The Buckhorn: A Story of Disaster, Fate

In 1997, Mrs. Unruh was on her way back from a charity golf tournament in Palm Springs when she ran into a major traffic jam on I-10 in Upland.

Her passenger suggested a quick trip to Mt. Baldy to wait out the traffic.

“I was thinking, ‘Yeh, but it’s going to be three hours out of our way,’” said Mrs. Unruh, who only gives out her English honorific rather than her given name.

manleyShe was surprised when the drive to the mountain community only took about fifteen minutes, and, by chance, they stopped at the historic Buckhorn Lodge.

“I couldn’t breathe and I just got the chills,” she said. “It was fantastic!”

Mrs. Unruh and her friend drove back to Los Angeles, but her thoughts kept coming back to that charming, rustic lodge and its potential.

The pioneers who first ventured into San Antonio Canyon were probably thinking the same thing as they looked through the soaring oaks and pines up at Mount Baldy. They were certain they would find gold, but their hopes did not pan out.

In 1894, a man named Frank Keyes built the mountain community’s first resort—Dell’s Camp. Visitors came, but growth was slow because horses or mules were the only way in and out of the canyon. A wagon road wasn’t completed until shortly after the turn of the century.

Camp Baldy, which would later be renamed The Buckhorn Lodge, opened in 1909. The lodge became a popular getaway for Southern Californians, but it didn’t reach its heyday until Foster and Ruth Curry purchased it in 1928.

The two had helped manage Yosemite’s then famous Camp Curry, which Foster’s parents had established, and they planned to transform Mt. Baldy into “The Yosemite of the South.”

Camp Curry featured 84 shaded cabins by the time Foster Curry died from cancer in 1932. Ruth Curry remarried and continued managing the camp, which suffered a setback when the casino across the street burned down in 1936.

Curry and her new husband, silent movie star Edmund Burns, seized the opportunity and built a new, bigger casino called The Wagon Wheel. It featured a large dance hall, dining room, and a glass floor through which guests could view San Antonio Creek.

In 1938, a major storm spawned a massive flood that wiped out the newly built casino and all but ten of Camp Curry’s vacation cabins. A Democratic politician named Bill Sager purchased the remnants of the camp in 1948 and reopened it as The Buckhorn Restaurant.

Mrs. Unruh—the widow of former California Assembly Speaker and State Treasurer Jesse Unruh, who also served as campaign manager for President John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and President Jimmy Carter—purchased the lodge a few years after that fateful trip to Mt. Baldy. Since then, she has been working to build its customer base.

On Friday and Saturday nights,“The Fabulous Mrs. Unruh,” who once opened at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, kicks up her heels with a local group called Mort Marker & The Buckhorn Boys. She performs classics such as “Lady and the Tramp” and “All That Jazz.” Mrs. Unruh has upgraded the lodge’s outdoor patio, and she continues to improve the lodge’s nearly century-old cabins while preserving their rustic charm.

Mrs. Unruh said the lodge and its mountain surroundings, including Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts, the Mt. Baldy Trout Pools, and dozens of hiking and biking trails, are just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the urbanized valley below.

“When you start coming up to Mt. Baldy, it’s like another world,” she said.

Visit http://buckhornlodgemtbaldy.com to learn more about The Buckhorn Lodge.

The Rutherford Report features a monthly article about a Second District business. If you know a Second District business with an interesting story to tell, let me know by sending an email to Supervisor.Rutherford@bos.sbcounty.gov.

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