Monday, October 10, 2011

A brief history of Mt. Angelus and its stair streets

Mt. Angelus' "Stair Street Ghosts"

By Louisa Van Leer

Stair Streets are the urban residue of the days when cars were the exception, not the rule; these scenic hillside paths can be found scaling the steepest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, from Echo Park to Hollywood and beyond. Mt. Angelus, the hilltop Highland Park neighborhood near the intersection of York Boulevard and Figueroa Street has a unique collection of nine historic Stair Streets. Although these walkways are still functional as ever, and boast a rich history, many of the stair streets are currently inaccessible to the public, gated ghosts on the hill.

The Mt. Angelus stairs were erected in the early 1900’s by the dynamic Cora Scott Pond-Pope, b.1856, the original developer of the Mt. Angelus Tract (or Hotel Tract, for there was a hotel planned for the hill prior to the land crash of 1889). Pond-Pope was an influential shaper of the woman’s suffrage and temperance movements in Boston, organizing eighty-five suffrage leagues and creating “the National Pageant” a traveling theatrical recruiting mechanism for the movement. Pond-Pope moved to Los Angeles to develop the land and continue her activism, she built a home in Garavanza with Susan B. Anthony’s deputy, The Rev. Anna Howard Shaw where the movement furthered its activities.

Pond-Pope named many of the Mt. Angelus streets and stairways to pay tribute to influential figures in her life, from well known activists in the women’s suffrage movement to abolitionists whom she admired. They include Harriet Beecher Stowe (Stowe Terrace) and "fighting Bob” LaFollette, Gov. of Wisconsin, a Pro-labor, Pro-Women’s suffrage member of the Progressive Party and his wife Belle Case La Follette who was a lawyer and activist , both personal friends of Pond-Pope. Some streets are named for people who are less well known, including Mary Livermore (Livermore Terrace) journalist, suffragist and founder of The Agitator, a journal of the woman’s suffrage movement and William Lloyd Garrison (Garrison Drive) publisher of The Liberator, an influential abolitionist newspaper. Sumter may be named in honor of the Battle of Fort Sumter, where the opening shots of the Civil War were fired and the abolitionists gained a beachhead in1861.

Fast forward to 1987…five of the nine public stair streets on Mt. Angelus were closed by the Los Angeles City Council after neighborhood complaints of crime. Twenty-four years later the stair streets are still gated and much of the original street signage has disappeared. Today, there is a growing movement to rediscover the stair streets of Los Angeles, the popular “Big Parade” urban hike of over 100 stairs, organized by Mt. Washington resident Dan Koeppel, had its third anniversary this spring and two recent books devoted to exploring the stair streets of Los Angeles have been published. A look into the future… as if by historical séance, the stair streets ghosts will be raised from the dead on Halloween weekend for a one-day costumed walking tour of all nine stairs that will allow the community to experience the history of Mt. Angelus through a public tour of its unique and memorable Stair Streets.

Article first published in “Cornerstone,” newsletter of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, Los Angeles, Summer 2011 issue

1 comment:

  1. This was a great walk. You can read about it on my blog