Johnston Lake (Johnson Lake)

Los Angeles Explorers Guild at Johnston (Johnson) Lake.

Johnston Lake

(also known as Johnson Lake)

Along a sleepy stretch of road in a wealthy Pasadena neighborhood, you’ll find a hidden, bucolic lake that looks like something out of a New England painting.

The Making of a Hidden Lake

As the story goes, long about 1876 Prudent Beaudry, the Canadian immigrant who served as the 13th mayor of Los Angeles, wanted to turn the small spring-fed pond on next to the San Rafael Winery on his land at Rancho San Rafael into a lake. So he built an earthen dam from some excess dirt and let the San Rafael Creek fill it up.

After Beaudry’s death, the land supposedly passed through a few different owners before it was purchased by an English husband and wife named Alexander and Francis Campbell-Johnston in 1883. They Anglicized the name of the property to San Rafael Ranch and promptly moved back to England, leaving it in the care of their sons.

A couple, perhaps even the Campbell-Johnstons themselves, sail the serene waters of the man-made lake on the San Rafael Ranch in 1888. Photo by H. Friend. From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California.

A Lake of Many Names

Over the years, the small lake has been known by a number of different names. Beaudry Lake. Mirror Lake. Johnston Lake. Johnson Lake.

The last two names seemed to be used interchangeably today, and with a difference of only one letter, you’d be correct in thinking both names refer to the same source — the Campbell-Johnston family.

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At some point the Johnston part of Campbell-Johnston became Johnson. Some speculate the lost “t” originates from Hiram Alvin Reid’s The History of Pasadena, published in 1895, a work that references to the “Johnson farm” or “Johnson ranch” numerous times throughout the text.

Reid’s omission of the letter “t” was passed down throughout the years, and you can now find the small body of water referred to as both Johnston Lake and Johnson Lake on the few maps that actually feature the landmark.

No Johnston Lake For You

The lake was enjoyed by the public until the 1950s when the people who owned the houses surrounding it decided they didn’t want to share its waters with just anyone who happened to drive by. So they formed the Brookmere homeowner’s association and fenced the whole lake off along Laguna Road and Burleigh Drive.

Brookmere still exists today, and it’s still a private fenced-in community that offers lakefront property to 18 homes along the banks of Johnston Lake. The only street access to the lake is off Club House Drive, a private entrance to Brookmere, barred by a stout gate.

The stout gate at Brookmere. Photo from the author’s collection.

Finding Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake isn’t particularly hard to find. It is at the intersection of Burleigh and Laguna, after all. But it may be hard to get a good look at the place.

Johnson Lake is mostly hidden behind a vine-choked chain-link fence along Laguna and Burleigh. But a few years ago, a fallen tree on Burleigh destroyed a section of the fence, and now you can get a good view of the lake from that vantage point.

Peeking over the top of the fence, you’ll see a small serene lake, complete with boats moored to short piers. It’s also very likely that you’ll see different species of geese and ducks frolicking in its waters. The whole scene looks more like something you’d expect to see in New England, not the desert climate of Southern California.

The typical view at Johnston Lake as seen from Burleigh Street. Photo from the author’s collection.

Even though the homes along the lake are private, you may have unknowingly gotten a glimpse of them. Various locations behind the hallowed gates of Brookmere have made appearances in television and movies including Extant, Lie to Me, Medium, and, most ignominiously, season three of Celebrity Rehab when one of the houses on the lake was re-branded as the otherwise non-existent Johnston Lake Retreat Center.

Johnson Lake (or Johnston Lake)

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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