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Pick of the Week: 99% Invisible – Secret Staircases

April 1, 2013
99% Invisible – Secret Staircases
Podcast release date: March 20, 2013
Time: 11:58

This episode of 99% Invisible explores the secret stairs that run between homes in hilly southern California. Sam Greenspan talks to Charles Fleming, the author of Secret Stairs and the leader of monthly secret stairs tours in California. Most of the stairs were constructed in the 1920s and 1940s, and seem to remain as remnants of a time with more pedestrian traffic and public transportation.

I found the story of how Charles Fleming came to be an expert on public stairs in Los Angeles to be as fascinating as the history of public stairs. He started walking to heal himself and avoid a third spinal surgery. As he increased the length of his walks, he looked for new challenges and started climbing and mapping public stairs.

Roman Mars emphasizes that walking on stairs so close to houses feels like trespassing. If I visit southern California, I want to follow some of Charles Fleming’s secret stair walks to see parts of California I probably wouldn’t see otherwise. Even though the stairs may not serve the same purpose they did 70-90 years ago, I like the way people value the stairs enough to find ways to remove illegal fences that sometimes block access to the public stairs.

If you enjoy this episode, I’d also recommend 99% Invisible’s The Great Red Car Conspiracy episode, which delves into the history of the Red Car and transportation in southern California.

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