View of Downtown LA from Silver Lake Hillside. All photos by Carmen Chan
On Sunday, October 21st local non-profit LA Commons organized a free walking tour of Silver Lake put on as a part of their Found LA: Festival of Neighborhoods event. Silver Lake was recently crowned as Forbes Magazine’s Hippest Hipster Neighborhood. Though being a born and breed Angelino, I still had never set foot in the City of Silver Lake, so why not go on a free tour to check out what the hype is all about? However, what I found out from the tour transcended the “hip” title, and explored Silver Lake’s significance as a site of architectural and political history and its long-standing tradition of community engagement.
The tour began at the Sunset Triangle Plaza, LA’s first pedestrian plaza thanks to the efforts of community groups and businesses which came together advocating and implementing the conversion, and in turn, breathing new life and color (literally) on the street. The plaza has proven itself as being beneficial to the community, bringing people together through movie screenings in the summer and farmers markets, and has created revenue by means of the parking meters which have also been installed along the Sunset Blvd curb. Such a success is the first of its kind in LA, and hopefully not the last.
Next stop was the former Black Cat Tavern, a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural monument and former LGBT bar in the 60s (today El Barcito). Police raids plagued the bar in 1967, which prompted a large civil rights demonstration bringing in people from across the city to attest the police raids, preceding the Stonewall riots two years later.
Continuing along Sunset Blvd, the tour also passed by the Sunset Junction (junction of Santa Monica Blvd and Sunset Blvd), the intersection where the Red Car Trolley line used to serve the residents of Silver Lake before the takeover of the automobile. This served as a reminder of simpler times, when a trolley car was all that was sufficient.
From a historical route, the tour then took a leap into a residential area of Silver Lake, exploring the rich architectural history of the area by looking at homes designed by modern architectural greats such as Rudolph Schindler, John Lautner, and Richard and Dion Neutra. Along the way, we also climbed through some of the hidden staircases, which once served to connect people living on the hillsides to the trolley line. Other points of interest of the tour included both the Silver Lake Reservoir (of which the city gets it name from the commissioner who was instrumental in creating the reservoir) and the Silver Lake Meadow (also a product of community engagement and community driven initiatives). The trek through the residential area was filled with views of LA, historical landmarks, unique homes, and even a haunted estate.
On our way back to the Triangle Plaza, we stumbled upon the Micheltorena Elementary School garden. Once a school parking lot, the garden is now filled with organic plants, chickens, and a solar-powered irrigation system. It not only provides a hands-on learning experience for the children who use it, but also serves as a community garden for the area with a many events to involve the community in urban farming and ecology.
This was where the tour ended. Learning about the past and current life in Silver Lake, I walked away with a greater appreciation for the city as not just another “hipster town” , but as a great sampling of LA’s rich culture and history. However, no visit to any city would be complete without sampling the local food, and Silver Lake with its abundance of local cafés and shops right on Subset Blvd alone was no exception. I stopped by Berlin Currywurst and Pazzo Gelato for some great currywurst, fulfilling dessert, and people watching, confirming that Silver Lake truly is a hip neighborhood, filled with great sights, tastes, and history.