The front entrance of Sportland Park in 1962.
Newcomers to Idyllwild have likely heard many stories from long-time residents about the “good old days” in Idyllwild and the evolution of this small mountain community from a veritable wilderness town with 450 residents to the community it is today. Back in the day, locals might enjoy a patty melt at Taylors, a cafe in Mountain Center, or a pastry from Bill, the Baker in the Forest, before doing laundry at Snow White, the local laundromat.
On a warm afternoon, Mom and Dad might pack up the kids and head to Sportland to cool off in the community pool, play a round of miniature golf or enjoy a few games of bowling. For many, the history of Idyllwild is fascinating and the history of Sportland even more so. Imagine an entertainment complex smack in the middle of downtown Idyllwild.
Any conversation about the history of Idyllwild should begin with Bob Smith, who literally wrote the photographic book, “Idyllwild and the High San Jacintos,” published by Arcadia. Smith, in addition to being a local author, is a board member, docent and researcher for the Idyllwild Area Historical Society. History buffs will find a wealth of information about Idyllwild at the Museum located on North Circle Drive.
The Town Crier also maintains a rich Idyllwild history in binders of back issues of the publication since its inception in 1946, back in the Ernie and Betty Maxwell days. Reading through issues from the 1940s feels much like a trip back in time and provides a glimpse into the overall consciousness of the community as it grew and evolved.
An important part of Idyllwild’s history was the entertainment center in the heart of downtown. The headline of the Idyllwild Town Crier, June 15, 1962, read “Sportland Park Opens in Village.” On opening day, owners Avery and Jane Fisher hosted an open house to introduce the community to the new complex that included a variety of eateries — the upscale Carriage Room, lined with hand-flocked red wallpaper and walnut paneling; the Sportsmen Grill, a serve-yourself leisure eating establishment; the Pony Express Coffee Shop; the Ice Cream Emporium; and Dry Gulch Burger Bar.
The facility also boasted a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a roller skating rink, miniature golf, an animal farm and an art gallery. The Fishers, in creating Sportland, did a great deal of homework. “We have studied similar operations throughout the West during the past year and we think that there are things of interest to the whole family and people of different interests,” the Fishers agreed.
The complex also boasted the first permanent art gallery to open in Idyllwild. Jane was in charge of gallery operations. In addition to Jane, the six-member board of directors included Rod Burnham, Rex Brandt, Joan Irving Brandt, Robert E. Wood and, the Town Crier’s own Ernest Maxwell. On opening day, the Garden Club served tea and coffee.
A 1962 advertisement in the Town Crier for the Carriage Room at Sportland promoted the “Diamond Jim Brady,” an 18-ounce steak for $4.75.
A shrimp dinner was only $1.65. The cost to build Sportland in 1962 was an estimated $250,000, which equals more than $1.9 million in today’s market.
This was not the first time a complex of its kind [on the same site] was built to serve the entertainment needs of a growing Idyllwild community.
In 1917, Claudius Lee Emerson began developing the Idyllwild Inn and built the Idyllwild Store, Post Office, the Plunge (a community pool) and croquet courts. The Great Depression, bankruptcy, and fire took its toll and in 1947 new owners Jerry Johnson and Clifton Russell opened Sportland (the first iteration) with five bowling lanes, a snack bar, an amusement center and a swimming pool. That same year Johnson and Clifton sold the business to Percy Van Der Meid. In September 1948, it burned to the ground. It took about a year for the property to be rebuilt and in 1949 it was reopened.
By 1953, the site changed again focusing more on the restaurant side of the complex. After an “alpine” remodel, the complex was renamed Idyll-Hof and by 1957 it included ping-pong, miniature golf, a redecorated cafe and a banquet room. By 1959 the property appeared to fall into disrepair and local advertising for the complex ceased. In 1962 the Fishers bought the property and created the new and improved Sportland. This was to be the last time the site would serve as a center of community entertainment.
The property changed hands again in 1966, 1976 and again in 1992 when Idyllwild Realtor Maureen Jones and Escondido developer Dick Krupp built what is now known as The Fort, a shopping center.
Category: Idyllwild News