The Man in the High Tower

Locals despise Hollywood Boulevard. And with good reason: it’s our perfectly engineered tourist trap. Walking in is easy, but escape is much harder.

As soon as you set foot on the pavement, the first thing that hits you—quite literally—are the crowds. Walls of people pushing past, confining you to one side of the sidewalk, leaving you desperately grasping for the hand of your companion as you try to needle your way through. The stars embedded in the sidewalk, a cute gimmick from afar, turn into perilous obstacles as groups of people suddenly stop in front of you and crowd around the name of their favorite celebrity and start taking pictures. Men thrust CDs at you, tour company operators bellow their offerings, strange people try to clear a patch of sidewalk for some cringe-inducing show, and a guy dressed as Freddy Krueger waves his claws in your direction. Maybe it would feel safer inside a car, but then you look up the street and the traffic never ends. Just an endless stream of bumper-to-bumper honking metal, hands reaching from the insides, desperately clawing at the windows and begging to be let out. Never mind. The only sanity to be found in this mess is in the patient eyes of the saintly woman running the bacon-wrapped hot dog cart, the only authentically local thing to be found here. And while you’re admiring the sizzling meat and contemplating buying one, someone nearly shoves you into the searing hot metal. That’s it. Time to come up for air.

Hollywood Boulevard is a place almost no local ventures into willingly. Either you have to work there, or you’re being dragged there by your friend visiting from out of town. But if one braves the nightmarish realm of Hollywood and Highland long enough to pass out of it, there are hidden gems to be found nearby. And one of them is in the hills due north from the Hollywood & Highland Center, just on the other side of the hill from the far more beloved Hollywood Bowl. It’s called the High Tower.

To be clear, the High Tower isn’t really the focus of this post. It is merely the exclamation mark to the most beautiful stairway walk in all of Los Angeles. Every compilation of scenic walks in L.A. highlights the High Tower, and you might even run into a guided tour walking the stairways. Tucked up on the hill behind the Hollywood Bowl is a tiny neighborhood of houses that you can’t drive to. They line a street—an officially designated city street, with a name and street signs and everything—that is actually a pedestrian path. You can only access this neighborhood by walking there. Such a thing is an extreme rarity anywhere in the United States, let alone Los Angeles.

As you can see from the map, there are a lot of stairways crisscrossing the neighborhood, and the nice thing is you can build your own itinerary. The one I’ve written below is recommended for first-timers, because I’ve tried to make it the most straightforward and easy walk possible. Some of these stairways are a lot easier to find if you go one direction versus another, so I’ve written this itinerary with that in mind.

The High Tower is about a 20 minute walk north from the Hollywood/Highland Metro station on the Red Line. When you exit the station, you’ll emerge onto Hollywood Boulevard (don’t worry, you won’t have to brave it for long). From here, you just take Highland Avenue due north from the station (I prefer to cut through the Hollywood & Highland Center for the first block, as it’s a nicer pedestrian experience and you at least have the giant elephant statues to look at). Don’t cross Highland, just continue up the road for about 10 minutes until you reach Camrose Drive/Milner Road.

On the way up Highland, you’ll walk past the bizarre headquarters of the Hollywood American Legion Post 43, an Art Deco structure built to resemble an Egyptian temple. The American Legion once played a major role in conservative politics, leaning heavily into McCarthyism in the 1950s and consistently backing the Republican Party ever since. In Hollywood, the Legion played a key role in the creation of the Hollywood blacklist and pressuring studios to uproot Communists supposedly hiding within their midst. Post 43 has served as a private social club for many of Hollywood’s most famous conservatives, including Clark Gable, Gene Autry, Charlton Heston, and Ronald Reagan.

When you reach Camrose, make a left and walk into the neighborhood. As soon as you get off Highland, your surroundings will suddenly become very tranquil and idyllic, which feels remarkable for how close you still are to one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. The houses are a mix of architectural styles, although Mediterranean is definitely the most common. You might find charming little bungalows tucked into corners near the bottom of the hill, and you’ll see large Modernist houses with their flat wedges jutting out above the hillsides. At any rate, the houses become increasingly elaborate and fortress-like the further uphill you go. This being a wealthier neighborhood, you’re more likely to see the day laborers hired by locals rather than the residents themselves while you’re walking around.

