Looking back, it wasn't a bad hike, just different than advertised.

Concurrent with Historic Preservation Month in Glendale, the city is distributing a brochure called "Glendale: The Urban Hikeway."

It's a potpourri of public relations ideas about the emerging urban scene.

"Too often cities forget who they are, too busy in search of what they can become," its anonymous writer begins, drawing on a well-known theme. "Cities become impersonal--inhumane."

But not Glendale, the writer interjects reassuringly.

"Glendale is rich in history and architecture. Glendale is unique with its own character and flavor. Glendale has charm--truly a 'jewel city.'

"And Glendale is people."

There follows a list of three urban walking routes, accompanied by maps, to bring the reader face to face with the city's character, flavor and charm.

Each route is meant to highlight a different facet of the jewel--its financial center, its shopping district and its government row.

Each is accompanied by a descriptive passage. The three-mile loop across the north side of downtown, for example, "lets you saunter through quiet residential streets before leading you to the heart of downtown Glendale's financial and business district."

The writer has a touch, for sure, but couldn't be much of a gumshoe, I now suspect after falling for the pitch.

I picked up the financial route at its southeast corner. The intersection of Lexington Drive and Brand Boulevard is as good as any to call the beginning of the financial district. The next five blocks merited the brochure's tout: "Blaze new trails through yesterday's history and watch today's history being made."

The first sight on the right is a hole in the ground with one level of steel girders rising out of it, soon to be a high-rise. Across the street is Glendale Federal Savings' funny building with the blue shuttered windows and vertical red brick wedge imitating the bow of a ship. It was built as the flagship of Glendale's urbanization in 1959.

Brand Boulevard shows promise in the next four blocks. The sidewalks, where not obstructed by construction, draw out crisply dressed young men and women all heading--eyes forward--toward some important engagements. Others gather around pillars on smoke break. The buildings are handsome and diverse, in red-and-white granite, blanched aggregate stone, mirrored glass and mauve paint. The sidewalk homeless avoid this part of town.

Next comes the Ventura Freeway, wisely not mentioned in the text. Freeways make for poor walking, even where there is a sidewalk overpass. The noise is assaultive, the perspective too distant. It's where you're going, not where you are, that matters. On either side comes a gauntlet of left- and right-turn lanes slinging out cars whose drivers brook no interference in their moment of release from the tension of stop-and-go.

The financial district spreads in both directions from the freeway, evidence that in spite of any brochure writer's rhapsodies, its organizing principle is the auto, not the pedestrian.

On a gloomy Tuesday, the "hustle and bustle around Sears' Allstate Plaza" was not in evidence. No one sat beside four still-unfinished fountains. No one examined a series of candle-like statues in the lobby of a just-opened building. Warmer weather, new tenants and water in the fountains will undoubtedly soon fulfill the promise.

Yet no such clear sense of future is evident on the next leg of the walk, going west on Arden Avenue. Here, the tour guide was either brutally honest or hopelessly naive.

In the backwater of downtown, Arden is a hodgepodge of new and old with no apparent organizing principle at all: a couple of two-story office buildings, a 1930s cottage that has become Decom Co., the Sloan & Sloan School of Dancing in a kind of New York brownstone, a stucco apartment house, the yellow brick Glendale Moose Lodge 641, a concrete-walled factory, a pet hospital, the orange corrugated steel facade of the Verdugo Mental Health Clinic, the concrete foundation of something new, an Andy Gump, another stucco apartment, another professional building and so on.

The route swings back along Burchett Street, definitely residential, but hardly quiet. Half a block north of the freeway, it hisses like a stadium. There are still pretty Craftsman houses there, but mostly the street serves three-story apartment complexes whose residents come and go by car through motorized steel grates.

The last leg takes in the brick medical and optical buildings that cluster around Central Avenue, each oriented toward its own parking lot.

Looking back, it wasn't a bad hike, just different than advertised.

Like many good urban walking routes, this one has some pleasures of the wilderness: a majestic skyline, several unexpected views of splashing water and lots of vegetation in the planters beside the buildings. And it can be taken by the introspective soul without engaging or being engaged by another human being.

The walk is its own reward.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World