To view some old photos of Ridge Route,
click here. For more information and
additional photographs on the Ridge Route,
Also, visit the site to purchase Harrison's book, Ridge Route.
A quick note:
What is the Ridge Route? The Ridge Route Highway is that section of road
that winds over the San Gabriel and Tehachapi Mountains between Castaic
Junction on the south (where I-5 junctions with Hwy.126 to Ventura) and
extends to the bottom of Grapevine Grade on the north where I-5 enters the
great San Joaquin Valley.
The "Grapevine" is the 6 1/2 mile segment of the Ridge Route that extends
from Fort Tejon to the bottom of Grapevine Grade. Many people erroneously
believe that the "Grapevine" got its name because the original 1915 highway
had a series of "switchbacks" which allowed early vehicles to gain elevation
as they climbed the grade heading from Bakersfield toward Los Angeles. The
serpentine path resembled a giant grapevine. Although this observation was
true, the name actually came from the fact that early Wagoner's had to hack
their way through thick patches of Cimarron grapevines that inhabited "La
Canada de Las Uvas," Canyon of the Grapes. Traveling the grade today, look
for patches of what appears to be ivy on both sides of the canyon near the
truck run-a-way escape ramps. What you see are descendant vines which date
back to the 1800s.
The news media incorrectly refers to the entire Ridge Route as the
There have been three Ridge Route highways. The 1915 highway which is the
focus of this article; the 1933 three-lane Ridge Alternate Highway
identified as Highway 99 (in 1947 converted to a 4-lane expressway); and
today's 8-lane I-5 freeway completed in 1970. The Ridge Alternate was
severed with the construction of Pyramid Dam.
It was 1955.
I was 18 years old and had just started to work for Pacific Telephone. I
needed transportation to go back and forth to work, and my parents helped me
purchase my first car, a brand new 1955 Ford. I didn't need much of an
excuse to get behind the wheel to enjoy my new-found freedom. I stumbled
upon the deserted, twisting Ridge Route winding across the top of the
mountains between Castaic and State Highway 138.
road, located at the extreme northern boundary of Los Angeles County, has
long silently awaited an unknown fate. It was left to the mercy of the
elements in 1933 when the Ridge Alternate replaced it with a more direct
path through Violin Canyon. The traffic on the Old Ridge Route virtually
stopped, and within a short time many of the gas stations and tourist stops
along its path had burned to the ground.
I find my way back to
the historic road
Six years ago, while heading north over the new I-5 Route to visit my
parents in Visalia with my son as passenger, I immediately recalled my 1955
adventure when my son commented that the first road over the mountains must
have been a real challenge for the early cars. Having some spare time, we
left the freeway at Templin Highway and headed east in an attempt to locate
the original road. In a mile or so we found it, and cautiously followed it
north, ignoring the sign which states that it is not a through road!
Although in bad shape, it was passable, and we were able to drive all the
way to Highway 138. Here we came upon a county crew resurfacing the northern
end of the road.
I interrupted their work momentarily to ask if this was still officially
designated a county road. They didn't know, stating that they only
maintained the pavement up to the national forest boundary. With this
limited offering of information, I recall thinking that someone should look
into the possibility of preserving this remaining stretch of the original
Ridge Route. I wondered how you could go about saving a road when there is
no agreement on where it begins or ends. I later found that it is generally
defined as that section of highway which winds over the Tehachapi Mountains
between Castaic on the south and extending north to the bottom of the
The more I looked at the Ridge Route, the more I realized how this single
highway affected the development of California.
I began gleaning information from old newspapers and magazines, going to
universities, libraries, contacting historians and searching through endless
reels of microfilm. As I collected documents and pictures, I became more
excited about the history of the road. Before I realized it, I became a
"someone," who, with others, would help to preserve this remaining,
virtually undisturbed, example of early highway construction.
The time came to find out what the requirements are for submitting a
preservation nomination. I contacted the California State Office of
Historical Preservation, and to my surprise learned that I could not submit
nomination papers. There was a technicality. My project area was for the
major part on U.S. national forest land. In addition, I was told that it is
much more difficult to qualify a road, as opposed to a stationary site.
After so much effort, this setback rendered my hopes a devastating blow. For
the first time I had doubts that I could accomplish my goal.
I contacted the Angeles National Forest headquarters and ultimately
presented my intentions to Michael McIntyre, Forest Archaeology Supervisor.
He told me that the Ridge Route had always been a candidate for historic
recognition; however, no one had pushed to bring it about. Mike referred me
to Doug Milburn, his colleague and fellow archaeologist. Perhaps we could
work jointly toward nominating the Ridge Route for the recognition it
Since I could not singularly submit the paperwork, I jumped at this
opportunity. Doug and I have worked together diligently for five years; I
continuing to collect information and Doug inputting the information onto
the various nomination forms. It was not an easy task, considering his
limited time as the constraints of the recently tightened budget hit the
national forests. I truly thank both Doug and Mike for allowing the project
to move forward.
