A Modern, Electric-Blue Palette Livens Up a Historic Los Angeles Stairway
One of 52 historic Silver Lake stairways, the Swan Stairway (also known as the Swan Stairs or Swan Place Staircase) is one of our favorite results of Silver Lake’s adopted-stairways project. Tucked into a hillside near Swan Place and covering more than 280 steps, three distinct designs exist peacefully in a geometric burst of blues and lights for a bright, lively look that energizes and uplifts.
About the Swan Stairway
In the 1920s, Los Angeles began to expand, pushing its people and progress out of downtown and into neighborhood communities. An advanced public transit system connected the sprawling metro, ensuring that no matter where you lived you could easily and inexpensively make your way across the city.
For Silver Lake, a community tucked into the hills of northern Los Angeles, growth meant going up the hillside. Bungalows and flats quickly peppered the landscape, reaching higher and higher. Today, winding roads are used to connect the hills from top to bottom, but in the 1920s—a time when most Angelenos didn’t own an automobile—a different solution was necessary: stairs.
These historic stairs that once took workers and shoppers from their hillside homes to the tram network below still stand today. In an effort to preserve the 52 stairways, a staple of what makes Silver Lake unique, the city has been adopting them out to individuals and companies dedicated to caring for them—which is exactly what happened with the Swan Stairway when Casey Revkin-Maugér stepped up and adopted it.
Formerly an unremarkable stone stairway, this historic structure is now bursting with life thanks to the Silver Lake community and Revkin-Maugér’s artist-friend Evelyn Leigh. A New York native who has adopted Los Angeles as home, Leigh chose a geometric wall-art style that was the perfect face-lift for the old steps.
The Colors of the Swan Stairway
Three distinct sections compose the Swan Stairway, and yet each section feels cohesive, telling a continuous story. Leigh shared her vision with us: “The first set of steps features a blue ombré, with a hint of yellow at the top, which brings you into the first retaining wall. The yellow is then carried over into the geometric pattern on that wall. The triangles of that pattern are carried over and up to the second set of steps. The second wall is the blue geometrics, which reflect the first wall, which fades out into the beige. The beige then continues into the palette of the mountain range on the final staircase.”
The palette of blues, lights, and yellows wasn’t necessarily by choice, as the project relied entirely on community paint donations. This adds to the historic significance of the Swan Stairway. What began as a project to link the Silver Lake community with a means of travel became a work of art created by its inhabitants.
“Thanks to the MOMS Club of Silver Lake and community residents, we got plenty of paint donated toward the steps,” Leigh said. And while having paint to work with was a blessing, the palette ended up being completely random. She explained that she was “at the mercy of whatever colors people had laying around, which was a fun, but not surprising—look at the palettes people use in their homes. Besides a lot of gray and white, the main color we had was blue, and a lot of it.”
We’re mesmerized by the strong use of blue in the Swan Stairway palette, by the way it plays with geometric design. Leigh explained, ”A little bit of shading goes a long way when making a two-dimensional wall look like a three-dimensional piece. So, embracing the blue shades, I chose this design of a Q*bert-style 3-D pattern contrasted with the organic nature of the lettering. Not to let the blue overwhelm the space, I added in some beige squares that allow the pattern to blend with its surrounding environment. Plus, geometric patterns are easily patched without ruining the work if they get vandalized in the future. But I’m happy to report that it has been a year now with no incidents.”
Step Up to Style
Inspired by Leigh’s bold hues and playing on shading, we put together a collection of our favorite Pratt & Lambert blues. Gloxinia 28-12, a muted blue, anchors the palette, while the strong navy shade of Sailor Suit 27-16 and the crispness of Designer White 33-1 bring both strength and brightness to the medley. Two tonal hues, Blue Milano 27-11 and Simple Blue 27-6, round out the palette.
“These steps are very old and very historic, and as such, very important to the residents of Silver Lake,” Leigh said. “I wanted to respect that in the designs, bringing art that everyone could enjoy and even bring new visitors to this unique feature of their community. I have always loved Los Angeles, even as a New York resident and native. Through the wonders of social media, I‘ve gotten to witness the joy and excitement that this project has brought to people, and that’s the dream right there, as an artist. I feel a deep responsibility to the public and especially to the residents who see and use these stairs every day. This is for them.”