Rubio Canyon and the Mt. Lowe Railway
By Paul Ayers,
Scenic Mount Lowe Historical Committee
Rubio Canyon takes its name from Jesus Rubio, a squatter who began farming near the mouth of the canyon in 1867. Prior to this time, the canyon had probably seen little of man; the Native Americans who lived in the area did not like to go into the smaller canyons at the front of the San Gabriels for fear of bears.
Rubio farmed the land for some years as there was an abundance of water available for irrigation. A Dr. Hall bought the property when Rubio moved to Duarte in 1877, but he passed away two years later. His widow sold the land to the famous Altadena pioneers, the Woodbury brothers, in 1880. The land was in Woodbury hands at the time Professor Lowe was granted a right of way into the canyon in 1891.
Professor Lowe had always planned to run his mountain railway through Rubio Canyon, even when the projected terminus of the line was Mt. Wilson. When the Mt. Wilson franchise was denied to him, Professor Lowe and his engineer, David J. Macpherson, decided to end the conventional trolley line in Rubio and link the canyon with Echo Mountain by way of a cable incline railway.
In early 1893, rails were laid to the base of the Incline. There, a station where passengers would change from Altadena-based trolleys and board the Incline cars was build. This station was called the Rubio Pavilion. On July 4, 1893, the Incline was opened from the Pavilion to Echo Mountain.
Over the years there were substantial changes to the Railway's operation in Rubio. Originally the Pavilion was a three story affair with a hotel, a dining room and dance hall. Due to declining profitability, the hotel and dining room were closed in 1903. It appears from contemporary photographs that the lowest level of the Pavilion was removed at about the same time.
Then, in February 1909, the entire original pavilion structure was destroyed in a gigantic rock avalanche. This disaster resulted in the line's only fatality, the death of the Rubio Pavilion's station agent's five-year old son.
The Pavilion was replaced by a plain, barn-like train shed erected by the Pacific Electric, which had obtained the line in 1902. From 1909 on, Rubio became a mere stopover for passengers changing from interurban cars to the incline railway.
Another great change in Rubio resulted from the 1903-1904 modernization of the Altadena-Rubio right-of-way by the Pacific Electric. Professor Lowe and Engineer Macpherson, faced with the extraordinarily expensive task of building the Railway, had cut corners by taking the "path of least resistance" in laying line in Rubio. The result was a right-of-way full of curves and trestles.Pacific Electric substantially straightened the right-of-way and replaced most of the trestles with dirt fill and culverts. It also converted the track to standard gauge and installed a small car storage yard just below the Pavilion.
The Railway lasted forty-three years plagued throughout by natural disasters, declining profitability (exacerbated in later years by the Great Depression) and, ultimately, the disinterest of the Pacific Electric. Shortly after the last hotel on the line, the Alpine Tavern, burned down in 1936, Pacific Electric gained approval from the State Railway Commission to abandon the line. The Rubio train shed, already partially destroyed as a result of the historic rainstorm of March 1938, was pulled down in 1939. The rails were removed in 1941 as part of a wartime-scrap steel drive. Since that time the remaining artifacts have been buried, washed away, burned up or removed by scavengers and Rubio Canyon has faded into quiet obscurity.
Today, Rubio offers a number of pleasant surprises to the railway archeologist. Surviving artifacts of the railway include ties, trestle abutments and rock retaining walls. At the side of the Pavilion, concrete supports and walls are visible.
Unfortunately, due to neglect of the trail, travel along the remaining portions of the right of way has become treacherous. In fact, just recently, an experienced member of the Historical Committee working in the canyon was seriously injured in a fall. Further, many of the remaining artifacts of the railway are endangered by erosion.
It is vital that action be taken to preserve the right of way and other artifacts in the canyon. Anyone interested in assisting the committee in its work in this regard is encouraged to contact the author at his day-time phone number - xxx-xxx-xxxx.
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Last modified: February 12, 1999
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