Will a troubled Silver Lake underpass ever live up to its former glory?


SILVER LAKE — Shopping carts and makeshift tents and bedding line the sidewalks along the both side of the Silver Lake Boulevard as it crosses under Sunset Boulevard. The air smells of pee. The lighting is dim. The curb is crusted with bird waste. Homeless encampments partly block the sidewalk.

“I just tried to walk through there and I could barely get by,” said Matt Garcia, who works nearby.

The underpass — which was once praised for its artistic touches — has seen numerous cleanups over the years.  But now it appears the city is looking at more long-term solutions in light of recent complaints.

Complaints Piling Up

“Over the course of the last term, several constituents who utilize the path expressed concern for their safety,” said Tony Arranaga, communications director for Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. “Pedestrians have expressed concerns that the area is too dark and poses a public safety hazard at night.”

The City Council has approved $100,000 for fiscal year 2017-2018 to begin addressing the issue. While that amount of money might barely replace the light bulbs, it is just initial money for the design phase, Arranaga said

“Mitch will work with his colleagues and city staff to identify additional funding sources throughout the year.”

Former Glory Has Faded Away

The underpass’ architectural features are hard to appreciate given all its current problems. A row of eight, graceful arches on both sides of the underpass form narrow arcades over the sidewalks. Pedestrians enter the dark and dank arcades under imposing walls of brick topped by terracotta medallions depicting the seal of the City of Los Angeles.  It’s hard to believe that in 1934, when this overpass was completed, it was hailed as a thing of beauty and a key part in the transformation of Silver Lake Boulevard into an important roadway.

The completion of the viaducts at Sunset Boulevard and Temple Street in the 1930s created a “north-south artery of special importance in the development of the city,” according to a February 1934 story in the L.A. Times.  “Unobstructed for its entire length when its underpasses are ready, Silver Lake Boulevard will afford a direct and quick-time route for a great flow of traffic midway between the downtown approaches to the Pasadena and east county regions … ”

The Times story reserved special praise for the $135,000 Sunset Boulevard viaduct and the Silver Lake Boulevard underpass below:

“The latter boulevard’s sidewalks under the viaduct are through arcades in the abutments. That of itself is an exceptionally pleasing arrangement from an architectural standpoint. For  the first time in such viaduct construction here, the Sunset viaduct abutments are brick-faced and this touch of artistic design is enhanced by terra-cotta seals of the city medallion-against the structure on either face.”

Sidewalk entrance to the Silver Lake Boulevard tunnel under Sunset

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  1. Enough is enough. Why is our city council allowing NELA to turn into a giant refugee camp? Every fwy underpass is filled with garbage, waste and squalor. If the city refuses to move people from camping on public right of ways at least provide some sort of trash pickup, toilets, hazardous waste removal etc. Not to mention encampments in parks and other fire prone areas. What the hell?

    • Amen. Everyone trying to pretend these are people who just missed a couple of mortgage payments.. No, these are crack heads, mentally ill and criminals. Special thanks to the voters who voted for props 47 and 57 and about 109… Our local leaders are spineless and are scared to get sued by the worthless homeless advocates and the aclu do they let our neighborhoods rot.. The solution is simple… A team comprised of social services, police, a shelter representative team up and visit these encampments.. If you’re mentally ill, you go to a mental hospital, if you accept housing, you go to a shelter. If not, you’re arrested

      • Amen. I just got tired of living in the area and watching money being spent to periodically clean up, seeing the transients move down the street during clean up and then setting up camp again. I am so glad you point out the obvious which is these aren’t homeowners who lost their job and house. These are druggies who choose to live on the street. I thought I would never leave my beloved Los Angeles but it just got to be too much so here I am in Arizona. I’ve returned to LA several times because I miss it but when I get off the 101 at Silver Lake I am reminded of why Arizona works for me.

      • Because the City lost multiple lawsuits relating to its treatment of the homeless and because of a federal consent decree, can’t just run in and clear people out throw away all their stuff.

        So the answer to “why don’t they get tough?” is that the law doesn’t allow them to.

        • You are correct about the lawsuits, thats why its important for city residents to hold organizations such as LACan and the ACLU accountable for these kinds of lawsuits that hinder the police and city actions.

          • The ACLU brought suit…and our judicial system agreed with the ACLU and found the City was violating the constitutional rights of the homeless.

            Specifically, because the City didn’t have enough shelter beds. Once the City builds enough shelters, it can get back to doing what it used to do.

  2. Sad state of affairs for the underpass area. Needs to be cleaned up in the interest of public safety.

  3. Def smells like sh*t.

  4. It’s like graffiti, if its not painted over more appears. The reason there are so many more encampments is because they allow it. If they stopped giving tickets for running stop signs do you think anyone would stop?

  5. “The City Council has approved $100,000 for fiscal year 2017-2018 to begin addressing the issue. While that amount of money would barely replace the light bulbs, it is just initial money for the design phase, Arranaga said”

    $100K to replace the light bulbs? What kind of bulbs are these and where do I sign up for this job?

