A Visit to Old Los Angeles and Environs

21. Pasadena, Mt. Wilson, and Mt. Lowe.


Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © Brent C. Dickerson

Index to Episodes (click here)

We go into the Fields and Mountains.

• Papa walked pensively down to the breakfast table. I could always tell when the aroma of the coffee would hit him in the morning, as he would stop and breathe it in deeply before continuing. "Folk," said he, "our last day in Los Angeles before moving on to Long Beach shall be a busy one . . . " This proved true enough, as the first step of the day was to resolve all of the varying aspirations and dissentions as to just how the day would be spent. At length, in the midst of tumult, Papa sounded the signal of an imminent paternal decree from which there was no appeal—he rang his coffee-cup three times with the spoon—even the canary stopped singing—and announced, "All folk, both high and low" (meaning from the six-foot Charley to the wee baby) "shall take the trolley together to Pasadena, at which point we shall divide into three groups. Mrs. S., Sigrid, and the baby" (Sigrid had wanted to take this last outing with us) "shall return home, and start putting things straight for tomorrow's journey. Anna, Minnie, and young Frederick Johan shall take the trolley up to the peak of Mt. Lowe, thence returning to Pasadena and home. Charley, Ulf, and myself shall make a daring ascent of Mt. Wilson on horseback—and shall return rather late, I should imagine." On the pretext of their needing mature male guidance in their endeavors, I volunteered to join the Mt. Lowe party rather than to risk saddle sores with Papa's party; but Anna pointed out that I had evidently forgotten that young Frederick Johan was to be with them (which made FJ beam), leaving me with nothing to say except that I hoped my thick long-johns were ready for use. Sigrid fed and watered the canary, and called out to Chester as we passed to keep an eye on the house; and so we were off on our adventure. As we left town behind and started into the higher ground, the trolley began passing through remarkable fields of California Poppies. Practically the whole trolley-load got out for a photograph at one; and so it was that Charley got to ham it up surrounded by everyone else. "It will make a good postcard to send the college girls I know," Charley confided in me. Minnie, who overheard, cried out, "Just one postcard per college is my advice, dear brother!".

• A man on the trolley who had very long hair tried to interest us in a visit to an ostrich farm; but Mother said, with a note of finality, that she would be getting back to chicken coops soon enough; and Charley, with a glance at Minnie's hat, said that he felt as if an ostrich farm were traveling about with him already. But young Frederick Johan bought a postcard from the man "for scientific purposes."

• Along some stretches, it seemed like the population was comprised of residents of sanitoriums, and elderly folks in little cottages. "It's not just the fruits and nuts that ripen here!" said I after a string of such. Papa put his hand on my shoulder. "My boy," said he, "I think maybe one day you'll look at an old man and see yourself."

• Pasadena is a quiet residential community stretching along some flatland which fronts some foothills which themselves nestle under downright mountains. It's shady and quiet, and many of the houses are rather grand.

• As the trolley glided past the yards and gardens, Minnie sighed and said, "I must admit—I really must—that there are times that all of these flowers here begin to grow quite oppressive." "Then you will no doubt enjoy returning home and gazing at fields of wheat, Minnie" said Papa.

• We got off where we had a good view of Mt. Lowe, the destination of Anna, Minnie, and young Frederick Johan; and this is where we split into our various parties. Mother, Sigrid, and the baby spent some time in downtown Pasadena—though I suspect not much time, as they had pretty thoroughly packed our things by the time we all straggled back to Aunt Sigrid's that evening. Papa, Charley, and I set about getting to the base of Mt. Wilson to hire horses for our ascent; and the Mt. Lowe party "caught a trolley to take a trolley," as Anna put it—taking a regular trolley to bring them to the sightseeing one at Mt. Lowe.

• Going from Pasadena into the hills, the way got rougher . . .

• And rougher . . .

• Papa chose some fine horses; we were packing in hardly anything—mainly our picnic lunch—so Papa asked for an older animal "of peaceful disposition" for our pack mule.

• Another group joined us—a banker from Tucson and his family—"Hey!" said I, "aren't these some of the people we saw being photographed at the Argyle Hotel?"—and so we set off. I took the rear, so I could dawdle without reprimand. The trail was a mite narrow at certain points; and as often as not, a tree branch would swat us in the face, "but only if you don't pay attention, men," said Papa.

