The World's Largest Searchlight Once Scanned L.A. From the Mountains Above | KCET
The World's Largest Searchlight Once Scanned L.A. From the Mountains Above
As twilight faded over Pasadena on Sept. 9, 1894, an artificial sun flickered to life for the first time. High above town in the San Gabriel Mountains stood a wonder of the new electric age: a 60-inch General Electric searchlight, by many accounts the largest in the world. This massive projector first dazzled audiences at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Now it would perform its nightly spectacle in the mountains above Los Angeles.
Up above, on the summit of Thaddeus Lowe's Echo Mountain resort, tourists wrapped themselves in blankets and huddled around the searchlight as its operator fired it to life. When running at 200 amperes – a current generated by a Pelton water wheel in nearby Rubio Canyon – the carbon arc lamp burned with the intensity of 90,000 to 100,000 candles. A massive reflecting lens mirror, built in France, magnified that blaze to 375 million candlepower.
This dazzling beam blanched the flatlands below. It wandered the streets of Pasadena. It streamed through the windows of San Gabriel farmhouses with the ardor of day. Lowe's publicist claimed you could read a newspaper under its light from 35 miles away. It was definitely visible 60 miles away on Catalina Island, a hot white dot hovering just above the horizon.
Some watched the show with amusement. Children lit signal fires or flashed red lights to attract the operator's attention. The mischievous ones bounced the sunbeam back with hand-held mirrors. Others reacted with alarm. Horses startled. Roosters crowed. Lovers cursed.
In an 1895 dispatch, author Grace Ellery Channing recalled the scene atop Echo Mountain:
The searchlight was just one of the modern marvels collected by Lowe, a pioneering aeronaut who had commanded the Union Army's Balloon Corps during the Civil War. At Echo Mountain, his "White City," Lowe placed an observatory with a 16-inch refracting telescope and hired a renowned astronomer to manage it. He is best remembered for his Mount Lowe Railway, the world's first-all electric mountain railroad, which climbed 3,000 feet into the San Gabriels over white-knuckle cliffs and a soaring, 1,300-foot funicular. But nothing signaled the dawn of a new electric age in the Southland like Lowe's searchlight, its sun-shaft overthrowing the dark of night.
This story first appeared on Gizmodo's Southland on Aug. 6, 2014.
Can Online Avatars Define Us? Animator Jenna Caravello Dives Into This, the Art of Online Storytelling and Pepe the Frog
Meet Jenna Caravello, the mind-bendingly creative brain who uses video games, interactive installations and animated short films as ways to help us make sense of memory, loss and meaning.
Distributing the COVID-19 vaccines now being developed is shaping up to be the largest and most complex public health effort in L.A. County's history, and concerns are growing that officials are already falling behind, it was reported Nov. 20.
Kai Anderson’s eye-catching, multi-colored, hand-drawn thematic maps have developed a cult following in conservation circles in the American West. He walks us through a map he created of Sen. Harry Reid's major environmental campaigns.
Based in the Peruvian Amazon, Chaikuni Institute blends an Indigenous agricultural practice known as chacras integrales with agroforestry, a permaculture method from Brazil.
- 1 of 397
- next ›
Griffith Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. Its founder, Griffith J. Griffith, donated the land to the city as a public recreation ground for all the people — an ideal that has been challenged over the years.
During World War II, three renowned photographers captured scenes from the Japanese incarceration: outsiders Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams and incarceree Tōyō Miyatake who boldly smuggled in a camera lens to document life from within the camp.
Prohibition may have outlawed liquor, but that didn’t mean the booze stopped flowing. Explore the myths of subterranean Los Angeles, crawl through prohibition-era tunnels, and visit some of the city’s oldest speakeasies.
Although best known for designing the homes of celebrities like Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra, the pioneering African-American architect Paul Revere Williams also contributed to some of the city’ s most recognizable civic structures.
As recently as a century ago, scientists doubted whether the universe extended beyond our own Milky Way — until astronomer Edwin Hubble, working with the world’s most powerful telescope discovered just how vast the universe is.
- 1 of 5
- next ›