Beginnings of the state highway system
At this point it is necessary to review early events which to the Ridge
Route's birth. In 1895, the State Bureau of highways was created. Governor
James H. Budd appointed three highway commissioners, R.C. Irvine of
Sacramento, Marsden Manson of San Francisco and L. Maude of Riverside.
These three officials purchased a team of horses and a buckboard wagon and
proceeded, during the next year and a half, to cover the state, logging some
7,000 miles. Upon their return they submitted a report to the governor
recommending a system of state highways which would connect all large
centers of population. Every county seat would be reached. Their
recommendation included the utilization of existing county roads to the
fullest possible extent.
Specifically was suggested a direct route from Los Angeles to the San
Joaquin Valley to replace the roundabout Midway Route.
The California Legislature of 1897 dissolved the Bureau of Highways and
created a Department of Highways. The members of the new department made
exhaustive studies of road construction practices and economics. Members of
the department toured Europe to observe methods used in England, France and
other countries. (Even then, justified extended trips on tax dollars!)
Their findings on such factors as drainage, and roadbed and pavement
construction, were based on fundamental engineering policies. At the outset,
modern highway development in California was on a firm foundation.
In 1907, the Department of Engineering was organized, but due to lack of
funds, no road construction began. A resolution in 1911 designated three men
as an executive committee to the Department of Engineering to be known as
the California Highway Commission. These three gained immediate control over
all state road and highway activities, with the Tehachapi receiving special
priority. Before the Tehachapi barrier succumbed to the Ridge Route, there
was a strong political movement afoot to carve California into two states.
In 1909, the State authorized a bond issue of $18 million for the purpose of
constructing a state highway system. The voters approved the bonds the
following year. Los Angeles purchased the bonds when the Commission was
unable to market the securities in the East.
In 1912, an intensive survey was begun with 18 months taken in laying out
the Ridge Route The preliminary study, made by W. Lewis Clark, Division
Engineer at Los Angeles, dissipated all doubt as to the feasibility of a
direct route over the mountains. To Highway Commissioner N.D. Darlington of
Los Angeles belongs the chief credit for the selection and the construction
of the route.
Since travel to the south first began there had been only two routes
followed. The Tehachapi, (midway route) mentioned earlier which was due east
from Bakersfield to Mojave, then south through Lancaster to access Mint or
Boquet canyons. The other being the "Tejon Pass Route," which used an old
wagon road to climb up the Grapevine grade from the Bakersfield side to
Quail Lake (today Hwy 138), then east roughly following the San Andreas rift
to the head of either San Francisquito (Tumer Pass) or Boquet canyons. The
Tejon Route was considerably shorter than the Tehachapi Route but neither
pass could be called direct, for both curved widely to the east to reach the
heads of the canyons while the objective point was at most due south. It may
be of interest to note that the "Grapevine" refers to the 6.5 mile stretch
of road between Fort Tejon and the bottom of the mountain giving entrance
into the San Joaquin Valley.
Early exploration by Europeans
The first white man through this area was a Spanish officer and acting
governor of Alta California in 1772, Don Pedro Fages. He noticed an
abundance of Cimarron grapes growing wild in the area north of what is now
Gorman. He named the place Canada de Las Uvas, or Grapevine Canyon.
Grapevines were so prevalent the wagoneers and soldiers had to hack their
way through. Wild grapes still grow on the sides of I-5 in the pass.
Another association of the name Grapevine was established during early
highway construction. The engineers had to abandon the original wagon road
up the canyon from the valley floor when Grapevine Creek overflowed during a
torrential cloudburst in 1914. The highway alignment was rebuilt on the east
side of the hill with a series of switchback loops to gain elevation. Thus
the appearance of a grapevine.
The name Tejon originated during an expedition in 1806 from the Santa
Barbara Mission into the San Joaquin Valley led by Lieutenant Francis Ruiz.
His diarist, Father Jose Maria Zalvidea, first recorded the word Tejon to
designate the area. A dead badger (tejon in Spanish) had been found in the
The name Tejon formerly belonged to another pass 15 miles further east.
Lieutenant Robert Stockton Williamson of the Pacific Railroad surveyed the
area in 1853. His party crossed the Tehachapis by "one of the worst roads he
ever saw." Hearing of a better road further west, he scouted it and found it
would be far more practicable for wagons if the bulk of the traffic
henceforth went that way. The name Tejon was transferred west to today's
Fort Tejon was established August 10, 1854 as part of General Edward
Fitzgerald Beale's recommendation to provide protection for the Indians in
the area. During it's active years the fort was a center of social activity.
Beale was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for California and Nevada, and
later in life, Surveyor-General for both states. He was called upon to
survey the stage route through the Tehachapis and for his work was rewarded
with a huge piece of Kern County territory, approximately 300,000 acres
which today comprises the Tejon Ranch. It was the Tejon route via San
Francisquito Canyon that the Butterfield Overland Stage took on its journey
to San Francisco from Tipton, Missouri. At that time, Tipton was the
farthest extension of the railroad west of St. Louis.
The stage fare between Los Angeles and Fort Tejon near the top of the
Grapevine was $12.24. The first mail stage from St. Louis stopped at Fort
Tejon on October 8, 1858 en route to San Francisco. With the outbreak of the
Civil War, the U.S. government abandoned Fort Tejon in 1864.
