Week 199: Altadena Foothills East of Lake

January 19, 2020

10,000 Steps a Day in L.A. #27, Portal to White City, 2.8 miles

Barbara and I explored the first half of this hike—Christmas Tree Lane—last year, and returned today to complete the turn-of-the-century trek east of Lake. The Poppyfields district east of Lake Avenue needs a little context to appreciate its significance. When Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe built his 7-mile railway to the top of Echo Mountain in the 1890s, Altadena was barely 20 years old, a baby in its timeline. The RR's destination, White City, so named for the white buildings at the end of the line, was a mountain resort with an 80-room Victorian Hotel (destroyed by fire in 1900) and a Swiss chalet. The vertical railway ran from 1893 to 1936, and was the only scenic mountain, electric traction (overhead trolley) ever built in the US, promoted as the "8th wonder of the world." Short lived, but with a big footprint, at the end of the line, the ruins of White City at the summit of Echo Mountain, are a National Historic Monument. Saving the 2.5 mile hike up the Sam Merrill trail to Echo Mtn. for another day, we tracked the path of the railroad tracks through the foothills to the bottom edge of the Altadena Crest Trail. The foothill neighborhood we walked through didn't exist in the 1890s, but the popularity of the resort and the novelty of a railroad into the mountains attracted thousands. Today the surrounding foothill neighborhood is a lovely collection of architecturally eclectic homes, tucked away paths, and friendly neighbors. Our walk began on Lake Avenue, heading east on Poppyfields Drive to the railroad path and historic marker on Mount Lowe Drive. A service road, the backyard to seriously cool houses, led us to Rubio Canyon Road where passengers waited in a pavilion to catch the train to the top. Rubio Canyon Road parallels part of the Alta Dena Crest Trail, one of the many trails in the San Gabriels above, and becomes Loma Alta Drive. There, we hunted for a curiosity: "gravity hill," an incline that either challenges gravity or is an optical illusion. After some investigation I voted optical illusion. We came back later in the car to test it, but the results were...inconclusive. This is our third hike through a foothill neighborhood, and I'm sold. The homes are unique, the mountain and city views are gorgeous, and there's a pervading sense of creativity and peace. Winding back to Lake Avenue, we stopped to explore the exterior of the William D. Davis Memorial Building, a river-rock, arts and crafts American Craftsman structure completed by a WPA crew in 1934, and the adjacent Charles S. Farnsworth Park, designed by its namesake—a Spanish-American War, WWI veteran, and Major General in the US Army who became a big cheese in Altadena community affairs. At the end of the hike we popped up to the Cobb Estate at the top of Lake to collect info on hikes to Echo Mountain. More interesting and fun than we thought,  this was a fun hike through a new neighborhood with a kiss from the past. 

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