Few people have the wealth of knowledge about Idyllwild Marge Muir possesses, along with an uncanny ability to recall dates and events spanning her 58 years on the Hill. “We came to Idyllwild in 1950 on our honeymoon, but we didn’t know where we were. We just found a campsite and camped out and then we went back to Alhambra; Temple City is where we were living,” Muir recalled. One day, her husband Robert “Bob” Muir had had enough of the smog and congestion. “My husband was working in a canyon building custom homes, and we were also building a bridge across a dam,” she said. “It was so smoggy he couldn’t breathe; he came home and said we’ve got to get out of this valley for a few days. This was the L.A. basin.”
Marge’s uncle Phillip Memelee moved to Idyllwild in 1949 or 1950, so they packed up the family and came up for a visit. During their visit, her uncle showed the couple a piece of property and over dinner, said he would buy the property if they didn’t. “We said, ‘Let’s buy it,’” and then a bit of panic set in. “This was in December of 1956, so we go home and tell everybody, ‘We’re moving to the mountains,’ and we both looked at each other and said, ‘Did we really say that? What are we doing?’” she said laughing.
With three small children in tow, the family moved to Idyllwild. The couple purchased the property and lived in a small cabin while they built their home. “We rented this beat-up little house; we did buy the property — we put $25 down and $25 a month,” Marge said. C.A. Hoffman, the listing agent, said to the Muirs, “Now, if you can’t afford that we can do two things. I can take [the property] back or you can put the payment on the end and you can just keep paying on it.” The property cost the couple $2,000.
The Pine Cove Water District was started by Marge’s uncle in 1956 and consummated in 1957. (Her uncle and Reed Phippeny also owned the gas station in Pine Cove.) With only one well, water was scarce. “On Friday night we filled all the bathtubs and all the jars we could with water because on Saturday morning we’d run out because there was only one well. We had the only children in Pine Cove. There were no other kids, so we were ready,” Marge explained. Electricity was also challenging at times. “In the winter time, on Friday night people would come up and flip on the light and the power would go out because there wasn’t enough power,” she recalled. “Power came to Pine Cove in 1946. We came up in 1956. [When the power went out] we would drive around … and say ‘Oh their lights are on, that’s good.’ If their lights were on then our lights were on.”
It took three years for the Muirs to get phone service. “The phone company calls me and says, ‘We’re ready to install your phone,’ and I said, ‘Great.’ It was in the middle of the day, so I get the three kids in the car and I go racing over to the new house, which is only a block or two away, and they said, ‘We can’t put it here, you don’t live here.’” The new home the couple was constructing was not yet completed, but Marge was determined to get that phone. “I said, ‘You start installing that phone. When you’re through I will live here,’” Marge recalled. “So I go home, I get a wire and nail it up, get some clothes, get some chairs, go set the kids down with their toys, and I said, ‘I live here.’” Despite the fact that the home only had stud walls at the time, “You could look out and see the forest,” according to Marge, and despite the 2-1/2-by-5-foot hole in the ceiling where the chimney was to go, Marge informed Bob, “We’re moving; we have a phone.”
Along with the challenges the couple faced in relocating to Idyllwild, the rewards far outweighed the struggles. “We had a lot of activities. Where the fire station is now, you go up that street and right across from the water company is this kind of a lodge and that was an inn; they had a bar, they had a little store in there, and they had one of those wooden shuffleboards. Everybody went there to congregate,” Marge recalled. “Everybody fished; in fact there was one person up here who fished with dynamite — [he would] blow them up, put them in a sack and go home,” she said laughing. Community barbecues, picnics and fish frys were not uncommon. And when it snowed, couples would frolic like children. “We’d get our American Flyers and go all the way up, almost to Humber Park, and we’d slide down into town.”
A building boom in the 1970s signaled a stronger economy. “It was when almost everything was built; if you go back and look, its ’70s, ’70s, ’70s. The market was pretty good; we finally could get loans. Financing came in the ’60s, the building boom in the ’70s.” The building boom meant more people moving to the mountain and more children to entertain and educate. “Everything was growing and people were really having a good time; lots of parties … we had great dances in town, and with the kids, when Halloween came the Rotary always had the kids come into town and they would take them to the big inn … and give them a bag with a donut. They would judge their costumes and send them out on the streets to do things. We put on carnivals, we taught kids to swim, and every year five of us would teach all the kids in elementary school to swim. That was something we did for years.”
It was a surprise to learn from Marge that Idyllwild actually had, at one time, a Santa’s Village. “When we came here we started Santa’s Village,” she said proudly. “We got the parents together and we got an empty shop; my husband was Santa Claus and we built a Santa’s Lane. For three nights before Christmas we would have the kids come and visit with Santa. We did that for probably 15 years.”
To list all the organizations the Muirs belonged to, all of the boards they have served, as well as the many charities they assisted, would be an arduous task. And while, sadly, Marge’s husband Robert passed in 2012, Marge’s involvement in and love for the community has not waned.
Forever an advocate for the financial underdog, Marge is excited about the new community center but serves as a constant reminder that it must be all-inclusive. “I live in the dirt and there’s a lot of people that live there with me and I’ll never leave them alone, “ she said with conviction. You all know me. Don’t forget them. Make it work for them. It’s important because it has always been the kids and the families; don’t leave them behind because that is one of the most important elements we have.”
Marge’s mother, Avis, would prove to be a lifelong inspiration to her. “My mother always said, ‘Go with gusto because when they cut the thread you’re gone,’ so she said, ‘Go out there and live life to the fullest.’ My mother was dynamite. I am so blessed, I had a wonderful family.”
Marge owns and is the broker of Muirs Mountain Realty in Idyllwild.
Jay Pentrack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.