Growing up in Silver Lake, Bob Inman frequently climbed up and down the public stairways near his Waverly Drive neighborhood. But, outside the stairs leading down to Fletcher and Riverside drives, Inman was never aware of the many other stairways that crossed the hills of Silver Lake, Echo Park and other older neighborhoods.As an adult, however, Inman has joined the growing ranks of L.A. stairway fans who huff-and-puff up and down these stairs on their own or as part of a group. Inman's interest in stairways has lead him to explore neighborhoods across the city and even help reopen a stairway blocked by residents. Now, the 59-year-old Eagle Rock resident has poured his passion into a book, A Guide to the Public Stairways of Los Angeles. The book - filled with maps, routes, photos and facts - has lead another stairway aficionado to hail Inman as a "Stairway God."
Here's a Q & A with Inman:
Q: How did you get interested in stairways?
A: I have always walked and hiked and been drawn to those places where cars cannot go. I bought Bakalinsky and Gordon’s “Stairway Walks in Los Angeles” but it probably sat on my bookshelf for a decade before I got into it. In 2004, I elected to take a year off work to catch up with some personal interests. One of those was to paint in many of my personal blank pages about LA neighborhoods and that Stairway Walks book became the perfect venue. I did every walk in the book.
Q: When did you start working on the book? What was the hardest part?
A: In 06-07 my mind raced with different ideas of how to put my LA neighborhood discoveries down on paper. It was not until 2008 that I firmed up the idea of doing a well illustrated, exhaustive list of all the stairways. Creating the maps was the biggest challenge but the whole effort was a lot of fun. Perhaps the “hardest” part was that for 6 months, my walks often became short data collection forays rather than the longer free form ramblings that I prefer
Q: What kind of reactions are you getting from people?
A: Pretty enthusiastic. Stairways are an esoteric niche of the whole LA physical scene but the interest is there, even among folks who are not really going to explore cross town neighborhoods. Look at what Dan Koeppel has achieved with The Big Parade and at people drawn to Historic Echo Parks stairway tour. Look at the throngs of fitness buffs who have made the two Adelaide stairs out of Rustic Canyon such a Mecca. There is something about the stairways that connects to people.
Q: You mentioned you were able to get a stairway unblocked. Why is it important to keep these stairways open?
A: I have a nice stairway near my home in Eagle Rock that connects Linda Rosa to Holbrook. It is one of the few in town that climbs up from both ends to go over a ridge. 17 years ago, there suddenly appeared some cheesy chain link fencing on either end that was presumably the work of one of the 4 residential properties that border that stairway. I called the city and got referred to someone with streets department who said they would check it out. They actually called me back saying the fencing should not be there and that they were going to take action. Two weeks later, the stairs were open again and have remained so ever since. My book includes 10 stairways that are fenced off. I suspect that others faded away from access by similar unsanctioned acts. Others may have been closed by the city to address some specific neighborhood request related to crime; but was that closure meant to last into perpetuity? I know that there are many unsung heroes who have fought tooth and nail to keep the stairways accessible and clean.
Q: How are book sales going? Do you plan any other follow ups?
A: I did the book as a labor of love and a preservation tool. Sales are what you would expect given the low profile I have kept with it so far. I am proud of how it turned out and each copy purchased is a reason to celebrate. First goal as a follow up is work with people like Dan Koeppel on stairway oriented events and maybe synergize my efforts with any neighborhood groups that are touting their stairways. Maybe someday I would write and illustrate a turn by turn type of LA guidebook that is a little different from the good ones that are already out there.
Q: Got a favorite stairway?
A: Curran Street stairs (top photo) in Elysian Heights is my favorite, not just for the stairs themselves but the wonderful district that they are part of.
Q: Do you live near a stairway?
A: There are about eight stairways within ½ a mile of my home plus another seven I have only recently discovered in the San Rafael district of Pasadena. Just as I used to go to the trails in Griffith Park or Altadena to start a hike, now I am much more likely to park in hilly neighborhoods around town and walk them for a few hours including a few stairways on the way.
Q: What about you?
A: I am just turning 59. After Silverlake, I’ve lived in Highland Park and now in Eagle Rock for 21 years. I work for Sunkist Growers arranging transportation for fresh citrus.
Photos by Bob Inman