The front of Lawler Lodge, proposed as a Riverside County historical landmark. Photo courtesy of County Resources Bureau Chief Keith Herron
The front of Lawler Lodge, proposed as a Riverside County historical landmark.
Photo courtesy of County Resources Bureau Chief Keith Herron

Lawler Lodge, a few miles north of Idyllwild, has been recommended for designation as a Riverside County historical landmark.

In November, Keith Herron, resources bureau chief and county historic preservation officer, made the presentation to the County Historical Commission, who recommended the designation to the Board of Supervisors. It was on the board’s agenda for Tuesday, Feb. 10.

In 1916, Oscar Lawler, a Los Angeles attorney, and his wife Hilda, bought 80 acres in Dark Canyon along the North Fork of the San Jacinto River. The house, modeled on Yosemite Lodge, was finished in 1919.

Over the years, Lawler, who became one of the first entertainment lawyers, brought many clients, among them Will Rogers, to the mountain retreat.

In July 1954, after his wife had died, Lawler deeded the structure and its surrounding 80 acres to Riverside County “[to be] used as a mountain campground and place of recreation for organized and supervised groups of normal boys and girls of school age …”

“Hilda became quite active in charitable work for the welfare of children, and that’s what inspired Oscar to donate the lodge as a youth camp,” wrote Robert Smith of the Idyllwild Area Historical Society.

As a county property, periodic maintenance and repairs are needed; but Herron feels these need to be consistent with its historical nature.

“As part of our capital expenditures, there were work items and, naturally, we wanted to treat it and approach it as a historical building,” Herron said, “but to take the preservation approach and nominate it as historical county landmark.”

The lodge is a typical rustic retreat for urban dwellers in early 20th century built as a summer house,” Herron added. “It’s very unique with log construction and other native material. There are not a whole lot left.”

Lawler, who was born in Iowa in 1875, moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1888. He apprenticed with Henry O’Melveny and successfully passed the bar exam in 1896. After a decade of private practice, he was appointed the U.S. district attorney of Southern California in 1906. Three years later, he was appointed assistant attorney general for the Department of Interior and temporarily moved to Washington, D.C. Eventually, he returned to Southern California and private practice.

However, his Wilshire Boulevard home was bombed and burned in 1919. Lawler suffered severe burns, but he, Hilda and their 5-year-old son escaped. Later, it was determined the bomber was the lover of a woman whose husband was successfully represented by Lawler. Lawler died in January 1966.

A countywide survey of possible historical resources in the early 1980s omitted Idyllwild, so there is no record on which to compare the Lawler Lodge to other similar properties. The Emerson Boy Scout Camp is the only county historical landmark in Idyllwild or Pine Cove. Lake Hemet and the dam are the other Hill buildings designated as landmarks.