In the 1870s, the Southern Pacific Railroad chugged right up to the beach. Visitors would step off the train in ankle-length skirts and enjoy concession stands and shaded cabins.
Today we can peer into that world through a new photography collection acquired by San Marino’s Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
The museum says this purchase is one of the largest and rarest groups of early Southern California images that they have come across, with photographs from early artists Carleton E. Watkins, William M. Godfrey, Francis Parker, and Hayward & Muzzall.
The trove comes from Ernest Marquez, who unearthed photos one by one from flea markets and antiquarian bookstores in a search to learn more about his ancestors, Mexican land grantees who settled coastal and canyon property in Southern California.
Marquez’s finds date from the 1870s through the first half of the twentieth century, documenting railroad history, early beach tourism, and the growth of Los Angeles.
Many of the images, says Huntington curator Jennifer Watts, were shot to lure tourists from the Midwest and the East Coast. Travelers would buy these promotional photos as souvenirs and send them home to show their friends.
“I think you can see why people flocked out here – the pristine beaches, the untouched wilderness of the canyons, the vast mesas of trees and forests,” Watts said. “I think you can see why people came.”
Watts hopes to exhibit the photos someday but does not have a date set.