Frank Strong and George Dickinson get relatively little attention as pioneer developers in Strawberry Valley.
Unlike George Hannahs, Walter Lindley or Claudius Lee Emerson, they were based in Los Angeles, and neither one resided here or took an active part in day-to-day management of their holdings on the Hill. Still, their influence was substantial.
It began in 1905, when stockholders of Lindley’s California Health Resort Co. mutinied over the money-losing Idyllwild Sanatorium and its successor, the brand-new Idyllwild Inn. Strong and Dickinson bought the inn along with 5,250 acres, leaving Lindley to manage the inn as a minority owner.
In 1911, they gained sole ownership, reportedly by trading land in East Pasadena for Lindley’s stock, replaced Lindley as manager, and reorganized their Idyllwild Mountain Park Co. (which I’ll now call IMPCo for convenience). They then began subdividing land near Strawberry Creek into one-acre lots, but their focus was on the inn, which had 18 “cottages” (probably canvas-sided tent cabins) and 150 tents for rental. They also added more cabins, a golf course, tennis courts and lawn bowling.
For the 1913 season, they hired Hannahs himself to manage the inn. Then, copying Hannahs’ development of his Wildwood neighborhood in the North Ridge area, IMPCo began more aggressively marketing its creekside subdivision along River Drive. At season’s end they leased the now profitable inn to Salt Lake City hotelman Don Porter and a partner, C.J. Gilbert.
By the winter of 1917-18, IMPCo’s attention seemed to be drifting elsewhere. The lease with Porter and Gilbert was ended and the Idyllwild Inn and 1,000 nearby acres, including its developed subdivision, sold to Claudius Lee Emerson’s group.
Emerson’s early success in turning Idyllwild into a booming vacation community reawakened Strong and Dickinson’s interest in the area. In 1923, they hired Walter Wood, who had just initiated development of the Pine Cove area, and gave him a free hand running IMPCo.
With Wood’s aggressive marketing, Fern Valley began to sprout cabins on a 1,000-acre subdivision surrounding Strawberry and Marion creeks. Even his ill-fated venture into a golf club competing with Emerson’s Idyllwild Inc. for social and economic preeminence, about which I wrote earlier this year, did not daunt Strong and Dickinson.
Having sold more land to Emerson in lower Strawberry Valley, IMPCo still owned nearly 2,000 acres in Fern Valley, Pine Cove and Dutch Flat. A rumor of negotiations to sell out totally to Emerson, which appeared as a “report” in the Riverside Daily Press in 1931, proved premature.
Actually, IMPCo had been biding time, awaiting completion of a new highway from Hemet to replace the outdated, overcrowded Control Road.
With its opening imminent in 1929, Wood hired Margaret Rentchler, who had fallen under the spell of Idyllwild, although she came to town merely to represent the Los Angeles County Christian Endeavor Union in its negotiations for land for the Tahquitz Pines Conference Grounds.
The Depression and World War II, however, stalled further development. In 1939, Strong and Dickinson sent one of their Los Angeles managers, Rollin Humber, to take over IMPCo. Here he met Rentchler, and they soon married and turned the company into a formidable rival to Jerry Johnson’s downtown Idyllwild All-Year Resort Co. The Humbers thought they could turn Fern Valley into a commercial center to dominate Idyllwild, but Johnson’s interests were too well established.
After Rollin Humber’s death in 1955, IMPCo kept a lower profile on the Hill. Dickinson, according to his grandson, bought Poppet Flat and later sold it to the developer of Silent Valley RV resort. He finally sold the parent company in the late 1960s.
Although the Dickinson family still owns a few lots at the end of Indian Rock Road, these pioneers are mostly remembered today only in two Fern Valley street names: Strong Drive and the sadly misspelled Dickenson Road.