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Michael Patris

Episode 029

Collecting the Lowe

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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Michael Patris Quotes

  • “It’s not for the faint of heart; I mean, it’s not a killer, but you know. You don’t do it when you’re five or when you’re over 80 if you’re not in good shape.”
  • “I’ve always been a collector. I’ve always loved old things, whether they were fossilized from the whatever period, Mesozoic or whatever, and once I went on this hike in 1989, I couldn’t believe that I had lived here and not heard anything of it.”
  • “It’s something I feel really compelled to do for this community in which I live and work. And also to provide through the biography of which I’ve been working on, to let people know about who this man was.”
  • Michael is a third-generation Sol Cal Native.
  • Michael has been hiking in these hills since 1985
  • Michael found his love for Mount Lowe in 1989 on a hike with his wife
  • Michael has several hats, including President and founder of the Mount Lowe Preservation Society and local historian.
  • Michael’s foundation has opened a museum that is 14,000 sq feet, holding thousands of artifacts and pictures pertaining to the SGV.
  • Michael’s knowledge of the area and Thadious Lowe is almost unmatched, as he demonstrates in this episode.
  • Scott and Russell talk to avid hikers and the owner of several non-profits. Michael is a local historian who wants to bring awareness to the magic of nearby Mt. Lowe and the mysteries behind the man it was named for.

What is your connection to the San Gabriel Valley?

Michael is a third-generation native of the area. He went to school in the area and lived near the coast. In 1985, he moved into the SGV itself.

This was when Michael started to explore the beautiful region of the close mountains and trails through them.

Michael has always been a fan of outside, outdoor activities, and hiking. In 1989 Micheal took his then-girlfriend, now wife, on a hike led by an LAPD officer.

They went up to the local Cob Estate, up the San Merial trail, and 3 miles up Echo Mountain. Michael was told, to his disbelief, that there was an old railroad up on the mountain, along with many other things.

Michael’s grandmother, who had had her own experiences up on the mountains, also confirmed the railway.

Michael was flabbergasted to learn that on top the hills he grew up next to had so much on them at one point. They had an observatory, a zoo, a giant resort, four hotels, a dance hall, and the world’s largest searchlight, and they served 3 million passengers a year.

How did the signs come to be?

In the mountains now, there are signs that explain the history of the land. In 1993, the 100-year anniversary of the opening of the railway was done in the forest sieve and several other groups that work to maintain the nature of the surrounding mountains.

In 2000, Michael formed his first non-profit that aided nature and also aided the community at large.

What is your title?

Michael wears several hats.

Some of his positions are President and founder of the Mount Lowe Preservation Society, Inc., President of the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society, and President and owner of Golden West Books; he speaks publicly about Southern California transportation, collecting antiques, and Mount Lowe.

And Michael is also a historical writer in the area.

So you’re the expert; what is the history?

Michael tells us about Thadious Lowe, his connection to the Mountain, and why his name is attached to it.

An implant to the area after the Civil War, he was an inventor with over 200 patents. He invested thousands into the mountain and the whole southern California area.

Michael wanted to provide value to the SGV, so when they started the foundation, they wanted to display artifacts, and people have come to embrace it.

They have a space in Lamanda Park that is a third of an acre, 14,000 SQ feet, over 800 thousand images, over 20 thousand 3D artifacts, and one shining star of Musume, Thadious Lowe’s 1920 Cadillac.

Picture of Michael Patris

Michael Patris

San Gabriel mountains and the mountain railway he is passionate about.

Lee’s Hoagie House on Colorado Blvd.