Mt. Lowe Railway Historical Marker
During the early 1900’s, tourists could take the Pacific Electric trolly from Los Angeles to Rubio Canyon, then take the Incline Railway to the top of Echo Mountain, and then take another electric trolly to the Alpine Tavern hotel, all for one dollar round-trip. The hotel burned down in 1936, and was not rebuilt due to the Depression.
Backstory and Context
Soon after his arrival in Pasadena, David MacPherson approached Lowe with an idea for a steam powered railroad to the summit of Mount Wilson. Lowe ran electric trolley cars through Altadena into Rubio Canyon where a pavilion transfer station and hotel had been built. Passengers could get off and explore the various wooden staircases that led through several breathtaking waterfalls, or they could wine and dine at the pavilion below. "The Great Incline" was the most daring engineering aspect in Rubio Canyon and it provided an impressive view of the canyon below. Designed by Andrew Halladie, cable car inventor, the incline was California's first electric cable hoisting mechanism. It measured upwards of 3,000 feet in length and made an ascent of 1,300 feet. It was also the steepest railway in the world at the time. The incline funicular began its ascent at a 60° grade until passing the turnout where the grade changed to an amazing 62° (by comparison, the rollercoaster Goliath at Six Flags Magic Mountain sports a 61° drop), later the grade changes to 58° then again to 48° as it makes its way to the top of Echo Mountain. The grade was so steep that during construction of the Great Incline most of the materials had to be carried on the backs of its laborers.
The incline used an electrically powered endless cable to move two counterbalanced cars. So as one incline car went up, the other came down.
On June 21st, 1893 the Incline was operated by electricity for the first time. On July 4th, 1893 the Mount Lowe railway was officially opened to the public. A few thousand people were on hand to witness the event and many paid the $5 fee to ride the rails. The Pasadena City Band was given the honor of the first ride up to Echo Mountain playing "Nearer My God to Thee." The incline traveled 1/2 mile to the Echo Mountain summit where Lowe built a powerhouse, the Chalet, the Echo Mountain House, a casino (used as a dance pavilion and dormitory), an observatory, residential car barn, gardens, gas holder, tennis courts, a zoo and water system. Between 1897 and 1901, Lowe lost the railway and ownership changed several times. Fire destroyed the Echo Mountain House on February 5, 1900.1
The remnants of the Mt. Lowe Railroad are located on Echo Mountain in the Angeles National Forest. The hike is three miles up a steep trail with a strenuous 1,500-foot altitude gain. Marker is near the post office in Altadena CA 91001, United States of America.