Happy Camp; Where Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word
by Pasadena Adjacent
I’m not the only big fish in a city named after a lake that doesn’t exist. There are others. One “other” was also an artist. And amateur archeologist; among his many enthusiasms. His name was Howard Arden Edwards (1884-1953) whom in 1928 took on a 160 acre homestead in the hamlet of Lake Los Angeles. A lake-less desert landscape situated in Antelope Valley – a valley devoid of antelope. Blame falls on the tracks. Railroad tracks, strategically placed in order to take advantage of the mountain passes. The antelope wouldn’t cross the tracks, so they couldn’t get to water, so they died “and the skies are not cloudy all day”
This was back in time when it was A-ok for collectors to purchase or dig up Indian artifacts left behind by their previous residents. It’s been said that General George Armstrong Custer took to this sort of collecting – that is shortly before his soul was collected. The Edwards family took their Mojave findings and stuffed them into an oversized curio closet. One H.A. Edward’s designed and built to look like a Swiss Chalet. A kind of Tyrolean Tepee jammed into a desert butte named Paiute “home on the range”
A self taught artist, Edwards was known for his expert use of bright colors. A palette inspired by his southwest travels. But before H A Edwards built his dream home, he painted the peaceful valley of Eagle Rock; without the eagle or the rock. Why? because he had moved there earlier in 1910.
and in the shadow of the rock on a street appropriately named Kipling, added “architect” to his list of passions.
You see, in a mystery to rival the ages, the above images were found in Edward’s granddaughter’s photo album during the recent cataloguing of the museum collection. They’re of a place called Happy Camp. The architecturally kitche “Hansel and Gretel” styled abode, familiar to Angelenos, was built sometime in the early 20’s. Shortly before the Edward’s took on homesteading. The most noted purveyors of roadside vernacular had backgrounds as Hollywood set designers. Most famously Harry Oliver, known for the Spadena “witch” house as well as the chain of iconic Van De Kamp bakeries. One of which graces the entrance into Lake Los Angeles; windmill-less, it’s now rented out for special occasions such as weddings and Quinceaneras parties.
Besides being a naturalist, poet, playwright and novelist, Edwards was a set designer in the movie industry during the same time period as Harry Oliver. In 1924, he and a partner owned the California Scenic Company. We don’t know if his partner was one of the “pals” identified in the B&W middle image (or Edwards and family). One also must wonder if Edwards used his set design skills to create Camp Happy? Thus honing his architectural abilities as well. Could this be the connecting thread that explains the Chalet in the desert? with it’s pitched interior ceiling as seen above.
Happy Camp then
Happy Camp now
Happy Camp behind the exterior
In 1939, the family sold the Lake Los Angeles homestead to Grace Wilcox Oliver – no relation to Harry Oliver – she was a student of anthropology, who added her own native American Indian artifacts to the collection. Among Howard A Edward’s many positions was that of set design instructor at the Pasadena Playhouse. He was also on the staff of the Southwest Museum as an Artist and Preparator. Happy Camp appears to be the oldest house on it’s Eagle Rock knoll overlooking Colorado Blvd. The surrounding land was developed in the 1950’s or 60’s. “and the deer and the antelope play” ….. elsewhere