Echo Mountain

Echo Mountain or "White City"
c.1896

Echo Mountain is a promontory above Altadena that was selected as part of a route for the Pasadena & Mount Wilson Railway Company to reach Oak Mountain (now Mount Lowe). The Company was incorporated by Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, a retired Civil War aeronaut and scientist, and David J. Macpherson, a civil engineer, in 1891. Originally, the plan was to reach Mount Wilson but after failing to secure the rights-of-way, Oak Mountain was chosen instead.

At the top of Echo Mountain, the 40-room "Echo Chalet" was completed in time for the Railway's opening day, July 4, 1893. Riders reached Echo Mountain from Altadena by way of two segments of the electric railway. The first, called the Mountain Division, connected Altadena to the new Rubio Pavilion, a 12-room hotel in Rubio Canyon. From there they transferred to the 'Great Incline,' a steep cable railway that ascended the face of Echo Mountain. The mechanism for the Incline was designed by Andrew Smith Hallidie, who also designed the San Francisco cable car system. It climbed over 2000 feet in less than a half mile, with grades from 48-62%, and a powerhouse at the summit. Riders could then transfer to the Alpine Division, which continued up the mountain to 'Ye Alpine Chalet,' later called the Mount Lowe Tavern.

On November 24, 1894, the extravagant 80-room Echo Mountain House was completed, with luxuries that rivaled those of the Hotel del Coronado. An observatory was soon installed, with Dr. Lewis Swift as the astronomer. From Echo Mountain, Swift was able to discover around 95 new nebulae due to the lack of light pollution. In 1894, a three-million candlepower searchlight purchased from Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition was positioned on the hilltop. According George Wharton James, Lowe's publicist, the light was bright enough that he could read a newspaper on Santa Catalina Island by its light - a distance of over 60 miles (whether or not his claim is true, the beam did have a 35 mile projection and was deemed a public nuisance and permanently shut off in 1935). Echo Mountain also had a zoo at one point.

On the morning February 5, 1900, Echo Mountain House burned and would never be rebuilt. A small casino was built sometime shortly before 1905, but a fire that December destroyed all remaining buildings except the observatory and astronomer's cabin - only the Incline Powerhouse was rebuilt. In 1909, a flash flood destroyed the Rubio Pavilion, and in 1928 the observatory was taken down by a strong Santa Ana Wind. Nothing was left at Echo Mountain except for the railway, which was still used to reach the Mount Lowe Tavern until it burned in 1936. In March 1938, a three day deluge washed away the rail line, stranding its caretakers on Echo Mountain for 17 days, after which it was finally abandoned. In 1959, the Forestry service deemed any remains a 'safety hazard' and began demolition. The final remnant was the ruins of the Incline Powerhouse - burned by vandals in 1940 - which was dynamited in 1962, though the gear mechanism was left on the hill as a monument.

I Visited Echo Mountain
3.10.2014

Bibliography