Radium Hot Springs, CA
and text were taken from the July 1988 & February 1993 issues
of "The Album"
loaned to me courtesy of Rich McCutchan.
See USE NOTICE on Home Page.
BISHOP, INYO COUNTY, CAL., THURSDAY, JULY 10, 1919
MUCH WORK DONE ON A FINE RESORT
Keough's Hot Springs Nearing Readiness for Public
The big tank at Keough's Hot Springs has been completed by
contractor Kufua Cornell, and water will be turned into it this
week. It is 38 by 100 feet between walls, and slopes from 2.5
to 8 feet depth. It is arranged so that the surface will be constantly
drawn off, while the whole pool can be rapidly emptied through
a 12-inch outlet at the bottom.
Concrete sidewalks are being laid around the edge. Work on
the dressing rooms, office and concession stands will begin at
The establishment is being built with scrupulous attention
to the requirements of law and approved practice. A laundry will
be in continual operation, and a lifeguard will be kept on duty
when the place is open for business. The tank will not be covered
over to begin with, but probably will be roofed later and made
a winter as well as summer resort.
Seventy inches of water at 130 degrees runs from three groups
of cement enclosed springs. This water's taste gives no suggestion
of the minerals which chemists say it contains. A cold mountain
stream carrying from 100 to 200 inches is available, permitting
any desired modification of the temperature of the water supply
of pool or other baths.
Vapor baths are also to be provided.
Situated at the foothill base seven or eight miles south of
town. In a sheltered dip of land, the site certainly presents
almost unlimited opportunity for development into an unsurpassed
resort. Many years of occupation have grown fruit and shade trees
in profusion, and a grove offers an attractive picnic ground.
Hot water is now piped to the fine dwelling which Mrs. Mowrer
built on the place. Electric lights are to be provided, either
by use of some of the hot water stream or by utilizing the 700-foot
fall of Freeman Creek when brought to the crest of the hill just
In addition to the numerous changes planned by Mr. Keough
to make it an attractive resort, it is probable that a hot-house
enterprise will be launched by E. M. Nordyke. By use of the hot
water, there can be a yield of fresh vegetables and flowers in
winter as well as summer. This has not been completely planned,
so far, but will become a factor.
Hot Springs, Once
Upon A Time
from Jeff Cook's complete article which is posted below]
heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, Keough's Hot Springs was a complete
health and leisure resort. The natural hot water-fed pools and
therapeutic baths were the main attraction, but visitors to Keough's
could also fish, dine, dance, and camp out or stay in a cabin.
And the well-kept grounds were the scene of every kind of formal
and informal get-together.
No one in
the Owens Valley would think of celebrating an installation,
Independence Day or Easter, the end of school, the beginning
of spring or the middle of harvest without a picnic at the Hot
Springs with its attendant games and speeches, swimming and dancing.
Keough's was a place that now inspires real nostalgia for the
good old days.
Keough's was built because of the water. In the late 1800s, as
people of European descent moved into California, they discovered
the widespread abundance of hot mineral springs. During this
period many health resorts in the European tradition were built
around these springs. The natural hot water flow at Keough's
is perfectly suited for a resort; by all standards it is superlative.
The temperature at the source, a cluster of three springs west
of the bathhouse, has been a constant 127°F since it was
first measured in 1859. The amount of flow remains an impressive
600 gallons a minute (only six percent of this goes into the
pool; the rest is diverted directly into the well-known Hot Ditch).
And although the water contains many minerals it has none of
the objectionable taste or odor often associated with geothermal
were the first to take the waters at Keough's, which they call
u'tu'utu paya. Local tribal members say they've always used the
springs for bathing and healing.
a Paiute elder, says, "Indian people really believe the
water is sacred. You pray to it before you use it; you tell those
springs about your pain. And you leave something, maybe a coin.
It's your Mother Earth."
of years the springs were in the middle of a Paiute village.
Using a highly developed irrigation system, navahita, or wild
hyacinth, and other plants were grown for food. With the settlement
of the Owens Valley by whites, with their notion of private ownership,
the springs passed into the hands of those who used the surrounding
land for agriculture and ranching. The unique looking cabin built
against a huge boulder, visible today north of the pool, dates
from these early days as shown by its pre-1900s square nail construction.
In 1918 the
property was bought by Philip P. Keough, one of the pioneers
in the Eastern Sierra. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1857, Keough
had come West at an m early age. He worked for the gas stage
company that supplied most of the transportation in Eastern California
and Southern Nevada, eventually advancing to superintendent of
all lines. He moved to Bishop in the 1880s and became a large
landowner and leader in civic affairs. In 1908 he opened the
City Market on Main Street, which he operated with his two sons.
a vision. "He always thought those beautiful springs could
be developed into something very fine," according to Laura
Lutz, his granddaughter, who lives in Bishop today. Keough wanted
to build a first class health resort, but more than that he envisioned
a complete recreation and leisure center for the people of Owens
did indeed offer much potential. Situated in a protected dip
of land against the foothills and irrigated by nearby Freeman
Creek, the ranch around the springs was covered by orchards and
vineyards. Tall stands of locust and black walnut trees offered
plenty of shade. And the unlimited hot water - Keough planned
swimming pools and therapeutic baths, but he also wanted to pipe
the water into the dwellings for space heating. He even planned
a water-heated hothouse enterprise to grow flowers and vegetables
in the winter.
began to spend a fortune on construction. He employed contractors
Mike Milovich, Rufus Cornell, and Bill Utter who managed to have
the big 48' by 100' pool, food concession, and outdoor dance
pavilion completed for the August 1919 opening party.
