Editor’s note: throughout the year, we will cover events and write articles celebrating IAF’s 70th anniversary.
Idyllwild Arts began in the early 1940s with one man’s dream of a peaceful mountain idyll where people could experience the civilizing influences of art and music in extended summer sessions. The Idyllwild Arts Foundation will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2016.
It all began when Dr. Max Krone, then a University of Southern California professor of music and dean of the Institute of the Arts, and his wife Bee bought a cabin in Idyllwild in 1941.
Five years later, intoxicated by the beauty of the mountain and imbued with the idea of creating a summer campus for celebrating, sharing and teaching both fine and performing arts, Krone took the first steps. Along with Robert Kingsley, then dean of the USC Law Center, William Hartshorn, then supervisor of music for the Los Angeles city schools, and Alfred Wallenstein, then conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Krone incorporated the Idyllwild Arts Foundation as a non-profit educational institution to purchase land and support the nascent Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA). The founders purchased 340 acres of gently rolling meadows, streams and beautifully scented pines from the Domenigoni family, who had owned land and farmed for generations in the Temecula/Winchester area.
There is a story, attributed to “Music Man” composer Meredith Willson in Holiday Magazine in 1954, of Willson’s taking a ride with Krone in 1949 through a totally imaginary campus in a totally dilapidated Jeep. Willson described Krone’s enthusiasm in pointing out buildings that had not yet been built. In Krone’s mind’s eye, they were as real as the trees that would soon be cleared for the building sites. And it was not long after that jostling Jeep tour that Krone’s dream buildings began to sprout. They were designed by USC architecture faculty members Arthur B. Gallion and Calvin Straub.
Those first buildings and ones built in subsequent years were fashioned to blend in with the land’s cinnamon-colored tree trunks and were sited to naturally complement the boulders that are ubiquitous throughout the campus.
Krone wrote of why Idyllwild’s mountain environment served as the perfect site for his dream of an arts campus: “Idyllwild emphasizes the belief that participation in one of the arts in a beautiful, relaxed, outdoor setting, if only for a week or two during the summer, is the best medicine for the body, mind and soul, not only for what it does for one during that short time, but also for the help it may give towards establishing a pattern of living for the rest of the year, even for the rest of one’s life.”
Krone held and embodied the belief that if one aspires to greatness one should surround oneself with greatness. ISOMATA summer sessions began to attract more students because of the cast of great teachers Krone was assembling: Willson, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, composer and conductor Carmen Dragon, Benny Goodman, pianist and conductor José Iturbi, Wallenstein, choral conductors Fred Waring, Roger Wagner and Norman Luboff, novelist Irving Stone, poet Norman Corwin, photographers Ansel Adams and Alfred Eisenstaedt, folk singer Pete Seeger and choreographers Bella Lewitzky and Merce Cunningham.
Those early summers were rich with talent and camaraderie. The sounds of music cascaded throughout the woods, art was created in campus studios, writers taught, dancers danced, actors acted and Krone’s dream took hold and began to grow.
The first summer workshops took place over six weeks of intensive arts education. From 40 adult students that first summer, the Summer Program workshops grew to more than 2,000 children, youths, adults
Here are some key dates in the evolution of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation:
• 1941 – Max and Beatrice Drone buy the Lincoln Ferris cabin on Marion View Drive.
• 1946 – The Idyllwild Arts Foundation is incorporated and land is purchased for the ISOMATA campus.
• 1949 – Laura Steere teaches the first sculpture and modeling classes outdoors. The Atwater Kent Bowl, now Holmes Amphitheatre, is dedicated.
• 1950 – The Laura Steere Studio is the first building constructed on campus. Birchard Music Studio and Bowman Arts Center are dedicated. July 26 is “opening day” for the first full schedule of six-week summer art classes.
• 1952 – Annual summer Shakespeare festival is inaugurated;
• 1955 – Merce Cunningham and Bella Lewitzky join the ISOMATA dance faculty. Violinist Alice Schoenfeld and her sister, cellist Eleonore Schoenfeld join the music faculty.
