Early Views of Mt. Lowe Railway

 
(1893)^ - Photograph of the first passengers of Professor S.C. Lowe's dramatic Mount Lowe Railway, July 4, 1893. There are a couple of dozen people in the rail car (number "9") which is headed toward the camera on the circular bridge. The trestle structure is visible below the rails. The hotel on the mountaintop is visible at left as is the rail approach to the hotel.  

 

Historical Notes

At the turn of the century, a famous Pacific Electric excursion was the Mt. Lowe trip. From Los Angeles, sightseers took a Pasadena car to Altadena and Rubio Canyon. They then transferred to a cable car on the Incline Railway that went up a 62% grade to Echo Mountain. From there they would take a narrow-gauge trolley car winding its way up the rugged San Gabriel Mtns. and finally would arrive at Alpine Tavern on Mt. Lowe, a nearly 7 mile railway ride from the base of the mountain. The views were spectacular and on most days Catalina Island, over 60 miles away, could be clearly be seen.

In 1892, Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe, also known as Professor T. S. C. Lowe, founded the Mount Lowe project and Mount Lowe Railway. Oak Mountain, a 6,100 foot peak behind Echo Mountain, was renamed Mount Lowe in his honor. The rail system was engineered by David J. Macpherson and completed in 1893.*

 

 

 
(1893)^ - The great Cable Incline (seen above) went from Rubio Pavilion (the bottom) to Echo Mountain (at the top). In this picture one of the cable cars, named "Rubio" sits at the bottom with some passengers aboard and others waiting nearby. Also on the left is the electric car which brought customers to the station from Mountain Junction.  

 

Historical Notes

The Great Incline cable mechanism was engineered by Andrew Smith Hallidie of San Francisco cable car fame. It climbed 2,200 feet with approximately 6,000 feet of cable spliced into a complete loop which raised and lowered the cars of the Incline.*^

 

 

 

 
(1897)++# - Winter view looking northeast from Monk's Hill showing the San Gabriel Mountains covered with a blanket of snow.  You can just make out Mount Lowe Rwy. entering Rubio Cyn. and Alpine Division ascending from Echo Mountain. The dirt intersection in foreground is of Howard and Marengo.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1900)#* - Panoramic view of Echo Mt. and Mt. Lowe from Pasadena with snow on the mountains and houses and orange groves visible in the foreground.  

 

Historical Notes

Early Pasadenans always had a dream of a scenic mountain railroad to the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains. It was one David J. Macpherson, a civil engineer graduate of Cornell University, who had the general plans for just such a railroad. He was introduced to Prof. Lowe with the idea of joining Macpherson’s plans and Lowe’s money together in one venture.*^

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - Panoramic drawing by W. H. Bull of Pasadena and Altadena and the majestic San Gabriel Mountains in the background. The drawing depicts the Mt. Lowe Railway with its Cable Incline rail, Circular Bridge, "Ye Alpine Tavern", and Echo Mountain House and Station as it appeared in the early 1900s.  

 

Historical Notes

In 1891, Lowe and Macpherson incorporated the Pasadena & Mount Wilson Railroad (later the Mount Lowe Railway). Unable to obtain all the rights of way to Mt. Wilson, the two men redirected their railway toward Oak Mountain via the Echo promontory. The difference between this and any other scenic mountain railway of its kind was that it was an all-electric traction trolley (streetcar), the only one of its kind to ever exist. Oak Mountain was later renamed Mount Lowe, and to make it official, Andrew McNally, the co-founder of the map printing company Rand McNally who had moved to Altadena, had the name Mt. Lowe printed on all his maps.*^

 

 

 
(n.d.)^* - Diagram showing the three segments that comprised the Mt. Lowe Railway: The transportation to Rubio Canyon, the Incline Railway, and the trolley to Mt. Lowe.  

 

Historical Notes

Over its 45 years of existence, it is estimated that some 3 million people had ridden the railway, many coming from all parts of the country and the world. In its own inimitable way, it was a Disneyland of the day. A publication which emanated from the Tavern daily was the Echo which included the names and home states of the daily arrivals. The four page tabloid had three pages of biographical information on the railroad and other announcements of daily events.*^

 

 

Construction Phase

 
(ca. 1892)^# – View showing to top of Echo Mountain during grading and construction. In the distance can be seen the construction tent and to the right can be seen the cut from which the Alpine Division will eventually make its way toward the photographer.  

 

Historical Notes

Prior to the opening of the incline on July 4, 1893, quite a bit of grading and preparation had to be done to Echo Mountain. The pack burros in the foreground hauled everything up the hill including barrels of water, nails, and lumber until a windlass could be installed to drag things up the rough cut of where the incline would be installed.^#

 

 

 
(ca. 1892)+# – View showing the building of the bridge at the foot of the Great Incline.  

 

Historical Notes

Building the Incline proved to be one of the most difficult tasks of the railway's construction. Just above the bottom a ridge of the mountain intersected the right-of-way, and on its upper side lay a deep canyon. Both of these obstacles had to be surmounted before a single tie could be laid. It required eight long months to cut a grade through the ridge, which was called Granite Gorge.+#

 

 

 
(ca. 1892)++# - Workers completing the Incline Track about 3/4 of the way up to Echo Mt.  

