PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
San Gabriel Valley Tribune (West Covina, CA)
Title: Train memorabilia needs station - Mount Lowe collection homeless
Date: March 26, 2003
SAN GABRIEL -- Most people know Michael Patris as "the Mount Lowe guy.'
This is for good reason, because he knows just about everything there is to know about Thaddeus Lowe and the historic 1893 Mount Lowe Railway that bore his name.
He knows, for instance, that Lowe once owned Star Publishing, which produced the Star- News in Pasadena. At the time, the newspaper ran a photo of Lowe's mansion on Orange Grove Boulevard in the masthead.
He also knows that Walt Disney approached the Forest Service after World War II to ask if he could rebuild the railway for his theme park, a tidbit Patris calls "Trivia for 50,' in a reference to "Jeopardy.'
Now, after 13 years of collecting historic artifacts linked to the old railway, Patris is searching for place to house all his wares, including his collection of commemorative Mount Lowe spoons and the only known Mount Lowe Railway poster.
He eventually hopes to open a museum in Pasadena or Altadena to display the more than 10,000 historical artifacts in his collection.
"The public is totally unaware of (Lowe),' Patris said. "It's my way of spreading the gospel.'
His obsession with all things Lowe started when he stumbled upon the remnants of the historic railway while hiking in the mountains above Altadena.
So he tracked down the history of the "railway in the clouds.'
The railway was the brainchild of David Macpherson, a young engineer who dreamed of building an electric rail to the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Lowe who amassed a fortune through his inventions in balloon flight, gas manufacturing and artificial refrigeration agreed to bankroll the project.
Together, Macpherson and Lowe built a railway stretching from Altadena Junction off Lake Avenue to Echo Mountain, where tourists could vacation at the "City on the Mount.' The popular tourist destination included a hotel, museum, zoo, electric fountain, giant searchlight and observatory.
From there, the railway meandered across steep terrain to Mount Lowe, in a route known as the Alpine Line.
But the railway never turned much of a profit, eventually forcing Lowe into bankruptcy. The Pacific Electric Railway, which bought the railway in 1902, ran the line until a flood washed it away in 1938.
"He lost everything. He lost his house, he lost his stocks in the gas company,' Patris said. "But he always said 'People will remember me for what I've done, not because of how much money I accumulated.' '
Over the years, Patris collected simply everything linked to Lowe wooden postcards of the Mount Lowe Railway, letters written by Lowe, a lock of Lowe's hair, even a tiny shred of fabric from the balloon Lowe built in a plan to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
Some of the artifacts in his collection he scored through serendipity. The old trunk that once belonged to Lowe's wife Leontine came into his possession after it mysteriously ended up at an estate sale in the San Fernando Valley.
"It reeked. It was horrible. We put cinnamon and cloves in it and left it alone,' Patris said.
Eventually, he befriended descendents of Lowe and founded the Mount Lowe Preservation Society. Last fall, he organized the largest reunion ever of Lowe descendents in Philadelphia, complete with balloon rides.
But until he finds a permanent site for his collection, Patris warehouses most of his collection in storage units and rotates Lowe displays through local historical museums. One of his displays is now at the Arcadia Historical Museum and another display will start at the Pasadena Museum of History on May 31.
"A lot of the stuff I have is purely unique. It really needs to be shared and displayed,' Patris said. "This is not about me. I just happen to be the caretaker.'
-- Lisa Faught can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Author: Lisa Faught Staff Writer
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS
PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS
MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY
AFTER THE RAILWAY
BOOKS ABOUT LOWE
EVENTS AND REUNIONS
ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY
ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS
LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES