After I mentioned the George Thomas Cedar last month, a reader asked about another local landmark, the A.C. Lovekin Cedar. Though not so old and massive as the Thomas tree, it stood beside Tahquitz Drive near the Strawberry Creek bridge until 2007. Then Southern California Edison deemed its dead carcass a hazard and decapitated it, leaving a 30-foot-tall stump.
So who was Arthur Lovekin? Earlier research by my colleagues Steve Lech and Ben Killingsworth revealed that he was born near Toronto and immigrated to California in his 20s amid the 1880s population boom. After working as a surveyor, a wreath-maker for a mortuary and an office worker at a gold-country ore mill, he moved on to Hawaii, where he met his wife.
The Lovekins returned to California in 1905, settling in Riverside, where he became well known as a wealthy citrus grower, with a side business raising cotton near Blythe.
A politically well-connected conservationist, he was picked by the County Board of Supervisors in 1918 to head up a lobbying effort to create a national park or monument in Palm Canyon. Typical of that era, nobody thought to consult the owners of the land — the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians — who killed the proposal.
During the campaign, Lovekin introduced the idea of a Palms-to-Pines highway up Palm Canyon, a possibly suspect proposal, given his ownership of property in nearby Andreas Canyon.
Enamored of these mountains, Lovekin bought property at the end of Tahquitz Drive in 1924 and had a continuing presence in Idyllwild.
The county supervisors again turned to him in 1928 to chair a committee working to identify potential state parks in Southern California. He quickly became president of a new San Jacinto Mountain State Park Association, a who’s who of civic leaders in the county. Its secretary, county forestry board Chair Albert Bottel, became the driving force for the park’s creation, while Lovekin wielded political clout. (Bottel was memorialized on a pine tree at the entrance to the state park campground in Idyllwild.)
Lovekin set the stage, but working out a land trade to create the state park took eight years of complicated negotiations among the State Parks Commission, the U.S. Forest Service and the Southern Pacific Land Company (to which Congress in 1871 had granted half the mountain range in a checkerboard pattern of sections).
The hero turned out to be Newton Drury, a Berkeley literature professor and executive of the Save-the-Redwoods League, who was serving as acquisitions officer for the State Parks Commission. His consummate negotiating skill enabled the agreement that led to the park’s 1937 opening and to his appointment in 1940 as director of the National Park Service. (Drury’s name graces a peak rising from Little Round Valley.)
The public face of the state park campaign, however, was Arthur Lovekin, for which he was recognized in the naming of a giant cedar tree near his Tahquitz Drive property. The tree was dedicated with suitable ceremony in 1944. Lovekin had moved back to Canada in 1936 for his health, but lived on to see his work thus recognized before his death in 1948.
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].