Recently, my students told me about an area called “The Enchanted Forest” in Pasadena. (The locals actually call it “The Haunted Forest”). They had never been there but they had heard stories about how haunted it is. I have lived in the Pasadena/Altadena area for almost a year now and I had never heard of any local haunted places aside from Suicide Bridge.
So being a curious knowledge seeking Libra, I decided to look into “The Enchanted Forest.” First step, Google. I found a few blogs that mentioned that “The Enchanted Forest” (aka Haunted Forest) is actually “The Cobb Estate” in Altadena. You simply take Lake Ave North until the street ends at the gates of the estate. There were a few accounts and some YouTube videos about the Cobb Estate but I didn’t bother to read or watch them. I pass this area on my way home from work so I decided I would just check it out for myself and I didn’t want my own feelings or personal experiences to be corrupted by the stories of others.
So I followed Lake until it ended and I noticed the iron gates on the right. I parked my car and proceeded to walk toward the gates. To my left, I heard this loud noise in the bushes. My heart started to pound as I slowly approached the bush. I inched forward and almost screamed when a doe (aka deer) jumped out of the bush and ran up the hill toward the estate. I couldn’t help but laugh at how silly I was being.
I made my way to the gates, took a few pictures with my phone, and checked myself in on Facebook (just in case I went missing and my friends & family needed to know my last location). I’m guessing the driveway was once majestic but now it is worn and weathered. There was a smell of sawdust and a scent reminiscent of wood burning in a fireplace. The grass, brush and trees looked dead. As I was taking in the scenery, I noticed the locals power hiking their way past me. There was a weather-beaten sign showing the different trails that would take you up parts of Mt. Lowe. It kind of reminded me of parts of Eaton Canyon but without the crowds of people. This was a place where people come after work to hike. Yeah, the iron gates, random staircases that led nowhere, the worn down drive and signs and the dead foliage do give it an eerie sense of foreboding but if I hadn’t known about the “haunted” claim, I would just think this is a really cool place. It reminded me of the Nevada ghost towns I used to explore with my friends. With my stomach growling and my throat begging for water in the unseasonably hot weather, I decided it was time to stop exploring and head home.
Now that I have fed myself and quenched my thirst, I thought it would be a good time to figure out the real story behind the Cobb Estate in Altadena. According to the Altadena Historical Society, the land was purchased by retired lumber magnate Charles H. Cobb in 1916. After a few years, Cobb and his wife, Carrie, decided to make this their permanent home and built a house there in 1918. Carrie passed away in 1934 and Cobb was able to enjoy his lavish estate until his death in 1939.
As a Freemason, Cobb designated his property be left to the Scottish Right Temple. After a few years, the Masons sold the property and it became a retreat for the Sisters of Saint Joseph. In 1956, the Marx Brothers purchased the land as an investment, they had no plans of actually living there. So while the comedic family tried to find projects for developing the land, the area became a hangout for teens and “misfits” who vandalized the area and were often arrested for their misdemeanors. The once grand and luxurious mansion fell into disarray and was removed in 1959–only the foundation, a few stairways and a wall remain. The Marx Brothers tried to turn the land into a cemetery but met opposition from the residents. So in hopes of unloading the land for a housing development, the property went up for auction in 1971.
Then the story turns into something you would see in a Hollywood screenplay. Bob Barnes, a social studies teacher at John Muir High School, joined with a band of students, led by Senior Maggie Stratton, to raise enough money to buy the property and leave it as wilderness, making it a part of the Angeles National Forest. They had nine days to raise the money and with the help of a last-minute donation from Virginia Steele Scott, a storied art collector, they bought and preserved the 107 acres of land. In an article for the Pasadena Star-News, Barnes said that the day after they won the auction, he and Stratton bought a Star’s Map in Hollywood, drove to Groucho Marx’s home, knocked on the door and when he answered in his robe and slippers, they informed him they bought his property and said “thanks.”
Now as I was reading this tale, it sounded like one of triumph and victory, not really the makings of a tale of horror and suspense that Hitchcock would drool over. So I need to dig deeper and do a little more research. There has to be a reason why this area is called “The Haunted Forest.” In the mean time, you can see the pictures I took today and a video I found of a walk-through of the Cobb Estate.
(I just read that the gates were used in the first Phantasm movie–cool! And there are old abandoned gold mines down in the canyon below the Cobb Estate–I will have to check that out another day.)