In the San Rafael area of Pasadena lies secluded Johnston Lake, whose surrounding grassy meadows once were grazed by sheep and cattle. Now oleander hedges, pine, oak and eucalyptus trees grace this three-acre lake near the Arroyo Seco.
The lake takes its name from Alexander Campbell-Johnston, a Scot who purchased the 2,300-acre parcel of land in 1883.
He and his wife, Frances, called it the San Rafael Ranch and dubbed the center of their ranching operation Annandale after their ancestral home in Annandale, Dumphrieshire, Scotland. They left three of their sons to run the ranch and returned to Great Britain for five years. Alexander died within a month of his return to California, and in 1889 his widow built the Episcopal Church of the Angels in his memory. It still stands on Avenue 64.
The San Rafael Winery, now a private home, had been built next to the lake in 1875 by the previous owner, Prudent Beaudry, who was mayor of Los Angeles from 1874 to 1876. The winery was a source of income for the Johnston family, who sold “Angelica,” their most popular wine, for 20 cents a gallon to a dealer on Aliso Street in Los Angeles. After the grapes were harvested and crushed, the mash was dumped near the lake. According to local legend, ducks and cows would become woozy after drinking too much of the fortified lake water.
In the 1950s, catfish and crayfish were abundant in the lake and nearby creek, and in 1952 three tons of large carp were taken from the lake and donated to a cat food manufacturer.
The lake, east of Avenue 64 between La Loma Road and Burleigh Drive, is fed by two streams from the Arroyo Seco. In 1884, the northern edge of the lake extended to where Laguna Road now intersects Lagunita Road. The lake is slightly smaller today.
In 1897, after the recovery of a drowning victim, the lake’s southwest portion was found to be 16 feet deep. According to a local resident, when the lake area was subdivided in the late 1940s by Milton D. Winston, the lake was filled to make it only six feet deep to conform to zoning regulations. Several years ago, property owners in the 21-acre community organized to preserve the lake area for private recreational purposes as a reminder of its pioneer past.