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12E Mount Lowe

Location: Los Angeles County, California

Named on September 24, 1892, for Thaddeus Sobieskie Coalincourt Lowe (1832-1913) by his companions on the first horseback ascent. Lowe, had been an inventor and scientist, and chief of the US Army Aeronautic [balloon] Corps during the Civil War. He was about to also achieve fame for his mountain railway. Erroneously believing that the peak they were on was unnamed, his friends gushed: "that whereas [Lowel had first ridden to the top, had made the first trail to its lofty summit, was the first man to have planted the stars and stripes on its highest point, and was the first man to conceive of the project of reaching its dizzy height with a railroad and with the courage and means to put such a project into execution ... no more fit and appropriate name could be given." After a round of huzzahs, Lowe accepted the honor on the spot.

Previously, this summit had known many other names. The main cross-range Gabrieleńo Trail had climbed up Millard Canyon and passed along the northern slope of this peak, whose Indian names have long been forgotten. Then, in 1887 it was named "John Brown Peak' by his sons Owen and Jason who built a stone monument with flagpole to their abolitionist father on the summit (1887). However, they later transferred their attention to another summit 2.4 miles to the west which today is still called "Brown Mountain".

Mount Lowe was also known as "Oak Mountain" by hunters and early residents of Pasadena. Although quite bare today, the Mount Lowe area bustled from 1893 to 1935. These were the years when the "Mount, Lowe Railway" was considered "one of the great engineering wonders of the world". Conceived and directed by David J. Macpherson, and engineered by Andrew S. Hallidie (the designer of San Francisco's trolley car system) it was billed as the "Greatest Mountain Trolley Trip in the World". From a transfer Pavillion in Altadena's Rubio Canyon, passengers changed onto cable-hoisted incline cars, called "White Chariots" that quickly lifted them 1300' to Echo Mountain (3207) with a hotel complex consisting of a 12 room "Chalet", a 70-room four-story "Echo Mountain House", plus power plant, three-story casino-dance hall, various residences, a garage, gardens, gas holder, water system, zoo, observatory, and the "Great Searchlight" which could be seen for 60 miles. A narrow-track "Alpine Division" line continued further up Los Flores Canyon over the trademark circular bridge past upper Millard Canyon and Grand Canyon to Crystal Springs (4400'). Here the money ran out as did the line once planned to extend all the way to Mount Wilson. Still hoping to at least continue up the last 1200' to nearby Mount Lowe, a small Swiss-style inn was built to generate additional capital. But this "Alpine Tavern" proved to be the end of the line, even though it became a great attraction. For a while it was even the center of a small community. It was then possible to travel from downtown L.A. to the Tavern (a distance of 24 miles) in two hours for a round-trip fare of $2.50. From here and the Echo Mountain complex, hiking trails radiated out to connect with many overnight camps in the front range. A "guided pony-train" completed the distance to the summit of Mount Lowe for an additional $1.00. But financial reorganization of the line meant Lowe lost control of his railway even though his name remained. Then a disastrous fire in 1900 burned down his lovely hotel. In 1901 Henry Edwards Huntington (1850-1927) purchased his dream, and thoroughly revitalized it. Money was made available to strengthen supports and to widen the approach track so that it could be connected to the Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway. These were the mythic days when our light rail system was in place and population was low enough to permit greater mobility than is now possible. Chamber of Commerce boosters circulated photographs nationwide that showed Los Angeles to be a land of contrasts with pictures of the same happy party enjoying breakfast downtown, lunch on Echo Mountain, afternoon in the orange groves, and supper by the sea. But natural forces impinged on this idyll. In 1905 a fire consumed every remaining building on Echo Mountain except the observatory. Pacific Electric responded with a new power house plus a few residence buildings and an enlarged Tavern. In the following years, thousands more visitors annually rode the railway, making it Southern California's most popular tourist attraction. But then in 1928 the observatory burned down, and in 1936 the Tavern was also lost. This time, because of the Depression, funds were unavailable for rebuilding. Finally, the torrential rains of 1938 washed out major portions of the line. The inglorious end came when what remained of the track was removed as part of a WW II scrap drive. By 1962 the USFS removed the last remnants of the structures as being potentially dangerous to visitors. In its 43 years of operation, over three million people used the railway, but today even the signs once placed to commemorate this bygone era have themselves been ravaged.

Name first appears on the USGS Pasadena topo (1900).

Peak was on the original 1946 HPS Peak List. Weldon Heald climbed this peak in 1936.


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Updated 25-February-2003