outdoor spaces. House #2 (taken before the tell off) did afford me some good photo opportunities. I love their decorating style. 1960's yuppy bohemian meets African safari. Beautiful!

Another stairway....i love bougainvillea anywhere, but especially in surprising little places where it pops out its beautiful head and says hello.

One of the things all the houses we saw had in common was their remarkable use of outdoor space. Every single house had used the outdoors to create an extra living room for the inhabitants. This example is especially lovely because the corner of the concrete banquette looks out over an amazing view off the hillside. I can envision people enjoying that view throughout all two seasons one experiences during the trajectory of a year in Los Angeles.

Our last stop of the afternoon was a visit to the bar at Edendale, one of our favorite watering holes. Mixville Bar in Edendale Restaurant is housed in a historic firehouse sandwiched in between Echo Park and Silverlake. It was built in 1924, and it still retains beautiful pressed tin ceilings, hardwood floors and glass and wood truck bay doors at the front and back. Edendale, named after the original name of the neighborhood it stands in, was home to the first movie studio in Los Angeles, built in 1909. The bar at Edendale is named after cinematic cowboy Tom Mix's studio western "town" that stood just a few blocks away in the 1920's. Tom Mix was a big enough star at the time to warrant his own studio lot. That lot was called Mixville, and so is the bar at Edendale.

I love my neighborhood, and I love even more that it is steeped in the history and origins of the modern cultural production of this country. What a great experience to see and learn so much about the hills that surround us in Echo Park.


Anne said...

We used to live in Echo Park and sometimes I miss our little apartment up a steep flight of stairs! The houses you photographed are gorgeous! I bet it was quite a workout;).

Rachael Narins said...

I love this post, and the photos!

And I had no idea about the Edendale being an old studio...I was just told the other day that the building El Cid is in was the oldest studio in town (and now I know it never was one in the first place...ha)

Thanks for the awesome post and Happy New Year!

Food, she thought. said...


I think my post was misleading. Edendale the restaurant never housed a movie studio. Edendale the neighborhood housed the first movie studio in Los Angeles. My bad.