by Paul R. Spitzzeri
June is, as of 2019, Great Outdoors Month, which is an expansion of the Great Outdoors Week initiated in 1998, so here is an “At Our Leisure” entry about one of the many popular resort camps that dotted the San Gabriel Mountains from the late 19th century and into the first few decades of the 20th and which highlights a real photo postcard by Ernest B. Gray, a prolific photographer of the range.
The image, #340 of his inventory, is of a wide walkway with rustic wood benches on one side and a rough stacked rock wall on the other. In the background are a couple of people standing next to the wall, while a structure, largely concealed, but which had tin walls and a wood upper section and roof, is behind them. The lush landscape was part of Hoegee’s Camp, which existed for three decades between 1908 and 1938.
The camp was opened by Arie Hoegee, Jr. (1866-1946), the son of Dutch-born Annetta Ida van Leeuwen (1836-1913) and Arie Hoegee, Sr. (1821-1899), the latter a varnisher. There were two older children, William and Mary, who were born in Holland, though the family migrated to the United States in 1865 and Arie, Jr. was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the family lived for close to a quarter century.
William was the first to make his way west to Los Angeles, arriving in 1886 just in time for dawn of the great Boom of the Eighties, which peaked in the two following years during the mayoral term of William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman. In 1889, as the boom went bust, the remainder of the family, which included two daughters younger than Arie, Jr., migrated to the Angel City.
In the mid-Nineties, William H. Hoegee established a sporting goods business that included flags, awnings, tents, banners, rubber hoses and camp furniture and, when his business was incorporated at the dawn of the new century, Arie, Jr. held a share and worked in the enterprise. After a few years, though, he left and opened his own company, Hoegee and Sons, the focused specifically on tents and awnings.
He was a lover of the outdoors and the San Gabriels, long being a resident of Pasadena and South Pasadena, so the creation of Hoegee’s Camp was hardly a surprise given both his personal and professional proclivities. The location on Winter Creek, which flowed from the west down to Big Santa Anita Canyon and the major wash there, was idyllic and involved a seven-mile hike from Sierra Madre.
An early advertisement from 1909 was brief, noting that it was “a charming resort” with “moderate rates” and offering “furnished tents or boarding.” There wasn’t actually that much located in local newspapers about the camp, compared to others profiled on this blog, though there were regular references to families and groups that patronized the camp, including the Baptist Young People’s Summer Assembly, a hiking group called the Chaparro Club that was led by a local minister, and a Los Angeles camera club.
With the latter’s visit of September 1910, the Los Angeles Herald reported that that group hiked up late at night, heading up from Sierra Madre at 10 p.m. and reaching its destination at 2 a.m. and was “a weary but jolly crowd.” The account continued:
The beautiful scenery of the camp and canyon below afforded excellent opportunities for the picture taking proclivities of the crowd, and all took advantage of them with the most excellent results . . . In the evening the club gathered around a huge bonfire, telling stories and singing until a late hour.
Typically, the summer season for the mountain resorts and camps was during the month of May, though the specific dates could vary. The Hoegee listing in the “Mountain Resorts of Southern California” page of the Los Angeles Times in June 1913 noted that there was a “general dining-room and substantial tent houses,” while there were hot and cold water for showers, “exceptionally good meals,” a store, and telephone.
As for the environment, it promoted “huge tees, fragrant mountain vegetation, beautiful streams, [a] waterfall [likely Sturtevant], pure water, [and] no mosquitoes.” The Pacific Electric streetcar system came up to the base of the range and, from downtown the fare, including a burro taking materials to the camp, was $2. For board and lodging, the rate was $2 a day or $10 a week, while furnished tents for two was $6 a week with a $1 for each additional person.
To celebrate Washington’s Birthday in 1915, employees of the Home Telephone Company of Pasadena and the Sunset Telephone Company of Los Angeles headed up to Hoegee’s for a weekend excursion and stay and “a ‘big time’ is promised all those who make the trip,” recorded the South Pasadena Record of 18 February. Activities included baseball, boxing, “fat men’s races,” sack races, tennis, volleyball and wrestling for “the merry picknickers” with prizes handed out for those who triumphed in each event.
In July 1917, the Whittier News reported that two groups of folks, one from the Quaker City, went to the camp as part of the Baptist Young People’s Summer Assembly for an overnight stay, with participants driving to Sierra Madre before making the trek up to Hoegee’s which was at an elevation of 3500 feet above sea level.
The Chaparro Club too day hikes to many locations in the San Gabriels and a 1923 itinerary for March included treks to Fern Lodge, up Monrovia Canyon, to Deer Park in that canyon, and a 14-mile excursion to Hoegee’s from the Sturtevant Trail and then down via the Mt. Wilson Trail. This trip was featured for the fact that
On this trip [we] will see Madrono [Pacific Madrone] trees, said to be the most beautiful of California native trees, also oaks, alders, sycamores and firs. Lilac bushes will be in full bloom. Beautiful flowers and ferns will decorate the way.
By that time, however, Arie Hoegee, Jr. had given up operation of his camp and it was taken over by Otis Johnson, who operated it from 1920-1924. The proprietor afterward was William Murphy and the Times of 23 March 1924 reported his announcement of the completion of 14 new cabins.
Moreover, “the main building . . . in which the dining room and social hall are located, has been remodeled and equipped with a number of modern conveniences, and a mammoth stone fireplace.” Murphy was quoted as saying that “the coming summer resort season will be the largest one in the history of Southern California’s mountain resorts.”
