[Primarily Los Angeles: ca. 1892-1938]. Thirty-four printed items, varying lengths; forty-eight postcards; eighty-four loose photographs, mostly larger formats; string tied, oblong folio album with sixty-six medium and large format images. Some wear, with scattered chipping and closed tears to printed items. Occasional chipping and creasing to photo mounts. A few images beginning to fade, but mostly crisp and clean. Overall, about very good. Item #4491
An extensive collection of photographs and ephemera related to the Mount Lowe Railway and various hotels and attractions that operated on Echo Mountain at the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains at the turn of the 20th century and the first part of the 1900s. The mountain was the site of a popular funicular that was originally engineered by Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe and opened as the Pasadena & Mt. Wilson Railroad Company in 1893. It was the only scenic mountain electric traction railroad ever built in the U.S., and it remained in operation until 1938, although its heyday was primarily the 1890s and the early-20th century. The railway consisted of nearly seven miles of track, beginning in Altadena at a station called Mountain Junction and ending atop Echo Mountain at a magnificent seventy-room Victorian hotel called the Echo Mountain House. Only a few yards away stood the forty-room Echo Chalet, which opened in conjunction with the railway. Other buildings on the peak over the years included an astronomical observatory, car barns, repair facilities, dormitories, a casino, and a dance hall. Mount Lowe's operation was hit by a number of disasters, which brought about a slow and ultimately terminal decline. The first was a kitchen fire that destroyed the Echo Mountain House in 1900. Further fires and floods eventually destroyed all remaining facilities, and the railway was completely abandoned in 1938, after a storm cleared the mountainside and washed away nearly everything that remained.
The collection includes thirty-four railway brochures, pamphlets, and other promotional items; two issues of the promotional Mount Lowe Daily News and a piece of sheet music in honor of the line; a collection of forty-eight postcards; eighty-seven loose photos (mostly large format and mounted images); as well as a photograph album containing another sixty-six mid- to large format photos of this ingenious and precipitous tourist railway. The line was broken into three sections. The first was a fairly straightforward section that traversed the hillside residential sections of Altadena to the upper base of Echo Mountain. In order to reach the peak of Mount Lowe, however, passengers would, have to transfer to a steeply graded and narrow funicular that travelled up 2200 feet on the "Great Incline" to the top of Echo, before transferring again to wind up a further 3.5 miles on trolley cars over sharp switchbacks and curved viaducts with nicknames like "Cape of Good Hope." Because of the repeated setbacks caused by fire and storm, the original owners sold the railroad and its mountain top attractions to Henry Huntington in 1905, after which the line operated as part of the Pacific Electric Railway for another thirty years.
Amongst the printed matter here, highlights include a program from the opening of the railway on August 23, 1893, featuring a portrait of Thaddeus Lowe and an image of the Great Incline; a pair of extremely scarce copies of the illustrated promotional newspaper, the "Mount Lowe Echo," from the early years of operation; three unrecorded broadsides advertising Mount Lowe excursions around the turn of the century; and a detailed and extensively illustrated pamphlet, "Scenes on the Line of the Pasadena Mountain Railway...." Also present are a clutch of nearly a dozen, scarce color- and photo-illustrated brochures from the Pacific Electric era, several illustrated leaflets, including one with a bird's-eye view of Echo Mountain and Mount Lowe, timetables, and other promotional and review materials. The group of over fifty colorized photographic postcards were produced by a variety of publishers, but a great number emanate from the shop of M. Rieder, who produced numerous viewbooks of California towns, in both English and Spanish-language editions, during the early-20th century.
The almost ninety larger format, loose and individually mounted photographs show a variety of scenes depicting the railroad, tourist facilities, and environs across the span of its operation. Most are sized 8"x10", 5"x8", or in the vicinity of said measurements. The first group of photos shows early observation parties and other excursions, including one mounted image by the Hill studio of Pasadena showing Professor Lowe guiding a party during the construction of the railway. The following considerate group comprises about twelve posed photos of children and families engaged in winter activities on Mt Lowe and clearly intended for an advertising campaign for year-round tourism to the peak, and includes an idyllic image of children on a horse-drawn sleigh in the snow, mounted on the card of LA studio Graham & Morill. Other studios represented here include C.B. Waite, Putnam Studios, and George Wharton James. There are also a number of images from the photo department of the Mt. Lowe Railway itself, including numerous photos of the funicular and large souvenir images of tourists riding the open cars on the Great Incline. On the whole, the images are often accompanied by manuscript or typed captions, and in some cases by lengthy printed texts on the versos of card mounts.
The terrific album of sixty-six photographs is focused, for the most part, on the early period of the railroad under the operation of Pacific Electric Railway, following its purchase by Huntington in 1905. The professional photographer of these images is unidentified here, but several conform to known photographs by C.C. Pierce, who heavily documented the railway during this period, and the group as a whole is heavily reminiscent of his work. The photos for the most part focus on the operation of the line and its dramatic setting and engineering, with images of deep and narrow cuts along through the mountainside, hairpin turns on precarious looking trestles, the steep incline of the funicular, and the astonishingly unfazed passengers. Mixed in with these are shots of the tourist facilities as they existed at that point and the mechanical and structural plant of the rail line. Similar to the loose photographs in the collection, the album prints are mostly 8"x10", 5"x8" or thereabouts.
In all, a compelling and rich multi-format archive of one of the most interesting and spectacularly engineered tourist railroads of the late-19th and early-20th centuries.