Did Jack Parsons Really See Something in the Arroyo Triangle Connecting the Colorado Street Bridge, Cobb Estate, and Devil’s Gate Dam? 

Pasadena is one of the most popular areas to live in the Greater Los Angeles area. When you look at its suburban splendor, you’d never guess that it hides at least one tale of cosmic horror to rival any true story you’ve ever heard. Pasadena’s occult history can be traced back to one man who built a cutting edge facility at the edge of an alleged place of power called the Arroyo Triangle. Connecting the dots of Devil’s Gate Dam, the Suicide Bridge, and the Cobb Estate, you’ll find the Jet Propulsion Laboratory nearby. Legend has it that this is no coincidence. And though the main character of this story, Jack Parsons, has only one known link to a point in the Arroyo Triangle, it continues to be one of the city’s most enthralling legends of genius, obsession, and the occult.  

Arroyo Triangle Point #1: The Cobb Estate

The Cobb Estate as seen in Phantasm (Photo credit: New Breed Productions Inc.)

Before the Cobb Estate served as an alleged point on the Arroyo Triangle, the forests of the foothills north of Pasadena were often referred to as “the haunted forest.” Undeterred by the name, Charles Cobb, who had made a fortune in the lumber industry, decided it was the perfect spot for his retirement mansion. So, in 1918, he completed construction on a Spanish-themed property that would be known as the Cobb Estate. We can only assume Cobb was happy enough with his decision. He continued living in the massive home until his death in 1939. At the direction of his last will, the local chapter of Masons inherited all 107 acres of his land. 

The Fruitless Marx Era of the Cobb Estate

The Marx Brothers famously purchased the estate in 1956 which is when urban legends about the property began to arise. Whatever plans the legendary comedians had for the mansion were never to be. Three years later, they had the structure razed and the land sat vacant, slowly reclaimed by nature. Or the spirits, depending on who you ask. 

During this period, several plans were proposed, including utilizing the land as a cemetery. But the idea of a graveyard in an allegedly haunted forest didn’t sit too well with the neighbors who were clutching their home values at the thought. Ultimately, it was a large donation from an anonymous source that allowed the city of Pasadena to purchase the remnants of the Cobb Estate. They summarily handed ownership off to the U.S. Forest Service. 

Hiking Through the Cobb Estate’s Ghost

These days, hikers can challenge themselves to traverse the natural terrain that has mostly overtaken the last vestiges of the structure. But by night, the haunted forest seems to live up to its name. Believers claim the majority of the paranormal activity happens near the crumbling steps leading up to the mansion that no longer exists. Yet, nocturnal visitors report strange laughter, blood curdling screams, and eerie lights populating the impenetrable darkness of the surrounding forest. 

Many visitors don’t actually make it beyond the still-standing front gates of the Cobb Estate. They’re spooky enough on their own; so much so that they were used prominently in the classic 1978 horror film Phantasm

Arroyo Triangle Point #2: The Suicide Bridge

The next point of the Arroyo Triangle is significantly more sinister. The Cobb Estate may be spooky, but it doesn’t have much of a death toll. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the Colorado Street Bridge, more notoriously known as the Suicide Bridge. In the early 1900s, the bridge earned its nickname by being a particularly hot spot to leap to your death. By 1929, dozens of people had already plunged into oblivion off its balustrades. One unfortunate worker even lost his balance during the bridge’s construction, falling to his demise in the ravine below. The Great Depression further contributed to the Suicide Bridge’s notoriety, inspiring a suicide spike. 

The Colorado Street Bridge (Photo credit: Kleaphotographer)

One of the most enduring legends of the Suicide Bridge purports that a young mother mounted the ominous arches of the looming bridge, her baby clutched to her. Prior to diving into the great beyond, she threw the baby over the edge. Miraculously, the baby survived the drop, a tangle of tree limbs managing to break its fall early enough. On the other hand, the mother found the death she so desperately sought at the bottom of the 150-foot fall. 

The Modern Era of the Colorado Street Bridge

Proving that suicide isn’t a passing fad, people have continued throwing themselves from the Colorado Street Bridge over the decades. In more recent years, Pasadena has tried to prevent suicides at the site. But where there’s a will, there’s often a way. Despite the city installing an eight foot high barrier, model and reality television personality Sam Sarpong still managed to take his life in 2015 in one of the bridge’s more publicized suicides. 

The city made additional efforts by installing a 10 foot tall chain link fence in 2016 to deter jumpers from the bridge’s seating alcoves. Over the years, the alcoves had proven to be a depressingly popular launching point for jumpers. The following year, nine suicides were reported at the site. After a harrowing 13 hour negotiation in which Pasadena police successfully talked a potential jumper down, the fences were extended to cover the entirety of the bridge. 

The Colorado Street Bridge (Photo credit: Cody)

But the Suicide Bridge continues to be a sadly attractive beacon for those wanting to end it all. Just last month, Pasadena police negotiated with a woman to climb down from the bridge’s ledge. If you visit the bridge yourself, you’ll find melted candles amidst photos of those who lost their will to go on and memorials old and new locked to the fences. Currently, Pasadena is finalizing the design for permanent barriers in the hopes they will overcome the tragic call of the bridge once and for all. 

