A Park A Day: The Cobb Estate (or the Haunted Forest), Altadena
July is National Parks & Recreation Month, and all month long LAist will be featuring a hand-selected park a day to showcase just a few of the wonderful recreation spaces—big or small—in the Los Angeles area.
In Altadena, four miles north of the 210 freeway at the end of Lake Avenue, lies a 107-acre playground for hikers and explorers called the Cobb Estate. Some may know it as the "haunted forest" thanks to rumors of after-dark apparitions, but to others, it's a retreat from the city life where you can hike up to the ruins of an early 1900s vacation spot or explore part of Angeles Crest Forest. The land wasn't exempt from the reaches of Hollywood — It was once owned by the Marx Brothers.
At Cobb Estate, hikers can take the Sam Merrill Trail about three miles up to Echo Mountain, where the Mt. Lowe Railway once shuttled Victorian vacationers up and down the mountainside to the tourist destination once known as the "White City". The site once boasted a 70-room hotel, dance hall, observatory, petting zoo, casino and tavern, among other attractions. Sadly, the White City and its incline railway were abandoned in 1938 after there were destroyed by a series of fires, windstorms and mudslides.
But fear not, Angelenos, you can still experience the White City for yourself! The old hotel's foundations and the railway's lingering tracks and concrete platforms will transform you to a time before Disneyland was yet the place to experience wonderment and whimsy. To get to the Sam Merrill Trail, keep walking east from the main paved entrance; you'll see a sign and maps marking the trail. The uphill hike takes about two hours (agua and snacks recommended!), and once you're there, you can keep hiking another two miles on the Castle Canyon Trail to Inspiration Point. If you plan on checking it out during these hot summer days, it's recommended to get out there early before the sun comes out a-blazing in the afternoon.
Another exploring-worthy hike to be saved for a future adventure (it's currently closed for repairs after damage from the 2009 Station fire) is Dawn Mine, accessible from trail at Cobb Estate, or by turning left at East Loma Alta Drive, then right onto Cheney Trail. More in-depth directions can be found at San Gabriel hiker Dan Simpson's website.
Now owned by the U.S. Forest Service, the land was purchased in 1916 by lumber magnate Charles H. Cobb as a site for his family's summer retreat. Cobb and his wife "built a gracious residence with sweeping views to the sea, and moved in permanently after self-made millionaire Cobb retired from the International Timber Company in Seattle, Washington," wrote Michele Zack, author of "Altadena: Between Wilderness and City."
Cobb died in 1939, and after several owners, the property was purchased by the Marx Brothers in 1956. Sadly, the once-luxurious home became a hangout for misfits and up-to-no-good teens: Police took "175 juveniles and 20 adults into custody for petty crimes in and around the disintegrating mansion. Its remnants were removed in 1959, leaving only a foundation and scattered low stairways and walls as a legacy to its former grandeur," Zack wrote.
The Marx Brothers' estate put the land up for auction in 1971 after residents disagreed with the plans to turn the property into a cemetery. Local preservationist groups rallied together to raise money to save the park, and with the help of the John Muir High School Conservation Club, the cause garnered enough attention from the media and $175,000 was raised to buy the park.
Hear Muir high school teacher Bob Barnes — who, with the help of his students, helped lead the fight for the land — talk about that fateful auction at the Altadena Historical Society's free event, "Purchase of the Cobb Estate - 40 years later" Monday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Altadena Community Center, located at 730 East Altadena Drive.
To read more about Mt. Lowe Railway and the White City, feel free to read the author's post on her own blog here.