Michael Patris has always had an interest in history. Whether collecting antiques, collecting and working on antique cars, or restoring a 1923 California bungalow in Alhambra, pieces of the past always seemed too important to brush aside. After several years working in the news and film industries, Michael speaks publicly about Southern California transportation, collecting antiques, and Mount Lowe.
Michael is the President and founder of the Mount Lowe Preservation Society, Inc., President of the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society, and past Sheriff of the Los Angeles Corral of Westerners (2010). Michael is also President and owner of Golden West Books, a publishing company focusing on the history of trains, trolleys, railroads, and locomotive material.
One of Michael’s most well-known projects is a Mount Lowe trilogy, beginning with Mount Lowe Railway, part of the History of Rail series for Arcadia Publishing. This came out in June 2007 and is already in its ninth printing. The Barnes and Noble book signing was sold out in an hour and a half, a record for their chain.
In October 2010, another book for Arcadia Publishing Mount Lowe, part of their Postcard Series, came out. More recently, two more books for Arcadia Publishing have just come out, both co-authored by Michael Patris and Steve Crise, Pacific Electric Railway, Then and Now(December 2011) and Mount Lowe, Then and Now. (February 2012) Michael’s current projects include (sometime soon) another collaboration with Steve Crise on the Los Angeles Railway, Then and Now, and perhaps a book on Los Angeles Union Station featuring photos and collectibles rarely seen from this local landmark.
After wanting to share his passion for the Mount Lowe Incline Railway and Thaddeus Lowe, the man who was the leading force behind its creation, it was a natural progression to set up the non-profit Mount Lowe Preservation Society educational foundation back in 2000, which fueled the renovation of a 14,000 square foot building in Pasadena to house our collections and archives permanently. This has led to the archives of the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society being donated to the Mount Lowe Preservation Society as well as the gift of the publishing company Golden West Books, donated by the late founder, Donald Duke.
Preserving the past for future generations is his way of giving something back to the community that seemed lost in history books and old photos. His drive and passion for collecting and displaying pieces related to local transportation history have been acknowledged by the Pasadena Museum of History, where he has guest curated numerous displays for them and loaned several items to the Huntington Library for the 300th Anniversary of the birth of Father Serra.
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“I asked my great-grandmother hundreds of questions. When she moved to California, they didn’t have a toilet in the house. It was pre-plumbing, pre-telephone, and pre-electricity, and having her tell me what things were like, was amazing. It was like a movie.”
“The huge blessing to me was being able to ask all those questions, and by being an only child, I wasn’t so anxious to go out to play when I could ask, “What was it like eating a jack rabbit? What was the war like?”
“I also always want to try and master any skill that I have. If you’re not learning, you’re dying.”
I’m a third-generation native of Southern California.
I grew up at the beach, fishing, surfing, and sailing.
I moved to the SGV in 1985, and I started hiking up Echo Mountain, and one of my hiking buddies is a former LAPD Motor Officer.
When we went on our first hike, he told me about the hotels and a zoo that used to be up here, and as a third-generation Californian, I couldn’t believe I didn’t know about any of this, and I went to my grandmother, and I asked her about this.
She told me how they went there in 1933, and I asked if she had taken any pictures. She looked at me like I had two heads. “We weren’t rich,” she said. “That’s why we split a sandwich and coke between four people on that trip.”
I then realized that when the Mount Lowe Railway was built in 1893, this was for the wealthy, not the average individual.
This really showed me how we have all these things in Southern California, but it’s only available for some.
There were very few buildings. The first building was the Rubio Pavilion, a hotel built 60 feet above a stream bed.
Then they built the Chalet, a smaller hotel that housed the workers, and then they made the more grand Echo Mountain House.
After that, they built the Winding Station, which had a little gift store.
There was also a casino that was a dance hall and gathering place (not a place to gamble.)
It became its own little city. They started calling it The White City on the Mount because all the buildings were painted white, and you could see it during the summertime.
Interestingly, from 1893 to 1936, this place had over 3 million passengers visit the White City.
Being an only child and being around many older people gave me an excellent opportunity to ask questions.
I asked my great-grandmother hundreds of questions. When she moved to California, they didn’t have a toilet in the house. It was pre-plumbing, pre-telephone, and pre-electricity, and having her tell me what things were like, was amazing. It was like a movie.
The huge blessing to me was being able to ask all those questions, and by being an only child, I wasn’t so anxious to go out to play when I could ask, “What was it like eating a jackrabbit? What was the war like?”
That’s how I started soaking up all the knowledge I could. I’m an avid reader, and I am always looking for new experiences.
That’s a really good question. I own a publishing company, Golden West Books, and we publish books on trains and railroads exclusively.
I started a non-profit in 2000 called the Mount Lowe Preservation Society. We preserve the history of the Mount Lowe Railway. We also began collecting things from the Pacific Electric Railway; then it was the Southern Pacific Railway.
Now we are an archive and museum of Southern California’s transportation evolution.
We have over 800,000 images, over 20,000 three-dimensional artifacts, and 8,000 plus research book library.
Thaddeus Lowe was awarded a medal from the Franklin Institute for his work on heating and illuminating gas. This brought him to the Chicago World Fair, where General Electric had a 15-foot tall, 3 million candlepower light, the largest searchlight ever built.
The light then went to San Francisco on the Bonet Tower, and after that, Thaddeus asked if he could have it so he could mount it at the top of Echo Mountain and shine it into the valley so people would be interested in coming up there.
Oh boy, that’s like asking who your favorite child is.
It varies. I love everything. I’m really fascinated with Egyptology. I loved the Victorian Era and the beginning of automobiles. It’s all fascinating to me.
I brought what is called a Sam Hyde Harris mockett. This is a study of what would eventually become a larger piece of art. It is of a mural that was painted on a five-story building near 4th and Broadway in downtown LA.
Sam Hyde Harris did many railroad murals, and I found this in Maine thirty years ago.
Formerly Mount Lowe was called Oak Mountain. Andy McNally initially suggested naming it Mount Lowe because of all he had done for the community.
Question 1: Which Skill Would You Like To Master?
Question 2: Would You Rather Stay Up All Night To Finish A Project, Or Wake Up Early To Complete It?
I am one to stay up all night to finish a project. I would sleep for thirty to sixty minutes while editing my manuscripts.
I also always want to try and master any skill that I have. If you’re not learning, you’re dying. I speak Spanish fluently, but there are a lot of words that I need to learn.
Sure. We have a 14,000-square-foot building in East Pasadena. We are working on making this a functional museum.
We have our publishing company there and our collections. We hope to be open by late 2024 with space for conferences and fundraising dinners.
Because it’s not about me, I don’t think I’ve done anything so significant that it deserves my name to be on a building.
I’m passionate about this, and I genuinely enjoy it.
It’s hard to compare because we’re different and smaller.
We don’t have a live train to ride, and we can’t compete with the Huntington Library and its generous fund.
Opening this museum to the community to learn and enjoy a shared experience of public transportation is important, and it will be something that can benefit the community.
The best way to reach us is through our website, www.mountlowe.org. We have a donation button on the website, and it shows a lot of the artifacts, and we’ll be adding updates about the museum.
Office Number: (626) 458-8148