 

Historical Notes

When work began on the Great Incline the grades were so steep that no mule could be flogged enough into negotiating it. Materials were carried up the hill on the back of laborers. Grading became a particular problem. It was impossible to dispose of the rubble removed from the gorge downhill as it would have quickly filled up the canyon and inundated the spot where the loading platform was to be located. Gangs of laborers were set to work hand carrying the debris upward 50 yards, where it was dumped down a side canyon.*^

 

 

Opening Day

 
(1893)^ - View showing the first Mount Lowe Railway car to leave Altadena from Mountain Junction, the corner of Lake Avenue and Calaveras Street, for Rubio Canyon, July 4, 1893. A large group of finely-dressed people gather on the railroad platform looking towards the foreground. Many stand on the raised, wooden platform at right while others sit on a decorated railroad car at center. Two small boys stand on broken shards of wood in the foreground while flags wave in the background.  

 

Historical Notes

The Mount Lowe Railway opened officially on July 4, 1893. Up to this point there was only one means of public transportation from the valleys below to the hillside community of Altadena. It was the Los Angeles Terminal Railway which by this time was running from Terminal Island in San Pedro to Mountain Junction. Initially the trains ran only twice a day but that would increase to several times a day once Henry Huntington of the Pacific Electric Railway acquired the Mt. Lowe Railway in 1902.*^

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - This Pacific Eelectric Railway time table gives the times from Los Angeles to Mount Lowe with stops in Pasadena, Altadena, Hyglea, Rubio Canyon, Echo Mountain and Mount Lowe. Also the return times. You can for instance leave Los Angeles at 8:00 a.m. and arrive at Mount Lowe at 10:00 a.m.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1896)* - View of three streetcars full of travelers on their way to Altadena with continuing service to Mount Lowe, as indicated on the top car streetcar #45 on the left. Visiting Mount Lowe in the San Gabriel Mountains was a "must" for the local inhabitants as well as tourists. The journey started at Mountain Junction in Altadena, moved by electric car (such as shown here) to Rubio Pavilion, the bottom terminus of the Cable Incline Railway. This photograph was taken at Lake Avenue and Mariposa in Altadena.  

 

 

 

 

(Early 1900s)* - View of passengers departing from the Rubio Pavilion to travel south towards Altadena after spending a day or more up in Mt. Lowe. The pavilion is where the "Great Incline", seen on the left, meets one of narrow gauge electric cars.

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1910)*# – View showing Pacific Electric Railway Company car no. 151 at Rubio Canyon, at the bottom of the Great Cable Incline, on the Mt. Lowe line. The incline car has just left and streetcar 151 is taking patrons back to Los Angeles.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1900)++# - View showing the Rubio Hotel which appears to be built on stilts at the edge of the canyon.  

 

Historical Notes

At the Rubio division terminus, a broad platform was built to span the Canyon which included the Rubio Pavilion, a 12-room hotel, with dining facilities and other amenities. The pavilion also consisted of power generating facilities utilizing Pelton waterwheels. Water was made available from reservoirs built in the canyon’s streams, though water was not always plentiful year round.*^

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)*- The Mount Lowe Railway tracks pass by the Rubio Hotel which was completed in 1894. Note the structure that was built directly under the original hotel (see previous photo).  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1900)++# - Postcard view showing Rubio Canyon’s waterfalls near the foot of the incline.  Moss Grotto is above with Ribbon Rock Falls below.  

 

Historical Notes

As part of the entertainment experience, Lowe had a series of stairways and bridges built over the streams and waterfalls that emanated from the canyon. The eleven waterfalls were individually named and today exist as local historical landmarks.*^

 

 

The Great Cable Incline

 
(ca. 1893)* - A group poses in the car at the bottom of the Great Incline below Echo Mountain. In the upper left corner of the group is Professor T.S.C. Lowe, the founder of the Mount Lowe project and the Mount Lowe Railway.  

 

Historical Notes

Visitors were lifted up the incline railway in the elegant opera-box cars known as the White Chariots.

Note that the tracks consist of three rails instead of the customary four. One car going up uses a side rail and middle rail. Another car coming down uses the middle rail and the other side rail. Farther up toward the center of the tracks the two cars passed each other on a widened section.

 

 
The plan for a three-railed incline devised by Prof. Lowe.*^  

 

While funiculars were usually considered to require four rails, two for the ascending car, and two for the descending car, there was not enough room to widen the grade to accommodate four rails. Overnight the inventive Thaddeus Lowe came up with a plan to only use four rails where the cars pass each other and three rails on the upper and lower ends of the run, whereby the cars shared the center rail. The ingenious three-railed funicular not only fit, but it also reduced the amount of required materials. This three-railed design has been applied in other places as well (e.g. Angels Flight).*^

 

 

 
(1906)++# – View looking down the Great Incline showing how the three-rail tracks widen to four at the center of the line, enabling the cars to pass each other.  Note workmen on the right side of track  

 

 

 

 
(1893)* - View of Mount Lowe's cable incline. A group poses in the car at the bottom of the incline and in front of the Mount Lowe trolley.  

 

Historical Notes

Atop Echo Mountain there was the 40-room Echo Chalet which was ready for opening day in 1893 (not seen in this view). The famous Victorian-style 80 room Echo Mountain House would be built one year later in 1894.*^

 

 

 
(n.d.)^# - Tourist snapshot looking from the Mount Lowe incline car over the trestle and over the top of a wood bodied streetcar and down through a hazy Rubio Canyon.  Note how steep the incline is.  

 

 

 

 
(1890s)^* - Profile view of Mount Lowe's Cable Incline showing its steep 62% grade.  

