For many of us, summer in Southern California means enjoying the outdoors. Two of the most renowned areas of our region for outdoor fun are the beaches and the mountains. This month’s artifact spotlight concerns the Switzer-land Resort in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Established by Harvey Walker and Perry Switzer in 1880, according to a newspaper interview Switzer gave in 1906, the camp was located about 15 miles up the Arroyo Seco in the mountains above Pasadena, Altadena, and La Cañada-Flintridge.
The going was a little tough, though, with some 60 stream crossings, either on foot or, twice a week, on a pack-mule. The reward, however, was the ability to camp in a gorgeous spot, including a nearby waterfall, just a short distance from “civilization.”
In 1894, the property was leased out, but a forest fire two years later led to its closure. It was a decade before the camp reopened, courtesy of two Pasadena men, Brainerd and Martin, who refitted the facility.
In 1911, Lloyd Austin assumed ownership of Switzer’s Camp and embarked on an ambitious improvement program, including a rustic, but beautifully decorated lodge, improved cabins, a tennis court, and, most spectacular, a stone chapel perched on the edge of the steep mountainside near the camp.
As the so-called Great Hiking Era (roughly from the 1890s to the 1930s) boomed, people flocked to the San Gabriels to enjoy the scenery, waterfalls, mountain air and other amenities.
The heyday of what Austin playfully rechristened “Switzer-land” was during the 1920s and a steady stream of real photo postcards, like the one shown here from the Homestead’s collection, depict the resort in its glory days. Note that, through an opening in the oaks behind the lodge, the chapel is visible!
In 1936, Austin retired and it is likely that the Great Depression had an effect on the viability of the resort. The physical end came for “Switzer-land” during World War II when the buildings were leveled for the construction of a dam downstream. Actually . . . here is an update on the later history of the resort thanks to Ken Fitzgerald, whose family continued to operate it after the war:
“My grandparents Edgar & Libby Swanson began operating the resort, which had been neglected for years, in 1945, when my mother was 10 years old. My two uncles were born at the resort over the next five years. My father met my mother during his visits as a band member entertaining guests on the weekend in the lodge. They, Leo & Norma Fitzgetald, ended up marrying in 1956 . . . in the chapel.
With my parents married, my grandparents moved up the hill to Mt. Wilson and operated that resort until 1965, when the Forest Service leased the land to MetroMedia (KTTV) and bulldozed the hotel, cabins and swimming pool. My parents continued operating Switzers, raising the first three of my siblings there. A horrible fire in 1959 made the Forest Service realize they could not protect the people at the resort. It was forced to close and the Boy Scouts were allowed to use the resort as of 1960. It didn’t take long to realize the scouts were vandalizing the property, so the Forest Service bulldozed the cabins/lodge, and dynamited the chapel.
Oh . . . there was a restaurant, up where the existing parking/picnic area now are, called the “Inlet”. My mother and brother walked the mile from the lodge to the inlet most days to catch the bus to school in La Canada[/Flintridge]. There are retaining walls along the hike down from the parking area that have my family’s name inscribed on them. There is a spring 100 yards upstream from the lodge, where pipes carried the water downstream for the lodge. And yes . . . lots of famous people visited the resort on weekend getaways from the city. We still have the guestbook.”
Today, though, hikers and campers can get to the site, pitch a tent, note some ruins of the resort, and see the falls, such as they are in these drought-stricken times.
But, if there is a good rainy winter, as some meteorologists predict, maybe Switzer’s Falls will have some of the volume of the good old days of the Great Hiking Era!
Thanks to assistant director, and outdoor enthusiast, Paul R. Spitzzeri for this contribution.