A Guide to Places of Mystery in the United States
by Jim Brandon
Dutton paperback, 1978

p. 26

DEVIL’S GATE RESERVOIR (In NW Pasadena, btw Flintridge and La Vina)

When Donald Lee Baker and Brenda Howell vanished on the morning of Aug 5, 1956, it was the beginning of a mystifying and still unsolved wave of child disappearances in the vicinity of this prominent geological feature of the Los Angeles Basin. On March 23, 1957, eight-year-old Tommy Bowman turned a corner on a forest trail just ahead of six family members — and completely vanished. Bruce Kremen, also aged eight, disappeared on July 13, 1960, near a YMCA camp above Devil’s Gate. In every case, huge search parties combed this reservoir and the adjacent area on the south slopes of the San Gabriels for days, but not the slightest trace of the missing children was ever found.

The Devils’ Gate itself is a narrow, S-shaped rocky defile, perhaps 50 feet deep, at the funnellike convergence of the large mountain runoff field. In former times, furious floods used to roar down into the area, swirl through the gate, and flow from there out into the channel of the Arroyo Seco, which the rest of the year lives up to its name–“dry arroyo.” Rainy season floods are no longer a problem, because of the big dam and catch basin installed now [since 1920–Jay] just a couple hundred feet north of the Devil’s Gate.

Historically, certain groups associated with the “black arts” have show considerable interest in this area. Some time after 1915, a chapter of the OTO, a secret society headed by the famous Aleister Crowley, was organized in Pasadena. Its address was a house at 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue, a short distance east of a narrow spot in the Arroyo Seco called Busch Gardens. The founder of this “Agape Lodge” of the OTO was one Wilfred T. Smith, Crowley’s man in Vancouver, Canada. As part of his activities in California, Smith also traveled down the coast and erected a stone temple in the then-remote woods at Palomar Mountain in San Diego County, where the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, many years later built the famous astrophysical observatory.

Smith’s successor as head of the Cali OTO was John Parsons … […;] As the OTO chapter grew, Parsons moved the headquarters a few doors down the street to a building on the grounds of the old F. G. Cruikshank mansion at 1071 South Orange Grove Avenue (both of these Orange Grove houses have now been torn down and replaced with large apartment structures). Parsons had another house — also on the edge of the Arroyo Seco, overlooking the famous Rose Bowl Stadium — at 424 Arroyo Terrace, which is still standing.


The OTO membership is said to have included many prominent Angelenos, ranging from financiers and professional people to film industry luminaries. Even so, the group attracted the attentions of the authorities on more than one occasion — once when a teen-aged youth complained to Pasadena police that he had been homosexually raped at an OTO meeting. I am told by students of the L.A cult scene that some of these peculiar rituals were performed at secret rites in the Arroyo Seco, some of them near Devil’s Gate.

Foothills Boulevard (S.R. 118) passes almost directly over Devil’s Gate and a good view can be had of it from the bridge. It is also possible to hike into the formation by entering the Pasadena Municipal Golf Course at the refreshment stand on Amy Street and walking north along the concrete flood channel. However, this foray should be avoided any any time that there is water standing in the Devil’s Gate Reservoir, since there is always the danger that a spillway could be opened before one could get out of the narrow “gate” area.

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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.