Friday, June 20, 2008

Mother Mountains

Snow Scene on the Sierra Madre from the Raymond
Lucien Emerson Jarvis, 1890
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California.

It will push 100 degrees today and snow on the mountains looks awfully inviting, even if its 1890's snow. But, I add the photo because it refers to our mountains as the “Sierra Madre.”

A lot around here is named Sierra Madre – there’s the city to our east, and Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre Villa Ave., and the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Station. But, I always wondered why we had so many things named Sierra Madre when our local mountains are the San Gabriel Mountains.

It turns out that the mountains have gone by both names, with the officials favoring San Gabriel Mountains (named after the mission) and many locals preferring the name Sierra Madre. As the Field Guide to the San Gabriel Mountains points out, in 1927 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names ended the controversy and ruled the mountains would be officially known as the San Gabriels.

Early Pasadena historian J.W. Wood knew the official line, but preferred the name Sierra Madre anyway:

“Officially the range we contemplate is known as the San Gabriel, but the padres of old -- more poetic and sentimental – chose from their own nomenclature the more satisfying “Sierra Madres” – or Mother Mountains; and so they are known and preferred, despite geographers and pedagogues.”

J.W. Wood, Pasadena Historical and Personal (1917)

I like where J.W.'s coming from.

1 comment:

Miss Havisham said...

One of those little white things is my house. It's the one of the oldest shacks on this block of Oakland.

I just reached a dead end on history, though. maybe when I have more time. I think it was just a farmworkers house-nothing fancy.