The challenge of early crossing by automobile
From the southern end of the Ridge Route, the early motorist heading north
from Los Angeles had to deal with the Newhall Pass (also known as Fremont
Fremont gave it prominence when he took this route in 1847 to confront the
Mexican forces in the San Fernando Valley. This is the southern approach to Beales' Cut as well as the divide which separates the Santa Susana Mountains
on the West from the San Gabriel Mountains on the east. The early motorist
would venture up the grade to the top of the pass which was described in a
club tour book as a 30 percent grade!
It was here at the top of the pass that General Beale, federal
Surveyor-General of California and Nevada, and a capable engineer in 1862
dispatched a crew of Chinese laborers to deepen an earlier 1858 cut
established for the Butterfield stage."' Beale's laborers cut a 12-foot wide
passage through 60 feet of sandstone to reduce the climb by 50 feet.
This cut was also referred to as "The Narrows." In 1904, to further lessen
the grade, men with picks and shovels once more laboriously deepened the cut
and the roadbed was graded and oiled. The first automobile went over the
pass in 1902 Beale's Cut was the only way over the pass until the Los
Angeles County Road Department constructed the 435-foot Newhall tunnel just
west of Beale's Cut, opening in October 1910.
The road through the tunnel was only two lanes, and loaded trucks often
scraped the sloping walls inside unless directly in the center of the
tunnel. This obviously created a traffic hazard. The tunnel was dark as well
as low and narrow, 17.5 feet wide and 17 feet high at the center. For this
reason the state awarded a contract in May, 1938 to "daylight" the tunnel.
Breaking ground on a new pass road
A choice of four already existing routes was offered the Commission, and
each was successively rejected. Soledad Canyon, the route of the Southern
Pacific, was subject to frequent washouts. San Francisquito Canyon, the most
westerly pass, was too steep and narrow. Boquet Canyon offered too many
drainage problems. Mint Canyon was judged too long and costly.
In their stead, the route chosen was practically a direct line between
Newhall and Bakersfield. This proposed route went straight up to the top of
the mountains where it would go mile after mile. Before 1914, there was not
even a vestige of a trail near the proposed highway.
Construction work on the Ridge Route started in 1914, with the 40 miles of
heavy construction between Castaic School and the Los Angeles-Kern counties
boundary divided into three contracts. Section B of Route 4 carried the
highway from Castaic School a distance of 12.8 miles to a point halfway up
the summit. This section was let to Mahoney Brothers, railroad contractors
of San Francisco.
Section C carried the road from the point left off by Mahoney for 14.5 miles
farther, to the summit of Liebre Mountain. Section D was composed of the
remaining 12.7 miles to the southerly border of Kern County. Sections C and
D were assigned to Lee Moor Contracting Company, railroad and grading
contractors of El Paso, Texas.
It is noteworthy to mention that many early maps and documents refer to
distance from or to the Castaic School. The late Jerry Reynolds, historian
of the area, informed me prior to his passing that Castaic School was
located on the southeast corner of the Lake Hughes Road and the Ridge Route,
approximately where a fire station is currently located.
Supplies were hauled in by mule team from railroad sidings in Newhall and
Lancaster. Mule team scrapers called Fresno scrapers, were the primitive
devices pulled by teams and manipulated by teamsters on foot. They gnawed
their way through the mountains. In those days, the contractor who bid low
on a highway job had to begin by purchasing a lot of horseflesh.
Construction was started in the middle and pushed toward both ends. Grades
were not to exceed six percent; however, several seven percent grades
existed. One million cubic yards of earth were removed to complete the Ridge
Route, with steam shovels brought in for larger cuts.
One such evacuation was "Swede's Cut," also known as the "Big Cut" or "Culebra
Excavation." My extensive research shows them all, beyond a doubt, to be the
same. Prior publications have suggested them to be separate sites, but this
is not the case. The State referred to the cut as Culebra (Spanish for
snake), probably because of the "snaking" of the highway across the top of
the mountains. This cut was dug to a depth of 110 feet, the largest on the
Although a Tehachapi-Mojave alignment, the Midway Route, would have been
less expensive to build, it would have been much longer. The Ridge Route
shortened the distance between Bakersfield and Los Angeles 58 miles, as
compared with the old path over the Tehachapi. The new road was 24 miles
shorter than by the way of Boquet Canyon. At a cost of $450,000, the unpaved
road was opened to the public in October, 1915. The opening of the Ridge
Route did not mean the elimination of the Boquet and Mint Canyon roads on
the run to Bakersfield. Los Angeles County continued to maintain these
The Ridge Route reached its highest elevation of 4,233 feet on the Los
Angeles side just south of Sandberg's Summit Hotel.
The reason the roadbed followed the ridge contours was to save grading costs
at a time when highway expenditures were tightly budgeted. Due to the
elevation and circuitous nature of the new highway, the speed limit was set
at 15 miles per hour. The speed limit for heavier trucks with solid rubber
tires was 12 miles per hour.
