Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Lake Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, views from the same spot 1907 and 1947; both buildings, the Lake Avenue Methodist Church and the Security Pacific Bank which replaced it, have been demolished. Hopefully, someday we will have a worthy replacement for such a major intersection on the main street of Pasadena.
Security Pacific Bank building on the southeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and Lake Avenue, Pasadena Anno 1947, with the Pacific Electric Oak Knoll Line tracks
Lake Avenue Methodist Church on the southeast corner of Colorado and Lake Avenue, Pasadena Anno 1907, with the Pacific Electric Oak Knoll Line tracks

The northernmost end of the Lake Avenue lies at the very foot of the Cobb Estate in Altadena and immediately accesses Las Flores Canyon and the Sierra Madre mountains. The first resident of Las Flores Canyon was the Forsyth Ranch. The ranch was sold in 1919 to Mr. Cobb who had an enormous estate which filled the lower reaches of Los Flores Canyon and the large ornamental entrance gates, driveways, botanical plantings, house foundations and reservoir can still be seen. Las Flores Canyon was also known for its small and short-lived gold mine and also as a hideout for the notorious Californio bandit of the early American period, Tiburcio Vasquez. The Cobb Estate was deeded to the United States Forest Service as a free growth Arboretum in 1967.

In the days of the Pacific Electric Red Car service in Pasadena and Altadena (1902-1941), South Lake Avenue was on what was known as the Oak Knoll Line and North Lake Avenue was on the North Lake Avenue Line. Oak Knoll Avenue is the street on the lower end of Lake Avenue which transitions north with a slow curve to the right and then back to the left coming up from San Marino and the former Lake Vineyard Ranch. The Pacific Electric Red Cars came up from a switch on the Huntington Drive line below the famous hotel of the same name. The Oak Knoll Line connecting with the North Lake Avenue Line at Colorado Boulevard was a shorter way from this part of Pasadena to get to Lake and Mariposa in Altadena without having to ride the circuitous route up Fair Oaks Avenue. In 1914 a spur on the short line was built across Mendocino Street from Lake Ave. to Allen St. and the development of Country Club Parks. The line was put there to access the new development and the Altadena Country Club and Golf Course and the airfield located there.

Pacific Electric car stops for trolleys were located all along Lake Avenue heading to Altadena, Rubio Canyon, the Great Incline and the Mt. Lowe Alpine Tavern Hotel. The Mt. Lowe Alpine Tavern was located on the mountain directly above the terminus of North Lake Avenue and was a popular destination for weekend outings and as a local and national tourist destination. The incredible Mount Lowe mountain railway, which at the height of its popularity was Southern California's outstanding tourist magnet, attracted more visitors at the time then Yosemite or Catalina. It offered one of the world's most spectacular rail trips with disaster seeming ready to strike at every turn of the car wheels, yet so expertly engineered that in all the years it operated not one accident occurred. It was the realized dream of Professor T. S. C. Lowe., the first U.S. Union Army balloon aviator during the Civil War, inventor and one of the most prominent Pasadena residents, investors and boosters.

The Alpine Tavern was also a well visited destination watering hole during Prohibition (1919 to 1933), since the Tavern was cut off from the rest of the city when the last train left in the evening until the trains began running in the morning. This made the Alpine Tavern safe for the imbuing of spirits and other nefarious activities during the nighttime hours. Also, businessmen, attending meetings at the Alpine Tavern Hotel and then being stranded on the mountain after the last train had departed, were known to have telephoned their wives informing them they would have to spend the night at the Tavern, giving them a good excuse for an evening of unbridled and uninterrupted entertainment in this veritable mountain fortress! The businesses near the Pacific Electric stops in Pasadena and Altadena on the way up to the mountain were places to obtain appropriate gifts for a romantic rendezvous.

The interurban railway of the Pacific Electric Company brought the "Big Red Cars'' to North Lake Avenue in 1902, in which crowds of hikers would arrive early on Saturday morning bound for the local canyons to the north. Come Sunday evening the reverse migration would occur. At its peak in the year 1921, when 160,930 passengers were carried, Mt. Lowe cars operated from Pasadena to Altadena via North Fair Oaks, Mariposa, and North Lake including via North Lake from Colorado Boulevard. Another nearby local tourist destination was the home and gardens of noted local botanist and Southern California Missions booster Charles Francis Saunders, located at 580 North Lake Avenue, located just south of Orange Grove Boulevard, which was visited by many traveling on the Pacific Electric cars going up and down to the mountains.

The hiking era came to a close soon after the Angeles Crest Highway was opened in 1936 and the automobile began to dominate people's lives. Roads were driven into the San Gabriel Mountains and few people ventured more than a few hundred yards from their automobiles. The number of visitors today is probably a few percent of the number who came in 1921.The North Lake Pacific Electric Line was extremely busy until shortly before its abandonment in 1941. The businesses saw their fortunes decline after the closing of the Mount Lowe tourist attraction in 1936, the opening of Angeles Crest Highway into the mountains also in 1936, the ending of trolley traffic in 1941, the onset of World War II and the general availability of automobiles and cheap gasoline for the common man. We hope the trolley on Lake Avenue can be put back in order to bring the tourist trade life blood we have been missing since 1936.

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