by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Two months ago, a post here covered some of the early history of the camp established in the San Gabriel Mountains off the Arroyo Seco by the colorfully named Commodore Perry Switzer (that was his actual name!) and which opened in 1884. This post leaps ahead almost three decades to when Switzer’s Camp was acquired by Lloyd B. Austin and, after a brief flirtation with a name no one but him apparently liked, it returned to its original moniker, though, later, it became rechristened Switzer-land (though we’ll have more of that story for a subsequent post.)
Austin was born in June 1871 in Minnesota where his father James was a farmer, his mother Sarah ran the household and Lloyd was the eldest of the five children in the family. In 1889, the Austins moved to Oregon and the newly incorporated town of Woodburn, situated about halfway between Portland and Salem, where James was a merchant.
Later, however, Austin returned to Minnesota to attend the state university and, in 1896, he married Bertha Bowen, with the couple having three sons and a daughter. In the 1900 census, Austin resided at St. Paul and was listed as a “colator,” which appears to be a “collator,” or someone who collated, or organized, manuscripts or documents.
In 1905, the family came to Los Angeles, where Austin became the education director for the Angel City chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association, or Y.M.C.A., and he was quoted that it was not so remarkable that the city and region was growing so remarkably but “that people still live contentedly in other sections of the United States.” He went on to note “the combined forces of delightful climate, beautiful dwellings, attractive streets, commercial activity and a most cordial greeting from the people that I am glad to transfer my allegiance from the ‘City of Saints’ to the ‘City of Angels.'”
Moreover, the new officer enthused that “I never before saw such vigorous educational club life” as he found with the local Y.M.C.A. and he added “I am thankful to be in the battle for intelligent, trained Christian manhood in Los Angeles.” He remained in that position for about seven years, traveling the country to learn about industrial education and how it could be incorporated in the local chapter and this led, in 1911, to the completion of a new technical building for the club.
The following year, however, Austin decided to acquire Switzer’s Camp and the 20 May 1912 edition of the Los Angeles Times reported “extensive improvements are being made in the Arroyo Seco in preparation for the summer.” The stage road was being extended further into the canyon and was undertaken by Pasadena’s Union Livery Company, J. Roswell Philips (who had a new camp established at Dark Canyon, to which the road was extended) and Austin as “the new proprietor of Switzer’s Camp.”
The paper added that “the name of Switzer’s Camp has been changed to Losadena, but the name Switzer will be retained for the falls, which are one of the chief attractions of the place.” The next day’s issue of the Los Angeles Express also discussed the change in the Arroyo, stating that the extension of the road “will make it much easier for the public to enjoy the upper part of the canyon” because it was considered the one “within easy reach of Los Angeles and Pasadena that has so many attractions for real lovers of the mountains.”
The paper added that the camp, recently operation by C.S. Martin, was, under Austin’s ownership, being changed significantly and that he also leased the former Waterman camp to the north for “a large family housekeeping camp.” Yet, it was also observed that “some former patrons of the camp have objected the name ‘Losadena'” but Austin stated that the reason for the change in moniker was “that it is peculiarly the home camp for Los Angeles and Pasadena people.”
As for improvement, these included “the remodeling of the old dining hall, the building of a new tennis court, the rustic bridge over the stream at the entrance of the camp, the equipping of an open-air sleeping canyon for men, known as the ‘Star Parlor,’ new trails into the gorge between the two waterfalls, and other minor changes.” Moreover, Austin talked about having the resort open year-round, not just between late May and early September, or from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
While the 1912 season advertised “Camp Losadena at Switzer Falls” while also noting that it was 13 miles from Pasadena to Switzer-Land and also referred to the resort as “The Los Angeles-Pasadena Mountain Mecca in the Arroyo Seco,” the name “Losadena” only lasted that year. For the next season, the tried and true “Switzer’s Camp” remained.
A June 1913 description from the Times noted that the resort was in “one of the most rugged and picturesque mountain gorges in Southern California.” In addition, there were an “excellent table, fresh milk and vegetables, camp store, [and] new housekeeping” along with croquet, tennis and “charming side trips.” The round trip excursion via stage and saddle animal from Pasadena was $3, with rates from $12 to $14 a week for board and housekeeping tents from $4 and up.
Early in 1914, there were major developments under way, including the dedication of a bronze tablet in honor of the famed naturalist John Muir in front of the newly constructed hotel. It was also announced that the hostelry was to be dedicated in a couple of days with singing and dancing in front of the enormous fireplace. Moreover, it was noted that “the hotel is built over one of the great boulders that are a landmark of the camp” and that “this projects through the floor so as to form a seat.”