There was no joke about the speed limit edict issued from the Sheriff's
office. It was set at 15 miles an hour and vigorously enforced. It took
about 12 hours driving time under normal conditions to make the Los Angeles
to Bakersfield trip.
Before the road was thrown open, the Automobile Club of Southern California
was given only 24 hours notice to post warning signs along the new highway.
The work for which two weeks had been allotted was accomplished between the
glowing and dimming of the morning sun. From the instant a motorist set his
wheels onto the Ridge Route he found himself in a forest of warning signs.
It was the most gigantic feat of road sign posting ever achieved anywhere.
In only 36 miles there were 697 curves. Adding up all the turns it worked
out that the motorist drove around 97 complete circles between Castaic and
Gorman. Considering the entire route of 48.31 miles, there are 39,441
degrees of curve, roughly equating to 110 complete circles.
Unfortunately, the constant merry-go-round caused many motorists to lose the
contents of their stomachs. The old Ridge Route was one of the most
nerve-racking, perilous roads ever built. Thirty-two persons were killed on
it between 1921 and 1928.
Charlie Dodge of Bakersfield told me that trucks hauled heavy loads of pipe
from Los Angeles to the oil fields in Bakersfield. One of the more
dependable trucks was the four cylinder chain-driven Mack "Bull Dog." It had
a stub nose and a large radiator which minimized boil-over. Unfortunately,
the radiator was in close proximity to the cab, and the heat produced on the
steep climb would encourage drivers to navigate their trucks from the
Motoring behind the slow pace of a fully loaded truck would test the
patience of drivers. Some would attempt to pass, and the canyons below the
road lay testament to their fate. For the truck drivers going down hill, it
was vitally important to shift into the proper gear to control the descent,
as the mechanical rear-wheel brakes would not stop a fully loaded truck.
The most notorious curve on the road was Deadman's Curve, located .5 mile
north of Fort Tejon. The hillside below Deadman's Curve became known as the
"junkyard" because it was so littered with the broken remains of cars that
lost control on the downgrade curve.
My 99-year old foster mother recalls traversing the Ridge Route in 1918 with
her brother and sister on a trip to Yellowstone. They were in an Overland
touring car with removable side curtains. Her brother was driving and her
older sister sitting in the front passenger seat would lean out, attempting
to peer around the blind curves for oncoming traffic.
The road surface was rock and shale when it first opened, providing an
excellent foundation for the temporary surface of oil and gravel. Road
experts claimed the Ridge Route to be one of the most scientifically
constructed mountain roads in the World. A comment of 1916 reads, "The
Ridge Route has already become a great and powerful influence in promoting
the unity and integrity of hither to fore divided sections of the state, and
in discouraging state division agitation."
Two years after the road opened, the Highway Commission solicited bids to
have the Ridge Route paved. It had been necessary to allow the great fills
to settle thoroughly. There were various bids received but on December 31,
1917 the Commission had received only one bid in response to its
advertisement for paving all three sections. Fred Hoffman of Long Beach
offered to do the job for $575,130.
The engineers felt that the bid was too high. They calculated the paving job
should cost no more than $378,879. They did not enter into a contract,
especially as it was doubtful that the contract could be completed under war
The Commission decided to go ahead with the paving itself in 1919 using day
laborers. They completed the job at a cost of $700,000, and claimed a
savings of $100,000 had it been done by contract even though they had not
asked for, or received, any bids since the Hoffman bid of December 1917.
Judging from numbers alone, it would appear that Hoffman's bid was obviously
below the Commissioner's cost, but then again, the Commission had delayed
the paving for yet another year.
Work started on the south end of the route near Castaic Wash. While work was
being done on the first eight miles, a detour was in place. Once paving
started on the Ridge itself, it was necessary to close the route in
The road was paved with 4.5 inches of concrete with reinforced twisted iron
bars laid transversely 18 inches apart, and bound on either side with rods
laid lengthwise. Substantial concrete curbs were constructed at all
dangerous points, six inches wide and ten high to protect reckless drivers
and also to assist with drainage problems. The high curbs were installed in
locations where it was impossible to anchor wooden rails. The high curbing
acted as a deflector to the narrow tired vehicles should they get too close
to the edge of the cliff.
The paving completed, the road reopened November 15, 1919. The entire job
was finished except for a ten mile stretch between Lebec and Rose Station on
the Kern County side. This section was oiled. A lack of funds prevented this
section from being paved until a July bond issue was passed. The following
spring would see this section completed. During the paving of this strip, a
detour of one and one-sixth miles was necessary in the vicinity of the
famous Grapevine Circle. The detour was a 20 percent climb and the road was
adobe, a dangerous soil when wet. Three accidents happened on the detour in
the first week, and motorists were warned by guards at both ends not to
attempt the steep detour unless using low gear and having good brakes. Early
cars without vacuum-feed fuel systems would be advised not to attempt going
up the detour as the engine would ultimately be in a higher position than
the gas tank. After the Grapevine was paved and the detour eliminated,
motorists still faced a healthy seven percent grade. Many truck drivers
would wait until evening before tackling the climb to reduce the possibility
Residents, and service stops, along the Ridge Route
In the early years of the road, various establishments quickly appeared
along the highway. The information on these sites is extremely limited.