  6. O’Farrell does nothing about this problem, it is not just here but all over his district, take a look at the area around Echo Park, how about on Alvarado and the 101. I have complained and complained. People defecating in the streets, that’s not enough to get the encampments closed down? They have been “discussing” talking” “planning” for ever. Clean up these encampments now!! Don’t let them spring back up two weeks later. This is a real problem that needs attention.

    • Yup, the Alvarado underpass is even scarier then the one pictured in this article. No one EVER walks under it now, the homeless totally took over that spot.

  7. I attended a neighborhood meeting about this issue almost two years ago. I was hoping for some solution-based discussions since members of O’Farrell’s office as well as the LAPD and various homeless organizations were present.

    Unfortunately, there was just a lot of nebulous talk about “helping people off the streets.”

    The reality is that many of the homeless simply do not want to get off the street. The technical term, I believe, is “service resistant.”

    I’ve been down to the encampment under the Sunset Blvd. It’s mostly filled with able-bodied men in their 30’s and 40’s (and some even in their 20’s). It’s littered with alcohol bottles. Open drug-use is evident.

    As long as our local politicians publicly claim that all of these people (without distinction) are in need of our “help” and that they are victims of economic circumstances, nothing will get done.

    In my mind, the various homeless organizations are simply perpetuating the problem. It only gets worse as we continue to accept and normalize this kind of behavior.

    I realize there is a housing crisis, but that should not be used as an excuse for tolerating outdoor drug use, threatening behavior, filthy encampments and other malignant activity that degrades our quality of life and turns the streets into dangerous byways (especially after dark).

    Yes, provide help for the mentally ill – but for the criminals and irresponsible drug-users in this group, there should be no more justifying their behavior.

    I call on our local officials to make a public statement to this end. Yes, they will risk the wrath of the ACLU and the various homeless organizations, but enabling/normalizing these encampments – and the dangerous activity that occurs within them – damages our community and puts everyone at risk.

    • The city already tried to get real aggressive with the homeless and lost major lawsuits from the ACLU and others because of it.

      In part because the city doesn’t have enough shelter beds for the homeless. It’s tough to go after them for not staying in a shelter when there aren’t enough beds.

      More to your point, if they try to take actions that ‘risk the wrath’ of the ACLU it will mean millions in legal costs for violations of past consent decrees.

    • 100% correct. The homeless organizations pretend to care about the people but in reality, they just want this nonsense to continue because thats how they get paid. RdeS, i believe the city reached the 1250 new shelter beds a while back, but has not enforced the laws due to the continuous lawsuits from these organizations. In reality, we need to differentiate between the truly homeless and what we have on the streets, which are crack heads, mentally ill and criminals, thanks in large part to AB 109, Props 47 and 57. Until those are overturned or vastly amended, we are screwed. Add in the incredible lack of will power and inaction from our elected officials and its clear that this problem has no end in sight

  8. Isn’t there some sort of public health law that would cover what is being one by the street people? I won’t call them homeless—they don’t want a home, they want the freedom of street living and thumbing their noses at the people who drive by, going to jobs, working, living constructive lives.
    Fecal matter on the sidewalks got one area (it was in the Eastsider, the area included some stairs and students going to school were afraid to walk down that street or use the stairs) cleaned up completely.

  9. Welcome to the human race. Sorry your fantasy has to be interrupted. I guess with a little negation of human rights and that damned ACLU out of the way you may be able to restore the drive for purification of Northeast LA to its manifest destiny. One of those homeless under the bridge might even be The Christos, having returned to minister to His Flock. Like the one lady implied, there’s always Arizona. Why not make Phoenix the next hip mecca?

  10. The attorney ,Sobel, who “represented” the homeless guy that was deficating in front of a downtown business and subsequentally had his garbage (aka ,according to Rainbow warrior Garcetti, “belongings”) removed. The activist9th district court ruled you can’t throw away hobo trash. Well Sobel lives in a 2 million dollar home in pristine Santa Monica.
    You can’t dump construction debris without fines in excess of of $700, however if you a low life drugged out lazy crack head who sleeps and dedicates by your construction debris the city will let it stay and even itemize your dump so you can claim it at a later date. I wish this wasn’t true; hopefully the city will reach a tipping point, sadly it will because something very bad will have happened. Garcetti does absolutely nothing for this city except for taking credit for the building boom in DTNLA which has more to do with Chinese money and developers selling off their debt than anything he did.

  11. Just install waist-high metal posts under each archway so people cannot set up camps there. Jackhammer out a hole, put the post in, and set it with cement. It’s not that fcking hard. I really don’t get why they need to spend $100k on a design study – just install posts. I could do it myself with a friend and it would take a week. Get it together.

    And while we’re at it – why are all the major roads in Silver Lake still the same janky-ass, cracked, bumpy, and ridiculous concrete that was poured LITERALLY one hundred years ago?

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