A Freeway Scar in Glassell Park

Overlooking where the 134 and 2 freeways tie together– Downtown LA is visible off in the distance.

It may be hard to imagine today, but there was a time when freeways didn’t cut through Northeast LA. The land occupied by freeways today was not undeveloped: homes had to be demolished, hillsides flatted, streets removed altogether to make way for the massive automobile infrastructure that encircles the neighborhood. Large parts of Northeast LA were erased  for freeways – lost in the name of progress – leaving residents with little more than memories of a pre-freeway Northeast LA, memories which will fade as those who lived through local freeway construction continue to age and become a smaller portion of the population. Old photos and local newspapers from the area documented freeway construction in Northeast LA, but there is little physical evidence one can encounter today that shows signs of the past; things were either destroyed or preserved–very few parts of the urban landscape were only partially destroyed for the freeways.

Maps offer good indications of how things used to be; looking at a map, one can see streets currently bisected by freeways, mentally “connect the dots,” and visualize how the streets used to run uninterrupted before the freeways arrived. However, every now and then, if one looks closely, one will notice subtle hints in the urban landscape – in addition to what maps and street names offer – from the time before freeways came to Northeast LA. In northern part of Glassell Park, close to the neighborhood’s border with the city of Glendale, there is a fascinating hint of the past, which now sits as a scar from the 2 Freeway’s destructive path through the neighborhood.

Just east of where it intersects with Avenue 42, Palmer Drive abruptly terminates with a concrete wall because beyond that is the 2 Freeway.


The concrete wall abutting the freeway is bare– literally a blank slate. While it offers evidence of the freeway’s existence, it does not show anything of the community’s past or offer any indication of what was there before the freeway; what was there before the freeway has been completely removed.

However, between this blank wall and the home on the north side of this little cul-de-sac there is a physical hint of the pre-freeway era– a “stairway to nowhere.”


It looks private since the adjacent resident places their trash bins in front of it, but the stairway, according to Zimas, is public.

Facing north, looking up the mysterious stairway.

After the first set of stairs, the stairway is fenced off, preventing access, likely to preserve some  privacy to the adjacent residence.

If one looks on at the stairway from an aerial view online, one sees the stairway actually goes on for quite a while before suddenly ending.

palmer dr stairway
Note the concrete path that extends north well beyond the closest home.  Image Credit: Bing Maps

Because the stairway is public, it presumably led to somewhere before the freeway was built and sanborn maps from the decades before the freeway’s construction reveal this to be true.

palmer steps

A sanborn map of the area around Palmer Drive before the freeway, dated 1930. Note the stairway connecting Palmer Drive and Round Top Drive. Image via: UC Berkeley sanborn map collection

Today, this portion of the 2 Freeway acts as a border between Eagle Rock and Glassell Park, physically dividing the two neighborhoods and offering few points of contact between them.

palmer today

A map of the area around Palmer Drive as it exists today. The stairway is just east of the intersection of Palmer Drive and Avenue 42. Mendocino Ct serves as a good point of orientation when  comparing this map with the one above. Image credit: Google Maps

Before the freeway was built, there was no physical border between present-day Glassell Park and Eagle Rock– the two blended together through a windy network of hillside streets and stairways as can be observed in the sanborn map above.

It is interesting to wonder how this part of the neighborhood would be if the freeway had never been built. Although this part of Northeast LA is still a desirable area due to the many historic homes and hillside location, it would probably more desirable had the freeway never been built since some of the charming homes that remain are plagued by freeway noise and pollution.

Many people, especially realtors, still debate where  Eagle Rock ends and Glassell Park begins in this part of Northeast LA, but the 2 Freeway is a commonly agreed as the informal border; this divide would likely be far less certain had the area been protected from the freeway construction.

Today, walking in the area one is forced to follow a few select streets to get anywhere. Had the freeway never been built, the walking experience in the area would probably be more popular and pleasant – similar to the popularity of recreational walking in the hills of Mount Washington and Silver Lake –  as there would be more more paths to choose from, more ways to approach and navigate the area.

Would Northeast LA, or perhaps  Glassell Park specifically, be better off today had the 2 Freeway never been built?

6 thoughts on “A Freeway Scar in Glassell Park

  1. The story of the 2 bisecting a neighborhood and changing the dynamics of the area possibly for the worse is the story of LA. Destroying or fundamentally changing communities in the name of progress is how this city has done things for a very, very long time. Before Glassell Park and Eagle Rock were separated there was Thai Town and Hollywood cut in half by the 101 and an entire neighborhood leveled for the 110 through downtown. The question is not “Would Glassell Park be better without the 2?” it’s, would LA be better if it wasn’t a car centric city? The answer the the first question is a pretty obvious yes IF LA wasn’t car centric. Without the 2 surface streets in that area leading to and from the 5 would be a disaster. Nothing ruins a neighborhood like constant gridlock traffic.
    An aid to visualize what kind of impact building freeways has on communities for those of us who were not around the last time one was built; the 2 was originally slated to continue past Glendale Blvd and follow Benton Way roughly separating Silver Lake and Echo Park. The city even bought up most of the houses in the path and later resold them. Community outrage and the lack of a serious traffic in that area at the time stopped construction. But imagine the impact that would have on that community.

    • I was kid I saw dozens of homes bulldozed . My mother owned her first house up the hill from delevan dr. By the late sixties they tore my baby sister’s home down when I was a pre schooler. It’s now wawona place.


  3. Into the ’70’s, a huge set of stairs ran up the hill from the east end of Sagamore Way. There were still foundations and ruins from houses that had been long demolished. Kids used to play in this area, with one swing-rope attached to a large tree off to the left of the stairs in a flat area. Bicycle courses & challenges were made of some of natural dropoffs and canyons at the top of the hill. Rough, but no one got seriously hurt. It was great fun for all. Too bad politicians couldn’t see the value in recreational spaces while they continued to fight over restoring that which was lost in the destruction of rail transit. In came the dynamite charges, and down came all of nature’s amazing work.

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