At Our Leisure: A Photograph of Bear Canyon, Mount Baldy, ca. 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Summer excursions into our local mountains have been a popular pastime for residents of the region and out-of-town visitors alike for many years.  The so-called “Great Hiking Era” from the end of the 19th century to the Great Depression years incldued a veritable explosion of exploration of the Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland national forests.  These included day trips, overnight camping, and long visits at resorts, during which visitors enjoyed hikes, horse riding, fishing and other activities.  The rise in scouting was also a boon for those invested in our mountain regions, as well.

One of the many resort areas that sprung up during the early part of 20th century was Mount Baldy Village, a community in San Antonio Canyon above Claremont and Upland, that is a gateway to some well-known attractions where the Angeles and San Bernardino forests and Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties meet, including a ski area, a popular trail to the namesake mountain (officially Mount San Antonio, the tallest peak in the area at just over 10,000 feet above sea level) above the village, and Icehouse Canyon where a creek beckons visitors and trails leading to a group of other routes to nearby peaks.

As noted here in earlier posts, there is a Homestead connection to this area, in that F.P.F. Temple, husband of Antonia Margarita Workman (whose parents established the Homestead in 1842), built and operated a sawmill in Icehouse Canyon during the 1870s, around the time when initial mining efforts were undertaken in the area.

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This real photo postcard from the Homestead’s collection was taken by Daniel Potter Alexander, photographer for thirty years as a cabin owner at Camp Baldy, now Mount Baldy Village, in the mountains above Claremont and Upland, and shows a waterfall in nearby Bear Canyon.

In 1894, Dell’s Camp was opened as a rustic resort in the vicinity of the village and this was followed a dozen years later by Camp Baynham, across the old wagon road from Dell’s, and built by Charles Baynham, a graduate of nearby Pomona College.  He soon sold out to a local water company, but remained to manage the resort.

By 1910, the area, owned by a pair of businessmen from Upland, was known as Camp Baldy and in the following two decades, the place became very popular with cabins built along San Antonio Creek and the road coming up from the foothills and visitors flocking for day trips and overnight visits to local resorts.  When the Roaring Twenties began, Camp Baldy had a new owner, Herbert McCullough, but, within five years, he found a new owner, Foster Curry, whose parents were the owners of what is now the well-known Curry Village at Yosemite National Park.

The settlement also had its own professional photographer, Daniel Potter Alexander, who was born in Ohio in 1863 and made his way west by 1890, living in San Diego and working as a carpenter, before he migrated to Los Angeles.  He owned a cabin in the camp and set up a studio, which apparently was for seasonal purposes, as most of his working life he was a U.S. Postal Service carrier in Los Angeles.  In a 1921 Los Angeles city directory, however, he listed himself as a photographer and had that occupation in 1940, when he lived in Tulare in central California.  He died there in 1948 at age 84.

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Alexander’s permanent residence for years was in Los Angeles, near Hollywood and Los Feliz, and one of his amateur photos was published in the 4 April 1909 edition of the Los Angeles Herald.

Alexander began taking photos at the camp in 1906, though his amateur work was also recognized outside of the mountain environment.  For example, in 1909, one of his images of a trout brook, probably from the Camp Baldy area, was published in the Los Angeles Herald.  In 1924, a photo provided by Alexander and copyrighted by another mountain photographer, B.D. Jackson, who worked in the San Gabriel Canyon area to the west, appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Otherwise, from his rustic wooden studio in Camp Baldy, Alexander produced hundreds of photographs documenting the area.  The Homestead has, in its collection, several Alexander produced real photo postcards, including today’s highlighted artifact in the “At Our Leisure” series of posts.

The view is titled “Greetings from Camp Baldy,” has the identification number “149” and is subtitled “Beautiful Bear Canyon” with a pleasing rustic scene of a waterfall of at least two tiers cascading down large granite boulders into a large pool in which a much of fallen tree trunk rests.  The card has a postmark dated 23 July 1929, though the image could very well be from much earlier, assuming it was purchased at Alexander’s studio in the camp.  The original trail to the Mt. Baldy summit started from the village at Bear Canyon Road and the punishing climb with an elevation gain not far under 6,000 feet is, not surprisingly, far less utilized than the later, easier route via Manker Flats further up the canyon.

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The work of another mountain photographer, B.D. Jackson (several of his photos are in the museum’s holdings) and provided by Alexander appeared in the 17 August 1924 issue of the Los Angeles Times.

As to Camp Baldy, it remained in the ownership of Foster Curry and his wife Ruth until his untimely death from leukemia in 1932.  Ruth Curry and her three children stayed on and then, in 1934, she married Edmund Burns, who’d been a leading man in Hollywood during the 1920s.  The couple ran the camp until disaster struck in 1938, a winter of severe flooding that wreaked havoc throughout greater Los Angeles.  Most of the camp was destroyed, though the two managed to reopen a much smaller resort that lasted until just after World War II.  It was sold to Bill Sager, who renamed the facility the Buckhorn and it remained under his ownership for a half century (in 1951, the area was renamed Mount Baldy Village).

Future posts in this series will include more views from Daniel P. Alexander’s photos, so look for those.

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