 

Historical Notes

The incline grade changed three times from a steep 62% grade at the base to a gentler 48% grade at the top, but the cars were designed to comfortably adjust to the differences in grade. The incline was also equipped with a safety cable which ran through an emergency braking mechanism under each car and provided an emergency stopping of the cars within 15 feet should a failure of the main cable occur.*^

 

 

 
(ca. 1894)* - View of Mount Lowe's incline railway. A group poses in the car at the bottom of the incline. Note that the newly constructed Echo Mountain House now appears at the top of the hill.  

 

Historical Notes

By November 1894 the stately, 70-room, Victorian-style Echo Mountain House had opened at the top of the Incline. The hotel featured two two-story wings adjoined by a grand lobby, and a dining room wing which reached to the rear overlooking Castle Canyon. The rest of Echo Mountain consisted of a working astronomical observatory, which housed a 16-inch telescope, dormitories, power generating stations and the "Incline Powerhouse" which powered the cables for the Great Incline funicular. The entire group of buildings was painted white and thus was referred to as "White City." Even the “opera box” cable cars were white and could be seen from afar ferrying up and down the hill.*^

 

 

 
(ca. 1900)++# - Postcard view of Incline car, Mt. Lowe Rwy., looking southwest.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Panoramic view of Mount Lowe showing the Great Cable Incline (left), Echo Mountain House at the top of the mountain, and the winding dirt trails towards the right of the mountain.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1905)^# – View looking down the Mt. Lowe Incline. Note the photographer's boots in the lower corners of the image.  

 

Historical Notes

The great Cable Incline was 3,000 feet in length over a maximum grade of 62 percent and a direct ascent of 1,325 feet to Echo Mountain, an altiitude of 3,500 feet. 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - View showing the Incline Cable car as it passes the Echo Mountain House perched on the top of the hill.  

 

Historical Notes

The 70-room Echo Mountain Hotel was incomplete when the railway was first opened in 1893, but was finished a year later (1894).*

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1895)* - View showing a group of visitors arriving at the top of Echo Mountain on one of the Incline cable cars.  Another group appears to be waiting for the next ride down.  The Echo Mountain Hotel is seen at left perched on top of the hill at an approximate elevation of 3,5000 feet..  

 

Historical Notes

In addition to the 70-room Echo Mountain House (Hotel) seen above, there was the 40-room Echo Chalet, an observatory, car barns, dormitories, repair facilities, and a casino/dance hall. A kitchen fire destroyed the Echo Mountain House in 1900.*

 

 

 
(ca. 1890s)* - View showing a group of visitors posing in one of the earlier Incline cable cars.  

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Visitors to Echo Mountain pose on one of the Incline opera-box cable cars (called 'White Chariots') which transports them on the Mount Lowe Railway. The car moved between Rubio Pavilion at the bottom of the incline to Echo Mountain at the top.  

 

Historical Notes

At the top of the incline was perched Charles Lawrence, the official photographer, on a special scaffold from which he would take pictures of the arriving visitors. For 25 cents visitors could purchase a souvenir photo of their arrival on the incline car, with everyone else aboard, of course. George Wharton James, Lowe’s publicist, had his own publication which touted the railway in its conception, construction and operation.*^

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)^*^ - Souvenir photo showing a group of visitors posing for the photographer at the top of the incline. Background sign reads:  “Pacific Electric Ry Co. – Ye Alpine Tavern 5,000 Ft. Above Sea Level – Mt. Lowe 6,100 Ft. – Echo Mountain 3,500 Ft.”    Photo courtesy of David S. Brown.  

 

Historical Notes

The backside of the Mt. Lowe Historical and Descriptive Souvenir Photo reads: 

The Mt. Lowe Division of the Pacific Electric Railway, for safety, speed and comfort, is foremost amongst the scenic mountain railways of the world, offering to the pleasure seeker an ideal trip for sight-seeing and recreation surpassed by none.  Originated and built by Prof. T. S. C. Lowe and opened to the public July 4th, 1893, on which date the first White Chariot ascended the great Cable Incline, 3,000 feet in length over a maximum grade of 62 percent and a direct ascent of 1,325 feet to Echo Mountain, an altiitude of 3,500 feet.  Here the incline machinery is located and open to the inspection of the public.  Here also is located the 3,000,000 candle power searchlight and the Great Lowe Observatory.  The safety appliances, among which may be mentioned the great tensile strength of the pulling cable, tested to a strain of 100 tons, whereas the actual load never exceeds five tons.  The secondary, or safety cable with its automatic devices, the speed indicator and automatic brakes, combined with extreme operative care, provide that security of travel attested by the fact that no accident has ever marred the history of its operation.  From Echo Mountain extending five miles through the Sierra Madre mountains the trolley winds its way up Mt. Lowe to Alpine Tavern.  The line, a marvel of engineering and creative skill, entailing the construction of 20 bridges and 127 curves, winding its way to Alpine Tavern 1,100 feet below the summit of Mt. Lowe.  The Tavern is open every day of the year and first-class meals are furnished at reasonable rates, also good comfortable accomodations by the day or week.  Here one can rest in the quietness of the surroundings or find enjoyment in feeding the friendly birds and squirrels of the forest or ascend the summit on horse-back and from an altitude of 6,100 feet view mountains, valley and sea, an inspiring sight indeed.^*^

Pacific Electric Ry Co. owned and operated the Mt. Lowe railroad system from 1902 until it closed in 1938. Click HERE to read more.

