Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Name Origins for the Peaks Around Us – Part 3

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Last week I mentioned that I had no info on the naming of Hoyt Mountain. Avid hiker Bob Gregg emailed and reminded me that there are several books on the San Gabriel Mountains. In John Robinson’s, “The San Gabriels” I found the origin of Hoyt.

Silas Hoyt was a true hermit who, in 1883, settled in Big Tujunga Canyon at the mouth of Vasquez Creek, just below the mountain that today bears his name. He built the crudest of cabins out of rocks and logs, rarely came out, and lived there isolated and happily alone until 1925.

Moving west along the range, I already wrote about Josephine Peak and Strawberry Peak. Just in front of those two peaks, and right off the Angeles Crest Highway, is the famous Switzer’s, which has a Crescenta Valley connection – Bob and Liz Waterman.

Bob Waterman, like many others, came to the Crescenta Valley in the 1880s because of his failing health. A mountain expedition was often suggested as curative, so he and his new wife Liz loaded up a pack mule and began a month-long honeymoon hiking up the Arroyo Seco. They ascended Switzer Falls and camped many days in the lush, deep canyon above it, finally returning to their home in La Cañada a month later. From their home base there, the couple continued their backcountry explorations, reaching far back into the San Gabriels where they named a mountain for Liz – “Lady Waterman Mountain.” In popular (and misogynistic) usage, the “Lady” was dropped and Mount Waterman today is known as a popular local skiing destination. They lived the rest of their lives in the little hills above Montrose near where the YMCA is. Those hills were locally nicknamed “Little Mount Waterman” in their honor.

Perry Switzer, a Pasadena carpenter, was a friend of the Watermans and accompanied them on some of their trips. He became fascinated with the idea of opening a resort in the areas the Watermans had camped in on their honeymoon, and offering the droves of eastern tourists then visiting L.A. a wilderness camp experience.     In 1884, with the Watermans’ help, he packed in tents and kitchen equipment, and established Switzer’s Camp just above the falls the Watermans had found. This was the first example of what became a huge tourist draw well into the ’20s – scores of “trail camps” in the canyons of the San Gabriels. Hikers walking up the Arroyo today pass several elaborate foundations of the many resorts that once beckoned L.A. tourists with Switzer’s being the most well known. The many lodge buildings that were once Switzer’s are now gone, either wiped out by floods or by the Forest Service, which in the last few decades have had a nasty habit of demolishing historic structures in the Angeles Forest.

Moving further west, the next peak is Mount Lawlor, named (though slightly misspelled) in 1890 for Oscar Lawler, an L.A. attorney who had a fondness for hiking the San Gabriels. Lawler, as far as I know, was not a relation of mine.

Below Mount Lawlor is Red Box Saddle, so named for a red box placed there in 1908 to hold a stash of firefighting equipment. There’s still a red box there, just off the road, although I doubt there’s anything in it today. Red Box Saddle is where the road to Mount Wilson branches off Angeles Crest Highway. Also at Red Box is Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center, housed in a retired ranger station. Haramokngna in the Tongva language means, “Where the people gather” and the name is appropriate in both a current and historical sense. Historical in that Indian trade trails, ancient transcontinental highways really, from the San Gabriel Valley, the L.A. Basin, and the San Fernando Valley converged here before heading east across the desert. Current in the sense that most weekends find scores of people here for American Indian cultural events and classes, or to enjoy the small museum and bookstore the center offers.

Next week I’ll talk about the peaks around the famous Mount Wilson.