Pacific Electric Headquarters Painting “Mount Lowe”
By Charles Wherry
My dad worked for PE and at the time of his untimely death in 1952 was an office supervisor working in the Subway Terminal Building at 4th and Hill Streets in downtown Los Angeles. I can only assume that his daily routine took him by this oil painting on his way to and from his office. I personally have only faint memories of the layout of the PE station, but I seem to remember seeing either this oil or possibly its ‘partner’ painting when descending the ramps or stairways leading from the street level down to the track level.
Keeping in mind that I was only 7 years old at the time of his death it does seem a stretch that I should be able to say with certitude anything about my early experiences on the PE. All I can offer is that apparently I was very impressed with my brief experiences since they have remained throughout my next 63 years as if they happened just yesterday. I count myself very fortunate in this regard. I remember vividly riding the PE bus from Temple City with my brother Bill and Dad as we went to his office. After an hour or so in the office Dad would ‘assign’ his boys to a friendly crew and off we would go to Burbank or Hollywood sitting right up front with the motorman. After we arrived back at the Subway Dad would take us to lunch at Clifton’s Cafeteria. What a treat!. We would do another trip and then meet up with Dad to ride back home.
Back to the painting(s). I believe that there were two. Apparently by 1951, PE management had decided that reminders of the grand days of seeking tourist nickels and dollars by hauling them to the far flung reaches of its empire were truly over and paintings such as this one were ‘dated’ or didn’t promote the image that corporate PE wanted. Somebody in upper management made a decision to remove this one and its twin from the walls they had occupied for oh so many years. I say ‘twin’ but truth is I don’t really know what the subject of the other painting was. All I do know is that legend has it that the other oil ended up in the ownership of Jack Farrier. My dad helped Jack ‘get on’ with PE since Jack’s dad was a PE man and the family lived on El Monte Ave., a mile or so from our house. (Jack’s pictures have been used in various Interurban Specials and his face shows up in several images on this website).
Dad found out about the painting you see here, got out the utility trailer and hauled it to its new home in Temple City. Before mounting it on a wall of the garage, he thankfully paused to take this picture. As you may tell, it was taken in the late afternoon sun but, also thankfully, he used Kodachrome in his Bolsey 35mm camera and what you see here is the painting offering its ‘best side’ for history. The artist was ‘M. Rossart’. A brief web search shows a Michael Rossart was actively painting in the Los Angeles area in the 1920s and 1930s and he apparently specialized in broad landscapes. I will leave others to identify the geographical points of interest but foremost is the incline from Rubio Canyon.
I am saddened to say that all did not go well for the painting during the next 38 years. The dry heat of the California summers in the garage took a heavy toll. Over time, the canvas began to pull away from the frame and the oil paint began to crack. First my brother and then I married and moved away leaving only Mom to care for it and I’m afraid she didn’t see the historical value of it. Truth be told, neither did I at the time. I really do, now. By the time of her passing in 1989 the damage was too severe to economically repair and I made the decision to pull what little remained of the canvas from the frame and disposed of it. Someone did come by the estate sale and took the frame.
So now I can rest knowing that others with like interests can see for the first time since 1951 what thousands of commuters passed by in their daily life at the Subway Terminal Building. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have had in recounting a little of its part in Pacific Electric history.
William Wherry Photo, Charles Wherry Collection
This was an awesome story. Thanks for sharing!
Just amazing! The earliest PE painting I can cite is by David F. Schwartz. Acting as Supervising Artist for the Deluxe Edition of Southern California, he painted the cover art with a view of a PE car running by eastbound in the San Gabriel valley with orange groves, palm tree and what may be Pasadena. It is lettered Compliments of Pacific Electric Grill and dates before the Great Merger (likely pre-1907). The original painting is probably gone, so all I have is the color print version.
This is another great significance to this image….from the 1890’s through the 1930’s Southern California was a mountain playground paradise in which Pacific Electric played no small role. Some of this began in those canyons of the San Gabriels with access provided by electric rail, as well as from Mt. Lowe and the Alpine Tavern. Others made their way beyond to the San Bernardino jump-off points. Much of this is now being well documented on-line from sites with historical orientations that are not necessarily as rail-focused. This image could almost serve as a frontispiece for all those columns.