ARTHUR BRADFORD JOHNSON
Arthur B. Johnson died October 27, 1984, following a short hospitalization with pneumonia. His passing ended a career of over 50 years of volunteer service to climbing and conservation in Southern California.
Art came to Los Angeles at the age of 19 (in 1925) from the area of Fresno, his birthplace. He was interested in hiking; in 1930 he joined the Sierra Club and helped to build the club’s Harwood Lodge in the mountains near Los Angeles. His hiking and scrambling led him to try rock climbing when Glen Dawson began running local Sierra Club classes in 1933.
After the summer of 1934, Art became, with Glen’s encouragement, the ring-leader of a group pushing the idea of a Southern California counterpart to the Sierra Club Bay Chapter Rock Climbing Section (RCS). Art became the first chairman when the Southern California RCS was bom in September 1934. Under Art’s leadership, the RCS grew rapidly—from 6 members in 1934 to over 50 by 1938. Such climbing spots as Stony Point and Tahquitz Rock were discovered and developed, and the tradition of teaching a new crop of beginners each winter was established.
A structural and mechanical engineer by profession, Art was interested in the technical aspects of equipment and safety. In the 1930’s, he tested ropes and knots for strength and also made an early sit-harness for practice falls. Closely following Dick Leonard’s Bay Chapter example, Art established a safety consciousness in the RCS that can still be discerned today. He carried a tremendous workload for the section before World War II, arranging outings schedules and running trips. He was RCS chairman through 1937 and remained an active climber until about 1950. He was elected to honorary RCS membership in 1978 in recognition of his pivotal role in starting the section.
During the 1930’s, Art’s volunteer service was sandwiched between many climbing outings. His record included the following first ascents: the East Buttress of Mount Muir, the Pink Perch route on Thor Peak, and the face of Moro Rock (Sierra Nevada, 1935-39); four Tahquitz Rock classics—Fingertip Traverse, Piton Pooper, White Maiden, and Traitor Horn (1936-38); and Monument Peak near Parker Dam on the Colorado River in 1939. In 1937, Art and the late Bill Rice made the second ascent of the east buttress of Mount Whitney, then turned around and made the first descent of the same route, completing the round trip in only 6 hours—including an hour on top!
After Navy service in World War II, Art married his late wife Mary in 1945, and their children Neil and Priscilla were born in 1946 and 1948 respectively. Art served as chairman of the local Sierra Club committee on State Parks before the war, spearheading a drive that set aside much of the present Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. After the war, he pursued his interest in conservation and club work with renewed enthusiasm. He became Sierra Club chapter chairman in 1951, and served a term as a Sierra Club director 1951-54. His activities in the 1950’s led the chapter to award him its highest conservation award in 1961. He received the American Motors conservation award that same year. Other volunteer service included terms as Executive Director of the Desert Protective Council and Regional Vice-President of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs.
Art joined the American Alpine Club in 1957 and remained a member until his death. He was chairman of the Southern California Section 1965-67. Over the years, he built up an outstanding mountaineering library, which he willed to the A AC.
Art is remembered by those who knew him as a very hard working organizer who believed in doing things “by the book.” His strong opinions sometimes led to conflict with others, but no lasting grudges seem to have resulted. He was quite short and rather stocky, yet is said to have climbed with the sureness and grace of a cat.
All who have climbed in Southern California, or enjoyed her mountains and deserts, have partaken of Art Johnson’s legacy. Let us thank him and salute his memory.
John G. Ripley