Pasadena Star News

June 4, 2007


“Dazzling beam” illuminated area

by Sid Galley, Correspondent


Pasadena Light from the largest searchlight in the world once illuminated Pasadena, picking out places of interest for the pleasure of tourists, and once in a while zeroing in on a spooning couple, much to their dismay.


The word “spooning” gives a clue as to when this was.  The Pasadena Weekly Star in 1985 described the searchlight as an artificial sun, saying:


“One of the most striking and interesting features of Echo Mountain for those visitors who remain overnight is the display and manipulation of the most remarkable beam of artificial light on the globe..  This dazzling beam of light is projected from the dark and mysterious looking object which rests on a ledge of rocks below the hotel {Echo Mountain House} as a vase sits on a wall bracket, and its peculiar form and conspicuous location arrests the attention and excites the curiosity of the day visitors.”


Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe was not one to think small, and when he encountered this searchlight at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, he was determined to add it to the attractions at his mountain railway and hotels above Altadena.


The searchlight was built by General Electric to surpass in size the German searchlights that were in use at the Chicago exposition.


It was mounted on a colonnade high up at one end of the grounds.  According to the Weekly Star “The reflecting mirror is 60 inches in diameter, free from spherical aberration, reflecting a parallel beam of light.  It was manufactured by Mangin, in Paris, France, and is a most perfect specimen of optical work.”


The light drew a maximum of 200 amperes of current to supply the 1.5 inch-diameter carbon electrodes that fed the electric arc.


"The article says that the carbon electrodes were 1-1/2 inches in diameter - The electrodes on the searchlights they used to use in front of car dealerships back in the 50s and 60s had electrodes about 1/2 inch in diameter, so that Lowe searchlight must have been a real powerhouse, maybe about 10 times as powerful."  Jim Slobin


Lowe had to wait for his searchlight.  In 1894, it was used on the 272-feet high Bonnet’s Tower as part of the San Francisco Midwinter Exposition.


Later that year it was installed on Echo Mountain.  It was said one could read a newspaper on Catalina Island by its lights.  It survived the fires that destroyed the buildings and had occasional use until the 1930s.

After everything from the mountain railway was abandoned, the remains of the searchlight were said to have been destroyed by vandals.