At Our Leisure in the San Gabriels, circa 1910s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

At Our Leisure is another feature of Museum Director Musings that will look at the many ways in which leisure and tourism were such important parts of the greater Los Angeles area up through the 1920s.

Historically, one of the most popular pastimes in our region has been taking to the trails in our local mountains.  The so-called “Great Hiking Era”, spanning roughly from the 1890s to the 1930s, brought about an explosion in the number of people accessing greater numbers of trails and enjoying more resorts and campsites.

Naturally, summers often featured the most intense use of our mountain trails and resorts.  The most famous, undoubtedly, was Mount Lowe, which utilized a remarkable series of railway systems to carry millions of visitors up to the mountain and its hotels, restaurants and view points high above Pasadena during that same 1890s-1930s period.

Two women hikers SG Mtns 1910s

There were, however, many other popular resorts in such places as Devil’s Canyon, above Pasadena and La Cañada-Flintridge; in Big Santa Anita Canyon, north of Sierra Madre and Arcadia; in the wide-ranging areas of San Gabriel Canyon, heading up beyond Azusa; and in San Antonio Canyon near Mount Baldy above Claremont and Upland.

Hikers criss-crossed the steep, rocky mountains in droves, often wearing clothing that didn’t look much different than what they’d wear to work, school, or to some social engagements.  It was not at all uncommon to see men sporting jackets and ties and women wearing long dresses and skirts as they climbed the peaks and combed the canyons.  There were some, however, who had sportswear and boots specially made for such excursions.

The accompanying photo from the Homestead’s collection is a great one, showing a pair of ladies high up somewhere in the San Gabriels during the 1910s. While they wore long skirts and long-sleeved blouses, they carried shoulder bags, which clearly indicate that they were ready for some lengthy trail time.  Presumably, they also wore some boots that were made for the rocky mountain slopes.

While the location is not known, the duo are clearly at a high alpine elevation, where they could enjoy broad, beautiful panoramic views, take in the crisp mountain air, and escape a bit from the ever-quickening pace of life in the “flat lands” of greater Los Angeles.

We might dress differently; carry a backpack instead of the shoulder bag; sport some ski poles instead of a hiking stick; and have sports drinks and protein bars instead of a sandwich and a piece of fruit, but most of the same motivations to “head for the hills [or the mountains]” motivate hikers today as they did a century ago.

If you’re so inclined (!), get out this summer and go take a hike in our local mountains!

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