I first got acquainted with the Silver Pines Lodge as an Idyllwild newcomer, when I learned about artifacts unearthed there by two Idyllwild School students, Max Singer, son of the lodge’s owner Chris Singer, and his friend Bobby Righetti. Now, whenever I attend an event there, the meeting room reminds me of its longevity.
Extracting precise dates from the varying memories of Idyllwild pioneers is tricky. But it was probably 1924 when neighbors arriving to spend the summer at their cabins along River Drive and Cedar Street were taken aback to find a big commercial building in their midst.
It sprang from a recent marriage linking the Poates and Holcomb families — the newlyweds had honeymooned in Idyllwild and gone home singing the praises of Strawberry Valley, which inspired relatives to move here.
The building housed The Rustic Shop, a factory and showroom for Hal Holcomb, who pioneered Idyllwild’s craftsman furniture industry, typically working with manzanita. (He claimed that he could replicate in manzanita any piece of furniture a local resident cared to bring him.)
Anna “Ma” Poates followed her newly married daughter to town, brought the rest of her children along, and quickly endeared herself to the neighbors with her motherly helpfulness to everyone. She decided to put her cooking skills to good use in a restaurant, and soon the new building housed her Rustic Tavern, which she managed for nearly two decades.
By 1932, the “Rustic Shop Tavern” was getting regional notice. For example, a December ad in the Riverside papers that year invited New Year’s Eve revelers to come up for a “sliding party,” featuring toboggan rides downhill to the creek behind the restaurant on a homemade course built to resemble a bobsled run.
When the Holcombs moved to Northern California in the 1930s, the furniture shop became a soda fountain. But the Poates family remained and steadily gained local prominence. Daughter Eleanor, for example, would marry Jerry Johnson, who became Idyllwild’s postwar real estate czar, and have her name enshrined in Eleanor Park at the heart of town.
Ma Poates’s son Lem would supervise the volunteer crews that built Town Hall. (The Chamber of Commerce actually considered acquiring the Rustic Theatre for its planned “community building” but decided instead to build on a piece of Johnson land next door.) Lem also upgraded the toboggan run behind the Rustic in 1948, vainly hoping to make it commercially viable, but eventually its components were salvaged to help build a longer run on the hill behind Idyllwild School.
Son Bill Poates would marry a German-Czech Jewish war refugee with starry-eyed Hollywood ambitions, Liane Popelik, who added exotic glamour to Idyllwild. Having escaped to South America, she was brought here by her brother, Karl-Heinz (aka Tommi Tyndall, the ski instructor who made a futile effort to turn Hidden Lodge into a ski resort in Fern Valley.)
The Rustic Shop Tavern became one of Paul Foster’s many local acquisitions in 1944. After turning the dining room into the village’s first movie theatre, he abruptly left town in 1946, selling to Jerry Johnson and leaving only Foster Lake as a legacy.
In 1952 the Froehlich family moved the theatre function to its present building downtown, and the original property entered a third life, this time as an inn called Hillbilly Lodge. (In those days, “hillbilly” was a label proudly worn by Hill residents to distinguish themselves from benighted “flatlanders.”)
Hillbilly Lodge became memorable for square dancing, but it also appeared in a climactic scene of the 1966 Peter Fonda film, “Wild Angels.” Soon after that, it was renamed Silver Pines and continued to evolve into today’s popular inn, which Singer has now operated since 1994.