Revitalizing the Past for Our Future
by Stephanie Yost
Following WWII, Idyllwild (like much of Southern California) experienced tremendous growth. For Idyllwild, this meant an increase in visitors and residents, as well as a resurgence of the town itself.
In 1946, Ernest (“Ernie”) Maxwell and his wife Betty moved into their newly built Fern Valley home. Immediately thereafter, they founded a local newspaper, the Town Crier, and began their campaign to revitalize the community. At the same time, a syndicate headed by Idyllwild developer Jerry Johnson purchased land and several local businesses, thereby returning them to local control.
A key project championed by the Maxwells through the Town Crier was the construction of the Town Hall, which would be a “community house” to bring local citizens together. The building would stand on property donated by Jerry Johnson and located next to the original Rustic Theater (now Silver Pines Lodge), where Cedar Street ends near River Drive.
On December 5, 1946, all of Idyllwild’s businesses closed and the entire business community and many residents came together as a volunteer construction crew to pour Town Hall’s foundation. Thereafter, a volunteer crew lead by local grocer Harold Sanborn worked every Friday for months to build the two-story, 4,000-square-foot building, complete with a beautiful large stone fireplace and chimney. On July 10, 1947, Town Hall was dedicated.
For many years, Town Hall was operated by the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce for the benefit of the town. Upon the Chamber’s dissolution several years ago, the property reverted to the Johnson family, who soon put it up for sale.
Fortunately for Idyllwild, on August 16, 2019, Town Hall was purchased by Idyllwild Town Hall LLC, a corporation formed by Tom Hawthorne, and Loie and Dave Butterfield. Their plan was to renovate the property and thereafter donate it to the Idyllwild Community Center (ICC) to operate for the benefit of the mountain communities.
ICC is a local non-profit organization that provides recreational, cultural, and social opportunities for residents and visitors. Currently, ICC puts on free town events, like the Tree Lighting Festival, Easter Egg Hunt, and Halloween Carnival. ICC also hosts the Farmers’ Market and offers numerous programs, including youth and adult sports, senior fitness programs, free community lunches, as well as after-school and holiday childcare, at Town Hall. Additionally, ICC owns and manages the beautiful new Butterfield Amphitheater and Idyllwild Community Park, and operates Idyllwild’s Skate Park, Dog Park, and Pickle Ball Court.
Renovation of Town Hall began on October 14th, with completion expected by July 2020. While taking into account the rich history and past uses of the property, the new owners also considered ICC’s future plans, which include the expansion of existing programs, new programs for adults and families, indoor theater performances, outdoor concerts, and pursuing the rental of Town Hall for meetings, weddings, conferences, and other organizational and personal events.
To this end, while preserving the building’s original signage, footprint, and beautiful fireplace and chimney, the renovation includes an upgraded indoor theater with backstage areas and modern sound and lighting capabilities, a huge new outdoor stage, new windows, flooring, insulation, and walls, air conditioning and updated heating, a restroom on the main level, new exterior, complete remodeling of the downstairs children’s area, and updated kitchen appliances in both the indoor and outdoor kitchens.
Needless to say, Idyllwild is excited about the renovation of its Town Hall, which will benefit everyone living in, and visiting, our mountain communities. We are grateful to the donors for their generosity in purchasing, restoring, and improving this very important and historic building.
Indeed, their efforts continue the Maxwells’ vision of the “community house,” where local residents and visitors to the Hill will gather for many, many years to come.
by Stephanie Yost