Camrose is one of the few streets in the neighborhood that has sidewalks. Fortunately, it’s the only one that really needs them, since all the side streets are short dead ends with light traffic that funnel onto Camrose. After walking along Camrose a few blocks, you’ll reach High Tower Drive. From here, you can make a right and head straight for the main attraction, although I would actually recommend making a left to visit the Paramount Stairway, another really beautiful public staircase in this neighborhood.

This stretch of High Tower Drive is a narrow, winding street lined with beautiful homes, although most of them are hidden behind tall hedges and walls. As the hillside on your right gets steeper, the houses climb with it. Towards the end of the street, a castle-like apartment complex looms over the street, with so many staircases and balconies and archways that it looks like that M.C. Escher painting of the stairs. Round one last bend and you’ll come to the end of the street. Tucked in the far corner on the right, almost hidden beneath the dense foliage, is the base of the Paramount Stairway.

The bottom half of the stairway feels very secluded, wedged tightly between two sets of fences and heavily shaded, with ferns and ivy spilling forth onto the path. The fence on your left is chain-link, which allows you to glimpse into the huge, wooded backyard that tumbles down the hillside. Halfway up, you’ll cross a quiet residential street, with the top half of the stairway clearly visible in front of you.

This top half of the stairway passes between more houses, only now the vista opens up and you can admire the view. As you near the top, turn around and you’ll get a splendid view of the neighborhood and across the Cahuenga Pass to Griffith Park. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll even catch a glimpse of the High Tower and the Hollywood Sign. At the top, you’ll reach the end of Paramount Drive. Just walk down Paramount back to Camrose, make a right and follow Camrose back to High Tower Drive.

The High Tower sits perched on the hill at the end of the street, beckoning you forward. This beautiful structure—modeled after an Italianate bell tower—serves as a private elevator for the residents of the neighborhood above. The street at the base of the tower is lined with small garages for residents to park their cars. Sadly, riding the elevator is a privilege afforded only to those residents with a key, so we’re going to take the stairs instead.

Just before you reach the garages there will be a stairway intersecting the street. It’ll be marked by a street sign, “Los Altos Pl,” as pictured. Take the stairs on your left and head uphill, and you’ll be transported into a tranquil realm. The walkway is tightly hemmed in by wooden fences on both sides, but tall shrubs and bougainvillea creep over the shady walkway. Further up the hill, cacti will start to appear on the slopes above you. At the top you’ll reach Broadway Terrace, another walkway marked by a street sign. Make a right.

As you climb this next set of stairs, the High Tower will come back into view, peeking out above the steps. When you reach the next landing, you’ll come across a grassy knoll with an absolutely gorgeous view, framed by huge stands of succulents. Hollywood will be laid out before you, with Downtown visible in the distance. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see even farther. And behind you will be the top half of the High Tower, serenely poking out above the trees. Someone thoughtfully placed a bench on the knoll, giving you a chance to relax and enjoy the view after all that climbing.

When you’ve caught your breath and are ready to carry on, the next set of stairs will take you directly past the High Tower itself, passing under a short bridge that connects the hill to the elevator platform at the top of the tower. The houses atop the hill take on a Streamline Moderne style, with curving decks stacked on top of each other like little ocean liners perched on the hill.

At the top, you might start to realize that living at the top of a hill with no streets presents some difficulties. For instance, we visited in December and found a Christmas tree had been delivered up the elevator and deposited on the front steps of the house just across, leaving a trail of pine needles in its wake.

The High Tower dates back to 1920, before any of the houses on the hill were constructed. As commemorated on a plaque at the top, the Streamline Moderne buildings surrounding the tower were all designed in the 1930s by architect Carl Kay, whose notable works are all Hollywood apartment complexes. Since then, the tower and the buildings have shown up in many movies, most notably Robert Altman’s 1973 The Long Goodbye, where it serves as detective Philip Marlowe’s house.

