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History of Lake Arrowhead California

The Resort | History

Formerly known as Little Bear Valley, this portion of the San Bernardino Mountains was used by local indigenous Native Americans, namely Serrano Indians, for many years as an escape from the heat of the lower elevations and as a reliable food source.

After California became a state in 1850, Mormon settlers from San Bernardino built a mountain road into the valley and began harvesting the virgin forests that supplied much of the lumber for the building of Los Angeles.

In the late 1800′s, a small band of businessmen from Cincinnati, Ohio, including James Gamble of Procter & Gamble, bought most of the acreage in the valley and surrounding hills with the intention of building a dam to supply water and power to the orange growers in the San Bernardino Valley. They began construction of a concrete core dam and adjacent tunnels in 1893, just as the country plunged into a four-year depression. By the early 1900′s, several lawsuits had been filed against the project. Soon after, the Cincinnati industrialists lost interest and sold to another consortium headed by J.B. Van Nuys who finished the dam. They also conceived the idea of building an upscale resort and a Normandy Village. At this time, the lake became known as Lake Arrowhead, named after the natural rock formation at the bottom of Waterman Canyon that resembles an arrowhead.

Mr. A.L. Richmond, owner of the Arlington Hotel in Santa Barbara was commissioned to build a lakefront hotel. Quoting from the Saga of the San Bernardino, “by the very nature and demand of the setting,” Richmond was persuaded to undertake the building of a suitable hotel for Lake Arrowhead on the high terrace between Burnt Mill Road and the steep-gabled Normandy Village. He collaborated with the architect, McNeal Swasney, on a harmonious design. Much of the material was already on hand. Within a few weeks, a double shift of 150 masons and carpenters started the task of raising a drawing to a reality. The half-million-dollar Arlington Lodge opened its doors to a thousand affluent guests on June 23, 1923, with a midnight champagne party and dance. The guests enjoyed the orchestra, toured the drawing rooms, the gracious bedchambers with private baths and the beautiful terrace overlooking Lake Arrowhead. The “Great Hall”, as the Lobby was named, was a massive architectural achievement featuring a ceiling that vaulted forty-five feet above the luxurious carpeting. Across one end of the lobby was a huge fireplace that radiated congenial warmth, and at the opposite end was a grand staircase that curved aloft.

Exclusive period furniture, especially designed by Old-World craftsmen, completed the elegant setting. In the banquet hall, a hundred and fifty Southern California notables toasted the cuisine of a world famous chef and offered felicitations to builder Richmond for his complete success. At that time, $15 would get you round trip transportation from Los Angeles, three meals at the Lodge and a one-night stay. The Lodge burned in October of 1938, but was quickly rebuilt. Movies filmed at the Lodge included: Just for You, in 1952, starring Bing Crosby, Ethel Barrymore and a young Natalie Wood; I’ll Take Sweden, in 1965, starring Bob Hope, Frankie Avalon and Tuesday Weld; and A Summer Without Boys, in 1973, starring Michael Moriarty, Barbara Bain and Kay Lenz.