At Our Leisure: A Real Photo Postcard of Carter’s Camp, Sierra Madre, 16 June 1916

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

At the beginning of this year, a post on this blog covered the remarkable juvenile newspaper, The Willow Dale Press, whose entrepreneurs for the one-year life of the sheet, were Florence and Arthur Carter, whose father Nathaniel was, from 1874, owner of the 17-acre “Willow Dale” estate in what is now San Marino.

Seven years later, Nathaniel Carter purchased 1,000 acres from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin of the northwestern corner of Rancho Santa Anita on which he established his 103-acre “Carterhia” property.  He then subdivided the town of Sierra Madre, which was the original name of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Carter's Camp ad The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Apr_29__1906_
Los Angeles Times, 29 April 1906.

After Nathaniel Carter died in 1904, son Arthur took part of his inherited land and created Carter’s Camp, a resort that was unlike most in the San Gabriels, being at the mouth of Little Santa Anita Canyon, rather than further up in the mountains.  An obvious appeal in doing this was that it was far more accessible to greater Los Angeles residents and tourists who did not want to make the trek into the range, but wanted an outdoor experience.

Carter’s Camp went into operation in 1906 and was heavily advertised by its namesake owner.  An early advertisement from April of that year touted “the new mountain resort,” which was expected to open in mid-May as having “perfect sanitary conditions” in its furnished cottages and tents and was “a place for rest and recreation only.”  Seeking to distinguish itself from the growing number of sanitaria that treated patients with tuberculosis and other ailments, the camp baldly stated that it was “not a health resort.”

Carter's Camp description The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Jul_29__1906_
Times, 29 July 1906.

In a nod to its accessibility, another ad from July 1906 pointed out that the camp “affords a retreat for those who do not care to try the higher altitudes or whose business interests require frequent trips into the city.”  This was because “the nearness of the electric car line makes this possible.”  Indeed, the Pacific Electric system’s Sierra Madre line terminated just a few minutes walk from the camp.

In May 1909, a Carter’s Camp ad listed its 1 p.m. Sunday dinner menu to entice visitors for the day, noting it was only an hour’s auto ride from Los Angeles.  The fare included fricasseed, mashed potatoes, fruit salad, home-made bread, apple pie and more.  In addition, there were temporary special rates for lodging at just $2 a day.  As it often did, the camp warned that “no consumptives or invalids” were allowed, again because of the preeminence of sanitaria in the area.  That August there was reference to a “Jungle Inn” as well as the camp, though that was the sole time that name was found.

Carter's Camp ad menu The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sat__May_15__1909_
Times, 15 May 1909.

The labor of running a resort obviously was difficult by Arthur Carter, who sold the camp in May 1910.  Reports initially stated that the purchasers were “Chicago buyers, at whose requests names are withheld” and that the price was $50,000.  Moreover, it was stated that “the purchasers have outlined improvements which will make of this an ideal resort.”

A month later, however, talk was that the buyer was not from Chicago, but rather the “Huntington interests,” meaning the Pacific Electric’s creator, real estate tycoon, and book and art collector Henry E. Huntington.  An article reported that “little credence is placed in the statement” of the realtors that Chicago capitalists acquired the camp.  Rather, it was stated, “one of the indications that the Huntington interests have acquired this pleasure report is that without any effort at all Sierra Madre has been able to secure great additions to its car service.”

Carter's Camp Huntington Los_Angeles_Herald_Fri__Jun_17__1910_
Los Angeles Herald, 17 June 1910.

Regardless, Arthur Carter continued to manage the resort for several years after he sold it and, by summer 1913, the slow march of suburbia reached the northern reaches of Sierra Madre.  At the end of August, the Los Angeles Times reported that “the transformation of Carter’s Camp in Little Santa Anita Canyon from a summer camp into an all-year residential park, is now in its beginning.”

The camp, on a site said to have been owned by Nathaniel Carter for thirty-five years (it was closer to a quarter century), was again sold, this time to Charles S. Mann, who was subdividing it “into mountain canyon home sites.”  In the prior two weeks, it was stated, some $25,000 in sales were recorded.  Moreover, a clubhouse for the use of residents included an adjacent tennis court and a swimming pool.  Arthur Carter and other members of his family were among the listed buyers of parcels.

Carter's Camp to Residence Park The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Aug_31__1913_
Times, 31 August 1913.

It appears that elements of Carter’s Camp, however, continued to operate through the remainder of the decade, though with other management after about the time that Mann took possession.

Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a real photo postcard, dated 16 July 1916, and shows a rough log structure with a rock foundation in the camp.  Written on the negative and apparently made to look as if the lettering was actually on the building is an indication that the camp’s use was changed.

RPPC Carters Camp 2015.429.1.12
This real photo postcard from the museum’s holdings and dated 16 June 1916 shows a log building with a rock foundation at Carter’s Camp, then refashioned into the Sierra Madre Canyon Park residential tract, and, inscribed on the negative, is wording for saddle and pack animals to get visitors to Chantry Flats further into the mountains.

That is, the wording refers to “Chantry Sadle [sic] & Pack Animals” and shows a gent sitting on the ground next to a mule.  The phone number and location of at the “foot of Big Santa Anita Canyon Trail,” which should really be Little Santa Anita Canyon, are also inscribed.

What this appears to mean is that, because Carter’s Camp was now Sierra Madre Canyon Park, those who wanted a camp experience, could take saddle and pack mules and horses and venture up the canyon to Chantry Flats.  The name Sierra Madre Canyon Park looks to have been adopted in 1914, shortly after it was sold to Mann and the sales of subdivided parcels began.

Canyon Park Sierra Madre The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Feb_20__1916_
Times, 20 February 1916.

In February 1916, an ad for Sierra Madre Canyon Park referred to it as “a combination of canyon and foothill environment” and “one of the most attractive places in Southern California.”  Little Santa Anita Canyon was described as having “beautiful trees, mountain brooks, and many attractive bungalows and canyon homes.”  From portions of the tract “is one of the most magnificent viewpoints in Southern California,” a claim made in yesterday’s post about Lookout Mountain Inn in the Santa Monica Mountains north of West Hollywood.

The area known then as Sierra Madre Canyon Park is better recognized today as Sierra Madre Canyon, a really interesting and beautiful community of about 500 older and newer residences with narrow winding roads, abundant wildlife, and other amenities.  The community retains a lot of the feel that was developed when it was subdivided just over a century ago.  Despite heavy downpours and flooding, one leading to the building of a dam and storm channel in 1926, the community continues with its uniqueness intact.

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