by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Last July, this blog had a post highlighting a real photo postcard of Bear Canyon near Mount Baldy and which discussed the photographer, Daniel P. Alexander, and the community of Camp Baldy, now Baldy Village, where he worked. Tonight, we present another Alexander image from the same period, sometime in the 1920s, and showing the Camp Baldy Hotel and Alexander’s studio.
As noted in last summer’s post, F.P.F. Temple had a lumber mill built in Icehouse Canyon, north of Camp Baldy, during the first half of the 1870s. In those days, leisure activities in the San Gabriel range certainly took place, but nowhere near the extent to which they did as greater Los Angeles grew at the end of the century.
Moreover, America underwent its “Great Hiking Era” starting at the end of the 1890s and lasting until the Great Depression years, in which appreciation for the great outdoors and an emphasis on fitness led millions of Americans to further explore and appreciate the bounty of natural resources the country had in abundance.
National and state parks, for example, began to proliferate during these years, as well as the creation of recreational, leisure and tourist opportunities in the national forests that were being created by the federal government. The Angeles National Forest was one of the busiest of the areas, if, for no other reason, than its proximity to the burgeoning populations of greater Los Angeles.
In San Antonio Canyon above Claremont and Upland, Dell’s Camp sprung up in 1894 in what became Camp Baldy and today’s Baldy Village. By the middle of the following decade, Charles Baynham opened a resort that lasted just a few years before it was acquired by the San Antonio Water Company. Camp Baynham became Camp Baldy as a result of this change in 1909.
Immediately, the water company ramped up promotional efforts for the new Camp Baldy and it quickly became a popular spot for visitors who could use the hotel as a base for further exploration into San Antonio Canyon, including Icehouse Canyon and other areas. Alexander set up his photo studio and took many fine images of the natural beauty found in the area.
In 1916, the Camp Baldy Hotel was renovated and enlarged with $10,000 expended for a dozen bungalows, concrete floors laid for tents, and the lobby and dining room expanded. C.T. McCullough, his wife Ada and son Robert were managers of the facility for some years before becoming its owners.
At times, newspaper articles mentioned events at the hotel, as well as small groups who frequented the facility. In September 1916, the Los Angeles Times reported on a masque ball at the hotel, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. McCullough and including about 100 members of “Upland and Ontario society” and “twice that number were interested spectators.”
Five years later, the San Bernardino County Sun wrote about an Independence Day celebration that included a record crowd. The paper reported that “there were 200 for dinner at the Camp Baldy hotel at noon, with hundreds of picnickers throughout the canyon.” Access at the time (as with Mt. Wilson to the west above Pasadena) was through a toll road, which had brisk business with over 200 tickets sold that day.
In early January 1928, abundant snowfall brought hordes of pleasure seekers to the canyon. Herbert McCullough, son of C.T. and Ada, reported that there were 300 guests at the hotel that New Year’s weekend and that it appeared there were thousands who jammed the area. Snow was not found at Camp Baldy, but was present at Icehouse Canyon and Manker Flats above it. A traffic officer stated that ten cars a minute were streaming up the canyon with those seeking to frolic in the snow.
In that same year of 1928, however, the McCulloughs sold the resort to Foster Curry, whose parents developed the famed Camp Curry at Yosemite National Park. Curry, who had a drinking problem which led him to leave Yosemite and come south to take over Camp Baldy, put many resources into promoting the camp, introducing new elements such as an Easter sunrise service, popular throughout greater Los Angeles at the time, but faced the challenges of the onset of the Great Depression.
Then, Curry developed leukemia, from which he died in 1932, when the Depression worsened significantly, at just 44 years of age. His widow, Ruth, took on the responsibility of managing the camp and Curry’s mother decided to spend more time at Camp Baldy though she still ran the Yosemite camp after her husband, David, died in 1917.
In 1934, Ruth Curry married a former actor, Edmund Burns, but the difficult days of the Depression were compounded by the disastrous floods of 1938, which wreaked havoc throughout greater Los Angeles. Camp Baldy was virtually destroyed by the overflowing San Antonio Creek, though the Burnses did open a smaller camp on just three of what had been 45 acres on the site.
After World War II, the property was sold to Bill Sager, who renamed it Buckhorn and maintained ownership for some fifty years. The Buckhorn facility was owned for a time by the widow of the powerful Democratic leader of the California Assembly, Jesse Unruh. It still remains north of Baldy Village, which received that moniker in 1951.
Our highlighted image shows a large circular driveway with a round planter in the middle bounded by a striking and rustic wood fence. In the center appears to be a fountain within a rough rock base. A walkway accessed the fountain from two points.
To the left on a raised concrete pad is a cabin with a steeply-pitched two gabled roof and a rock fireplace at the back. This appears to be Alexander’s photo studio. and wide concrete steps lead from the dirt drive to the structure.
At the right is the hotel which is an L-configuration and has a multi-gabled roof that is not as steep as the studio. A substantial sedan is parked at the front and large numbers of people are at the entrance, behind the vehicle, and in an area to the left of the hotel shaded by a dense thicket of trees, including some towering evergreens. Over the entrance is a simple sign reading “Camp Baldy.”
The backdrop to this scene is striking as the steep mountain sides, the dense greenery and the wide canyon location beckon to the lover of the outdoors. It is unfortunate, however, that the deluge of 1938 brought about the near-total destruction of this beautiful environment. It should be mentioned that there was also the frequent risk of forest fires, including major blazes in 1913 and 1923 that threatened the hotel and camp.
While the Buckhorn facility is all that remains of the formerly much-larger Camp Baldy Hotel at the north end of Baldy Village, crowds still come in the winter to enjoy the snow, which was pretty substantial this season, as well as in the summer when the creek has abundant water. Skiers head to the Mt. Baldy ski area and hikers flock to Mt. Baldy, the tallest peak in the range, as well as Icehouse Canyon to take trails that led to several other peaks like Ontario and Cucamonga.
This photo is a reminder of a time when resorts were commonplace throughout the Angeles National Forest, from the Arroyo Seco to San Antonio Canyon. Subject, however, to natural and human-caused disasters, most have vanished, though there are still a few motels left in places like Baldy Village and cabins tucked away in some of the canyons.
What the future holds with the recent declaration of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, climate change, and more use by the continually expanding regional population will be interesting to observe.