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)#* - Passengers pose for the camera on the Mount Lowe Railway cable car incline to Echo Mountain.  A sign above says "Echo Mountain 3500 feet above sea level" and the car says "Echo" across the front. A Pacific Electric streetcar is also seen at right. The domed building in the distance is the Mount Lowe Observatory with a telescope on Echo Mountain.  

 

 

Echo Mountain

 
(1890s)* - Side view of Echo Mountain House as seen from the from Mount Lowe Ry.  

 

Historical Notes

Atop Echo Mt. stood the magnificent 70-room Victorian hotel, the Echo Mountain House. Only a few hundred feet away stood the 40-room Echo Chalet which was ready for opening day. The complement of buildings on Echo included an astronomical observatory, car barns, dormitories and repair facilities, a casino and dance hall, and a menagerie of local fauna. Passengers could then transfer to another trolley line, the Alpine Division, which would take them to the upper terminus at Crystal Springs and Ye Alpine Tavern, a 22-room Swiss Chalet hospice with a complement of amenities from tennis courts, to wading pools, to mule rides.

 

 

 

 
(1890s)* - View of some of the hotel guest standing on the veranda and stairways at the front of Echo Mountain House.
 

 

Historical Notes

Completed in the fall of 1894, the Echo Mountain House was a marvel. The four-story Victorian building was marked by a tall, cylindrical tower and capped by a metal dome and a huge American flag. The bright white exterior was marked by a long row of windows on each floor. At the building’s entrance, two sweeping verandas looked off across the canyons and the valley.**

 

 

 

 
(1890s)#* - People standing on balcony of Echo Mountain House looking at the panoramic view of Pasadena.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1898)++# – View showing the interior of Echo Mt. House.  Dr. Lewis Swift, the original resident astronomer of the Mt. Lowe Observatory is seated in rocking chair with the dining room seen in the rear.  

 

Historical Notes

The interior of the hotel was extravagant, with detailed wood inlay, the finest floral-patterned carpet and handmade furniture throughout. There were seventy guest rooms, large areas for office space, a massive social hall and dining room, a souvenir shop, a Western Union office, a bowling alley, a billiard room, a barbershop and a shoeshine stand.**

 

 

 

 
(1890s)* - Another exterior view of Echo Mountain House with its 70 guest rooms.  

 

Historical Notes

Echo Mountain House was built in 1894 and burned down in a fire in 1900.

 

 

 

 
(1895)* - Exterior view of Echo Mountain House looking east from a zoo building that sits just below the tracks. Two men look through the bars of the zoo exhibit.  

 

Historical Notes

The zoo structure consisted of cages where squirrels, bobcats, hawks, owls, foxes, and even a bear could be found.^#

 

 

 
(n.d.)^# – View showing a woman yelling into the “Echo Phone” on top of Echo Mountain.  

 

Historical Notes

The Echo Phone was used by visitors to project their voice from behind the Echo Mountain House on the Mount Lowe Railway. It still exists today.

 


 
(ca. 1890s)* - View of Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley from Echo Mountain.  

 

Historical Notes

Buildings at Echo Mountain, reached by the Mount Lowe Railway, included the Echo Mountain House, a 70-room hotel at an elevation of approximately 3500 ft., the 40-room Echo Chalet, the observatory, car barns, dormitories, repair facilities, and a casino/dance hall. A kitchen fire destroyed the Echo Mountain House in 1900. The observatory was commissioned by Thaddeus Lowe in 1893 and continued in operation until 1928 when a storm damaged the dome.*

 

 

 
(ca. 1890s)^*^ - Panoramic view showing Echo Mountain with the San Gabriel Valley in the background on a crystal clear day.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1890s)* - Panoramic view of Mount Lowe Observatory and Echo Mountain House and other structures, all painted white.
 

 

Historical Notes

All of the buildings on the mountain, including the Chateau, were painted the same brilliant white. “The White City,” as it was called, included the Echo Mountain House, a dance hall, a petting zoo, a post office, tennis courts and, to Lowe’s scientific delight, an observatory.**

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1896)*^ - The Echo Mountain Promotory after a snowfall, and the White City resort of the Mount Lowe Railway as seen from a higher spot on the ridge and overlooking Altadena, CA. Buildings viewed from left to right: The Echo Chalet, Echo Mountain House, Incline Powerhouse, Dormitories and Car Barn. Behind the car barn, note an inflatable reservoir for the storage of hydrogen gas produced in Pasadena and piped some 8½ miles to Echo.  

 

Historical Notes

Prof. Lowe’s success was greatly drawn from his nationally renowned process of generating large amounts of hydrogen gas. He had built a gas plant in Pasadena and had piped the gas some eight miles to the top of Echo Mt. where there was a storage container seen in the above photo. The technology, mainly used for heating and lighting, was soon replaced by electricity.*^

Click HERE to see Prof. Lowe's Biography.

 

 

 

 
(1922)* - Panoramic view of Pasadena and surrounding areas, as seen from top of Echo Mountain. View also shows, Mount Lowe Observatory in the foreground. Catalina Island (over 60 miles away) can be seen in the far background. Click HERE to see more in Early Views of Catalina.
 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Exterior view of Mount Lowe Observatory. View also shows snow-covered mountains in the background.
 

 

Historical Notes

Prof. Lowe installed a 16-inch telescope and observatory on Echo, as he was a patron of the astronomical arts. He even sought to have the Mount Lowe Railway considered the astronomical center of the San Gabriels. He was even able to enlist astronomer Dr. Lewis Swift, whose reputation preceded him.*^

 

 

 

 
(1897)+## - View of the Mt. Lowe Observatory with visitors posing in front of it.  The original resident astronomer, Dr. Lewis Swift, is seen standing in the observatory doorway.  