Pictures are even more scarce.
Originally, Doug Milburn and I had planned to nominate for the National
Register that portion of the Ridge Route originating at Castaic and ending
at Highway 138 to the north. Unfortunately, various land owners adjacent to
the road objected, fearing historical status would impact their properties.
A public meeting was held and petitions submitted objecting to our effort. I
tried to reassure those present that we were only nominating the highway,
which in no way would affect their property. This did not resolve their
At this point, to expedite the process, we truncated our nomination to
include only that portion of the road which is entirely on National Forest
property. I believe it is necessary to point out to the reader that many
property owners remaining along the remote segments of the road are
reclusive in nature, viewing outsiders with apprehension. An exception was
the generous cooperation extended by Sam and Gloria Azhderian, prominent
members of the Castaic community. Their help was instrumental in collecting
information on the Castaic end of the road.
Let's step back in time and motor north from the Castaic School house on the
old road. We will climb 2.4 miles. On the right side of the road we would
have seen "Queen Nell's Castle," Cornelia Martinez Calahan's home. She and
her late husband homesteaded here in 1909. In 1914, she deeded some of her
property to the State for the new road.'" She had a small green wooden shack
and sold gasoline and cold "pop" to motorists. The highway originally veered
west at this point and was destroyed with the construction of the southbound
lanes of the I-5 freeway.
Approximately one mile north we reestablish the original alignment.
Today Nell's homestead is marked by a few remaining pepper trees and two
tall side-by-side wooden power poles. Her shack was actually located in the
middle of our realigned road at this location. Some locals referred to her
as the "witch of the Ridge Route," possibly due to the shack she lived in
but more likely because she was a self determined soul. One newspaper
account describes Nell having "lowered her shotgun" to greet General
Petroleum workmen when they pushed their pipeline through the area.
Another account of January, 1925 reads, "Mrs. Callahan who resides on a
ranch west of the Ridge Route was arrested by the local police Wednesday.
She is charged with assault and battery on Mrs. C. Pierce, mother of Mrs.
Pierre Davies of Castaic. The accused furnished bonds and her trial is set
for January 16.
Tourists well served by convenience stops
The next establishment, 5.3 miles from the Castaic school house was the
Ridge Road House. It was mentioned in a 1926 touring guide thusly: "Reputed
very fair, lunch." Sam and Gloria Azhderian own the property today; in fact,
they recently completed their new home directly above the old site. Sam told
me that the garage and restaurant were on the west side of the highway and
the foundations are still visible. Ridge Road House sold Richfield gasoline
and advertised with a high pole and a sign sporting a race car perched on
top of it. Across the road on the east side was a grouping of green and
white sleeping cabins among a grove of pepper trees. The foundations were
removed by Azhderian when he purchased the property.
The station was owned by Porter Markel and his sister Ruth. Prior to the
Markel's tenure, "Ridge Road Garage now owned and operated by Jimeson &
Wiesman," according to a newspaper clipping of September, 1920.
They did not have indoor plumbing. A large water tank remains located on a
small hill behind the Azhderian's new home.
Azhderian remembers traveling the road when he was a small child. His
parents had a farm in Fresno and would take their Dodge Brothers truck down
to Los Angeles quite often. Some of the other trucks on the highway were the
old Mack trucks, the Sterlings, the Fageol and the Reos. He recalls the
chain-driven rigs giving a sharp snap when they pulled out, and the constant
string of lights along the road at night.
During the Depression, according to Azhderian, the Lebec Hotel would allow
motorists to camp on the lawn in front of the hotel if they could not afford
to pay for a room. The road tested the endurance of the early vehicles, with
many breakdowns and people begging for help and extra water along the route.
One mile north of the Ridge Road Garage on the left (west) side was
Martin's, a small gas station operated by Mildred and Martin Deceta. Ed
Adkins' sister Mildred married Martin Deceta, and Martin's sister Ignacia
Deceta married Ed Adkins. May Jean Deceta, Mildred's daughter, married James
E. Graves of Castaic. Until recently, Mildred lived alone, occupying the
original building which at one time was a two-story unpainted structure.
Martin's was sometimes pronounced "Marteen's" because he was a Frenchman.
The 1926 touring guide simply states: "Garage, gas and water." When the
Ridge Road alternate opened, the Decetas went back to ranching.
The View Service Station was the next establishment. It was on the right, or
east, side of the road and did indeed command a sweeping view of the San
Gabriel Mountains. Early maps seem to place the gas station near the
intersection of Warm Springs Road and the Ridge Route. The dirt surfaced
Warm Springs Road is north of Templin highway, just before you reach the
forest boundary gate, and today it leads westerly to a small grouping of
homes down the canyon. At one time, Warm Springs Road continued east down
into the canyon to access various campgrounds. That section no longer
exists, being under water since the construction of Castaic Dam.
In conversation with James E. Graves, mentioned earlier in association with
the Martin site, I learned that the true location of the View Service
Station is a bit farther north than this intersection. A small clump of
bamboo today marks the location at odometer mark 10.2 miles. Although
indicated on a couple of early maps, virtually no information is available
regarding this site.
