The history of Lake Arrowhead Village began in 1920 when The Arrowhead Lake Company, a Los Angeles syndicate, bought Little Bear Lake (the original name of the area) and surrounding land (approximately 4,800 acres), and changed the name to Lake Arrowhead, (taking the name from the rock formation in the form of an Arrowhead on the face of the San Bernardino Mountain, near Arrowhead Hot Springs, which is rooted in Indian legend and found at the bottom of Highway 18).
The Early Years
The Arrowhead Lake Company’s plan was to develop the mile high man-made lake into an exceptional recreational and residential area. Between 1921 and 1923, the original Lake Arrowhead Village, built in the Norman style, was erected and included a dance pavilion, an outdoor movie theatre, restaurant, beach and bath houses. Three hotels were also built — Arlington Lodge, Village Inn, and North Shore Tavern. Over $8 million was spent developing Lake Arrowhead, a private lake, into the most upscale resort in the Southern California mountains. The Village held its official opening on June 24, 1922.
The promotion for Lake Arrowhead Village was done via postcards, newspaper and magazine advertising. Artists were encouraged to paint Lake Arrowhead Village and the surrounding area. Many of the paintings were turned into postcards to help advertise Lake Arrowhead Village. This promotion made the Village an immediate success and the promotion of the new “High Gear Road” made Lake Arrowhead a popular tourist destination.
Some of the lakeside land was subdivided and sold for private homes and secluded north shore estates. Many Hollywood stars stayed at the hotels during the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, and some purchased homes in the resort. The studios frequently used the area for locations for major motion pictures.
During the war years, Lake Arrowhead Village was a popular rest and recuperation area for service men. Because of gas rationing, tourists became scarce. Throughout the next few decades Lake Arrowhead Village continued being a wonderful tourist attraction as well as the “downtown” of the mountain communities.
Lake Arrowhead Village was originally developed in the 1920’s and served as a thriving downtown and tourist destination for many years, however, by the 1970’s age had taken its toll and the 1920’s Village was in a state of disrepair and facing potential condemnation.
Burn to Learn Exercise
The road to the “new” Village began when a group of investors headed by developers George Coult and Jerry Jackson bought the “Village” and “Lodge” properties in 1978. They made the decision to redevelop Lake Arrowhead Village into a multifaceted center that would serve the community for generations to come. In April of 1979, a month-long “Burn to Learn” exercise was conducted by the Lake Arrowhead Fire Protection District along with the San Bernardino County Fire Department and Air Corps taking part. The “Burn to Learn” exercise was decided upon because the 1920’s Village had become dilapidated and a fire hazard over the years.
An ex-fireman, Mr. Jackson thought that the “Burn to Learn” exercise was a great learning opportunity for firemen, especially since the fire department was about to condemn parts of the village. “If the termites had quit holding hands, the buildings would have fallen down,” stated Mr. Coult. To this end, all structures in the Village were burned four to five times over the course of the month, except for the original dance pavilion building, the post office, bank and real estate office.
During the time of the “Burn to Learn” exercise, SWAT teams came to Lake Arrowhead Village and spent hours lying in the snow practicing maneuvers in this make shift war zone. Needless to say, building a project of this magnitude in a four-season climate was challenging for all involved. The Grand Opening of the “new” Lake Arrowhead Village occurred over Memorial Weekend, 1981.
The beautiful “new” Village was built in much the same architecture as the old Village, and the dance pavilion was restored as the Theme building. What is now called the Pavilion building houses Papagayos Mexican Restaurant and Big on Bears. The “new” Lake Arrowhead Village is ten times larger than the original.
The “New” Village
On January 29, 1981 the Lake Arrowhead Village Merchants Association Board approved Memorial Day Weekend for the Grand Opening of the “new” Lake Arrowhead Village. It was planned that the general theme would encompass the Roaring 20’s era. At the time the “new” Village opened tenant capacity was at approximately 45%.
Today the Village draws 3 million visitors annually. Being the “downtown” of Lake Arrowhead, the Village features over 50 specialty and outlet stores as well as a variety of restaurants. On any given weekend at the Village one can experience an assortment of musicians, children’s entertainers, and special celebrations.
The main event of Lake Arrowhead Village entertainment is the free 18 week long Center Stage Summer Concert Series that runs every Friday and Saturday nights as well as holiday nights from the middle of May through Labor Day. There are approximately 40 outdoor concerts in all showcasing some of the best bands in California and the west. A variety of musical styles is featured from Classic Rock/Pop to Reggae and Country to even Celtic rock. All concerts are perfect for families and run from 6:30pm – 8:30pm.
Other annual events include Easter weekend with Easter Egg Hunts for children. Market Night is held every Friday night from Memorial Day thru Labor Day. June hosts the Antique and Classic Wooden Boat Show and the New Boat Show, July features a spectacular fireworks display over the lake, September and October weekends are full with Southern California’s best free Oktoberfest, November and December focus on the holidays with Santa and an old fashioned Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and of course, big Black Friday sales.
Attractions include Lollipop Park for all ages consisting of go carts that everyone can drive, a carousel, fun house, train ride and more. Also for kids there is a park and lakeside playground. The Arrowhead Queen tours the lake with a 50-minute narrated cruise highlighting the history of the area and is the only way the general public can get on the lake and see the spectacular views other than McKenzie Water Ski School (the oldest Water Ski School in the nation) where adults and children of all ages can learn to water ski.
With four distinct seasons, the clean mountain air, the beautiful lake, and it’s rich history, it’s no wonder Lake Arrowhead Village is a premiere destination for Southern Californians.
Lake Arrowhead Village has come full circle since its beginnings in the ‘20’s and has regained its place as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southern California.