Yet, the article in the Times of 15 January also recorded that rain fell in torrents during the tablet ceremony and this became an enormous problem as the winter season was, at 23 inches in Los Angeles but considerably more in the mountains which stopped the clouds and forced the dropping of greater precipitation, the wettest in some two decades and there was major flooding throughout greater Los Angeles.
The 23 February edition of the Times reported that “the Arroyo Seco is in a chaotic state” because of the overflow of the stream and damage to the road and those camps and structures along it. As for Switzer’s, however, it was noted “the new hotel . . . which was built around a huge boulder that projects up through the floor, was thus securely anchored and could not have been washed [away] from its foundation” and “was not damaged,” according to forest rangers who delivered the news at the Alpine Tavern at Mt. Lowe, the preeminent tourist attraction in the San Gabriels.
The problem, though, was that there was no way to get to Switzer’s up the Arroyo and no provisions could be delivered to Austin, who was all alone. The rangers and some others managed to hack through debris to get to the camp, while some used the Mt. Lowe route to get there. Additionally, the telephone and telegraph lines were down. It was stated that there were enough supplies at the camp until the trail was reopened, though the grand opening of the hotel was delayed twice because of the series of storm systems that blew through the region.
By 9 March, however, there was concern about Austin’s well-being as the paper recorded “Austin is believed to be the only person in camp” though, again, “it is thought by his friends that he is amply supplied with provisions.” A previous statement that materials could be taken to him, if needed, via Mt. Lowe proved to be untrue as that route could only be made by individuals with great difficulty.
Yet, it was also reported that, despite the washing out of almost all trails in the mountains, 500 people hiked to Mt. Wilson from Sierra Madre on the repaired toll road and more than that trekked to Mt. Lowe, showing how popular the mountains were during this phase of the Great Hiking Era, which generally lasted from the 1890s to the 1930s.
Despite the destruction and damage from the deluge, plans were being made for a road up the Arroyo to the Antelope Valley, where Palmdale and Lancaster are, and excitement was building for auto traffic to soon get to the upper canyon where Switzer’s was located. Austin was quoted in the Times of 25 May as saying he was “waiting to learn what course will be taken” but that an Arroyo route “will be an automobile road and will be constructed with an easy grade, so that the trip up the canyon may be made with any kind of car.” Later, that proved to be the case—at least for a time before more major flooding came, especially in 1938.
For the Memorial Day weekend season opening, “all records for mountain travel in the Pasadena district were eclipsed,” stated the Times, with hundreds of group setting out on the morning of the holiday and many more on Sunday. It was reported that more persons were at the summit of Mt. Wilson than ever with 1,000 at the hotel there and with Strain’s Camp nearby completely filled, while guests slept on porches and outdoor areas with some kind of cover.
It was added that “the Arroyo Seco was no less thronged” with “a veritable parade of hikers through the canyon” all weekend and “Switzer’s Camp in the upper arroyo was soon overwhelmed.” As with Mt. Wilson, Austin and his staff took to back-up measures so that “tents were gotten out and pitched on the tennis court, where a good-sized tent city soon sprung up.” With those gone, “blankets were distributed to the arrivals and they were compelled to bivouac beneath the trees,” even as it rained on Sunday.
The Fourth of July weekend, with the holiday falling on a Saturday as Memorial Day did, also proved to be very busy at Mt. Wilson, with cars taking the toll road and hikers making the long trek as well. A masquerade was held at Strain’s Camp and electric lights were used for the first time there and at the hotel, rather than lamps candles. At Switzer’s Camp, “there as dance and campfire celebration . . . which was attended by over 100 persons.”
Such was the year during which the trio of featured photos from the Museum’s collection were taken. One of the photos, dated Sunday August 30th (it could only have been 1914 because of how the day and date correlated) shows approximately two dozen persons standing next to the main lodge and down to a stream where those boulders, many trees and other elements made for a particularly beautiful scene.
The second image is labeled “The House of Austin” and a look at newspaper photos of Lloyd Austin and the fact that he and his wife had three daughters and a son and a comparison with census records corresponds with the family and their ages made this clear that someone snapped a picture of the owners for their photo album.
The third photo, an 8 x 10, is quite a panoramic view of the San Gabriels with dense fog covering much of the area, except for the higher peaks. In the distance are three of the tallest of the mountains, which are labeled at the bottom as Mt. Lowe, Mt. Markham and Mt. San Gabriel. At the top is another inscription, taking a line from a poem by John Burroughs: “I Stand Amid The Eternal Ways.” It is easy to see why the photographer was spiritually affected by the profundity of what was presented in this striking image.
Because Switzer’s Camp/Switzer-Land was among the most photographed of the resorts and camps in the San Gabriel range, the Homestead’s holdings have many more views of it, including the amazing chapel that Austin had built in the early 1920s. So, we will definitely have other posts in the “At Our Leisure” series that will highlight these, so be sure to be on the lookout for those.