Sunday, August 19, 2001   2:09 AM MST


Rubio Canyon: Famous visionary capitalized on the canyon's beauty

By Becky Oskin
Staff Writer

ALTADENA -- The history of Rubio Canyon is inextricably linked with its reliable water supply.

The first person to take the water was Jesus Rubio Maron, a native Californian who first used the year-round stream to irrigate his crops in 1867.

Rubio sold the property in 1877 to a Dr. Hall, who died only two years later. Hall's widow then sold the land to the Woodbury brothers, Altadena's founders.

The Woodburys had grand dreams for building a new community in the foothills north of Pasadena. In 1883, the brothers began piping Rubio Canyon water down to Altadena and tunneling in the canyon's west wall. Three years later, they named their new water company Rubio Canon Land and Water Association.

Rubio Canyon's renown, however, comes from one of southern California's famous visionaries, Professor Thaddeus Lowe.

The professor -- immortalized by Mt. Lowe -- and engineer David Macpherson built the Great Incline, a cable car system that transported city-dwellers from Rubio Canyon to Echo Mountain and the alpine peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Electric trolley tracks were laid in Rubio Canyon in 1893, ending at a transfer site about half a mile from the canyon's mouth. There, Lowe built the Rubio Pavilion and his Great Incline.

Set high on a wooden trestle, the pavilion straddled a narrow point in the canyon while the stream ran below. The two-story building included a 10-room hotel, dance hall and kitchen. A small dam at the head of Grand Chasm Falls, further north in the canyon, powered a hydroelectric generator at the Pavilion.

Lowe never missed an opportunity to capitalize on the mountain's beauty. The steep upper reaches of Rubio Canyon had abundant trees, huge ferns and many waterfalls, which provided cool respite during the hot summers. Lowe built a steep and sometimes rickety wooden walkway along the waterfalls, lit with Japanese paper lanterns at night -- a magical setting.

In 1902, Pacific Electric took over the railway, regrading and straightening the tracks and building a small rail car storage yard at the pavilion.

Rubio Canyon's decline started in 1909 when a storm washed away the staircase, destroyed the pavilion and killed the son of the hotel's caretakers.

The pavilion became a mere stopover point, marked by a wood shed slapped together by Pacific Electric. As highways and cars grew more popular, travelers stopped using the railway and the incline closed in 1936. The train shed was taken down in 1939 and the rails were salvaged for scrap steel during World War II.

Over the years, floods and fire damaged the remaining railway and building artifacts, leaving only a few stone foundations as a reminder of Rubio Canyon's early popularity.

-- Becky Oskin can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4451, or by e-mail at

The Fall of Rubio Canyon