July 9, 2020

By Ken Brafman, Image from Ken Brafman Collection

CAMP SEELY – LA’S PLAYGROUND: The name Camp Seely was derived from the Mormon Seely brothers (David and Wellington) who established an early water-powered sawmill at this location in the 1850’s. The sawmill was washed away during the winter floods of 1861 and David Seely rebuilt in a different location. In 1913 the City of Los Angeles leased the land from the Forest Service and built Camp Seely as part of their new Municipal Recreation Program. The camp opened in 1914. During the purchase, the name “Seely” was misspelled as “Seeley” and has caused confusion for many years. The new recreation camp boasted tent cabins on cement slabs, considered a luxury, and there would be 26 housekeeping cabins built. The weekly rate for a family averaged $6.00. A rustic log lodge was the hub of the camp and had a stage for performances, a piano and even a library. In addition to a dining hall, tennis courts and a swimming pool were added in the early years. Horseback riding and local hikes were popular, including to nearby Heart Rock along Seeley Creek. This week’s image depicting the Camp Seely grounds is from a real photo postcard postmarked 1933. The Rim of the World Drive opened in 1915, making the mountains more accessible. However, the dirt roads leading to the camp were steep and unpaved, with hairpin turns. In 1916 the City of LA began providing transportation from downtown to the camp via the Pacific Electric Red Car. In San Bernardino passengers left the comfort of the Red Car and transferred to the Mountain Motor Transit Line which consisted of a white flatbed truck with benches bolted to it. The completion of the High Gear Road in the early 1930’s made the camp more accessible to cars. Many people took advantage of the reasonable fifty-cent per night auto camp fee, which allowed full use of all amenities. This enabled many families to have a vacation during the Great Depression.

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