By Chris Trout
SJMCC spokesperson as related by Robert Priefer

For more than 30 years, Idyllwild citizens, led by the ever present Robert Priefer, have made numerous attempts to build a community center facility. As far back as 1982, a consortium of contractors and recreation professionals spent one year researching similar facilities in Tahoe, Mammoth and other mountain communities before designing the High Country Recreation Center. Their dream of a fitness center, handball courts, and a multipurpose room for aerobic dance, plays and other activities was dashed when investors, motivated by expectations of short-term profits, decided that it would take 10 years to break even on the $2 million price tag.

Robert Priefer Photo by Chris Trout
Fast-forward to 1998, a group from the Chamber of Commerce, CSA 36, CSA 38 and a coalition of folks who wanted recreation on the Hill approached David Liliehom and Priefer. A 16,000-square-foot building with a gym, activity rooms, indoor kitchen and fitness center was envisioned. This attempt was to be a joint effort with the county as long as there was local support for the endeavor. A vote was held, and a majority supported the concept, though it was still 20 votes short of a two-thirds majority. Even with the backing of then-Supervisor Jim Venable, the measure failed.

Eight years later, in 2006, David Butterfield approached Priefer and asked, “Why doesn’t this beautiful piece of land in the center of town belong to the community?” With a commitment from Kent Steele, Pete Capparelli and Priefer to never profit in any way from the development of the project, Butterfield decided to purchase the land, only to find out that it had just been sold.

The new owner was planning to develop the frontage with commercial buildings and the back area with condominiums and residences. Within six months, Butterfield convinced the new owner to sell him the land and the process began in earnest to prepare to build a community center.

John Holt and Lee Arnson spent nearly two years securing lot line adjustments and lot mergers. Bill Lowman and Emily Shaw held community meetings with citizens to determine wants, wishes, desires and needs for the facility. Children and teens were given a chance to participate, and their ideas are today reflected in the design of the project.

In 2008, permits were pulled to demolish the existing buildings. Several local contractors were not able to salvage them and the Idyllwild Area Historical Society was unable to fund the buildings’ removal and transfer to another site.

Spearheaded by Vic Sirkin, with the muscle of the Rotarians and village volunteers and funded in part by a donation from the Butterfields, work began on a par course and track. And then the fund raising began in earnest by Dawn Sonnier and her team of parents to build the playground.

In June of last year, the successful playground effort had Idyllwild reminiscing about the barn-raising that built Town Hall. Jim Marsh was hired as the architect for the community center and the Butterfields made history with their announcement last month to fund the Butterfield Family Center and any operational shortfall for a period of 10 years to ensure that the facility is well-maintained.

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