I don’t understand why I like this picture so much. Maybe it’s because I took two others within an hour, one in which she looked ten years older, very poised, and another where she appeared ten years younger, child like. Her life could go in any one of four different directions from this moment, and we could look back and say, yeah, you can see it in her face. Vulnerable, yearning, secretive and self-possessed in different measure. To be seventeen is to be elastic.
We’d walked through the secret stairs of Whitley Heights, then we went to Birds for a nostalgic and very disappointing meal, and on the way back to the car I told her to stop in this doorway. She turned around, and for an increment of time wasn’t trying to look pretty. She was Mona Lisa. I suppose this means I like it for what she’s hiding from us.
Are we allowed to walk here? I’m not sure. That gate definitely says no. For good measure, it also has a lock.
On the other hand, it is temptingly ajar. Always an invitation to a lifelong marshmallow test defier like myself.
Wait. What’s that at the first landing of the stairs? A 1930’s era city light pole. Okay, so this is a public right of way. Good to know. Why then, the gate?
Let’s back up. A half hour earlier, we were in the Cahuenga Pass on our way to the Tree of Wisdom. Only we couldn’t exit southbound on Barham. The entire off-ramp had been removed, just like the one at Skirball was removed from the 405 last year. Both lead into the hills. Hmmm.
Well…why don’t we just get off at Highland and hike around Whitley Heights instead? Aren’t there a bunch of stairs up in there, just like in Echo Park and Beachwood Canyon? Yeah, let’s do that! So here we are, our first stairs. Up we go…
WTF? Who put this here? Down we retreated….
Stairway #2. Looks good! A slight right turn at the top, and then…
Seriously? Is this legal?
Think again, peasant, before breaching the perimeter of Bella Vista Way. Smithers, release the hounds! Okay. We’re getting the picture.
Around we wound, up through the graciously appointed Mediterranean village of secreted courtyards of Rudolph Valentino and Jean Harlow, passing four locked stairways, until at the top we came upon The Whitley Terrace Steps. The one on the map. Another gate. With a lock.
But, the gate was open….a clear invitation to mock the swells…
At the bottom, predictably, another gate. Tellingly, it also wasn’t locked.
The message, clearly intended for interlopers from the Valley as well as tourists from Omaha, was you are not allowed to walk here. You are trespassing in someone else’s yard. These stairs, which were built by the City of Los Angeles and are as much a part of the civic infrastructure as Griffith Park are off limits to you. They belong to us now. You know why? Because we put a gate here andno one who works for the city has the integrity balls to tells us to take it down.