 

Historical Notes

Lewis A. Swift was a world-renown famous astronomer who discovered a number of comets over his lifetime.  Lowe invited Swift and his astronomical equipment to be the head of the new Mount Lowe Observatory. Lowe wanted the best of everything – and having Swift on top of Echo Mountain was considered by Southern Californians as quite a coup. Swift would give evening lectures open to the ticket buying visitors and he would bring and use his 16 inch refractor telescope was used in many of his past discoveries.

Given the heavens not yet being disturbed by city lights, Swift was able to discover some 95 new nebulae from the Echo vantage point.*^

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Professor Edgar Lucien Larkin poses with the Mount Lowe telescope, which was located on the mountain above Altadena  

 

Historical Notes

After astronomer Dr. Swift’s eyesight began failing him, ca. 1900, a second astronomer was hired to oversee the observatory, Prof. Edgar Lucien Larkin (1847–1925). Though he was not as prominent as Prof. Swift, he did stay with the Mount Lowe Observatory until his sudden death in 1925.*^

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Panoramic view of Altadena as seen from above Lowe Observatory from the Mount Lowe Railway.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1922)* - Panoramic night view of Pasadena and surrounding areas in the Valley, as seen from Mount Lowe.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)**^ – View showing a wood-bodied Pacific Electric Railway “Mount Lowe” car sitting at the platform at Rubio Canyon while passengers line up for their trip up the incline. Beyond the head of the line is the waiting room and restrooms, and at some point in time there was a gift and snack counter.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)++# - View looking down the Great Incline from above the Passing Track.  Note the ascending Incline car below the Passing Track and the Train Shed at bottom of Incline.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)* - The Pacific Electric Railway car sits at the top of the Incline Cable portion of the Mount Lowe Railway as passengers are loading (Mount Lowe Railway was purchased by Pacific Electric around 1902). In the background can be seen the Power Station for the Mt. Lowe Railway system with a large spotlight on top of building.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1931)* - View of Echo Mountain Station and powerhouse, 3500 ft. above sea level. The famous three-million candlepower searchlight sits on top of the building.
 

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1894)* - View showing a woman standing next to the original three million candlepower searchlight on Echo Mountain. After the fire of 1905 it was replaced with another searchlight which was mounted on the powerhouse building.  

 

Historical Notes

Lowe purchased a three million candlepower searchlight from the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.The light was installed on Echo in 1894. So powerful was the light, that a claim by Lowe's publicist, George Wharton James, stated that he could read a newspaper by the beam of the light coming through his hotel window on Catalina Island. Exaggeration or not, the beam from the light did have a 35-mile projection. Residents announcing their birthdays could have the light shone on their homes in the evening. It was also known to stir up a corral of horses, invade lovers’ privacy, and interrupt an evening’s revival meeting. By the 1930s the light was considered a public nuisance and was shut off permanently.*^

 

 

 
(1890s)^# – View showing a man standing in front of the original World’s Fair Searchlight with a near empty Pasadena landscape in the distance.   Note the reflection (inverted) of the Echo Mountain House in the searchlight’s mirror.  

 

Historical Notes

This is at the time of the old powerhouse, when the searchlight was mounted on its own pedestal nearby.  After the fire of 1905,  a new powerhouse was built and a new search light mounted on top of it.

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - A view of the Echo Mountain Station (powerhouse), located at the top of the Incline Cable section of the Pacific Electric Railway. Note that the location of the 2nd searchlight is now on top of the powerhouse building.  

 

Historical Notes

The Echo Mountain Powerhouse was erected to house the control room and the winding motor and gear works which powered the nine foot diameter grip wheel which in turn pulled the incline cable.

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1895)+## - View showing the interior of the original wooden powerhouse on Echo Mt. which burned down in 1905 and was replaced by the concrete powerhouse in 1907.  

 

Historical Notes

The Incline is controlled by turning the crank in the operator's right hand which passes a connection over a series of contact points set in a granite base seen at the second level of the device [white arrow]; this action progressively increases the speed of the Incline machinery.+##

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Shown is part of the cable machinery used to pull electric cable cars up and down the Incline portion of the Mount Lowe Railway. The cable system was designed by Andrew Smith Hallidie who had previously worked on the cable systems in San Francisco.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Interior view of the powerhouse with transformer at left which generated the electrical power to run the Great Cable Incline of Echo Mountain.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1893)+# – View showing the cable winding equipment at the top of Echo Mountain during construction.   

 

Historical Notes

Powered by the powerhouse (seen in previous photo), the nine foot diameter grip wheel consisted of 72 clamping “finger” mechanisms which bit down on the cable creating a smooth, non-slip actuation of the winding cable.*^

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1898)++# – View showing the Mt Lowe Incline operating machinery on Echo Mt.  The electric motor powering the machinery is at left. Subject transfer gear is at center; it turned the large bull-wheel at right which gripped and pulled the Incline cable moving the cars up and down the mountain.  

 

 

 

Alpine Division

 
(n.d.)* - View shows Mount Lowe Observatory (right). The incline station (left) and the power stations (center) for the railways are also visible. A Pacific Electric trolley is seen on the left, where it begins service and the funicular ends.  

