A machine age incline railway once lifted Los Angelenos to the sky. It was called, the Mt. Lowe Railway.

mtlowecollageThe crest of the San Gabriel Mountains (which border the northeastern rim of the Los Angeles basin) was once referred to as “The Alps of America”. In the late 1800’s, a time when wilderness preservation was a burgeoning concern, wealthy Los Angelenos were enthralled with a fad for backcountry tourism. This was “The Great Hiking Era” of the Los Angeles mountains.  Travelers would venture on foot or on horseback into the wilds of The San Gabriel Timberland to sleep in rustically furnished tents, lodges, or luxury resorts created for their pleasure by entrepreneurs of the mountain. Some travelers would spend the better part of an entire season living in the “wilderness”, hiking between these various outposts, some of which featured world class food and entertainment.

Thaddeus Lowe pioneered an incline railway, The Mount Lowe Railway, that would lift travelers out of the lowlands of Altadena, over Rubio Canyon, to the peak of Echo Mountain.  From there The Alpine Division of the rail line could take these tourists on a meandering climb around the mountain, another 2400 ft in elevation, up to the peak of Mt. Lowe.  At a time when roads through the San Gabriel Mountains had not yet been built, a conveyance of this sort was no doubt a welcome novelty which probably broadened the appeal of mountain recreation.

IMG_1117 The Mt. Lowe Railway was ill-fated however. Repeated fires, flood and wind storms destroyed the many and wondrous attractions that dotted Echo Mountain and Mt. Lowe. By the end of the 1930’s the ruins of the Mount Lowe Railway was frozen in time as a snapshot of Los Angeles history.

Original cables used to hoist the incline railway car

Today, atop Echo Mountain, stand the foundations of the playland that tourists once enjoyed.  Now, as before the Mt. Lowe Railway existed, the peak is only accessible by foot.  And it is still worth the journey.  Views of mountain peaks and valleys are spectacular. And one can still explore the Echo Mountain House, the Echo Chalet, Picnic Area and Tennis Courts, the Railway Platform, Powerhouse, and graded trail across which once laid railroad track.  Of course, all that remains of these delights are the foundations, some industrial machinery, and just enough artifacts to spark the imagination, yet it is an entrancing spectacle. Informational kiosks featuring historical photos of what once stood helps the mind time-travel to the machine age when a railway once lifted spirited Los Angelenos to the sky.

“Echo Phone” used to communicate across the canyon.

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