It is under this section of the old Ridge Route that the outlet from Pyramid
Lake connects to the Castaic power plant through the 7.2 mile, thirty-foot
diameter, Angeles Tunnel.
At 12.4 miles we reach the National Forest Inn which was situated on
government-owned land. All that remains today are cement steps on the west
side of the road. It was described in a 1932 highway beautification pamphlet
with this unkind caption: "The sort of filling station that gets into a
national forest and is no addition thereto."
Unlike Sandberg's, which was constructed of logs, the National Forest Inn
sported neatly trimmed white clapboard buildings. It was built by a
gentleman named Courtemanche. A news clipping of 1925 indicates a Joe Palmer
as proprietor of the National Forest Inn garage. The 1926 touring guide
indicated that there were nine rooms in cottages, most with running water,
from $1 to $2, lunch 75 cents; garage; camp 50 cents. A 1926 topography map
spots a ranger station at this location. All of the accommodations were on
the west side of the road. However, there was a large metal building on the
east side which housed the highway repair facility and the ranger station.
Above this structure on a hill is a small cement-lined reservoir believed to
have been built for fire control. Also, west of the of the reservoir are the
foundation remains of an old airplane beacon. The beacon site is also shown
on a 1928 topography map of the area.
The National Forest Inn was destroyed by a fire which originated in the
garage on October 20, 1932. Mr. Martin owned the resort at the time, and was
reported to have lost considerable cash in the blaze.
Immediately north of the National Forest Inn site, if we look to the west,
we can see the Ridge Route Alternate and the new I-5 highways. Serpentine
Drive is located north of National Forest Inn. Many post cards "imaged"
Serpentine climb which at the top entered the largest cut on the road,
Swede's Cut. This cut is also referred to as the "Big Cut," and "Culebra
Excavation," all referring to the same location. Steam shovels provided the
muscle for this lengthy dig.
Farther on at 17.6 miles we find Reservoir Summit. The 1926 touring guide
lists garage, lunch, rest rooms and a camp. The same guide of 1928 omits the
auto camp. The restaurant, gas station and garage were all located on the
east side of the road, The garage was very small, housing a tow truck, and
located just south of the restaurant which literally hung over the side of
the cliff. It was green with a screened porch. It had a lunch counter with
three or four tables. It was a high class, popular restaurant with men
waiters in solid white uniforms. Truckers were welcome.
On the west side of the road was a wider area with a water trough and
parking space. On the west side of the road on top of a small hill was the
auto camp. On the same hill west of the camp is a large cement-lined water
reservoir, originally with a wooden top. It is larger in capacity than the
one at the National Forest Inn.
Although not confirmed, my research strongly suggests that the forest
service constructed these reservoirs for fire control. I once speculated
that the reservoirs were built to provide water for the paving operation of
the road. However, documentation indicates all water was hauled to mix the
An early undated map spots a forest station here, which would coincide with
the similar arrangement at National Forest Inn, both having reservoirs and
forest stations. A 1932 newspaper clipping states, "New fire truck for Ridge
Route. The new truck will be stationed at Reservoir Summit." The reservoir
at this location was fed from a natural spring on Liebre Mountain just above
Sandberg's. A water pipe trailing along the road supplied water to other
sites as well. My research indicates the spring is still active today,
supplying water to the former Los Angeles County fire station at the Pine
Canyon-Ridge Route intersection.
Kelly's or "Half-Way
Our journey at 19.7 miles places us as "Kelly's," which is how it is
indicated on early maps. Others mark it "Half Way Inn." There was a Kelly
Ranch in the canyon to the south, but I have been unable to verify if
Kelly's Ranch had any connection with Half Way Inn. A newspaper clipping of
May, 1925 states, "Joe Palmer who maintained the National Forest Inn garage
has purchased the Kelly's place formerly operated by C.O. Cummings."
A topography map of 1926 reflects the site as Kelly's. Maps of 1931 and 1933
have it as Half Way Inn. The 1926 touring guide states, "Half Way Inn;
rooms, cabins, lunch, small garage." They sold Richfield gasoline. A 1932
newspaper account references a "Mr. & Mrs. Avis of the Half Way Inn." The
Highway Department had a repair yard and sand tower dispenser here used to
sand the road when it got icy. Located on the right hand side of the road
leading north, the yard was located on a small knoll. It is difficult to
find today, marked soley by power lines crossing above the road and one
remaining tree on the knoll.
Continuing our drive toward the summit, we reach Tumble Inn at 22.1 miles.
This site is on the left side of the road; it is listed on topography maps
of 1926, 1931, 1933 and 1937.The touring guide of 1928 states: "rooms, dbl.
$2, meals, gas, free camp space, water and rest rooms. It is described as a
small resort with a far reaching vista. The buildings were constructed of
round stones, with the garage and lunch room structures level with the grade
of the highway. Steps to a higher terrain located the rest rooms and lodge
accommodations. The garage sold Richfield gasoline. At some point in time,
the name was changed to "Mountain View Lodge." During road construction,
this site was one of the larger construction camps for workers. Today all
that remains is a stone retaining wall and the steps that once led to the
Pushing on, at 23.3 miles we reach the Liebre State Highway Camp. Here were
various wooden barracks on both sides of the road in addition to two long
metal buildings on the west side of the highway. The metal structures were
similar to the one located at the National Forest Inn. From this facility,
crews maintained the highway.
