By JILL DIAMOND | La Mesa Courier
Although they may not be that hush-hush any more, La Mesa’s “Secret Stairs” still draw people from far and wide. Located on Mount Nebo, the stairs have been in the community for decades.
In a “Roam-O-Rama” article in the San Diego Reader, the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Canyoneers group describe the stairs this way:
“One of the most delightful series of steps is found in La Mesa and is known as the Secret Stairs with a total of 489 steps in seven segments. La Mesa is one of the few areas in the county that offers a system of public stairways.
“Sections of the public stair trails of La Mesa’s Mount Nebo were originally constructed over 100 years ago to provide easy foot traffic to the neighborhood. The first two sections (44 and 16 steps) between Fairview Avenue and Vista Drive were constructed about 1912 or 1913.”
La Mesa author and historian James Newland says in the same article the other sections were constructed around 1927 as part of the Windsor Hills subdivision on Mount Nebo. In the Reader article he continued:
“At one time this development was considered a high-end suburban development competing with similar developments in Talmadge and Kensington. Mt. Nebo, with a summit elevation of 820 feet, offered unobstructed views of downtown San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, La Jolla, Mt. Helix, and the mountains to the east.”
The city of La Mesa’s website states the “stairways were installed many years ago to facilitate foot traffic through the adjacent neighborhoods. La Mesa is one of the few areas in San Diego County that have a system of public stairways. Today, people delight in the discovery of the stairways and take pleasure in facing the challenge of navigating the steep ascents.”
Community services director at the city of La Mesa Susan Richardson said she has climbed the stairs in the past and sometimes they are part of the city’s Tuesday night walks.
“They were created back in the day to basically connect communities, like a short cut,” she said. “The same idea as the Rolando catwalks.”
Hiking enthusiast Philip Erdelsky has also climbed the stairs.
“Yes, I do a hike there about once a year. However, I call them the Mount Nebo Stair Trails,” he said. “Great views. Good workout, although the hike isn’t very long.”
The city website requests visitors to be mindful as the stairs are near homes and asks visitors to be respectful of these properties by not engaging in loud conversations or making noise during early morning or late evening workouts.”
The city of La Mesa website recommends these directions to fully experience the Secret Stairs:
- From the intersection of Windsor Drive and Canterbury Drive, you climb a total of 245 steps, interrupted by two cross streets, to reach the top of Summit Drive. On reaching the 245th step, at Summit Drive, you’re on one of La Mesa’s highest knolls, elevation 830 feet.
- Continue by following Summit Drive about 100 yards to a second stairway descending east. Follow its 184 steps to Beverly Drive.
- A third, shorter stairway can be found on Fairview Avenue near Alta Lane. Ascend 44 steps, cross Pasadena Avenue, and continue via the remaining 16 steps and a paved pathway to Vista Drive. It’s only 60 steps total, but with the steep pathway, it’s a good workout nonetheless!
- Circle back the easy way to your starting point via streets such as Fairview Avenue, Beverly Drive, Vista Drive, or Pasadena Avenue. The red lines on the accompanying map show the approximate locations of the public stairways.
In addition to the Secret Stairs up Mt. Nebo, there is another set of stairs located in the west side of La Mesa off University Avenue at Stanford and Yale. In July 2018, that set of stairs was given a splash of color, courtesy of artist Magdelena Noriega.
“I had always photographed public art but had never dared to embark on a project of my own. It was my turn,” shared Noriega in a blog post on her website.
The stair fronts now display a design of pastel stripes in blue, yellow, green, pink, red and orange. The project was sponsored by BeautifyEarth and paints were supplied by Dunn Edwards of La Mesa.
— This article includes reporting from editor Jeff Clemetson.
— Jill Diamond is a freelance writer based in Southern California with a penchant for stories about neighborhood histories.