By the following
May, the large children's wading pool (which is now kept hot
for soaking) and stone bathhouse were ready. The bathhouse, which
is boarded up today, was a wonder. It was built of many kinds
of colorful stone representing ore from mines all over Inyo County.
The interior was of redwood to withstand the moisture from the
steam baths and hot tubs. After a soak and a rubdown, patrons
could lounge amid the indoor tropical plants which thrived in
the humid warmth.
days, hot mineral water was credited with many medicinal uses.
Many even took it internally, including Keough himself who drank
it with cream and sugar at every meal. People began coming from
Southern California to take the cure and stay in the cabins being
The grounds in the early 1920s looked very different from today.
The large grove of locust trees south of the pool building was
kept raked, and tables were built for use by picnickers. The
orchards and vineyards were kept up so that
The picnic area
at Keough's Radium Hot Springs
could help themselves to grapes, apples, pears, and peaches free
of charge. The large irrigation storage pond to the south (now
dry) was stocked with fish for the catching. Flowers graced the
stonework that was built around the source springs. Says Laura
Lutz, "It's hard for people to visualize how beautiful it
was. Travelers would stop just to be refreshed and wander around
the grounds. Keough's other son Karl, who later became a State
Senator, inherited the ranch property to the north. Keough's
death a short three years after he began his project undoubtedly
kept much of his dream from becoming reality. Nevertheless, Ches
and Karl continued the work and kept Keough's spirit of excellence
In the news
reports of the day and in the words of those who remember, we
get a picture of just how important Keough's Hot Springs was
in the social life of the area up until the Second World War.
This is shown by the great variety of activities that took place
there. The pool was a focus for fun with regular diving and swimming
competitions and a yearly bathing beauty contest for young women.
For a time lively boxing matches were held until new laws required
that the sheriff stop any fights that got too rough. Said the
Inyo Register: "Most of the time the boxers were tenderly
caressing each other's anatomy. The limitations imposed brought
the contests down to the savageness of a pink tea."
The picnic grounds
at Keough Hot Springs
Keough's Radium Hot Springs
was always available for parties and special picnics. Farm Bureau
picnics were especially colorful, with games for everybody: rolling
pin throwing and nail-driving for ladies, tug-of-war and blind-folded
wheelbarrow races for gentlemen, and pie-eating, greased pig,
and three-legged contests for boys and girls. Babies had their
own beauty show. One such gathering in 1926 attracted some 1200
people. Fourth of July every year was celebrated by a fireworks
display high up on the hill, and of course much swimming and
Dancing at Keough's! Today the wooden platform next to the pool
is barely recognizable as a dance floor but every Saturday night
in the summer throughout the 1920s and 1930s it was packed. People
came from Lone Pine to Lee Vining to dance under the stars to
a live jazz band. Teenagers were welcome, and they came in large
numbers. Children came too, with their parents.
The old "El
Camino Sierra" (U.S. 395)
near the turn-off to Keough Hot Springs
was a kind of paradise for children. Laura Lutz recalls, The
pool was always open to them. I can just picture them by the
hundreds streaming in there." There was baseball and family
picnics and fishing in the pond. And there were special celebrations.
Every year Keough put on an end-of-school party with swimming
and feasting and games, staggered on different days to accommodate
all the school children in the valley.
a big occasion too. Women from the community worked for days
boiling and dying thousands of eggs which were hidden all over
the grounds and in the foothills. On the big day a fan child
who was lucky enough to find one of the several dozen "golden"
eggs got to take home a live bunny.
But these ongoing activities took place against a background
of great change at the Hot Springs. In 1926, Ches Keough sold
the property and water rights to the City of Los Angeles. Thus
began a long period continuing until today during which the Los
Angeles Department of Water and Power has leased the resort to
various tenants. DWP has never granted long term leases, with
the result that no tenant has had the incentive to invest the
money required to make Keough's what it was in the early days.
has changed greatly in physical appearance. Soon after DWP took
ownership, irrigation was stopped. The more tender vegetation,
and eventually the big trees, died off. Most of the facilities
have deteriorated to a point where the big pool is the only original
attraction still in use. And today it is in use only by adults.
Because of the recent insurance crisis, no children are allowed
to swim there.
Hot Springs entrance sign
of Keough Radium Hot Springs - 1941
of Keough Radium Hot Springs - 1941
I have read this was originaly done at Keough Hot Springs to cool the water before sending it to the pool. The photo was probably taken by geologist Walter Wadsworth Bradley.
Caption: "Photograph of man standing next to one of the springs at Keough Hot Springs in Inyo County, CA - 1932
California Geological Survey
(Photo and text courtesy of Hal Eaton.)