By David Jerome
A local business known as Wild Idy has found itself involved in what LA Weekly Magazine is calling a “confounding controversy.” The colorful murals that identify the gift shop at 54340 North Circle Drive and the fence surrounding the Proud Mary rental cottage have attracted not only the press and thousands of fans and supporters, but also the ire of at least one anonymous complainant, who has made multiple calls to Riverside County Code Enforcement (RCCE). The status of the buildings as “contributors” to the local Idyllwild Historic Preservation District (IHPD) further complicates the issue.
Amy Hawley, a partner in Wild Idy, said the business began in 2017 with event planning and consulting. Like many entrepreneurs, the partners tried many avenues before hitting their stride and opening the gift shop.
The first mural went up in August 2020, painted by Nicholas Danger, a San Diego-based artist LA Weekly profiled just this week, describing his work’s “whimsical, warmly psychedelic characters and vibrating color stories.”
Hawley provides some background: “We wanted to open a communal work space, but when COVID happened we pivoted to hosting vacation spaces. When I was a kid we would stay at these cottage inns, many of which have ironically since become long-term rentals … when we opened our first little cottage we invited [artist] Nicholas Danger to paint it.
“It was a big deal for us, we were huge fans of his, we were carrying his work. He’s well known in San Diego. We invited him, and when he accepted, we were overwhelmed with excitement.
“This opened the door for other notable Southern California artists including Sara Lyons and Skye Walker. When that first mural went up [on the chimney of 54340 N Circle], inspired by the Cahuilla legend of Tahquitz, we estimate our foot traffic went up 400%. I believe strongly that the turning point for our business came when those murals went up. It stands to reason that having them removed would mark another turning point into the negative. It didn’t take long for us to realize that people came up to see his art. Those murals aren’t just Wild Idy’s, they are part of the community, a community that prides itself on artistic expression … those murals put us on the map.”
Before starting the first mural, the proprietors sought and received permission from their landlord, Shane Stewart, who they believe to be “… among those that helped form the historical district.” [Shane’s office was unable to provide comment as of press time.]
The success of the mural inspired Wild Idy to organize Pints in the Pines, an August beer and mural festival, raising money for local nonprofits. Hawley said, “Six artists with combined followings of over 200,000 people participated, awesome brewers donated, a dozen dogs were adopted that weekend. Our doggy pool was the most popular booth of the whole thing. A lot of local business people say they want to participate this year. Every one of our sponsors wants to come back.”
The complaints to RCCE started in September 2021, over a year after the first mural appeared. A local who disapproved of the murals began making regular, even daily, calls to RCCE.
As locals may know, enforcement here is lax, with the county really only taking an interest if a permit application is filed or a complaint is made. An employee at Riverside County Building and Safety confirmed that they have received numerous complaints from a single caller and that RCCE requires permits for murals, apparently grouping them with other types of signage.
A further level of bureaucracy is created by the building’s status as a “contributor” to the IHPD (also known as Idyllwild Historic Downtown District.) Owners whose properties are included in such districts must preserve the appearance of the buildings, and before undertaking any changes must file an application for a Certificate of Historic Appropriateness with the planning director.
The intention of these districts is to preserve the visual integrity of a neighborhood. This is hoped to help tourism and maintain quality of life for residents. Property owners in turn receive the benefit of being exempt from certain regulations, like those pertaining to wheelchair access, and receive a tax benefit; their properties are assessed not at “Market Value” but at “Income Value,” a difference the State Office of Historic Preservation says “may [allow owners to] realize substantial property tax savings of between 40% and 60% each year.”
The state created this program in 1972. Counties use it as an incentive to participate in HPDs and Riverside County in turn created its own ordinance (578.4) in 1979, defining terms including “alterations.” For the purpose of the HPDs, these include… “exterior changes to, or modification of structure, architectural details, or visual characteristics such as paint color and surface texture.” All HPDs created in the county are subject to the terms of this ordinance, which came into being in 2011.
This brings us back to Wild Idy and RCCE. The citation was addressed to the owner, so RCCE took it to him. As Hawley told the Crier, “He had changed the lease to allow cosmetic changes because he knew the respect we have to the rich, vibrant, warm history of the building. We know some see these murals as being representing change in Idyllwild. We see them as a celebration of a bright and colorful culture, rich with history and art. I fondly remember Georgia’s [the former business in that location], fondly remember it being painted lavender, with giant panda bears on the roof.”
So Wild Idy began to interact with the county. The historic preservation officer who connects the IHPD Local Review Board to the board of supervisors is Antone “Tony” Pierucci. Hawley reports that he has been very “patient and understanding,” adding that although the ordinance may be changed to allow greater freedom for paint, that would take 12 to 24 months. In the meantime, an application is being filed and accommodations are being sought.
Pierucci confirmed the elements of the story and added that the next meeting of the LRB is at noon Thursday, Jan. 26 at Idyllwild Library. Once Wild Idy’s application is completed and reviewed, a special meeting will be called, probably in February.
Meanwhile, Wild Idy has begun a petition to save the murals at change.org, (Save Wild Idy’s Murals) and is asking social media users to support them by using the hashtag #savethemurals. At press time, the petition had more than 2,100 signatures.