The Creekstone Inn has dominated the four-way stop called Fern Valley Corners since 1947; but its current identity, as Chris Singer’s elegant, 20-year-old tourist lodging, is a recent development. Instead, for 47 years Hill dwellers associated the building strictly with food.
In 1946, as the country recovered from World War II, Michael and Dorothy Michelsen discovered Idyllwild. They were searching for a drier climate than the coast to assuage a daughter’s asthma.
Their original idea of running a motel evaporated once they saw the lot available at Pine Crest and Circle Drive, which seemed strategically located for a grocery store.
Fern Valley was blossoming with new homes and cabins, and the area’s developers, Strong and Dickinson, hoped to see a commercial center there rivaling Jerry Johnson’s enterprises in downtown Idyllwild.
The Michelsens planned their building with upstairs living quarters and meeting facilities, but the required lumber would bust their budget. In those days river rock was there for the taking. So twice a day for three months they gathered and hauled truckloads up the Hill.
Their Fern Valley Market’s huge fireplace anchored a space to hang out, play pinochle or catch up on village happenings. The soda fountain seemed like a good idea during planning, but on opening day Dot suddenly faced a brutal on-the-job training regimen requiring more arms than any human possesses. Fortunately, this being Idyllwild, customers gladly offered instruction and dishwashing help.
Mike was an innovator. He offered regular customers what amounted to prepaid debit cards for discounted grocery purchases.
He created a persona, Jose Gottgrub, for Town Crier ads; “Your Day with J.G.” episodes combined weekly specials with humorous advice, all embedded in Ernie Maxwell cartoons.
In 1951 the Michelsens decided to sell, but reconsidered and leased the market to Leigh and Margaret Dutton. Dutton’s Corner Store operated for five years until the Duttons elected to concentrate on their downtown enterprises, which included Village Market. Bill and Emma Fletcher took over, restoring the Fern Valley Market name.
In 1958 the Fletchers departed, and for a time the market was operated by the Braughton brothers, owners of the neighboring Fern Valley Bakery. Space was set aside, perhaps tentatively, for a restaurant, Margaret Voie’s Nottoosure Café.
After the building got its 15 minutes of fame in November 1961 as a filming location for Elvis Presley’s “Kid Galahad,” the Michelsen family sold it to Robert and Janice Oates.
That winter, Oates’ construction and real estate businesses moved in; a memorable alpine-style remodel paved the way for Scotty and Elena Ellison’s Alpine Market. And Kitty Thomas and Mary Blackburn relaunched the restaurant as the Alpine Pantry (where Marge Muir waited tables).
The Fern Valley-Idyllwild rivalry had long since been resolved in downtown’s favor, and even long-lived uptown businesses endured rough times. In 1972 the Alpine Pantry moved to the former Pinecraft furniture showroom next to the Idyllwild School (now Mile High Cafe). It was replaced in 1976 by a popular Italian restaurant, Michelli’s, which enjoyed a 10-year run before similarly relocating to Highway 243 in 1986.
Meanwhile, in 1981, the Alpine Market closed its doors and, consequently, Fern Valley residents would then have no choice but the downtown grocery stores.
Bob Smith is a researcher and archivist with the Idyllwild Area Historical Society. He welcomes comments, questions, corrections and suggested topics for this column at [email protected].