I like the look (what you can make out of it, anyway) on the man’s face.
The San Gabriel Mountains begin north and east of the city of Los Angeles and range for over 60 miles, reaching a height of just over 10,000 feet at their highest point, Mt. San Antonio (better known as Mt. Baldy). Living in L.A. I often come across images taken on Mt. Wilson — the nearest large peak to the city and home to an Observatory as early as 1908 — and in the various nearby canyons, which have long attracted hikers. This circa 1908 shot shows one well-dressed group, and also has a rather charming approach to its border that I have not seen very often.
The San Gabriel Mountains are still quite rugged if you venture far enough into them, and are notable for remaining geologically active: they actually are said to be growing at a rate of 2 inches per year. As Wikipedia points out, “various faults crisscross the range, making it one of the steepest and fastest-growing ranges in the world. Plate tectonic activity breaks up most rock, making it unsuitable for rock climbing.”
Indeed, an interesting article on the history of the mountains on local public TV station KCET’s website observes that “although they don’t soar as high as the Sierra Nevada nor offer the same diversity of flora and fauna, the San Gabriels’ steep escarpments and deep ravines can challenge experienced adventurers. Even such a tireless trekker as John Muir met his match in the mountains. After an 1877 hike above Eaton Canyon, Muir described the San Gabriels as the place where ‘Mother Nature is most ruggedly, thornily savage.’ Chaparral provided the greatest nuisance — the prickly brush reduced Muir to crawling on his hands and knees for at least a mile — but the rugged terrain also merited a complaint. ‘The slopes are exceptionally steep and insecure to the foot of the explorer, however great his strength or skill may be,’ he wrote.”
Given the way the group in the photo is dressed, one can only assume they avoided sampling too much of that aspect of the mountains.
This photo is dated Sept. 1913 and is labeled “Fashion Show” at bottom right – and the streets do appear to have been decorated for an event. What I find intriguing, though – apart from the horse and buggy/automobile combination I talked about previously – are the signs you can just about make out. At far left there is a blurry one for “Shoes,” while the next door down is “Bar,” and across the street you find “Eat.” Nice and simple.
This photo shows the Madison Theatre – part of what was then Detroit’s theater district, Grand Circus Park – at right. The theater itself no longer exists, but the office building that it was part of is still there. (Apparently many theaters of the 1910s and ’20s were built attached to office structures in case motion pictures turned out to be a passing fad.) Constructed in 1916, the theater sat just over 1800 people and was, as historicdetroit.org says, “a key link between the small Detroit theaters of the turn of the century and the extravagant movie palaces that would rise in the 1920s.” The Madison would go on to be the first theater in Michigan to screen a feature-length talking picture when it showed “The Jazz Singer” at the end of 1927. It closed in 1984. The last movie shown was “The Dead Zone,” and the title remained on the marquee for years.
Here is a shot of the remains of the lobby taken by David Kohrman of the excellent forgottendetroit.com, just before the space was razed in 2000.
It’s a little blurry, but here is a view of the lobby in its heyday.
Lastly, here is a fuller view of the exterior around the time the snapshot would have been taken, although the marquee is slightly different.
The building that housed the theater seems to be doing well. According to a story on CBS Detroit from earlier this year, “the 1917-vintage Madison Theatre Building — now rechristened The M@dison by its new owner, Dan Gilbert and his Rock Ventures LLC — has been given a spectacular $12 million makeover into some of the coolest work space anywhere.” Coincidentally, the same year the theater space was demolished, the Detroit Tigers’ new stadium, Comerica Park, opened up nearby, and they say there is a great view of the ballpark from the upper floors. That sounds pretty good, but I can’t help envying the women in the snapshot, who could have gone to see Ty Cobb at the old Tiger Stadium (known as Navin Field in that era) – perhaps that very afternoon.
Something you often see in vintage snapshots is not just a shadow cast by the photographer, but one in which you can tell they are looking down through the camera rather than holding it to their face. That was, of course, just the way a lot of cameras were configured at the time. It also resulted – however slightly – in a different perspective, with the camera at waist height rather than the height of the subjects’ heads. I think you can see that here. Just another thing that gives these old images a little bit of their charm.
I also love this one, with its partial shadow, where you again can see the arms holding the camera at waist level.