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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mystery History -- Solved!

Liz wins with her 10:07 a.m. Tuesday guess "Building that overland bike path that went through Pasadena?"

In the 1899 photo above, wealthy Pasadena resident Horace Dobbins (in dark suit at right) watches over construction of the elevated wooden bicycle highway that would soon be named after him. At the time Dobbins was a member of the Board of City Directors (known today as the City Council).

In Pasadena and throughout the nation, bicycling had become wildly popular before the turn of the century.

Here are photos of the Pasadena Bicycle Club taking a break during one of their rides in 1887, Arthur P. Smith (front) on a tandem with a friend and Dr. Hiram Reid (an early Pasadena pioneer) and his wife Rachael cycling to church with their grandchildren in 1895.

With about 30,000 bicyclists in the L.A. area, Dobbins had an early vision for a tollway -- 10¢ one way and 15¢ round trip -- that would begin in Pasadena, go past South Pasadena and Highland Park and end in downtown Los Angeles at the Plaza on Olvera Street. He and former California Gov. Henry Markham, a Pasadena resident, incorporated the California Cycleway Company in 1897 and construction began two years later. 

The first mile and a quarter of the Dobbins Bikeway, from near the Hotel Green to Raymond Hill, opened on Jan. 1, 1900.

Dobbins would become chairman (now known as mayor) of the Board of City Directors that same year. Here is his photo from the Hall of Mayors:

Here are a couple of additional photos. Note the toll booth at the lower end of the first photo.

The reason the bikeway was elevated was to provide a flat, fast and scenic route for bicyclists so they could avoid obstacles such as creeks, railroad tracks and roads rutted by wagon wheels. 

Here is a portion of the bikeway in 1900 at Bellevue and Raymond behind the Pasadena Grand Opera House:

Unfortunately the completed bikeway never made its way to downtown Los Angeles. In fact, the only portion that was completed went from the Hotel Green in Pasadena to the Raymond Hotel in South Pasadena.  

A new invention -- the horseless carriage -- caused the demise of the bikeway.

Dobbins used the bikeway as a backdrop as he posed on his new-fangled Oldsmobile -- a photo opp he may have lived to regret!

Pasadena has been a bicycle-friendly city for well over 100 years. You can learn more about current City of Pasadena bicycle programs here

Many thanks to Pasadena Museum of History, Pasadena Public Library, Los Angeles Public Library, Highland Park Blog and U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration.


  1. Thanks, Ann, as always. Some of the photos are familiar but I've never seen the one of Reid and his family.

  2. These photos are such fun. Considering the times, that was a pretty impressive bit of civic engineering.

  3. I bet Horrace Dobbin's descendants are still in the area. I went to high school with a Debbie Dobbins. Dobbins seems an unusual name. Related? most likely.

  4. Yes, nice to see a photo of Hiram Reid, who wrote my favorite book about Pasadena. Doesn't he joke that he fell of his bike a lot? This is a very interesting blog, Ann.