Our latest tour of LA’s “Secret Stairs” offers a dose of Hollywood history and glamour. You only need to park once to explore two completely different neighborhoods that sit immediately south of the Hollywood Bowl, one on each side of Highland. To the west is High Tower, a longer climb up into a warren of houses in a unique neighborhood without cars. To the east is the elegant Hollywood enclave, Whitley Heights. Exploring these historic neighborhoods on a beautiful January day is a great way to begin 2020.
PRO TIP: Park in one of the lots to the east of Highland (at Camrose) – no one will bother you as long as you’re not trying to do this adventure when there is a concert at the Bowl. Be sure to download Charles Fleming’s book “Secret Stairs” to your Kindle (or print out these chapters) so you can follow his intricate directions – you’d be lost without his apt descriptions and helpful hints.
HIGH TOWER: Here are some shots from our ascent to High Tower. We wound our way up through several hillside neighborhoods to the ultimate destination: a set of tightly set homes, each connected to the other by a warren of paths, all leading to the High Tower. To get to their cars, which are parked underground or in garages near Highland, residents must use the elevator, or walk. The old elevator is privately operated (neighbors join an association) and is difficult to service, but it is the absolute key to life for these residents.
Most Angelenos don’t know High Tower exists, but a bevy of celebrities were attracted to the history, and were renters in this intimate enclave over time (including Kurt Cobain, David Copperfield, Timothy Hutton, and Tim Burton). The elevator itself was featured in the film “The Long Goodbye.”
Perhaps it’s the view that motivated them – see below! If you have access to the Wall Street Journal, you can read this article and get a glimpse into the lives of a few of the residents. It’s not a natural place to raise kids, and what happens when you need to do construction or repair your house – it all has to be carried in! But there is something magical here, and when we queried a UPS delivery man who was huffing and puffing up the hill with a package, he seemed more amused than irritated at this unusual beat.
According to the WSJ, the community is a tight one – and no wonder. If you had to ride in this tiny elevator together to take out their trash or get to your car, you’d be hard pressed to hold back many secrets.
WHITLEY HEIGHTS: Designed with streets that wind around the hillside as if a peel around an orange, and fashioned after Italy’s most glamour towns, Whitley Heights remains a timeless retreat from city life. Besides nicely groomed hillsides, the Mediterranean architecture brings a cohesive feeling to this enclave, a neighborhood was once the refuge of Hollywood’s elite – from stars like Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis and Rudolf Valentino, to writers such as Ben Hecht and William Faulkner. Current residents take pride in the history – every home is manicured and well-kept. Here is a link to the neighborhood association website, with an archive of vintage photos and stories of the famous residents.
The row of trees is backed by a wall designed to keep out the noise of the 101 Freeway, and is near where Valentino’s estate was once situated. Although this portion of the adventure isn’t as lengthy as the first, the leisurely gardens and spectacular vistas make it worth the effort.
More about Charles Fleming:
Charles Fleming started exploring LA’s hidden staircases as a trick to exercise more – after two hip replacements and a lot of pain and stiffness, he was considering back surgery and was told to spend more time walking. What started as a clever inspiration to get moving became a passion project, and the curious journalist soon delved into the history of each area’s network of steps. The project turned first into a website (click here), then into a book in 2010 (a best seller for Santa Monica Press). Fleming eventually wrote a second book in 2015 based on more adventures, Secret Walks, and has recently published a book about the Berkeley Hills. He teaches at USC Annenberg, and writes the LA Walks column and covers cars and motorcycles for the Business page.
He never had back surgery… all the more reason to follow his lead.