You can’t commute from Fern Valley or walk about town these mild summer mornings for very long without noticing the seemingly abandoned scatter of old buildings across from St. Hugh’s Episcopal Church at South Circle and Tahquitz drives.
Only the Kwikset Lock logo on the largest structure reflects their function for the past 60 years as a weekend getaway for company employees.
But that low-key purpose masks a glorious (or notorious, depending on your viewpoint) earlier life. In 1934, the nation was fresh out of Prohibition and Idyllwild was evolving from a company town controlled by Claudius Lee Emerson’s then financially troubled Idyllwild Inc. into a more cosmopolitan community. One clear sign of change was the success of John and Clara Postle, recent arrivals from San Jacinto, and their new Fern Valley Café and cabins.
John Postle quickly obtained not only a public dance-hall permit but a liquor license to boot. Now that was a red flag to Emerson and his allies in the religious summer camps.
Taken by surprise, the old guard organized to fight alcohol sales in Idyllwild, a campaign that persisted until 1961. Postle managed to renew his license, once established, in 1938.
At the same time, the anti-liquor forces were blocking Idyllwild Inn’s new manager, Ruth Curry Burns, from transferring her license from a flooded-out Baldy Mountain resort. Burns complained to no avail that her housekeepers were constantly removing empty bottles from the inn’s cottages, implying that Postle’s nearby resort was a prime source, and thus she was being treated prejudicially by the State Board of Equalization.
Retitled the Fern Valley Lodge, Postle’s establishment steadily replaced the Idyllwild Inn as prime community social center and meeting place for service clubs, Chamber of Commerce and private parties. When Dr. Paul Foster bought up much of Emerson’s former holdings in 1944, he also acquired the lodge.
When he abruptly left town two years later, he sold it to his manager, Jim Weir. Well-known as president of both the Lions and the Chamber, Weir took over as chef, while his wife Lou became a familiar sight, whipping around town in her old Ford, the “Blue Goose.” Caretaker Joe Costa soon became a popular bartender, accompanied everywhere by the lodge’s dog, “Bourbon.”
In 1948, the lodge further solidified its position in the community by making a building available to attract and house a county branch library. It was truly a full-service establishment, hosting everything from old-time movies and popular shuffleboard tournaments to (according to reliable insiders) illegal slot machines.
In 1951, Weir decided to attend hotel school in Lausanne, Switzerland, and ownership passed to pro-football player and Hemet High School alumnus Carroll Vogelaar. Buying the lodge gave Vogelaar reason to retire from the NFL’s short-lived New York Yankees, but by 1953 he sought a quieter retirement and sold the property to the Kwikset Employees Trust. And today the diminished cluster of buildings on the corner and down Tahquitz Drive carries hardly a trace of Fern Valley Lodge’s boisterous heyday.