The Enigmatic Duality of Jack Parsons

Before we visit the final, and arguably most disturbing, of the Arroyo Triangle’s points, we must introduce a man whose achievements, ambition, and thirst for esoteric knowledge illuminated the area in all its potential paranormal power. Jack Parsons was a man of science in a way that few could ever hope to match. Yet, despite the technological strides he shared with the world, he held a fixation on the occult that transcended obsession. Under the teachings of his mentor, Aleister Crowley, he adhered to the philosophy that every individual holds a “True Will.” And, to ascend to that driving purpose in life, it was man’s responsibility to adopt whatever means necessary to achieve it. For Parsons, this meant looking beyond science and ego and into the occult art of magick

The average person has a tendency to get dismissive whenever the “M” word enters the equation. But Parsons wasn’t some garden variety kook. In his time, he was actually one of the most inspiring and daring minds in a relatively new field known as “rocket science.” And who knows where America’s space program would be today without Parsons’ contributions? Yet, you could be forgiven if you’d never heard of him. The legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory that he founded, still famously operating today out of Pasadena, doesn’t like to get much into their history with Parsons. That’s because the story of an occultist with a penchant for drug use and sex magick doesn’t really fit the narrative of America’s bold scientific push to the moon and beyond. Unfortunately for those looking for a clean story, Parsons was brilliant. 

The Founding of Jack Parsons’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Aerial view of JPL (Photo credit: NASA)

It was 1933 when 29-year-old Jack Parsons built the first ever solid-fuel rocket engine. Yet, it wasn’t until 1938 that he got significant attention from the scientific community, after he and a couple of close colleagues ran a test of a static motor rocket that could sustain for over a minute. This trio was regularly referred to as “The Suicide Squad” for their unconventional, often life-threatening methods of testing that flagrantly flew in the face of safe and ethical scientific processes. 

Yet, Parsons’ results were too significant to be ignored. So, at the prompting of CalTech and supported by government funding, Parsons moved his operations to the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena. The objective? Investigate the potential for Jet-Assisted Take Off (JATO). And it was with that mission that the earliest incarnation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was founded after an initial successful rocket test on Halloween night in 1936. And, no, the date probably wasn’t a coincidence. 

Through the modern lens, it’s tempting to consider Parsons the Elon Musk of his time. But while Parsons had been raised in wealth, the Great Depression had considerably stripped his family resources. Parsons made do with what he could get, often scavenging for parts and creating astounding scientific feats with the bare minimum. By all accounts, he had more in common with the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, crafting radios from coconuts and palm fronds. Under sparse conditions, Parsons and his crew still managed to develop the first rocket engine in history to utilize castable composite propellant, changing what was possible for humankind. For the first time ever, people could feasibly visit space. 

Jack Parsons’ Ascension Through the Ordo Templi Orientis

Jack Parsons (Photo credit: Public Domain)

Parsons obviously had a passion (and a gift) for rocket science. But it wasn’t his only passion. Nor was it his greatest passion. And this calls into question what he believed his “True Will” to actually be. Perhaps rockets simply served as vehicles to transcend the boundaries imposed on mankind. And ultimately, Parsons’ great passions could all be boiled down to a desire to rid himself of any semblance of restraint.

To that point, during the early years of JPL, Parsons was also renting out the rooms of his Orange Avenue property to a gallery of like minded bohemians. And though he was making strides in the scientific community, he was committing himself even more to his occult studies. As a devout student of Crowley, Parsons believed in the philosophies expressed by a religious movement called Thelema. More specifically, he was a member of California’s Thelemic chapter, the Ordo Templi Orientis (or OTO). Taking a particular interest in highly potent sex magick, he rapidly ascended through the ranks of the OTO. 

It’s important to recognize that Thelema was Parsons’ religion. When a choice needed to be made between his studies at the University of Southern California and the occult, he unequivocally chose the occult. He actively recruited new Thelemites, including co-workers and his then-wife Helen Northrup. And he donated the vast majority of his money to Thelema. 

Arroyo Triangle Point #3: Devil’s Gate Dam

The future site of Devil’s Gate Dam (Photo credit: Magi Media)

During his time in Pasadena, Parsons became convinced that a certain area just south of JPL held an immense spiritual power. Enter the final and most notorious point of the Arroyo Triangle: the Devil’s Gate Dam. Strategically built in 1920 at the point when the Arroyo Seco is at its most narrow, the Devil’s Gate Dam was Los Angeles County’s first flood control dam. It earned its name from a distinctive rock formation said to resemble Satan in a brooding profile. 

Rumor has it that the Native American tribes indigenous to the area went out of their way to avoid this section of the Arroyo Seco. Allegedly, they feared it was a gateway to a world beyond this one. Then, there are those who claim that Devil’s Gate Dam was just like any other dam… until Parsons took an interest in it. He was known to visit Devil’s Gate Dam, often performing rituals in its shadows to give JPL’s rocket tests a cosmically auspicious influence. 