Venturing to 24.1 miles we see "Granite Gate," today marked by the large
rock situated to the west. At one time prior to shaving the cliff to the
east, the road veered closer to the monolith giving the appearance of a
passage or "gate."
Our trip marks 24.6 miles locating "Horseshoe Curve". A close look at the
remaining pavement reveals that at one time the road cut deeper into the cup
of a horseshoe.
Sandberg's Summit Hotel, later called Sandberg's Lodge, at 26.0 miles, is
located just north of Liebre Summit (4233 feet). The hotel stood at 4,170
feet. A three story log hostelry set amid a grove of California live oaks,
Sandberg's was the high class place. There is where one would see the
Cadillacs, Packards and Studebakers parked. They had a sign, "Truck Drivers
and Dogs Not Allowed." An early touring guide reflects: "Sandberg's Summit
Hotel, 25 good rooms in hotel and cottages; most with running water and
toilet; sgl, $1.50-$2.50; dbl $2-$4; lunch 85 cents, dinner $1.00."
It was a small tourist community, post office, telephone and all-night
restaurant. It had a garage which gave al most complete service. "Labor $2,
after 6 p.m. $3; never closed." It was built by Harold Sandberg in 1914.
Various sources have purported him as being Swedish, Swiss-German and
Norwegian. Some articles indicate his name as Hermann, others Harold. I
checked the 1920 Los Angeles County U.S. Census records and found a Harold
Sandberg, native of Norway. There was no Hermann listed. I can add in
reference to the name that Dave Cole provided me a copy of an original
personalized Christmas card that the Sandberg family mailed; it is signed
Harold Sandberg. (Dave is editor of "The Way of the Zepher," a magazine of
the Lincoln Zepher owners' club. Dave also has an extensive collection of
early maps without which I would have been unable to identify accommodations
available at various sites.)
The Sandberg Ranch was a short distance east on Pine Canyon Road, and from
here they supplied their hotel with fresh vegetables, poultry and eggs.
Some articles have reported that Sandberg had gambling and prostitution.
This is entirely false. A man by the name of Fox acquired the hotel after
the Ridge Alternate opened and destroyed the "carriage trade" on the old
road. It was Fox that instituted gambling and prostitution in the aging
Lillian Grojean purchased the property from Fox and established a pottery
factory in the garage north of the lodge. It was during Lillian's ownership
that some accounts make the claim that messages were being transmitted to
the Germans during the Second World War but these accounts appear to be
nothing more than legend to embellish Sandberg's Lodge history. Waiter
"Lucky" Stevens purchased Sandberg's from Grojean in 1950 and told me that
although she had some trouble with parking tickets, she had never been
arrested for transmitting messages to the Germans. As yet, I have found
nothing in newspaper archives to support the transmitter story.
Lucky intended to turn the derelict property into a children's camp.
However, while renovation of the hotel was proceeding, sparks from the
fireplace ignited the roof and the hotel burned Apri129, 1961. The only
thing remaining today is a stone wall and cement footings where the hotel
We pull back onto the road continuing north again, past the old county fire
station on the right just beyond Pine Canyon Road, and begin our descent
into Antelope Valley. At the junction with Highway 138 is an abandoned
wooden house and oil tank. This was the site of the General Petroleum Quail
Lake Pumping Station. The crude oil was received from the oil fields at
Taft. At this site the crude was heated and pumped to Willow Springs Pumping
Station and from there on to Mojave where it was loaded into tanker cars for
rail transport. It was called the "Bank Line" because the oil was like money
running through it. (This information was provided by Bonnie Kane, local
historian in Frazier Park, who is currently writing a book detailing history
of the entire Ridge Communities area.)
Just a short distance east of the pumping station we see a rather large
complex with an enclosed water tower. This was the Pacific Telephone &
Telegraph Booster Station built in 1929 to amplify long distance circuits
for the telephone cable being laid between Los Angeles, Bakersfield and on
to San Francisco. The location was so remote that living quarters were
provided for the men and families that operated the station. They also
provided electricity to the families manning the oil pumping station, their
neighbors to the west.
Turning left onto Highway 138, we pass the Kinsey Mansion, once part of the
Bailey Ranch. General Petroleum (Mobil Oil Company) purchased it from the
Baileys for a duck hunting location for their employees, directly across
from Quail Lake (which in 1919 was identified as Crane Lake)!" This property
had a small cottage on it at that time. Later the property was purchased by
a Mr. Sattler of Gaffers & Sattlers Gas Ranges. A little farther west was
the Bailey Ranch house, which sat just east of some Arizona Cypress trees on
the southwestern shore of Quail Lake.
Quail Lake Inn, a short distance west of the Ranch house, also on the
right-hand side of the road, hosted a two-storied building with a post
office and rooms on the second floor. In back was a family restaurant. They
had two gas pumps and a tin garage.
