At Our Leisure: A Tent Cabin in the San Gabriel Mountains, March 1910

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

From about the late 1880s, when a massive growth boom engulfed greater Los Angeles, and for decades afterward, our local mountains, including the San Gabriel range, were heavily used for hiking, hunting, fishing and camping during what is often called “The Great Hiking Era,” when outdoor activity flourished in America broadly.

Initially, resorts and campgrounds in the mountains were privately operated and some were very popular, whether these were in the Arroyo Seco above Pasadena, Santa Anita Canyon north of Arcadia and Sierra Madre (the original name for the mountain range), or in San Gabriel Canyon above Azusa.

The designation of the San Gabriel Forest Reserve for lands in the mountain range of that name occurred at the end of 1892, marking a significant change in federal land management.  In July 1908, the United States Forest Service began its operation of the renamed Angeles National Forest and the mountain region remains with that arrangement.  In 2014, President Obama created the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, encompassing nearly 350,000 acres of protected and managed lands under the auspices of the Forest Service.

Tent Cabin rppc pm14Mar10
A family poses on the simple porch of a rudimentary cabin in our local mountains in a real photo postcard from the Homestead’s holdings that was postmarked 14 March 1910.

Notably, although that period of roughly 1890-1930 was one of a heightened awareness and use of outdoor resources like the San Gabriels, the burgeoning population of recent decades (essentially from the post-World War II era onward) has led to a significantly increased use of the mountains for all kinds of recreational opportunity for regional residents.  The relative ease of access, however, creates issues in terms of trash, graffiti and other negative effects, which poses challenges for the federal stewards of the forest and monument.

Today’s “At Our Leisure” entry highlighted a real photo postcard, postmarked this day in 1910, when the national forest designation was not quite two years old and the use of privately owned campgrounds and resorts was growing and highly popular.  The view shows a family of three and their faithful pooch perched on the porch of a rough wood cabin with a canvas tent roof and sides.

The gent, at left, sits in an rocking chair and wears a sweater and collared shirt, while he holds an open magazine in his lap.  His wife, in the center, is in a similar chair and wears a long-sleeved, full-length black dress (perhaps a house dress) with what looks a shawl over one shoulder.  To the right is a young woman, likely the daughter of the others, and she wears a skirt, a blouse with three-quarter length sleeves, a necktie, and an unusual hood with a pointed crest.

Tent cabin rppc pm 14Mar10 reverse
The card was addressed to the sender’s sister, who lived in the Catskills Mountains area of New York, but it is not known if the sender was a local resident or a tourist enjoying the area’s mild winter.

Notably, the tent cabin is on a thin wood platform with two-by-four joists, most of which have simple posts supporting the ends, though several are missing (this didn’t appear to be a problem in structural support?)  Another tent cabin, facing in a different direction, is to the rear left, though there is an exposed rough two-gabled roof that might be connected to or, at least, abutting the cabin used by the trio. Surrounding the rudimentary dwellings are many trees in the unidentified location.

The card was postally used and was addressed to a woman who lived in the vicinity of the Catskills Mountains of New York.  Her sister, Rowena, was the sender and a very short message stated, “This is our abode in the mountains,” and asked her sibling to write.  This seems to indicate that Rowena resided in greater Los Angeles and that she and her husband and child were enjoying a late winter respite, though it is possible they were tourists on a long-term visit to escape the cold weather, perhaps from New York.

In any case, the photo is one of many in the museum’s collection that highlights the increasing use of the outdoors in our mountains by locals and visitors during a time when such adventures were peaking in popularity throughout the nation.

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