 

Historical Notes

A third division, the Alpine Division, was begun in 1894 and took a lengthy stretch of narrow gauge track across three canyons to the foot of Mount Lowe (formerly Oak Mountain). The line ran from alongside the incline landing where passengers could transfer directly to the next trolley. There were three trains available on this line, but the limited electrical power only allowed one at a time to travel.*^

 

 

 

  (n.d.)^* - Diagram illustrating the various phases of ascent up to Mt. Lowe including all the key structures.

 

Historical Notes

The Mt. Lowe Railway consisted of nearly seven miles of track starting in Altadena at a station called Mountain Junction. The railway climbed the steep Lake Avenue and crossed the Poppy fields into the Rubio Canyon. This part of the trip was called the Mountain Division. At this juncture stood the Rubio Pavilion, a small 12-room hotel. From there the passengers transferred to a cable car funicular which climbed the Great Incline to the top of the Echo Mountain promontory.

Atop Echo stood the magnificent 70-room Victorian hotel, the Echo Mountain House. Only a few hundred feet away stood the 40-room Echo Chalet. The complement of buildings on Echo included an astronomical observatory, car barns, dormitories and repair facilities, a casino and dance hall, and a menagerie of local fauna. Passengers could then transfer to another trolley line, the Alpine Division, which would take them to the upper terminus at Crystal Springs and Ye Alpine Tavern, a 22-room Swiss Chalet hospice with a complement of amenities from tennis courts, to wading pools, to mule rides. This phase of tracks cut through the broad Las Flores Canyon which gave a tremendous panorama of the Los Angeles area below. At one point a tall trestle was required to bridge a broad and deep chasm with a bridge so named High Bridge.*^

 

 

 
(ca. 1893) - View of an early style open-air trolley traveling through Los Flores Canyon heading up toward the famous Circular Bridge.  

 

Historical Notes

From Echo Mountain extending five miles through the Sierra Madre mountains the trolley wound its way up Mt. Lowe to Alpine Tavern. The line entailed the construction of 20 bridges and 127 curves, winding its way to Alpine Tavern 1,100 feet below the summit of Mt. Lowe.

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - View of one the trolley cars on the scenic Mount Lowe Railway (later the Pacific Electric Railway) as it rounds a curve on the famous Circular Bridge, which seemed to hang out over the canyon; more tracks are visible on an upper grade, which look graveled over. A large number of bridges had to be built on the Mount Lowe Railway line in order to cross all the gorges. Tourists would travel on this line between Echo Mountain and Mount Lowe looking out over the valleys below.  

 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)## - Postcard view of the Circular Bridge of the Mount Lowe Railway wtih the San Gabriel Valley in the background.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1893)^ - Photograph of the first passengers of Professor S.C. Lowe's dramatic Mount Lowe Railway, July 4, 1893. There are a couple of dozen people in the rail car (number "9") which is headed toward the camera on the circular bridge. The trestle structure is visible below the rails. The hotel on the mountaintop is visible at left as is the rail approach to the hotel.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1894)* - A group of sightseers travels on one of the trolley cars on the Mount Lowe Railway as it rounds the area of track known as the Circular Bridge. Passengers can look out over the valley below.
 

 

 

 

 
(1898)* - A Mount Lowe Railway car with passengers passes through a section of the track known as the Granite Gate.
 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - A side view of an empty trolley car of the type used on the Mount Lowe Railway by the new owner, Pacific Electric Railway.  

Mt. Lowe Railway Changes Ownership

For the seven years during which Thaddeus Lowe owned and operated the railway, it constantly ran into hard times. For one, its location was off the beaten path of the common traveler with little means of transportation up to the Altadena hillside. For another, fares did not cover the cost of continuous construction done on money borrowed at 10½% interest, and the opening day fare of $5.00 would not remain attractive to the greater public.

Lowe went into receivership one or two times before losing the railway to Jared S. Torrance (founder of the city of Torrance) in 1899. The tiny railway was purchased at auction by a Mr. Valentine Payton of Danville, Illinois who, after only 14 months, sold it to Henry Huntington of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1902. Huntington operated it as a fringe venture the rest of its days alongside his expansive Red Car system that covered the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas.*^

Shortly after Henry Huntington of the Pacific Electric Railway acquired the Mt. Lowe Railway in 1902, he replaced the original open-aired trolleys with the ones as seen above.

 

 

 

 
(1907)#^ – Postcard view showing the new Pacific Electric Railway trolley on the Alpine Division Section of the Mt. Lowe Railway. One could get some spectacular views of the city down below.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1907)*** – Panoramic view of the valley below as seen from Mt. Lowe Railway.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1907)*** - View of the Circular Bridge of Alpine Division of Mt. Lowe Railway and the valley below (Left Panel).  

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)^ - View of a trolley negotiating its way over the famous Circular Bridge on its way to the Ye Alpine Tavern.  

 

 

 

 
(1908)* - Close-up view of the Circular Bridge. Tourists would travel on this line between Echo Mountain and Mount Lowe.  

 

 

 

 
(1914)*^^ - A 1914 Metz Roadster poses for a publicity picture on Circular Bridge. Echo Mountain is at far left.   The above photo was featured in the Pasadena Star (Sept. 10, 1914) where the headline read:  “Five thousand is the number of autos:  That many machines are owned in Pasadena and vicinity.”  

 

Historical Notes

The automobile must have been taken up on the back of an incline car, as there were no auto roads in the vicinity at the time. A fire road reaches this spot today.

