by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As we continue with a look at some of the history of Millard Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains above Altadena and Pasadena, it is important to note the ongoing risk of fire in these wildland areas of our region. Some of the earliest references to these in the Canyon and nearby areas came in the 1890s when greater Los Angeles experienced several years of drought, which, of course, raises the risk of fire significantly, including during the hot summer months, as well as when the dry Santa Ana winds roll through in the fall.
The 12 October 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Record reported on a conflagration in Saucer Canyon, a small branch to the west of Millard, and which was close to the Alpine Tavern of the recently completed Mt. Lowe resort. As is so often the case, it was noted that, if the blaze got into Millard, “there is a tremendous draft so that it is likely to rush up the canyon at a fearful rate.” There wasn’t the destruction that was feared, though Thaddeus Lowe, founder of the railway that climbed up the steep mountain slopes and then across ridges and peaks to the resort, lost control of the property that year.
Rainfall in the preceding winter of 1895-1896 was just 8.5 inches far below what became the so-called historical “normal” of 15 or so inches and after a much better season the following year, another substandard winter came in 1897-1898 with under 7.5 inches for the season. Not surprisingly, another fire burst forth in late July 1898, with the Los Angeles Herald of the 30th citing Eugene Giddings, whose family owned a large ranch at the mouth of Millard, as having stated that the blaze, thought to have been started by hunters, was in the canyon and another side one called Little Bear.
In addition to threats to Mt. Lowe, there were concerns about water supply as the heat from the blaze could dry up sources. While it appears that the resort again escaped damage, this was not the case in 1900, the third straight year of drought of 8 inches, after 5.5 the prior season, when Echo Mountain House was destroyed. Five years later, the power house and part of the famous incline rail line were destroyed and future fires caused further damage. In 1936, Alpine Tavern, another landmark, was lost and, two years later, flooding sealed the resort’s fate.
Despite the risks, subdivision of the Giddings Ranch, mentioned in part one as 236 acres were sold to the Presbyterian Church of Pasadena with 100 of them devoted to sale for subdivision for houses, principally second homes. One, featured in the Los Angeles Times of 6 August 1911, was the rustic residence of Francis D. Chipron, a Los Angeles stamp manufacturer, while another, better known local landmark was “Boulder Crest,” the rambling and highly stylized place owned by Angel City clothier Reinhardt Busch.
Utilizing granite from the canyon, lumber from nearby El Prieto Canyon ( “prieto” meaning dark and formerly known as N****r Canyon because of its association with Robert Owens, a noted early African-American resident of Los Angeles) and built among massive outcroppings, Boulder Crest not only was notable for its Swiss Chalet architecture and remarkable details, but also for its gardens and animal preserve. It, however, succumbed to a massive fire in 1935.
Beyond more construction in the foothills, there was occasional talk of improving access, either with better roads or, as noted in the 11 January 1908 issue of the Herald, possible streetcar line construction. The paper reported that there were some owners of land in the Millard Canyon area who seriously considered building a route up Lincoln Avenue and thinking that, within a half-year they could raise $52,000 to construct four miles of single track from the intersection of that thoroughfare with Fair Oaks Avenue, about where Interstate 210 passes through Pasadena today.
Returning to the Giddings Ranch, the Presbyterian plan for a sanctuary for rest and religious instruction and study went unrealized and the Herald of 21 February 1909 reported that Dr. Henry B. Stehman, a doctor of gynecology and obstetrics who left Chicago for health reasons, joining legions of people who came to greater Los Angeles for that purpose, and others acquired the tract for $30,000. Stehman and associated founded the Pasadena Health Camp Association and built a 22-acre sanitarium on Linda Vista Avenue on the west side of the Arroyo Seco near today’s Rose Bowl.
