Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Cobb Estate

Before white settlers came to the Cobb Estate, native Tongva people hunted deer, bobcats and rabbits in the brush.

According to Robert H. Peterson's book, "Altadena's Golden Years," the first white person to own this acreage at the top of Lake Avenue was an "early settler" (probably 1880s) named Robert J. Forsyth. After Forsyth, Peterson says, "The title changed hands several times before Charles H. Cobb acquired the property in 1916." (You can pick up a copy of Peterson's book at Webster's Pharmacy.)

Cobb, who had made his fortune in lumber and investments, built a home near the gates of the estate in 1917. When he died in 1939, the house first became a Masonic Home, then from 1942 to 1955 it was a retreat for nuns. A developer bought it and didn't develop it. The home was vandalized. In 1960, with no plans to live there, the Marx Brothers bought the property, presumably as an investment. By 1971 more developers lurked, rubbing their hands together and salivating.

This is where the story really begins.

At 7:30 pm on July 25th at the Altadena Community Center, hear Bob Barnes and others tell how 40 years ago a high school teacher, his students, a millionaire and even the developer who bid against them saved the Cobb Estate from becoming another tragedy like La Vina. It's a thrilling tale, and because no one can tell it better than the people who lived it, I'm going to leave that part of the story up to them.

But here's a hint as to how it turned out: although the Tongva no longer hunt there, you can still spot deer, bobcats and rabbits on the grounds of the old Cobb Estate.


dive said...

Wow! What a fantastic story, Petrea. I love the Bob Barnes article; wonderfully inspiring and uplifting.

Virginia said...

What a great shot and the people at the far end just make it for me. Good one P.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thank you both. I like this picture too, V.

We're forever indebted to several hundred people who put their money and their hearts into saving this place. Ms. Steele swooped in at the last minute like a deus ex machina, yet even she couldn't quite seal the deal. It's a thriller with a surprise ending like something from a movie. You just don't hear stories like this one anymore.

altadenahiker said...

Had the story gone the other way, I don't think I'd be living in Altadena today. I moved here just to be near the sanctuary and the trails.

Well told.

Birdman said...

This looks like a place worth investigating.

Petrea Burchard said...

Karin, thanks. I feel the same. As you know my first taste of the Dena was living a couple of blocks from the Cobb Estate and I walked there several times a week. The natural beauty of this area is what drew us here and it's why we stay.

Birdman, it truly is. The locals know they can find mysterious bits of ruins there--stairways, old cairns--and it's fun to explore. But mostly, to use the Hiker's word, it's a sanctuary.

Desiree said...

Rumor has it Harpo Marx lived up there. Is is true?

Petrea Burchard said...

Hi Des,
Harpo never lived there, although he and his brothers Groucho and Gummo shared ownership of the property in the 1960's. (By that time the home was derelict.) The Cobb Estate was apparently investment property for the Marx Brothers, and it was their attempt to sell it that brought about the legendary auction that took place in 1971.

Ms M said...

Wonderful shot of the hikers exploring the trail. And the story behind it is amazing!

-K- said...

Bobcats? In Altadena?

I'm staying in tonight.

Bellis said...

I've never seen a photo of the house, have you?

Steve Scauzillo said...

It is nice to hear a success story when it comes to saving our hills and open space. Would love to hear his story. Thanks for the post, Petrea.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Ms. M, it truly is.

K, I think you're safe. You deal with scarier critters than bobcats.

Bellis, there's one photo on p. 37 of the Peterson book I mentioned.

My pleasure, Steve. I wish we could tell stories like this more often.

Steven said...

Looks like a must see place to visit. Every house has a story. That would be something to see a bobcat. They are beautiful animals. Glad they are still on the property.
Yes, that photo is very nice.

Book Dragon said...

beautiful place, thank you so much for sharing!

as an aside, did the 405 closure impact you?

Petrea Burchard said...

Steven, at the Cobb Estate I've seen all the critters I mentioned, including a bobcat almost as big as my dog, who is a 70 pound boxer mix.

Book Dragon, the most the closure affected me was that it was all over the media here. In fact, the city did such a good job of publicizing it that most west-siders stayed out of the way and the work was finished early.