 

 

 
(1915)* - A view of one the trolley cars on the Mount Lowe Railway (Pacific Electric Railway) as it rounds a curve on the Circular Bridge.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1915)++# - Postcard view of Circular Bridge and beyond.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1915)* - A trolley car on the Mount Lowe Railway travels through the section known as the Circular Bridge.
 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - A Pacific Rail car carries passenger to and from Mount Lowe. Note, another car is at the top of the hill rounding the Circular Bridge.  

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - A Pacific Electric Railway car travels through the San Gabriel Mountains on one of the sections leading to and from Mount Lowe called Granite Gap.  

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - A view of an open sided trolley car about to cross one of the many bridges on the Mount Lowe Railway line (Pacific Electric Railway).  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Drawing of a panoramic view of Pasadena and it's surrounding cities as seen from Mount Wilson. Mount Lowe Railroad car crossing a bridge can be seen on the right side of the photo.  

 

 

 

 
(1907)* - A cable car full of visitors rounds a snowy corner through the Alpine Division of the railway as it descends Mt. Lowe.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1927)* - A cable car rounds a corner at Granite Gate on its way up to Mt. Lowe.  

 

 

 

 
(1927)++# - Snowfall at Granite Gate (Elev. 4,700'), Mt. Lowe Rwy.  

 

 

 

 
(1930)* - Caption on the verso of the image reads, "Redondo High School students arrive at Mt. Lowe Tavern for a snow battle royal."  

 

 

 

 
(1936)* - Exterior view of Ye Alpine Tavern showing a group of people lounging at the front of the tavern and a trolley car parked at the front. The tavern opened its doors on December 14, 1895, the same day that the Alpine Division of the Mount Lowe Railway began service.  

 

Historical Notes

Ye Alpine Tavern was the end-of-the-line for the Mount Lowe Railway at the foot of Mount Lowe. It was renamed The Mount Lowe Tavern in 1925, and was burned down in September 1936.*^

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1900)**^ – Panoramic view showing an early Alpine Tavern, prior to the Pacific Electric Railway purchase in 1902. Michael Patris Collection.  

 

Historical Notes

Some of the signage is quite clear due to the quality of the image, including a sign for “Pony Trip to the Summit of Mount Lowe, with guide, time about two hours, tickets, $1.00, apply at hotel office.” The next sign reads, “Saddle Horses for Hire, Inquire at Hotel Office.” Note the porcelain “Long Distance Telephone” flange sign attached to the left fork of the tree, and the Mount Lowe Post Office sign behind on the larger tree, where is also states, “Alpine 5,000 Feet.” The two uniformed railway employees look on and just past the stairway to the entrance is “Ye Alpine Shoppe” where tourists and guests could purchase Mount Lowe souvenirs. The big log, buried in the ground at the end of the tracks, along with the heavy chain, was the terminus of the Alpine Division and where the trolley cars would be chained up to prevent any unwanted movement of the equipment.**^

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1905)++# - Page from a souvenir book of Pasadena scenes depicting the Alpine Tavern, Mt. Lowe Rwy., CA.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1910)^* - View of the Ye Alpine Tavern, Mount Lowe.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1913)^^ - View showing two women and a man sitting on a bench next to another woman who is standing in front of a Pacific Electric Railway car. The Ye Alpine Tavern is seen in the background.  

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - Group photo taken on the balcony of Ye Alpine Tavern, Mount Lowe.  

 

Historical Notes

One of the only images of Thaddeus Lowe Jr.’s son, William Emmert Lowe as he stands in front of Alpine Tavern alone. Although he died in 1913 at a young age, his sister Florence made quite a name for herself, both literally and figuratively, as Pancho Barnes, who broke Amelia Earhart’s air speed record in 1930.^#

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - Panoramic view of Ye Alpine Tavern, Mount Lowe. View shows front exterior of the tavern, scenery and some of the guests.
 

 

 

 

 

 
(1895)* - Interior view of Ye Alpine Tavern showing a large lounge room with a fireplace, chairs and a piano on the right.  

 

Historical Notes

The quote on the beam above the fireplace has been attributed to Thaddeus Lowe, but as it turns out Lowe borrowed it from Ralph Waldo Emerson.^#

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1900)^# - Around the fireplace at Ye Alpine Tavern.  

 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Interior view of the large dining room at the Ye Alpine Tavern.
 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Group of riders on mules, start their ascent on a trail that will lead them up to Mt. Lowe.  

 

Historical Notes

Part of the charm around the Mt. Lowe sites was the grand display of nature and hiking trails, plus a mule ride that took guests around a trail referred to as the Mount Lowe Eight. The trail made a large figure eight traverse of Mt. Lowe and Mount Echo starting and ending at the Alpine Tavern without ever crossing the same terrain twice.*^

 

 

(1902)* - Caption reads, "'Ah, there!' Behold, three young ladies of fashion determinedly, though circumspectly, hiking up the Mt. Lowe trail in the year 1902. Mountaineering was quite the thing in those halcyon times, but if anyone had so much as mentioned hiking outfits with 'shorts' to these gals, they probably would have hidden their blushes in the shrubbery."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration Point

 
(1934)^# – View looking down from the hill just above Inspiration Point looking east.  This image shows the viewing tubes in front of the Ramada, Herbert the Mule and his OM&M Railway car, Easter Rock and the flag pole along the path between Herbert’s right-of-way and Easter Rock.  

 

Historical Notes

Beyond Alpine Tavern, there were a number of activities to participate in, on top of Mount Lowe.  Just a short walk from Alpine Tavern is Inspiration Point, which was completed in 1925.  From there one could get some spectacular panorama views of the valley below. ^#

 

 

 

 
(1934)^# – Herbert the Mule readies for departure from Inspiration Point.     