Shortly afterward, he hosted the third gathering of the Resort Owners’ Association of the Sierra Madre Mountains, this being the name of the range before it was changed to the San Gabriels. Representatives included those from such camps and resorts as Camp Baldy, the Mt. Wilson Hotel, Camp Rincon, Sturtevant’s Camp, Switzer-land, Teddy’s Outpost, and Wildwood Lodge. The article noted that “the purpose of the organization is to safeguard and further the interests of the mountain camps, resorts and allied businesses in the Sierra Madre Mountains.”
One of the constant concerns in our region, including in our rugged mountains, are wildfires and, in September 1924, during one of our notorious Santa Ana winds events, a blaze erupted in the San Gabriels and the Times of the 16th noted “the fire menace to Santa Anita Canyon was considered so serious that all camps were closed . . . to al[l] except firefighters.” As the blaze rushed down its east side, Fern Lodge and Roberts’ Camp, along with some 300 cabins, were threatened, but the fire was stopped, though there was a risk that some 250 firefighters could get trapped.
In October 1926, the “Resort Notes” column of the paper reported on the completion of a road from Mt. Wilson north to Barley Flats, some of which was along what became State Route 2, the Angeles Crest Highway. The gathering of an organization called the Angeles National Forest Resort Owners’ Association, possibly a name change from the aforementioned group, enjoyed a ride, either in the own jalopies or in the vehicles provided by the Mt. Wilson Stage Company, while others walked.
Notably photographer Gray was vehemently against allowing automobile traffic in the mountains, fearing it would adversely affect the environment, but there was no way to stop the movement to open the San Gabriels and other ranges to cars. The assemblage gathered at Opid’s Camp at the head of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River for the jaunt, which included a stop at Mt. Wilson for a tour including the renowned observatory. Members of the expedition came from Camp Rincon, Coldbrook Camp, Deer Park, the Mt. Lowe Tavern, Switzer-land, Valley Forge, Wolfskill Falls Camp in San Dimas Canyon, Sturtevant’s, and others, including Murphy and a Miss Moody from Hoegee’s.
The camp was normally a place of rest and relaxation, but in August 1927, it was the scene of a strange occurrence. The 27 August 1927 edition of the Los Angeles Record, for example, reported that Winnie Howard, a 35-year old recently residing in Norco in Riverside County, registered at the camp under the name of Jackson, but “acted in a mysterious manner, persons living at the camp reported,” including the fact that she did not pay in advance.
When journalists showed up from Los Angeles looking for Howard, they brought newspapers showing Howard’s photograph “and campers noted a marked resemblance between published pictures of the woman and Mrs. Jackson.” It turned out that the malnourished Howard, “bruised and scratched from days of aimless wandering in the Sierra Madre Mountains,” had taken a Pacific Electric car to Sierra Madre from Los Angeles, where she’d been staying in the Santa Rita Hotel and where her 14 month-old son, Norman, was found smothered to death.
In time for the 1928 season, Murphy undertook further improvements at Hoegee’s, including the completion of a cabin with a capacity of a dozen campers, the remodeling of the dining room “making it more commodious and comfortable,” and the building of a mile-and-a-half trail “in the canyon above his camp, opening a territory which is indeed very delightful.”
The proprietor continued his operation into the Great Depression years and, while the terrible state of the economy likely had a major effect on Hoegee’s operations, the downfall, as it was for so many of the camps and resorts in the San Gabriel range, was the major flooding that hit the region in spring 1938. While nothing was located specifically referencing the camp, it was noted that, in summer 1941, there were representatives of a youth hostel organization inspecting potential sites for a camp including “the old Hoegee camp.”
There is a Hoegee Trail Camp campground there today, comprised of a baker’s dozen of sites though it has been closed because of the ravages of the Bobcat Fire of October 2020 that scorched almost 116,000 acres. Despite this, the Winter Creek Trail and other nearby routes that surround the location are among the prettiest spots of the entire range.
Arie Hoegee, Jr. continued to live in the area, residing in Monrovia at the time of his death in 1946. While his brother’s sporting goods company no longer exists, it having gone wholesale, merged with another firm and then that enterprise bought out by another, Arie’s company still exists in Gardena.
In addition to the featured photo, which is date stamped 15 June 1923, but contains a message that has no reference to the camp, a few others are included here, as well, so you can get several great views of this historic site of recreation in our local mountains.
As mentioned in this post, the wildfires were constant threats to the operations of San Gabriel mountain camping sites. Isn’t it a sad fact that today, after 100 years, we’re still threatened by the same natural disaster and to a worse degree? Although technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1920s, the prevention and control of wildfires are still hugely falling behind the wildfire’s power in terms of its intensity, frequency, and burned areas. Is climate change the only thing we can focus on and to blame? At least after a world-wide concerted effort proceeding in this direction for decades, we haven’t yet seen any significant sign indicating that we can better control wildfires in the foreseeable future. Are we barking at the wrong tree?
Hi Larry, thanks for the comment and for connecting the present and past in it. This is obviously a very complex issue as worsening climate change increases the frequency, intensity and ravages of wildfires, but more people live in wildland areas and forest management policies, such as trying to prevent fires, prescribed burns and others, have been and are being reexamined and modified. There is obviously much more to the matter than this, but massive fires like the recent Bobcat will clearly reshape our local forest landscape and affect future recreational possibilities, passive and otherwise.