Seeking more room and an open atmosphere, Stehman and his partners then purchased the Giddings Ranch, though it was stated by the paper that the intent was “to turn the land into a pleasure park.” The following day’s Times, however, reported that, after an interview, Stehman acknowledged that the plan was for a “retreat for the sick and afflicted, especially tubercular patients.” From the late 19th century through the mid-20th, the region from Pasadena to Duarte was dotted with sanitariums for the treatment of those with TB and other ailments. He added,
The details of the plan have not been worked out. The health camp at Linda Vista will be abandoned . . . one of the features of the Millard Cañon property . . . we are aiming to call . . . “The Vineyard,” as there is a great vineyard covering the property. As to our future plans and work in the cañon I cannot say, but I believe the problem of taking care of those afflicted with tubercular trouble is solved.
The article concluded that “from all parts of the city yesterday were heard words of praise for those who have shown their philanthropy in securing the site, as the property seems ideally situated for such a purpose.” Yet, the 30 May edition of the Herald reported that this was the second attempt of Stehman and his compatriots to move their health camp, with the first selected site being too close to Pasadena for the liking of protestors.
Despite finding the Giddings Ranch, however, the promoters faced more opposition as “the citizens at the north end [of town] still fear contamination” from “a question of the pollution of the water supply.” Evidently, there were those who believed that tuberculosis could be conveyed by water, though Stehman, and likely, Dr. Norman Bridge, another health-seeker to Los Angeles and a prominent figure in Los Angeles, were to try and assuage those and other concerns. As a possible backup, Dr. Fordyce Grinnell, formerly a physician on Indian reservations and at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and a Pasadena resident (and whose sons Fordyce, Jr. and Joseph became prominent in the scientific fields of entomology and zoology) offered a 10-acre spread south of Lake Elsinore for the facility.
The Times of 6 June jumped in, through its editorial page, to offer its opposition to the “camp for consumptives.” While acknowledging the need for such places, the paper felt that it should be at a higher elevation and at a spot even more remote from Pasadena and Los Angeles, while adding that “Millard Cañon ought to be reserved as a park for the enjoyment, not of a limited number of our population, but of all classes.” Moreover, it called for a more strict quarantine of “consumptives,” claiming that streetcars providing access close to the site would carry disease back to the Crown and Angel cities, while, when it came to the sick, “their presence will undoubtedly tend to drive all others away from that particular spot and thus the beautiful cañon will be lost to the rest of us.” It concluded that either Pasadena or Los Angeles County should “acquire this cañon and devote it to public uses as a park for all time to come.”
Yet, with those locals expressing their concerns before withdrawing their opposition after a long meeting with Bridge and Strehman, the physicians assured that “every possible sanitary precaution was to be taken . . . [and] there could not possibly be pollution of the sources of the water supply of this section of the city.” This objective achieved, the doctors and their fellow investors proceeded with what was generally referred to as “The Vineyard,” but which came to be known as the Spanish rendering of La Viña, and which opened on 22 August 1909. Another sanatorium, run by Dr. George Martyn, also affiliated with El Reposo Sanitarium in Sierra Madre, opened the same year on 60 acres of the Giddings ranch and across the road from La Viña and operated for several years.
There were occasional issues between the facility and visitors and neighbors, including public access to the canyon along the extension of Lincoln Avenue that passed through the La Viña property. The 27 December 1911 issue of the Times included a report that
Disappointment prevails among the lovers of the hills for the La Vina Sanatorium Company has closed the driveway through beautiful Millard Canyon, back of Mount Lowe. This was formerly a part of the old Giddings ranch and [previously] the road was operated under the toll system. It is now private property and the sanitarium people are within their rights when they close it to vehicles [though it remained open to pedestrians.]
Despite the opinion of the paper regarding the rights of La Viña, the Los Angeles Express of 20 May 1912 noted that “the road up Millard canyon . . . was officially declared a public highway by the [county] board of supervisors today.” Notably, Supervisor Richard W. Pridham, in whose district the area involved was located, told his colleagues after an investigation that “the trouble is really a fight over water up in the canyon, which is said to be one of the most picturesque among those easily accessible from Pasadena.”
Reference was made to unnamed persons who had mining claims but, Pridham went on, “are really developing water which they propose to bring down the canyon.” The operators of La Viña, who incorporated in May 1911, were trying to avoid having the road used as a conduit for delivery of the precious fluid, but it was added that the route was accessed for many years, including by those contractors working on the Mt. Lowe project as well as “forest service officials to take supplies into the mountains above the canyon.”