Thelema Above All

While Parsons continued to thrive in the OTO, his life outside of religion was becoming increasingly erratic. Under the OTO’s encouragement, he was liberally experimenting with opiates, methamphetamines, and cocaine. His marriage to Helen Northrup was in tatters. After several OTO-sanctioned extramarital affairs, he left Helen for her 17-year-old sister, Sara. And though his brilliance in the field of rocket science never dimmed, his interest in following safety protocol was plummeting to new lows. In 1944, JPL pushed its eccentric founder out, pressuring him to sell any stock he had remaining in the company. At every opportunity, Parsons had wholeheartedly chosen Thelema. And in his darkest moments, his faith was stronger than ever. 

Aleister Crowley, noted occultist and founder of Thelema (Photo credit: Public Domain)

Using the money he’d gained from his stocks, Parsons purchased property in Pasadena at 1003 Orange Grove Avenue. Under this roof, he continued his pursuit of both rocket science and the occult with abandon… and without oversight. It became a beacon for aspiring artists and musicians alongside nihilists and anarchists. Parsons’ bohemian Pleasure Island eventually attracted an ex-naval officer and aspiring science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, that L. Ron Hubbard. And the two formed a fast friendship that found them encouraging one another to breach new heights (or new lows, depending on your perspective). 

Jack Parsons Orchestrates the Moonchild of Babalon

At Parsons’ urging, Hubbard and even Crowley himself became convinced that the Devil’s Gate Dam offered a gateway to great energy and power. Together, the three initiated a Thelemic program entitled “Babalon Working”. The objective? Use the portal at Devil’s Gate Dam to summon the Thelemic goddess Babalon and immaculately impregnate her so that she would give birth to the “Moonchild”, a sort of Antichrist figure that would bring an end to Judeo-Christian dominance on earth. Some have even hypothesized that the strange essence at the heart of the dam had inspired Parsons’ placement of JPL from the very beginning. 

As 1945 became 1946, Parsons and Hubbard took a trip to the desert to visit a nexus point of spiritual energy. Amidst their rituals, Parsons was seduced by a vision of a fiery-haired woman riding astride a great beast. He referred to her as “Lady Babalon” and was convinced he was meant to conjure her and serve as her consort. Parsons and Hubbard remained in the desert for three days attempting to conjure the physical manifestation of Babalon to no avail. 

L. Ron Hubbard (Photo credit: Public Domain)

Perhaps discouraged by these results, Hubbard fled Pasadena for Miami upon their return from the desert. He took along $10,000 of Parsons’ money, not to mention Parsons’ then-lover, Sara. Of course, Hubbard would leave Thelema and go on to found Scientology, but that’s another story. 

Rising Stars and a Setting Moons

Parsons didn’t have much time to grieve the loss of his wife, his friend, and his money. Because as soon as he returned from the desert, he was greeted by a fiery-haired woman at his Orange Grove Avenue address. She was looking for a room. Marjorie Cameron would go on to become his muse, his wife, and ultimately his own personal Babalon. While his relationship with Cameron wasn’t picture-perfect, they enjoyed many days and nights hazardously exploring rocket science, sex magick, and even absinthe infusion. 

However, he would never conceive his Moonchild with her. On June 17, 1952, while feverishly attempting to fulfill an order of film explosives, an explosion consumed the entire lower level of Parsons’ residence. An excruciating 37 minutes later (one minute for each year of his life), he was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Marjorie Cameron (Photo credit: Curtis Harrington)

The Darkest Years of Devil’s Gate Dam

In the years following Parsons’ death, the story of the Devil’s Gate Dam became much darker. Attempts to conjure a Moonchild or perform Thelemic rituals remain in the realm of theology. But between 1956 to 1960, events took a turn for the tragically concrete. 

It was during this brief stretch of time that four children disappeared. Each of them were visiting Devil’s Gate Dam at the times of their disappearances. It wasn’t until 1970 that convicted serial killer Mack Ray Edwards confessed to the kidnap and murder of two of these children. Their bodies were never found and are believed to be encased in the concrete of LA’s freeways. The other two disappearances remain unsolved. 

Jack Parsons’ Invisible, Silent Legacy

JPL opens its doors to the public on occasion. Now owned and operated by NASA, the facility’s tour guides tend to skirt questions about Parsons’ involvement in JPL’s early days. Over the decades, the compound and its staff have been instrumental in some of our country’s landmark moments in space exploration. Missions such as Voyager 1, Voyager 2, and Mars Rover Curiosity all arose from the efforts of JPL. If some sinister force lingers over the JPL campus, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. Even deer graze and bound on its verdant lawns regularly. 

Jack Parsons (Photo credit: Public Domain)

Yet, people haven’t forgotten Jack Parsons. His legacy sustains on whispers, attracting those open to the spaces between science and magick. The mysticism of the Arroyo Triangle may be nothing more than an urban legend. But when Parsons broke convention and dared to look beyond established boundaries, he undeniably saw things few eyes have the privilege or misfortune to see. And when he looked into that storied stretch of Pasadena, he continued to watch something that we may never understand. 

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