Continue a little bit further and you’ll reach the “intersection” of Broadway Terrace and Alta Loma Terrace, once again marked by street signs. Make a right here (if you continue straight, the walkway will quickly come to a dead end) and walk down the narrow walkway. The first house you’ll pass on the left, at 2200 Broadway Terrace, is one of the oldest on the hill and was designed by Lloyd Wright, the considerably less famous son of Frank Lloyd Wright.

At this point, you’ll start making your descent back downhill as Alta Loma Terrace slopes gently downward. This beautiful walkway is lined with charming houses, many of which are quite historic. In the early days of the neighborhood, at the peak of the silent film era, these hilly streets housed many who worked in Hollywood, including the occasional movie star. By the 1960s, a counter-cultural artist enclave had established itself along Alta Loma. Nowadays, the artists have been priced out and any Hollywood presence that remains is very understated. This is a quiet community, where the air is fragrant with the smell of flowers, vines creep up the sides of houses, and stands of bamboo cast shade over the walkway. You might run into a resident making their way home, or hear a dog barking as it pokes its head over a garden wall, wondering who has come to visit.

After a couple of sharp turns and a final long staircase, Alta Loma Terrace comes to an end at a driveway and a set of garages at the bottom of the hill just across from Highland Avenue. From here, you just have to follow the driveway around back to Highland, skirting the edge of the Hollywood Bowl parking lot.

A shocking degree of violence and trauma was inflicted in order to construct that parking lot. Alta Loma Terrace used to extend east across Highland Avenue, entering a bucolic neighborhood of storybook cottages dotting the hill. But in 1963, a group of Hollywood industry moguls decided to create a museum on the history of Hollywood, which would be located across the street from the Hollywood Bowl. They convinced the County of Los Angeles to use eminent domain to bulldoze the land to make room for the proposed museum. All residents of the site were served eviction notices and given low-ball offers to vacate, and they all took it—all except one.

Steven Anthony, a bartender and ex-Marine in his early 30s, lived with his wife and three children at 6655 Alta Loma Terrace. When LA County Sheriff’s deputies showed up to evict his family, Anthony met them with a shotgun. After a tense standoff that lasted several hours, the deputies backed off and granted Anthony a reprieve to stay in his house a little longer while he appealed the decision in the courts.

Steven Anthony. Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

Nowadays, we can expect such an incident to automatically result in a SWAT team smashing down the door and firing a lot of ammunition. But SWAT wasn’t quite a thing yet in 1964, and Anthony’s case won him a lot of public support once word got out, creating the event that would become known as “The Siege of Fort Anthony.” For several weeks, Anthony held off the police even while a court ruled that the county had legally seized the land. Finally, on the evening of April 13, 1964, Anthony welcomed a couple of fellow ex-marines who had stated their sympathy for his cause. As soon as they got inside, they tackled him and revealed they were actually undercover sheriff’s deputies. Anthony was arrested and detained while deputies swarmed inside and moved the furniture out. By the following morning, the house had been demolished.

Portion of a 1956 Thomas Bros map showing the original extent of Alta Loma Terrace. Steven Anthony’s house was located at the corner of Alta Loma and Fairfield Avenue, just east of Highland Avenue.

To add insult to injury, the proposed museum that had caused all this trouble was never built. Mismanagement of funds and a lack of organization caused the museum project to be abandoned, and the site was turned into a spillover parking lot for the Hollywood Bowl instead. In the early 1980s, the newly-formed Hollywood Heritage historical society was searching for a permanent site to house the Lasky-DeMille Barn and learned about the failed museum effort. After negotiating a lease with the county, the barn was moved to the southern end of the parking lot, where it now stands as the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

Walk down Highland past the walled-off picnic grounds of Highland Camrose Park (often reserved for Hollywood Bowl patrons and other events), and you’ll return to Camrose. From here it’s an easy walk back to the madness of Hollywood Boulevard.

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