• However citified Charley might have become in college, he had always been a good horseman just like his father. I, on the other hand, struggled not to slip off the saddle, what with avoiding branches on the one hand and a sort of lopsided gait which my fine mount undertook, no doubt to have funny stories to tell his mates later back at the stables. It was with pleasure that we came to the Halfway House, where we dismounted for a leisurely lunch under the oaks and pines, the resinous scent sharpening our appetites. The banker's family, however, looked askance at us, and, after a short rest, continued on. "Perhaps they have a train to catch," said I.

• As we were finishing up a bit of a siesta, whom should we see come along but the banker and his brood, now on their way down? "Friend," said the man, whose supple hat bespoke long years of use, "I am sorry to report that the trail is closed some distance ahead due to falling rocks." "Are the rocks falling now?" I queried—a point which I thought necessary to clarify. "No, sir," said the banker, with somewhat more of a patronizing tone than I thought necessary; "the rocks are not falling now, but have fallen already, and very effectively, too." "Sir," said Charley, "might a man leave his horse on one side, climb over the rocks, and hike his way up the rest of the way to the top?" "Yes, sir," responded the banker, with some exasperation, "a man could certainly do that, if he wanted rattlesnakes slithering down his shirt into his very vitals!". Papa turned to Charley and said—loud enough for the banker to overhear—"Charley, I should very much enjoy having rattlesnakes slither down my shirt; how about you?". "Well, Papa," quoth Charley, "I must say that my vitals are feeling very snake-ish this afternoon! What about Ulf?". "Why, I've been loading rattlers down my shirt all morning," said I; "most refreshing." The banker snorted, and rode on; and indeed, as each of his party passed—wife, children, and horses—they too snorted, all in all making quite a breeze. We mounted and continued up where we started seeing vistas over the whole L.A. basin, out to the ocean and even to Catalina Island, vaguely. But after rounding a point, we found that, rattlesnakes or no, the way was impassible, and with a tinge of regret at not reaching our goal, turned around and started the trip back down. Here is a picture of my better side.

• Meanwhile, as young Frederick Johan reported, the Mt. Lowe party was making good progress. Their regular trolley deposited them at the Mt. Lowe trolley depot, where they climbed aboard the car and began the first leg of their ascent, up Echo Mountain.

• "Oh, dear!" Anna said, grabbing the chassis of the car, "Why are we stopping here?"—in mid-climb. "It's a photographer, see?" said Minnie, jerking her thumb in the man's direction; "he'll be touching us for some money when we come back down, you can bet!" "They know all the angles," said young FJ, with a wry smile, but no response. "I said, 'They know all the angles.'" "We heard you," said Minnie, "and it pains me to say so."

• "This is like the beginning of a roller-coaster!" cried Minnie, with a soupçon of apprehension, as they went up the Great Incline. Anna was noting the little wild flowers in the gulleys along the way, while FJ, who later went on at very great length about the gauge of the track and its implications, pointed out the Circular Bridge above, which, as he remarked on their approach to it, "would more accurately be called the Semi-Circular Bridge."

• The view over the L.A. basin from the Semi-Circular Bridge was breathtaking—indeed, Minnie fainted into the arms of a handsome young gentleman who sat next to her. His wife promptly revived her, with a sharp pinch.

• As the car ascended, and passed into dark canyons and under shady pine trees, the ride grew chilly.

• The trolley let them off near the peak of Mt. Lowe at the Alpine Tavern.

• "Well!" exclaimed young Frederick Johan, "perhaps Minnie has found her perfect Romeo at last!" Anna cautioned that "the SPCA most certainly wouldn't allow it," which brought a sharp look from Minnie. But—reported FJ—they smoothed everything out when FJ treated them each to a strawberry soda. "And I treated myself to two," he admitted.

• From Mt. Lowe's Inspiration Point, they could see all the way to the coast and out to Santa Catalina Island, which we would be visiting later.

• Between FJ's exploration of the site, Anna's picking of flowers to press to send home, and Minnie's successively chatting up each new trolley-driver that would come on the scene, and then taking dinner at the tavern, they lingered to sunset—about the time Papa, Charley, and I arrived back at Aunt Sigrid's. Just when the night was as dark as it could be with a full moon beaming down, and Papa was stepping out onto the veranda "for a good smoke," said he (but I think he was starting to worry about the girls and FJ), our three stragglers showed up, FJ sporting a sparkly rock which he didn't doubt had gold in it. And so our busy last day in L.A. ended.

Return to San Gabriel, Eagle Rock, and Casa Verdugo; or on to Long Beach part one . . .

Return to BCD Home Page . . .