We will turn right off of Highway 138 at our first opportunity, accessing
German Post Road, once the Ridge Route, and head toward Gorman. At the top
of the rise, with our mileage indicating 32.3 miles, we locate Holland's
Summit Cafe. It was located on the east side and was a trucker's joint.
Tourists did not frequent Holland's in the early days where trucks jammed
the roadside as well as the parking lot. It also had a Standard service
station and garage.
At the bottom of this summit was Caswell's at 33.0 miles. There were ten
rooms with running water in cottages, a double, $2, garage, restaurant and a
pay camp. The restaurant, garage and gas station were located on the east
side of the road with the auto camp and store on the west.
At 36 miles we reach Gorman, previously known as Ralphs' Ranch. The Ralphs
family of supermarket fame purchased 2,700 acres back in the 1890s, which
include the township. The 1928 touring guide states, "a small settlement:
store, garage, cafe!" Ruth Ralphs, the family's 74 year-old matriarch who
still runs the town post office, said, "We're getting older and as the
family gets larger we need to see to our tax and estate planning."
North of Gorman the old road is covered over with the present I-5 freeway.
About two miles north of Gorman was the small settlement of Chandler, which
was located just before the Frazier Park exit. Today it is under the
northbound lanes of the freeway. The site was owned by a man named Chandler,
and at one time there was a motel, some small houses, a gas station, garage
and restaurant. The touring guide of 1926 indicates: Lodging, meals, small
garage, reputed reliable and good, labor $1.75 day or night. It is
interesting to note that a State Camp and cabins were under construction at
this location in 1928.
The last major structure in place during the highway's glory was the Lebec
Hotel. Construction began on January 15, 1921. The hotel was the brainchild
of entrepreneur Thomas O'Brien, a saloon-keeper from Bakersfield. Financing
for the opulent hotel was provided by Cliff Durant, an automobile
The Lebec hotel was a "complete gambling joint with a ball-room, rooms and
apartments" during its heydays from 1925 to 1934. Clark Gable and his
actress wife, Carole Lombard, as well as gangster Benny "Bugsy" Siegal,
frequented the Lebec Hote1. A 1926 touring guide describes it: "Hotel Lebec
is new and high class, 80 rooms, thoroughly modern single $2-$3, with bath
$4, coffee shop open 24 hours. The Lebec Garage nearby was the largest and
best equipped on the ridge. Labor was $1.75 an hour, increasing to $2.40
after 6 p.m.
Shortly after the hotel opened, Durant sold his interest to Foster Curry
(son of the concessionaire at Yosemite) of San Francisco. Early postcards
from this period show the hotel under its brief stint as "Curry's Lebec
Lodge," once located along the west side of Lebec Road just north of the
The hotel fell into disrepair and was officially closed on November 13,
1968, in response to health department charges concerning its substandard
water system and dilapidated condition. The hotel went into receivership and
was purchased by the Tejon Ranch Company. They torched the hotel and
demolished the remains on April 27, 1971, only two weeks after acquiring the
property. Two tall Italian Cypress trees mark the former location.
The Ridge Route passed directly in front of the hotel and continued toward
Fort Tejon and Grapevine, the small community at the bottom of the grade.
Just north of the hotel was Shady Inn, located on the present site of the
Lebec Community Church. It was one of the most popular auto camps of that
era. The 1928 touring guide states: "25 cents, water, comfort stations,
lights, tables & benches, shade or shelter, 3 cabins $1 $1.25; noted for
good meals, 50 cents."
Just up the road was Fort Tejon, a supply point, garage and cafe. The ruins
of the old fort were one quarter mile to the west.
Two miles beyond the fort was Camp Tejon which had a service station and
auto camp. The cost of the auto camp was 50 cents and included water,
lights, comfort stations, tables and benches with a community kitchen or
cook house. For $1.50 you could rent one of the six cabins at the site.
Another half mile located Combs Service station and repair shop. From this
point the early motorist continued down the grade until he reached
Grapevine, also known as Grapevine Station. This was a small community of
oil pumping station workers, with "good modern rooms" in cottages, dbl. $3,
lunch room and soda fountain, one garage, open camp space.
We will end our journey here at the bottom of the Grapevine. When the
current I-5 was constructed, the town of Grapevine was isolated from any
access and, in effect, disappeared. A few derelict buildings remain.
Although the I- 5 freeway destroyed much of the remaining segments of the
old road after it left Gorman, we have experienced the encounters of the
The original Ridge Route was constructed, graded and paved at an approximate
cost of $1,500,000. As traffic increased in volume and speed, the sharpest
curves of the Ridge route were "day-lighted" but by 1929 it became apparent
that any further major improvement on this highway would not be justified in
proportion to the resulting savings to traffic, thus marking the end of the
Seventeen point six miles of the original road were recorded onto the
National Register on September 25, 1997. The nomination journey has been as
long and perilous as our motor venture, and we breathed a sigh of relief
when we received word from Washington D.C. As relieved, I am sure, as were
the intrepid motorists that completed their journey over the mountains on
the old Ridge Route.