• 1956 – First Jr. High School Band and Orchestra program is held and the dining hall opens.
• 1957 – Robert Evans Holmes conducted the Festival Choir, remaining until 1974. Pete Seeger joins the ISOMATA folk music faculty and Norman Corwin makes his first appearance as a writers’ conference participant.
• 1960 – Ernie Siva joins the ISOMATA Native American faculty.
• 1962 – ISOMATA becomes part of USC on Feb. 1.
• 1963 – Rush Conference Hall (now part of the IA Theatre Arts) is dedicated.
• 1964 – The ISOMATA High School Symphony tours England and Wales. IAF and USC reach agreement for ISOMATA to become USC-ISOMATA.
• 1965 – The ISOMATA Idyllwild Youth Symphony tours Scandinavia.
• 1968 – The ISOMATA Associates forms to support the school.
• 1970 – Max Krone passes. ISOMATA is integrated into the USC School of Performing Arts.
• 1980 – Zimmerman Log Lodge is dedicated. Holmes is chosen as new director of USC-ISOMATA. Famed Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Eugene Ormandy visits ISOMATA.
• 1983 – Holmes Amphitheatre is dedicated. USC and ISOMATA part company and the IAF board resumes full ownership and operation of the school.
• 1985 – William Lowman becomes executive director.
• 1986 – The Idyllwild Arts Academy begins operation as the only independent boarding arts high school west of the Mississippi. Summer Program workshops continue, following the academic year.
• 1987 – Stephens Recital Hall, Husch and MacNeal dorms and the Lewitzky Dance Studio are completed.
• 1990 – Idyllwild Arts begins its first year of both arts and academic classes on campus. Previously academic classes had been taught at the Elliot Pope Preparatory School (now AstroCamp).
• 1991 – IAA completes its first Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation process.
• 1995 – ISOMATA formally becomes the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program and the Idyllwild Arts Academy.
• 1997 – New buildings include the Fisher Dance Studio, Wayne and Pierson dorms and Meadow 8 classroom.
• 2000 – Beatrice Krone passes, and the Krone Library and Museum is dedicated.
• 2002 – The Bruce Ryan Sound Stage opens and the Marie Eymann Sculpture Garden is dedicated.
• 2003 – The Escherich Humanities Center is dedicated.
• 2008 – The Nelson Dining Hall is dedicated.
• 2011 – The Ataloa Memorial Grove is rededicated with nine cairns built by David Reid-Marr in collaboration with Steve Hudson. After 25 years at the helm of IAA, Bill Lowman retires.
• 2014 – Pamela Jordan becomes president of IAF.
Correction: It’s Lora Steere not Laura Steere.
Mickey Regal, picture in the photo for this article, passed away in 2015. She was a Town Crier columnist at one time, and a community leader in the 1960s through 1980s.
I am surprised that the Town Crier never published an obituary of her. I guess the old-timers are all forgotten now.
My first summer at Isomata was in 1956 when I was 11. My mother, Ethel Fischer began working there in the summers to cover my tuition, eventually becoming the registrar. My father worked on the Isomata maintenance crew for several years. Among their many friends on “the hill” were Ernie and Bee Maxwell, founders of this publication. I owe so much to Isomata. It was there I first began acting, playing guitar, making ceramics, painting. I was in the first “Junior Players” session that the amazing Burdette Fitzgerald taught in ’57. I went on to the high school drama program and played Dr. Faustus at age 16. I became a professional actor after graduating from UCLA in the mid-sixties. I cofounded a theatre in 1978, “Traveling Jewish Theatre” which lasted for 34 years. I’m now 70, still acting, playing guitar, writing and drawing. My best friend’s granddaughter is now a boarding student (voice) at Idyllwind Arts. The fact that somehow that beautiful artistic/cultural DNA from Max and Bea Krone, Pete Seeger, Meredith Willson, Harry Sternberg, Lora Steere, Bella Lewitzky, Brownie McGee & Sonny Terry and many more continues to nurture these younger generations gives me hope and joy. I’m so happy I found this site! Many thanks for telling this unique story.