“Community Institutions in Idyllwild have never been plentiful, but the few that have persisted over the years have bound the community together profoundly. The most important institution under this theme is Town Hall, which was constructed largely by community labor for community use and stands today as a symbol of Idyllwild’s social cohesion and neighborly spirit,” states LSA Associates, Historic Resources Survey, Idyllwild Commercial District, Riverside County, 2009.
With an asking price of $489,000, the Johnson family listed Town Hall for sale for a second time as a commercial property on April 19, 2018. The property is represented by Muir Mountain Realty. Marge Muir advised, “The Johnson Family legal counsel, upon their request, elected to engage the services of First American Title to perfect title to Town Hall enabling the Johnsons to place the property on the market.”
For the benefit of Idyllwild newcomers, construction of Town Hall on Cedar Street likely began with an informal land-use bequest. Residents of Idyllwild began construction of Town Hall In 1946, volunteering labor to build the entire two-story, 4,000-square-foot project, featuring a large stone fireplace and chimney.
“On December 12, 1946, every store in town closed so that the residents of Idyllwild could work all day laying the foundation for the building. Women of the community provided a hearty lunch and dinner to the work crew. Thereafter, a volunteer crew headed by grocery store owner Harold Sanborn worked every Friday for months until they were finally ready to raise the roof in March of 1947. On July 10, 1947, Town Hall was dedicated, a true community achievement and a symbol of Idyllwild’s future as a year-round home to a growing population,” per LSA Associates.
“In truth and by virtue of the original gift, this facility belongs to each and every member of the Idyllwild community. Everyone should feel they have received an endowment from the previous generation who leveraged their resources and built a legacy for Idyllwild that’s now in jeopardy,” said Kat Wilson, founder of Young Idyllwild Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, who are forming an initiative to, if necessary, buy back Town Hall on behalf of the Idyllwild community.
In keeping with their intent, on Aug. 30, 1952, Gerald E. and Eleanor S. Johnson issued a Grant Deed transferring ownership of the Town Hall property to the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce. The Grant Deed outlines the following conditions: “(1) The said property shall be used by the Grantee, in accordance with its corporate powers and solely for the purpose of a community and recreational site for the use of the inhabitants of the community of Idyllwild, Riverside County California. (2) Said premises shall not be used as a dwelling place or place of permanent residence, nor shall any commercial activity be conducted thereon except such as may be conducted by Grantee itself for the direct advancement of its corporate purpose. And upon the violation of any of said Conditions, said property shall revert to Grantors or their heirs.”
On June 6, 2000, son James W. Johnson presented an “Agreement” requesting written assurance from the Idyllwild Chamber … to the following stipulations. “1. The Town Hall property shall be used only for community recreational purposes. If the Town Hall is ever sold by the CHAMBER, the proceeds from that sale shall be used solely for community recreational purposes.” 2. States this agreement shall become part of the permanent record of the CHAMBER dated June 19, 2000. “3. All of the provisions of this Agreement shall extend to and bind or inure to the benefit of not only the parties hereto, but to each and every one of the officers, directors, heirs, executors, representatives, successors, and assigns of the parties.”
On Nov. 2, 2012, the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce, “Resolved to convey, transfer and return Town Hall property … to Jay William Johnson, Trustee for the heirs of Gerald E. and Eleanor S. Johnson, as the holders of a present preserved power of termination created by the original 1952 conveyance of the Town Hall property to the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce”.
This resolution was signed by David Jerome, the resolution was “duly adopted by the Board of Directors of the corporation at the Board of Directors Meeting held on October, 31, 2012.” The adoption of this action was taken prior to the Idyllwild Chamber’s formal dissolution in 2013.
“JP Crumrine reported in the Nov. 19, 2015, issue of the Town Crier that asbestos was found above the ceiling of Town Hall requiring immediate attention; the problem was tentatively dealt with shortly thereafter. However, the asbestos will require permanent remediation,” disclosed Wilson, who went onto state, “There are some additional costs which will be incurred to bring Town Hall up to code and comply with historic designation requirements and while they may look daunting by Idyllwild standards, they are nominal when compared to the value this property holds for Idyllwild.
“Historically, questions regarding insuring clear title on a property conveyed via quitclaim versus a warranty deed remain unanswered,” stated Wilson.
On Dec. 16, 2016, Vincent Yzaguirre, deputy real estate director for Riverside County, wrote the following in response to a title status inquiry by Wilson on behalf of YI, “At one time (a few years ago) the property was being offered on a donation basis to the County. The donation was never perfected/completed because free and clear (absolute) title could not be perfected to the County and with the help of both internal and external legal counsel. After about one year of trying, both the owner and the County moved away from the idea. I cannot provide you with the specific details of the attempted donation only to say that the donation attempt failed to be perfected.”
“It’s our responsibility to steward our community,” stated Wilson, who added, “We’ve lost enough historic buildings. I don’t think you can place a value on the importance of preserving this history. For upwards of 72 years, this grand venue has served our community. Weddings, plays, concerts, kids programs, performances, holiday and birthday parties, art events, talent shows, barbecues, Fred Waring even taught choral in Town Hall and now its future for Idyllwild is once again in serious jeopardy.”
David Hunt of Idyllwild reasons, “I feel it’s important to keep the memory of Jerry Johnson attached to Town Hall, and at all cost, it needs to retain its original purpose and be responsibly stewarded to endure for generations.”
To this end, YI is launching a grassroots initiative working co-operatively with interested parties to save Town Hall. The vision, Idyllwild Center for The Arts, includes regaining and retaining title to the property on behalf of the Idyllwild community. The next phase will take the form of an active fundraising campaign.
Initial renovation goals include redesign and upgrade to the indoor stage, addition of stage lights and an audio/visual system, a mobile theater seating system, improved acoustics, dressing rooms, bathroom remodels, classroom space, basement renovation to accommodate a permanent home for Radio Idyllwild with a recording studio, the redesign and build of the outdoor stage, and permitting of the outdoor kitchen for concession sales.
“The Town Hall renovation project is distinctively different from the [Idyllwild Community Center] project because our purposes are mutually exclusive. Town Hall will be re-purposed as a year-round performing arts center. Building of the outdoor amphitheater, although important to ICC, has been moved to stage IV and will only be viable to host performances during summer months when completed,” said Wilson.
“We are optimistic that the spirit of this effort will convey and the arts community we are, will one day own a viable performance venue … and it would appear that CBS news anchor Alexandre Pierce will soon be airing a live interview on Town Hall’s history and future by Barbara, Bud and David Hunt,” confirms Wilson.
For a minimum $25 donation to Young Idyllwild Inc. for Save Town Hall, you can receive a gift by email of copies of all relevant deeds and public-domain documents plus the plot description. For more information and opportunities to support the effort, visit https://youngidyllwild.org/save-town-hall. Like and follow us on Facebook at Young Idyllwild Inc.