 

Historical Notes

In 1919, Ed Tobin built a cabin on the outskirts of Alpine Tavern, just past Inspiration Point. While hauling all those materials out to that point, Tobin realized that it would be easier to move the materials along a light rail line, and perhaps after the cabin materials had been moved he could haul passengers out to Morning Glory Point, overlooking Eaton Canyon.  He could also charge a nominal fee, and thus create an income for himself. ^#

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)++# – View showing passengers on the One Man & a Mule Rwy. (OM&M) approximately 1/2 mile east of Inspiration Point.  

 

Historical Notes

Ed Tobin had the OM&M line in limited operation by early 1920s and a mule was put into service to operate the car. Common belief was that “Herbert” the mule pushed the car out along the right of way to prevent dust from being kicked up on the passengers.

Tobin chose to sell the OM&M Railway to F. A. Clegg, who would continue to operate the enterprise until sometime in 1935, just before the demise of the Tavern and the Mount Lowe Incline Railway, in 1936. ^#

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - A collection of 5 promotional advertisements published by the Pacific Electric Railway between 1911 and 1927. Pacific Electric (owned by Henry E. Huntington) purchased Mount Lowe Railway around 1902. Note: The fare for a round trip ride was between $2 and $2.50, which was pretty steep in those days.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1915)*# - The Echo Mountain incline railway after Pacific Electric purchased it. Catalina Island can be seen in the distance. Click HERE to see more in Early Views of Catalina.  

 

Historical Notes

Pacific Electric Railway rebuilt the cars used on the Great Cable Incline to include a roof on the top deck. These cars, stripped to their floors, were last used to carry salvage in 1938, when the Mt. Lowe line was scrapped.*#

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1890s)* - Aerial view of Echo Mountain House overlooking Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. Note all the undeveloped land in the San Gabriel Valley below.  

 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Scenic view of clouds on Mount Lowe. Nature is beautiful, but at times so unpredictable.  

 

Historical Notes

A series of natural disasters ate away at the facilities, the first of which was a kitchen fire that destroyed the Echo Mountain House in 1900. A 1905 fire destroyed the rest of the Echo buildings except for the observatory and the astronomer's cabin. In 1909 a flash flood tore out the Rubio Pavilion. In 1928 a gale force wind toppled the observatory. And in 1936 an electrical fire wiped out the Tavern.*^

 

 

 
(ca. 1940)* - A view of one of the cable rail cars owned by Pacific Electric and used for trips to Mount Lowe. It is sitting on the storage tracks at the PE shops in Torrance, where retired cars were placed for salvage. Some sat there for years before being stripped and burned and some were recalled for WW2 service.
 

 

Historical Notes

The Mount Lowe Railway was officially abandoned in 1938 after a horrendous rain washed most everything off the mountain sides. Today, the ruins of Mount Lowe Railway remain as a monument to a once-ever experienced enterprise. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places on January 6, 1993.*^

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Part of the trestle on the Pacific Electric Railway is damaged in a storm. This was a frequent occurrence over the years.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1947)*^* - Remnants of the Mount Lowe Railway Great Incline.  Photo by Alan Weeks  

 

 

 

 

 
(1971)* - Shown here is a grip wheel, 9 feet in diameter, once part of the cable winding machinery located in the Echo Mountain cable house and used to pull the cable cars up and down the Incline portion of the railway. Today, 41 years after this photo was taken, one can pretty much see the same view at the top of Echo Mountain.  

 

 

 

 
(2010)#++ - Night view of the Los Angeles Basin from Inspiration Point, Mt. Lowe.  

 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Lights of Los Angeles and adjoining cities, as far distant as 60 miles, as seen from Inspiration Point, Mt. Lowe, 5,000 feet above the sea. Fifty-six cities may be viewed on clear nights from this vantage point, the thrill of which attracts thousands of visitors annually.
 

 

 

 

 

 
(2015)++# - View of illuminated hikers trekking up the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain for the 1st Annual Festival of Lights on 12-20-2015; taken from Sunset Ridge by Matthew McCawley.  

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1900s)* - A young woman poses beside the Cable Incline section of the Pacific Electric Railway as the cable car named "Echo" is descending. Beyond lies a great view of the valley below and the mountains in the distance.  

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

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Further Reading

Scenic Mount Lowe Railway Historical Committee

Hiking Mt. Lowe Trails

Mount Lowe Preservation Society

The Mount Lowe Museum

Mount Lowe Railway Route Map (from Google)

Professor Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe

 

 

References and Credits

* LA Public Library Image Archive

^ USC Digital Archive

^*Forum.SkyScraperpage: Cable-Car-Guy; Mt. Lowe Railway Profile; Ye Alpine Tavern

*^Wikipedia: History of Pasadena; Mt. Lowe Railway

^#Mt. Lowe Preservation Society

**UC Irvine - The White City by Miles Clement

*#Metro Transportation Library and Archive

+#Mt. Lowe Railway Construction

^^Pinterest: 1890's to 1920's Los Angeles

#*Huntington Digital Library Archive

#^Calisphere: University of California Image Archive

##California State Library Image Archive

*^*Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society

*^^Pasadena Digital History

^*^Water and Power Associates

**^Facebook.com: Mt. Lowe Preservation Society

++#Facebook: Paul Ayers

***Library of Congress: Panorama View from Mt. Lowe

 

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