Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thank You, Virginia

Yesterday's photo was taken at the Cobb Estate, 107 acres at the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena. The land sits across Las Flores Canyon from the beginnings of the Sam Merrill Trail. The best information I've found about the estate is in a book called Altadena's Golden Years, compiled by Robert H. Peterson. You can get it at Webster's, and some online sellers.

There were once gold mines in Las Flores canyon, but by the time Charles H. Cobb came along they'd been "worked out." Cobb purchased the estate 1916, built his home there the following year and raised a family. He was a Mason, and contributed to the building fund for the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Pasadena. When he died in 1939, the home was converted to a Masonic Home. Later the Sisters of St. Joseph used the house as a retreat. The Marx Brothers (yes, honk honk!), Groucho, Harpo and Gummo (Chico was busy?), acquired the property in the late 1950's, but soon vandals ravaged the house and it was torn down in 1959.

Eventually developers got the bright idea that 107 unused wooded acres would look just fabulous once they were paved and covered with houses. The community was up in arms, but who had the money to stop the development? After a fundraising campaign involving conservation clubs, citizens and schools, it was philanthropist Virginia Steele Scott who swooped in late in 1971 and made it possible for the Cobb Estate to become a wildlife sanctuary (see wildlife in yesterday's post).

I wonder if these steps led to the front door of the Cobb house. Perhaps they're modest kitchen steps, or they led to an outbuilding. As you wander the paths and roadways of the estate, you come across several ruins peeking from the weeds, and wonder what they might have been.

15 comments:

Bernie K. said...

Those steps lead to the past; the lost decades are carpeted with sticker-plants and Queen Anne's Lace. Through the doorways of the forest, dark corridors are haunted by the shades of potentates. If you stand still in the meadow below the Estate at 2 a.m., you can hear the mumur of phantom limousines coming up the rotted drive. Then silence again … 'til an owl flits across the blind moon.

Jim said...

Bernie took what I was going to say.....

Katie said...

What a shame that the Cobb house was torn down. I do like imagining where these steps would have taken me back in the day. I bet there are ghosts here! Yes thank you Virginia for not letting this becomes just another cookie-cutter tract home development. And thanks Patrea for highlighting this place for us!

claire said...

i love mysterious remnants like that! there are so many potential ends for what could have been...makes one's imagination go wild!

Petrea said...

Bernie, drop by any time. Share your thoughts. Silliness or poetry, it doesn't matter.

Jim, you made me laugh!

Katie, other places in town have had the benefit of Ms. Scott's legacy. I intend to get to them all. But the story in this case is compelling; she swooped in like an angel at the last second and saved the day.

Claire, I love the remnants, too! I think there are probably more that I haven't found.

Pont Girl said...

I'm so curious where the steps went to...

Palm Axis said...

A friend of mine spoke of happy times drinking with his buddies at the Cobb estate back in the 50's. I thought it had burned down. The Marx brothers connection was a surprise, but, then again, who knew Phil Spector lived in Alhambra! I guess the west side occasionally comes east.

Petrea said...

I'm curious, too, Pont Girl. Which brings me to...

Palm! I'd love to talk to that friend of yours. Maybe he remembers where the steps went, and how the house was situated on the land. There may have been a fire. An article I read said the house suffered vandalism. "Its remnants were removed in 1959, leaving only a foundation and scattered low stairways and walls..."

Rose said...

Oh I think this is my favourite photo of all your blog...
So artistic...

Petrea said...

Thank you, Rose. I wonder if that's because you and I love old ruins so much.

Case said...

Actually, I think the article confused the Cobb estate with the Mt. Lowe demolition, which happend in 1959. I know because I was playing kickball on the Loma Alta elementary school playground at the time when the Army Corps of engineers Blew the remaining buildings up Sky-High with TnT ! One could feel the shock wave. Then the panicked & dumb teachers rounded us up to go inside, even when we had 10 more minutes of recess left... What a gyp !

Petrea said...

What were they demolishing, exactly--the old hotel buildings on the mountaintop?

Howie said...

So, its says the Marx Bros acquired the Cobb estate in the late [?] 50's and was tore down in '59... does this mean the Marx Bros never actually moved into the house? or lived there for a very short time? im trying to figure out if the bros lived there, how was it vandalized while occupied?
I can remember friends taking me up that trail there on a dark night, up a ways was their friends, girls, booze... cant remember if they made a small fire or not, and someone mentioning that the Marx Bros lived there. Although i was born in '63 and had no love for black/white movies at all and only had rare memories of goucho's tv show, i was very fascinated by the thought of an 'old hollywood' related spot at this location. Are there any pictures of the Cobb estate before demo or fire ?

Howie said...

ok, answered my own question. it seems the Marx Bros purchased the land but never actually lived on it.
matter and fact they were gonna turn into a cemetary.
Please read the following at this link i found for a cool story about its auction in late 1971...

http://www.fourpalms.org/pipermail/act/2003-October/000739.html

*the linked page is in text form but has some html text embedded in it also, so some of the wording looks a little weird, but a good guess at the word will keep u going.

Petrea said...

Hi Howie,

Thanks for the link. Yes, this was the article I read in researching the post. Should have linked to it back then! One thing: The Marx Bros. hadn't planned on turning it into a cemetery. If you read the opening sentence you'll see that their heirs planned to sell the place, and it was the potential new owner that had those plans. But you're right, the Marx Bros. never lived on the property.

It's a great place. We're lucky to have it just like it is.