At Our Leisure: A Photo from Camp Baldy, San Antonio Canyon, postmarked 24 November 1919

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

There have been a couple of posts in this blog previously about Camp Baldy, which was established in the first years of the 20th century as Camp Baynham after its owner Charles Baynham. This was the first decade or so of what has been called the Great Hiking Era, when Americans took to the mountains for recreation with great enthusiasm, including in greater Los Angeles.

In 1909, however, the property was acquired by the San Antonio Water Company and its name was changed to Camp Baldy. A hotel there was enlarged after several years and, by the mid-teens, the resort was managed by C.T. McCullough, who was a cashier at the First National Bank of Ontario and was assisted by his wife and son. The resort proved to be very popular especially as the automobile became more widely utilized and the road to the camp was greatly improved.

Hollywood Citizen, 20 June 1919.

In June 1919, letter writer Homer Fort wrote a lengthy paean to Camp Baldy in the Hollywood Citizen newspaper, beginning his tribute with “if you enjoy the beauties of nature, love camp life and wish to ‘loaf your soul,” as Walt Whitman, the good, gray poet once wrote . . . why dream of a Utopian place to camp and spend the summer when you can find it at Camp Baldy, only 47 miles from Los Angeles?” He went to wax somewhat poetically himself: “Oh, the cheer and comfort of the camp! And yet to be in the midst of the beautiful mountains and hear the running waters, rippling o’er the rocks like elfin music, feel the bracing area and see snow-capped Mt. San Antonio [also known as Baldy], towering in the distance 10,800 feet above sea level!”

Fort added that the experience of staying at the camp “is a tonic to tired nerves and an inspiration to the urban dweller who has left the huge city for a vacation and to escape the caloric days of summer. He can find a pleasure in the pathless woods and soothing solitude in shady nooks or he can assert his gregarious nature and have all the company he desires in the most ideal location.” As for “Old Baldy,” he observed that “it defies the seasons and keeps its crown of glory,” in that snow was found atop its peak for much of the year. In fact, it was reported just after the fires subsided that, during a surprising cold front that brought heavy rain to the camp and abundant precipitation to the “flat landers,” there was an unusual amount of snow on Baldy and elsewhere in the range.

Pomona Progress, 23 September 1919.

The correspondent continued that “poets have sung its mystic beauty and painters have placed bits of it on canvas and the tired dweller of the city, resting at picturesque Camp Baldy, at an elevation of 4700 feet, has gazed at it in wonder and gained strength and inspiration.” After describing the fine scenery getting to the site, Fort recorded that “Camp Baldy is built on the edge of roaring San Antonio Creek . . . [and] consists of a centrally located dining hall, sleeping and housekeeping tents and cottages, a store in which are carried general stocks of food supplies, a post office and a dancing pavilion.” A tennis court, croquet area and “burros for the children” were other amenities that “make Camp Baldy an ideal place for a summer vacation of either long or short duration.”

Far surpassing these recreations of civilization, Fort went on, “are the opportunities for mountain hikes, canyon picnics, trout fishing and life in the open throughout the days, with good beds and good meals at Camp Baldy after the day’s exertions.” Coming to his conclusion, the writer told the reader that the resort had varied elements to recommend it and “it is uplifting and gives you glimpses and visions of delight undreamed of before.” With the clean air, beautiful scenery “and primeval beauty of the woods,” the visitor was told that the camp would “make for you a new world, where worry and care and the ills of life fade away and seem like a tale that is told.”

Pomona Progress, 25 September 1919.

With this exuberant description in mind, tonight’s featured artifact from the museum’s collection is a real photo postcard by the official photographer of Camp Baldy, Daniel P. Alexander, whose work was highlighted in the other two posts. This one is titled “Greetings from Camp Baldy—Fountain and Flume” and shows a trio of adults at their campsite, which included a large white canvas tent, their cooking apparatus and other elements of camping.

In the background at the upper left is an automobile backed against the flume, which looks to have been a couple of feet wide and which was lined by river rock. In the foreground at the lower right is the fountain, with a large basin and a pillar from which the water poured out and all of this was built with mortared river rock. Notably, sharp rocks protrude from the basin’s edge, as if to prevent anyone from sitting on it.

Los Angeles Times, 15 October 1919.

The card was mailed from Pomona on 24 November and was sent to Mrs. A.G. Crosson of Bangor, Maine from her nephew, whose name or initials can’t be made out. The necessarily brief message includes the news that “I have been at Camp Baldy building a camp 7 weeks, had a nice time.” The nearly two months corresponds quite closely with the fact that, in late September, McCullough, whose management was reported to be such that he made money for stockholders, acquired 65% of the stock to the resort (the remaining amount was not reported as to ownership), so it may be that the sender of the card was hired to make improvements as the new majority owner took over.

In early September of this year, during historically hot temperatures, the terrible Bobcat wildfire raged throughout massive swaths of the San Gabriel range, emanating from the West Fork of the San Gabriel River and rapidly spreading, primarily west and north. Among the devastation was the loss of seventeen historic cabins in Big Santa Anita Canyon above Arcadia, of which a Los Angeles Times article just discussed a few days ago. As climate change continues to become a bigger threat, the fate of resorts and cabins such as those in Big Santa Anita Canyon and San Antonio Canyon becomes even more fraught with uncertainty.

Well, in September 1919, what was called the “Big Fire of 1919” broke out in two places, with the first erupting on the 12th in San Gabriel Canyon above Azusa and consuming 60,000 acres including areas east near Camp Baldy, while the second burst forth three days later in Big Tujunga Canyon, quite a distance west near Tujunga and Sunland, and scorched some 75,000 acres. So, while there were nearly twenty miles apart, the two were linked together in media accounts as one conflagration.

These two fires were easily the largest in the region in acreage consumed for about a half century until the Clampitt blaze in 1970 between Santa Clarita and Simi Valley torched well over 100,000 acres. The Station Fire of August 2009 in the range above La Cañada-Flintridge and nearby areas remains the biggest at over 160,000 acres, while the Bobcat churned through about 116,000 acres.

McCullough’s purchase came just as the San Gabriel Canyon part of the “Big Fire” was coming to an end, but Camp Baldy, which appears to have escaped unscathed from the blaze, though vacationers were described as “uneasy” and “many were preparing for [a] hasty departure.” It was reported that the conflagration was started by “an old hermit” in San Gabriel Canyon who was burning brush near his domicile. Another interesting fact, given the post from two nights ago, was that “thirty men were sent from the Arcadia Balloon School . . . equipped with a fire fighting truck and loaded with enough ‘chow’ to last several days.”

The majority ownership and management by McCullough and his family continued for almost a decade and the resort was sold to Foster Curry, whose namesake camp at Yosemite was widely known, and his wife. For four years, Curry put a great deal of effort and money into the resort, though the Great Depression struck not long after he acquired it. In 1932, he died of leukemia and his widow, Ruth, continued to operate the camp including after she remarried, but the bad economy was a continuing problem and terrible floods in 1938 destroyed most of the resort. After World War II, the site became Buckhorn Camp and the site is situated just north of what, since the early Fifties, has been called Baldy Village.

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