Once upon a time, trams rumbled through the hills and canyons of northeast Silverlake. In the era before mass auto ownership, developers had to arrange electric streetcar or commuter railway transportation if they were going to sell real estate. Because the Pacific Electric passenger services were designed and built by people who were gaining profits from real estate development, they were not financed simply to make money providing a passenger service. After World War 1 real estate developers in Southern California and elsewhere had stopped funneling capital into public transit and began shifting the costs of providing transportation to the residents themselves. With no funding from real estate development profits, there was systematic disinvestment in public transit and the trolleys fell into decline.
In the 1940s, the Pacific Electric Railway system was sold to National City Lines, a company whose investors included Firestone Tires, Standard Oil, and General Motors. This shady move eventually resulted in the dismantling of L.A.’s urban rail network. But Sunset Junction, its name a relic of L.A.'s heritage as a streetcar city, continued to serve as an important node in L.A.'s streetcar network until May 31, 1953, when the Pacific Electric shuttered its South Hollywood-Sherman Line. Streetcars continued to roam the Hollywood Line up Sunset until September 26, 1954, when buses replaced trolleys. Today, the tracks and electrical wires are gone, but you can still envision the trolleys making their way down the center of Santa Monica Boulevard.
The trolleys and streetcars may be long gone, but the staircases that lace the steep-streeted hillsides of Silverlake remain. City planners and developers installed these “walk streets” in the 1920s as direct routes for pedestrians to get down to the trolley lines. The staircase-to-trolley system was so much a part of the landscape that developers in some areas built houses that had no other access to the outside world. These once forgotten paths, neglected and unused for decades, serve as historical reminders of a bygone time when this was not a city of cars.