Stair Candy: The Silver Lake Heart Stairs

Stair Candy: The Silver Lake Heart Stairs — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Stair Candy

The Silver Lake Heart Stairs

In Silver Lake, you’ll find a set of concrete steps frequently painted with hearts and bright colors.

Stair Candy

Way back in April of 2015, three artists conspired to paint an otherwise unremarkable set of concrete steps in Silver Lake, Carla O’Brien and Mandon Bossi, along with Corinne Carrey, worked in secret to turn the otherwise drab Micheltorena Stairs on Sunset Boulevard, right across the street from where Micheltorena meets Sunset, into a brightly colored, heart-adorned staircase.

They named it Stair Candy.

The slightly graffitied Stair Candy in January 2017. Photo from the author’s collection.

Stair Candy remained a guerrilla art project for almost four years. The Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission retroactively approved the painted steps as an official public arts project during their January 9, 2019 meeting. They also similarly approved Carrey’s other Silver Lake Mural, “Stair Tempo,” painted to resemble piano keys on the nearby Murray Stairs (although the report calls it the Hamilton Staircase).

Corinne Carey’s Stair Tempo, June 2022. Photo from the author’s collection.

If you enjoy reading the minutes from the Cultural Affairs Commission, that report is available online.

When construction started on the vacant lot to the north of the Micheltorena Stairs (which would eventually become the Vica Condos), there was some concern that this development would impact the community-loved colorful steps. Developers in Los Angeles, after all, don’t much care for preserving iconic neighborhood landmarks.

But, to everyone’s surprise, the Micheltorena Stairs remained painted in its bright colors.

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Sad Silver Lake Heart Stairs

The colors, exposed each day to the rays of the rising Los Angeles sun, would fade over time. But for years, the artists would regularly arrange for someone to revisit the stairs and apply any necessary touch ups.

As early as September 2017, a street artist named Lonesome Town started visiting the Silver Lake Heart Stairs and painting the stair’s hearts with sad faces and the colorful stair risers with tears. And so it went for years. The stairs would get brightened up, only to have Lonesome Town come along and add his sad faces. After the stairs were touched up in the spring of 2021 (and Lonesome Town showed up once again to paint over them), the original artists seem the have given up.

The stairs sat — abandoned and fading in the sun, unloved and untended — gathering graffiti for nearly a year. Until one day in April 2022, the entire mural was covered over with a bad paint job using the standard graffiti-abating paint the city uses to cover frequently tagged surfaces. It’s the same pain that was used to cover over Hitting the Wall along The 110 Freeway. The city, though, claims they weren’t responsible.

In the wake of this tragedy, Carla O’Brien (one of the original artists) flew to Los Angeles from her home in Melbourne, Australia to lead a team of painting volunteers from the Silver Lake Improvement Association in restoring Stair Candy to its original glory.

The revitalized Stair Candy on June 20, 2022. Photo from the author’s collection.

If Stair Candy looks familiar, you have probably seen it on Instagram. Some say the most Instagrammed stairs in the world, though there’s no empirical evidence for this. But still, it frequently shows up under the hashtag #staircandy and location tag Micheltorena Steps. Or perhaps you’ve seen it in T.J. Maxx commercial from a few years back.

And although there are a total of 177 steps that make up the Micheltorena stairs, only the first 40 are part of Stair Candy. The other 137 steps are more barren, although some of them are decorated in the spirit of the initial 40 steps leading up from Sunset Boulevard.

Upper Micheltorena Steps, June 2022. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Micheltorena Steps, one of the original stairways that were poured throughout Silver Lake in the early days of a rapidly expanding Los Angeles, are approaching 100 years old. They date back to 1925 when contractor George D. Nichols first poured the steps. We know this because he stamped his work in the first landing of the steps.

Geo. D. Nichols, Contractor, 1925. One of the pavementeers who built the streets of Los Angeles. Photo from the author’s collection.

Silver Lake Stairways

Much of Northeast Los Angeles is rich with staircases connecting streets. Many of these tiered passageways, including Lauren & Hardy’s famous Music Box Steps, can be found in Silver Lake. Many of them are painted today, and to learn more about these rich tapestries, pay a visit to the Painted Stairways of Silver Lake Facebook Group.

All these staircases once served as a means for pedestrians to easily access stops along the Red Car electric railway in this hilly section of the city. Although the last cars were removed from service in 1955, many remnants of their heyday — such as the Silver Lake Stonehenge and the original footings of today’s Red Car Pedestrian Bridge — remain today. But the most visible of these railway artifacts are the numeorus stairways scattered about Silver Lake.

For a full account of the Stairways of Los Angeles, pick up a copy of Charles Fleming’s classic Secret Stairs, newly revised in 2020. This book features 42 different stairway history-filled walks throughout Los Angeles, including 11 right in Silver Lake.

Stair Candy: The Silver Lake Heart Stairs

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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