Whatever controversy may have arisen concerning the establishment of La Viña, which was destroyed by the 1935 fire, was rebuilt south of the first location, and which merged in 1981 with Pasadena’s Huntington Memorial Hospital (the site was later developed into the La Viña housing tract), Millard Canyon was still very much promoted and appreciated for its outdoor attractions. The Times of 17 December 1911, for example, featured it as “A Good Place To Go For A Little Sunday Picnic” with George W. Retzer, Jr., writing that “one of the prettiest and most accessible mountain canyons around Los Angeles, is Millard Canyon.”
Retzer observed that it was just three-quarters of a mile to the nearest streetcar line, “which can easily be walked, even by the women,” he thought it necessary to add, continuing that “few canyons are so situated as this one, that the women, as well as the children, have an opportunity to take a real mountain outing and enjoy themselves and return home free from lameness.” With recent rains tamping down the dust and making the trails easier to negotiate, he advocated that it was the best time of the year to go, not to mention that holly was blooming, leading the author to write to what he presumed would only be male readers, “so take your wife and children and a well-filled lunch basket and spend some Sunday or holiday in the mountains.”
Countering Retzer’s statements about the purported fragility of women when it came to the outdoors, Lena C. Maar, secretary of the Los Angeles Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.), wrote for the Times of 14 June 1914 about excursions in the local mountains, under the headline of “Girl Who Hikes Tells Where And How To Go.” Maar, a native of Poughkeepsie, New York and Vassar College graduate who married an oil company engineer and lived in Brea and Fullerton before residing in Inglewood where she died in 1935, began by telling readers,
For the girl who is unable to take a real vacation, there is no better way for her to get the kinks out of her system than by spending Sundays and holidays out on a good, invigorating hike. In fact, there would be fewer cases of “nerves” if all girls and, especially business girls, who never get off of Broadway all week, would get out an average of two Sundays a month for a brisk tramp through the hills or along a broad highway.
After imploring women to ditch the high-heeled shoes for soft boots “and hie thee to the hills” with other appropriate outdoor wear, a haversack with the necessaries (cup for water, a flashlight, a map) and an appropriate lunch, Maar cautioned newbies to pace themselves initially and build endurance for longer “tramps.” As for locales, she mentioned Lookout Mountain off Laurel Canyon above Hollywood; Mount Hollywood; Coldwater Canyon; Topanga Canyon; Mt. Wilson; and, above Altadena and Pasadena, Eaton, Rubio and Millard canyons.
Albert Marple, writing in the 9 June 1917 edition of the Record, asked breezily, “say, Mr. Motorist, have you ever enjoyed a jaunt in that ‘buzz wagon’ of yours out to Millard’s canyon?” If the answer was a negative one from his readers, the author noted “there is a treat in store for you” as Millard “is an ideal place to go if you are desirous of spending a day or an afternoon away from the hurried whirl of the modern business life, thereby giving your mind and body a chance to ‘come back.'” He added that it was “one of the ‘close in’ canyon ‘hide outs’, where the bill collector, the sheriff or the landlord would never think of looking for you.”
He rhapsodized about the streams, trees, flowers and ferns and trails for further clambering about in the mountains and Marple added “in fact, if you are looking for just a touch of the mountains without a lot of hard climbing, Millard’s is the place for you to go.” Recommending that parties bring a “feed basket,” he noted that “we will enjoy a little mountain climbing, or rather descending, the excellent trail leading from the bluff” where cars could be left, “to the floor of the canyon[,] the picnic grounds being located possibly 200 yards” from the parking area. After a few hours in the sylvan setting, Marple recommended a return to the Angel City through La Cañada to Montrose and then south through Verdugo Canyon and Glendale, then through Los Feliz and Hollywood before arriving downtown.
The third and concluding part of this post covers some of the legal controversies associated with Millard Canyon during the Teens, including a counterfeit ring operating there, but, especially, the strange story of Hyrel Gill and her lengthy battle against La Viña, area homeowners, visitors and local and federal government officials as the “Amazonian mountain matron of Millard’s Canyon.” Check back tomorrow for that!