The interior view of Moose Lodge, showing the fireplace and built-in desk mentioned in the column. in November 2006. Photo by Lynn Voorheis
With playground construction underway at our future community center, it’s appropriate to recall the Wright family compound that occupied the site for more than a half-century.

Before 2008, you may have noticed a cluster of abandoned structures on the property. These included a lodge and two cabins for family members, tiny quarters for domestic help, a caretaker’s cottage, a green barn and attached shop, a tennis court, and an empty swimming pool with adjoining bath house. Scattered about the property were traces of abandoned shuffleboard, badminton, and handball courts, plus a horse corral down on the flat beside Strawberry Creek, near the charred remains of what was once a guest cabin.

Bordering Highway 243 was the only building left in use, a former garage converted to a real estate office, its upstairs recreation room left accumulating trash. And the caretaker’s cottage near Ridgeview Drive would briefly house the Chamber of Commerce office and visitors center.

The source of this cluster takes us back to the 19th century and San Jacinto Valley, where Loyd Wright was born and raised. After graduating from the USC law school in 1915 at age 22, he married Julia Kingsbury and returned to Hemet to launch a career. They moved to Los Angeles in 1920, but bought the Idyllwild acreage for a future family retreat.

Their growing family prompted them to build the main lodge at Idyllwild in 1924. It was completed in time for Julia and the children, Loyd Jr. (“Moose”), Pauline, Clarissa and Dudley, to begin spending summers here. Loyd Sr. commuted on weekends from his burgeoning law practice.

As time passed additional cabins were built for use of the Wrights’ children’s families. Loyd Jr.’s was dubbed “Moose Lodge,” while “Cedar Lodge” mainly served Pauline and Dudley. The recreational facilities were communal. The swimming pool even served the girls at Peak & Pine Camp across the creek, before that camp had its own.

Loyd Wright’s legal career is a saga in itself, capped by the presidency of the American Bar Association and a foray into politics as a conservative, anti-communist crusader seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator in 1962. (Wright captured 17 percent of the primary vote. Incredibly, he was actually deemed a liberal by one Howard Jarvis, who came in third, but would later use other means to impose his anti-taxation platform.)

Wright became famous for a seemingly endless list of Hollywood clients, most prominently Charlie Chaplin, whom he represented for a quarter of a century. And though he represented Jane Wyman in a messy divorce from Ronald Reagan, that did not preclude Reagan from serving as honorary campaign chairman for Wright’s Senate bid, nor Wright’s receiving an appointment in Reagan’s Sacramento administration.

The main lodge had its moment of glory in 1954, when Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe honeymooned there. Caretaker Harry Dickerson was warned “on pain of death” to keep their presence secret, a charge fortunately much easier to fulfill in January than July.

In 1974, Loyd Wright died in Hemet. Two years later, in 1976, his heirs sold the property.

Subsequently, it steadily declined under absentee ownership. For years the compound sat derelict while developers tried to find a buyer or conjure projects. Remember the furor over a proposed upscale resort with its Olympic-size pool?

By 2006, when ICRC received the property, only Moose Lodge retained any original character, with such touches as an elegant corner fireplace of river rock, recessed metal sconces for candlelit reading by bunk-bed occupants, and a built-in folding desk.

Tragically, no person or group could amass the resources to move and preserve the building. The Wright family salvaged memorabilia, and the Idyllwild Area Historical Society received some representative artifacts (including that desk). Otherwise, this bit of Idyllwild’s history survives only in photos and memories.