Los Angeles is, sadly, not a city known for its public transportation. Despite being the second largest metropolitan area in the U.S., we have a subway system that barely covers the entire mass (it’s only been a year since the Blue Line extension to Santa Monica opened), is only open until 2 a.m. on weekends, and very frequently doesn’t involve a train showing up for at least 20 minutes. We are a deeply embedded car culture stuck with the rich people of Beverly Hills not wanting the metro system running below ground through their zip codes.
But there was a point in time that, much like San Francisco, the City of Angels was home to street cars. Nicknamed the Yellow Cars and Red Cars, the Los Angeles Railway and Pacific Electric Railway, respectively, covered much of L.A. The Los Angeles Railway ran from 1901 through 1963 in central L.A. and its surrounding areas, including neighborhoods as varied as Crenshaw, Echo Park, Lincoln Heights, and Hancock Park, and Angels Flight, the peculiarly short track that is still standing across from Grand Central Market, was a part of its lines.
The Red Cars fascinate me more, however. Centered around Los Angeles and San Bernardino, the privately-owned Southern California mass transit system served a much larger area, with electrically-powered streetcars, buses and interurban cars covering Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. That massive expanse (in theory) covers the coast all the way east to the Arizona border. Once the freeway system came to fruition in the ’30s, the streetcars quickly started to get phased out.
While Who Framed Roger Rabbit helped idolize the streetcars with a fictionalized take on their former glory and corruption, and there’s a converted 21-mile rail trail on the San Bernardino border, in L.A. proper, there’s little left of the cars’ history. There area areas of downtown where you can still see old tracks that haven’t been completely paved over and the Red Car River Park along the L.A. River in Atwater Village, plus plenty of train history can be had at Griffith Park, but there’s only one place where you can still walk a solid chunk of what was once a red line: the Corralitas Red Car Property.
Once part of the Glendale Line, the private right-of-way ran through Silver Lake until 1955. Developers have tried to turn the land into parks or private homes for 40 years, but they keep failing, and I’m pretty glad they do, because it’s one of my favorite places to “city hike.”
Don’t expect to find rails or old signs here, though. It’s a large, still privately-owned expanse that looks like a forgotten park at the end of Corralitas Drive and eventually gives way to a wide dirt path that narrows as it winds along a hill, abruptly disappearing as when it bumps up to Fletcher Drive. It’s surrounded on either side my bungalows, large single family houses and a few townhomes. At best, it’s a mile-and-a-half long, but the one thing I keep forgetting to do is actually measure it.
It’s one of my favorite spots to “city hike” because it is so very, very random and, luckily, still relatively unknown, despite being situated in a residential part of Silver Lake.
There are a few different spots you can park to hike the trail, but the most convenient are along Lake View Avenue or Alessandro Way. You’ll spot a sidewalk hugging the side of the 2 (don’t worry, it’s fenced off and not actually on the freeway). Walk down it until you see what you think is a quarry butting up to a cul-de-sac. You can also park on that cul-de-sac, which is the aforementioned Corralitas Drive, but good luck figuring out how to get to it if you’ve never been in this part of Silver Lake-Echo Park before.
At first, especially if you’re visiting it in the middle of the summer, the start of the trail looks barren and slightly horrifying, like you’re about to enter into your own personal R. L. Stein novel. Once you get beyond the cul-de-sac though, a shady knoll suddenly appears. At one point, there were still remnants from the rail line here, but in the two years I’ve been walking it, I’ve only seen a couple of concrete slabs you really have to be on the look out for.
Smack in the middle of the meadow is a little garden that I think is someone’s backyard, but property lines are pretty blurry back there. Part of me wants to relax in that garden all day, which is full of potted plants and even has an iron heart sculpture in it, but I’m a little afraid someone may come out with a shot gun. If you aren’t paranoid like me, the space is actually quite peaceful and makes you feel like there is plenty of good left in this jaded city. Or at the very least, the hippies have made their way southeast of Laurel Canyon.
The grassy area is actually one of the smallest spots on the trail. Very quickly, you’ll come upon an open gate that leads to a dirt road which seems to be used solely as a back alley for the houses on Riverside Place. There’s no shade at all, so you’ll definitely wish you had lathered on the sunscreen (please lather on sunscreen). Instead, you’ll be greeted with yellow dirt on your shoes, plus brush, cacti, garbage bins and dressed up mannequins.
When the houses to your right disappear, a menacing ‘Private Property: No Trespassing’ sign and a fence take its place. Ignore the sign. Not in the sense that you should climb the chain fence, but rather just move to the left, where the trail continues through well-treaded but over-grown grass.
In a few hundred feet, you’ll stumble upon what is affectionately known as Silver Lake Stonehenge, the true last remnants of the red car line in this short expands. They’re covered in paint and graffiti, but it feels more like a beautiful public art piece than vandalism. There’s also an Arco at the bottom of the hill, you know, in case you have to pee.
At the trail’s true end, there’s a hammock situated up top, but I can never tell if there’s a human in it, and it’s too steep a climb for me to want to find out.
As you make your way back, you can venture off the trail via hidden staircases at Silver Lake Avenue, which can wind you through the hills of Silver Lake for a nice hike of its own. I generally return by walking along Riverside Place, because there is a set of terrifying tiki men that should not be in the middle of L.A. but definitely are (they’re not called tiki men, but I also don’t know their proper name), and it’s fun to guess how unaffordable the bungalows surrounded by an elementary school and a highway now are.
At the end of the block, a tiny, leaf-strewn trail takes you right back to the meadow, and you can return to your car, which you’ve probably parked outside of Holyland, a Jesus museum that has been in the Red Car Neighborhood since around 1924, well before there were any homes or even surrounding blocks. I’ve yet to tour it, but you can bet I will soon.
These are mostly my observations from being fascinated by this dirt patch enough to keep walking on it, but there is an actual expert who knows way more than I do: Diane Edwardson keeps an extremely detailed local dispatch on her blog solely dedicated to the Corralitas Red Car Property, which includes who’s trying to fight to build on the land now and any disturbances. If you want to go into a deep dive, start here. It’s mind-boggling detailed and, at the very least, you will now know what the Pits of Doom are, and you can never look back.
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