Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mystery History -- Solved

Karin wins again! With her 8:16 a.m. answer of "first zeppelin ride over the arroyo," her guess was closest.

In the photo above, Roy Knabenshue's airship Volunteer is set to take off circa 1913 in an open field at what is now the intersection of Marengo Street and Glenarm Avenue, near the Raymond Hotel (upper left).

Destination: Los Angeles

Passenger capacity: 13

Cost: $25 (a lot of moolah in those days but easy for Knabenshue's wealthy sight-seeing customers)

What's hidden from view in the photo above, due to all the people surrounding it, is the open-air gondola in which passengers rode. They needed more than cash to get on board; they needed courage!

Here's a photo of another of Knabenshue's airships, White City, in which you can clearly see the gondola:

This airship's original name: Pasadena.

The name change came after the popularity of Knabenshue's airship service dropped off as airplanes became more capable. He moved to Illinois in 1914, taking this airship with him to operate it at Chicago's White City Amusement Park.

I just love the fact that the inflatable portion of these airships were called gas bags.

What's that? You'd like to see it used in a sentence?

Here's one from the Jan. 10, 1905, issue of the Pasadena Daily News about a flight of Knabenshue's airship California Arrow:

"Knabenshue moved forward on his framework and tilted the front end down until the top of the gas bag presented an inclined plane to the force of the wind and the whip gradually settled down into the park as steadily as a steamer coming to the dock of a quiet harbor."
They don't write 'em like that anymore!

Here's a brief look back:

In 1905 Knabenshue was the first to make a dirigible balloon flight over the skyscrapers of New York, one year after his original flight at the St. Louis World's Fair.

After several years of barnstorming and a stretch as general manager for the Wright Brothers, he came west in 1909 and in 1912 built the first airship service in America, taking people from Pasadena to Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Long Beach.

Here is a plaque set into a retaining wall at Tournament Park near California Boulevard and Wilson Avenue:

Tournament Park was the location of New Year's Day events prior to the Rose Bowl Stadium being built and was also the site of several aviation milestones.

This is from an article in the Pasadena Daily News on March 20, 1909:

Pasadena may become a permanent fixture on the aeronautic map. There is every prospect that Roy Knabenshue will become a resident of this city and conduct his airship experiments from this point. The matter has been taken up and a definite proposition will be made by the daring aerial navigator.

The proposition which Knabenshue may take up will be to make Pasadena his central station, to conduct his experiments here and in exchange it is stated, he will be given a home and lot in this city.

It is figured that with Knabenshue here attention will be directed to Pasadena as a place for aeronautic sports in both winter and summer time. As the daring sport is now in its infancy and wealthy men are contributing largely to the study of aerial navigation, it is believed that a great number of balloon and airship enthusiasts will be attracted to this part of the country to continue their experiments in winter, for there are a number of months in the eastern states when owning to the rigors of the winter climate, they are utterly incapacitated from pursuing their sports or experiments.
Knabenshue passed away in 1960 in Arcadia.


altadenahiker said...

Some people are wiseguys, what with their potatoes and sausage. Then there are those of us who spend our evenings studying history and winning T-shirts.

Thank you Ann.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

You know that Mr. Knabenshue was quite a looker. You've inspired me to do a little time traveling in the pursuit of flirting with the gas bag.

Margaret said...

Wait a minute! I identified the Raymond hotel and said it was south west of what is now Old Town. I demand a recount.

pasadenapio said...

Sorry, dearie, you said the Green Hotel.

Cafe Pasadena said...


Petrea said...

This is too much fun. I'm marking my calendar so I'll be early next Tuesday. Early bird gets the mug.

Margaret said...

Darn it. You're right. I did say the Green Hotel. Now I'm just embarrassed.

Anonymous said...

wasn't "White City" the name given to Lowe's complex atop echo mountain?

BewilderedatMan said...

There is an error in your identification of the airship photo at the top of this page. It is not the "Volunteer", it is the "Baldwin California Arrow. See

The airship also did not have a "passenger gondola". This airship could be operated by the pilot only, crawling along the framework which comprised the "car".