Climbing Los Angeles One Step at a Time

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Walk #10 : Happy Valley and Montecito Heights

Distance: 3.7 miles
Steps: 626
Difficulty: 5
"This is an astonishing walk - very long and very rigorous - through one of the city's most unknown areas. As you walk you'll find horizon-to-horizon views of the Los Angeles basin, streets named after minerals and gemstones, and a network of unpaved mountain roads - all less than five miles from City Hall." Taken from "Secret Stairs" by Charles Fleming.

He calls it a "walk?" On this day it felt more like a death march! Long and tough, it included only 626 steps but we all certainly felt it. It was also long in memories as when we first moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1976 we lived in nearby Lincoln Heights and there was much that was familiar. This post is long because the walk was long..
We began this walk at Huntington Drive and Monterey Road. These 2 streets also intersect in San Marino but this was definitely not that hoity-toity neighborhood. Instead we met a the other one which is much more hardscrabble and less well-heeled. Nevertheless it was a true adventure and a walk down Memory Lane for me.
Our first stairway dates to 1928 and contained 103 steps. They call this Rose Hills but it's not to be confused with the Rose Hills cemetery chain! This is an old working-class neighborhood with plenty of color, barking dogs, and varied architecture. Did I mention the barking dogs??

The Regulars: Willie, Charles, Vlad
Willie called it from afar. He said the buildings pictured above were 'projects' and indeed they were! It was fine though. It wasn't rough and nobody harassed us or did we ever feel in danger. These are not the projects I remember when I lived in NY nor the ones that you see in the opening credits of "Good Times."
A community garden in the Rose Hill projects.
These steps led to nowhere.
A dry, dusty area with nothing to enjoy. We were soon back on the streets.

Many of the local streets are named after minerals and gems. That will explain my pictures of the various street signs. By the way, 'gems' or 'gemstones' are pieces of minerals that are cut and polished to make jewelry but some organic matter and rocks are also made into jewelry and can be considered gems!
The stairway above contained 106 steps and dates to 1928.
This is an old hillside neighborhood. As you can see, the hillside is claiming the walkway.

The walk now took on a more rural feel even though we could see that we would look down and see the city. On several occasions we saw wild melons growing on the parched hillside.

Happy Valley in the foreground and El Sereno beyond the hill. Taken from Montecito Heights.

The stairway pictured above was interesting as they form a raised walkway. If you live in the middle of the walkway it really is a far walk - and you have to bring your trashcans down!
A house along the walk-street.
As we continued down the walkway we came upon a massive stairway. It contained multiple landings and 191 steps. While they are a marvel what we found at the top was surprising.

Don't let the smiles fool you..

My attempt at artistic photography.
We lived nearby years ago and I remember that these buildings served as the warehouses for "The Broadway" department stores.

This is what we encountered at the top - uneven, rutted, unpaved streets. It was hot and dusty and the neighborhood took on a really back-country feel.

More wild melons.
As we continued along this rough road we encountered this fellow. He was pulling into his driveway - a Four-Wheel Drive is a must and he seemed interested in what we were doing. He was very friendly and told us that he is a member of the local LA 32 Neighborhood Council. He has a message: "Don't call it El Sereno; call it LA 32!"

After a rough climb we arrived onto paved streets and found incredible views of Downtown Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium. Too bad it was so hazy as the picture would have been amazing.

This saloon was not open for business.

This same area is where my brother and I used to fly our kites and run around for the year that we lived there. We moved from the outskirts of NYC to this area and it really was quite a change. Right below the trees is our old neighborhood which overlooked Lincoln High School and we too had the clear views of Downtown and County USC Medical Center. I especially remember views were more memorable when the Dodgers were playing night games.

More dogs.

From far above we could hear Mexican music blaring. I guess they wanted to serenade the whole neighborhood.
I think it was a 1939 Chevy.

These 2 characters were dancing in the streets!

Which stairway should we take?
The next-to-last stairway consisted of 123 shady steps and took us back to 'civilization.' We walked along a drab stretch of Mission Road for several blocks.

Our final stairway - 23 steps.

This is another view of the elevated walkway we were on earlier only this time we were walking on the street and in the opposite direction.

As the restaurant pictured above was closed we ended our walk with a meal at our local favorite restaurant when we are in the Highland Park area - Chico's. Good food, great prices! They are at Avenue 50 and Figueroa Street.

Feel free to join me as I discover hidden parts of Los Angeles and tackle the remaining 22 stair walks.

Steps walked to date: 10,859.

Follow me on Twitter: @ClimbingLA


  1. Okay. I am exhausted all over again! It was an amazing walk but I really had to push myself. Thanks for the great write up. It was fun seeing where you and your brother used to play too!

  2. I am so glad I read this. I got a little nervous around the public housing area. I saw some young me glaring at me and I beat a hasty retreat. I will now go back again.

  3. Thank You for making the effort to place this great venture of exploration, in our community. My name is Anthony Manzano, a resident in the communinty of Rose Hills, recognized as a community leader and advocate for improved Ciity services.
    I have studied the history of our community, and from begining to end, you enjoyed the area of Los Angeles that is nearly lost. It is not Lincoln Heights, nor Happy Valley, just as it is not Montecito Heights. I would be more than happy to share a Portfolio of this history of this area cover over 8,000 years with the same identifying marker, that of the Rose.
    I noticed you met RJ, on the dirt road, hes is an upstanding Neighbor, that greets and assist those 'Tourists', that pass through our community. Please feel free to reach me, Thank You again.