Like a growing number of Hill residents, I’ve been spending more time lately at our public library. Its move to Strawberry Plaza in 2012 was truly a return to its roots at the heart of the community.
In 1920, Claudius Lee Emerson made a library an integral part of his plan to develop a family-friendly community here in Idyllwild. He dedicated space in his Idyllwild Inn, which was already the commercial and social center of the village.
Once Emerson negotiated with Riverside County to obtain an initial allotment of books, borrowing privileges were secured by plunking down a flat $1.50 deposit for as long as one had books out.
Oddly, three years later, the resort expanded to year-round operation and Emerson hired someone to run the library for a year. After that, paid staff remained only an occasional luxury.
In 1937, as Emerson’s dream was fading and he was lapsing into bankruptcy, he took charge of the library personally, a poetic but bittersweet finale.
This early era ended abruptly in May 1945, when the Idyllwild Inn caught fire and burned to the ground. Presumably the library’s holdings were lost with it. But Idyllwild’s post-war renaissance generated renewed demand for amenities.
In 1948, Jim and Lou Weir, owners of Fern Valley Lodge (now the Kwikset Cabins on South Circle Drive), offered one of their small cabins for a branch of the county library. While free housing was advantageous, this was a move to the village’s outskirts, an exile that would prevail for 64 years.
As the stock of books soon grew into the hundreds and annual circulation to five figures, the library moved to a larger log cabin at the corner of Circle Drive and Pine Crest Avenue. In 1962, the familiar modernistic structure that still stands next to the Creekstone Inn became the new library.
This provided space for programs like art and photography exhibits, candlelight story time, and family movie nights. A 1973 expansion into adjacent space created a reading room with periodical browsing.
California’s 1978 taxpayer revolt cut the library’s hours to 20 a week. But the community rallied, and volunteer staffing kept the schedule stable around 25 hours into the 1990s. Meanwhile the creation of Friends of the Idyllwild Library in 1982 supplied a fund-raising channel to enhance equipment, furnishings, and book and magazine holdings.
In 1996, the county bought a building on Lower Pine Crest Avenue, and the library bade farewell to its four decades at Fern Valley Corners. This move brought the library closer to downtown, though still in cramped quarters and a relatively hard-to-find location.
The Friends in 2000 mounted what would become a frustrating 12-year campaign to expand the library once more.
The happy solution, thanks to County Supervisor Jeff Stone’s intervention, was to move back into the village’s nerve center, where the Friends are now funding an expanded 40-hour schedule.
Library visits today can fit conveniently into our regular rounds at the post office, pharmacy, bank and food markets.