Recollections on the Beginnings of de Benneville Pines



In June, 1960, while I was District Consultant for the Pacific Southwest District of the Pacific Coast Unitarian Council, at the close of PSWIRL week at Camp Radford, a delegation from PSWIRL came to see me and said that the PSWIRL Annual Meeting had voted to ask me, as District Consultant, to explore the possibility of purchasing a summer conference site. Camp Radford, where we had been conferencing, had proved inadequate to accommodate all the various summer conference needs we were experiencing. We already had moved the LRY activities into a separate camp, of which I had been “Dean” in 1956 and 1957.

In July, 1960, a Camp Committee was formed. With the help of several lay persons, Ide Keeler, and I canvassed several locations in the area. A camp in Idyllwild was for sale, and a private piece of property capable of development at Seven Oaks was available. Ide Keeler heard that the Boy Scout camp near Barton Flats, Camp Arataba, a leasehold on Forest Service land, was for sale. Arataba’s lodge had recently burned down and, at just that time, someone had given the Boy Scout Council a large tract of land in the San Bernardino Mountains on the ridge near Lake Arrowhead. So the Boy Scout Council put their leasehold for sale. On July 29, Keeler and I met at the camp to look it over. I had Bert Shaw, an engineer with the City of Riverside, and a member of my congregation, give us professional counsel. It was a beautiful site on the north slope of Mt. San Gorgonio at an elevation of 6800 feet. The camp had been a tent camp with “permanent” wooden tent platforms, perhaps 16’X16′, on which army-style tents were erected each summer.

The tent platforms were arranged in groups of six or eight, in perhaps six or eight places scattered over a considerably larger area than that which now comprises de Benneville Pines. Each of the tent clusters had a large washbasin, perhaps 4 feet by 10 feet, with water spigots. The water was brought to each site in pipes laid on the surface of the ground. These pipes had to be turned off and drained before winter. There was a horizontal well with water flowing under its own pressure into a storage reservoir made of concrete pipes cemented together and sealed. The water was excellent and sufficient to serve the camp. In addition to the tent platforms and well, the camp improvements consisted of a standard camp-size swimming pool with propane heating system, a new shower facility, the remains of the burned lodge (slab and fireplace), and the infirmary, now de Benneville’s Director’s cabin. There was also a fire-circle (the present one just east of Homet Lodge), and an Inspiration Point where “Chapel” services were held, now barely discernible on the promontory over-looking the present water tank.

Keeler and I met with Hugh Holmes, the Boy Scouts’ representative for the Arrowhead Area Council, on August 8. The scouts were asking $40,000 for their interest in the leasehold and for the improvements. It was by far the best place we had visited. The Camp Committee reported to the joint boards of the California Universalist Convention and the Pacific Southwest District, PCUC, at their August 13 meeting in Costa Mesa. The joint boards met in Riverside on September 17, and those that could, visited Arataba. Everyone approved of the site, and it was decided to hold an “Open house/Visitation” on two consecutive Saturdays, October 29 and November 5, so everyone in the district could see it and give input.

The Universalist churches in Los Angeles and Hollywood (the Revs. G. Douglas Frazier and Sheldon Shepard, respectively) had just disbanded and sold their properties. The combined sum, as I recall, was $50,000 to $60,000. At any rate, it was enough to pay for the purchase of the leasehold and improvements at the Boy Scout camp. It had historically been Universalist policy to have a clause in each churches Articles of Incorporation that upon the dissolution of a church, the proceeds from the sale of the property would go to the state convention. In those days, however, there were so few churches constituting the California Universalist Convention that it was thought prudent to have these reversionary clauses name the Universalist Church of America, or its successor, to receive such funds. The funds in either case were to be held against a time when another church, or other Universalist project, in that area came into existence and needed funding. The funds from the Los Angeles and Hollywood Universalist churches had been sent to the UCA for holding. When the purchase of the Boy Scout Camp became desirable, the California Universalist Convention Board wrote to the UCA and requested the release of $40,000 to purchase it. The UCA and the AUA were then, however, in the process of working out the details of the merger and smoothing out the fiscal differences between the two entities. The UCA was ready to release the $40,000 in good Universalist tradition. The AUA, however, did not want to let it go without a “string”. The compromise was that $40,000 would be a long-term loan to the California Universalist Convention, with no interest and no pay back date. The note was duly signed and the CUC bought the Boy Scout Camp.

At the Annual Meeting of the California Universalist Convention, then in the process of merging with the Pacific Southwest District, I was appointed Superintendent of the California Universalist Convention. (I was already the District Consultant of the PSD). The joint PSD/CUC Board decided to hold a contest to name our new facility. I wanted to guarantee a Universalist heritage for the new camp, so I proposed several Universalist names. Among the names submitted, Camp de Benneville. The Board chose de Benneville but did not like Camp de Benneville and changed it to de Benneville Pines.

The original thought was to somewhat duplicate the facilities available at Camp Radford–a purely summer-time camp with small cabins on concrete piers and eight to ten beds, bunk style, in each. Just at that time, however, a number of wood-frame World War II buildings at March and Edwards AFB’s became available at very reasonable prices. A committee of us inspected them. Those at Edwards were pre-fabricated buildings, very similar to today’s double-wide mobile homes, though they were completely wood-frame and without wheels. They had been duplexes set up during WW II to house civilian women employees at the base. They could easily be taken apart down the middle, lengthwise, as that was how they had been originally constructed. As I recall, the price was about $1000-$1200, including the delivery to our site. We bought nine of them. The delivery was more than the sellers (or our organization) had bargained for. One half of one of the buildings fell off its trailer on the way up the mountain highway and shattered into kindling. The remaining half of the building is now part of the staff cabin.

The cabins were ready to be delivered and we had yet to decide where they were to be placed. So a committee of us hurried up the mountain one Saturday, tramped over the site, chose nine places and flagged them. The cabin halves were brought into camp as far as the truck could pass. Large concrete piers were poured, and the cabins were winched up the terrain and set in place.

At just this time, the Forestry Service drew up new requirements for all camps in this region: “All must be placed on complete foundations and winterized so the camp could be used year-round.” If an organization could not use its facility all year, the camp must be made available to outside lease groups. Additionally, the traditional privies and septic tanks in place at the time were deemed “no longer acceptable” by the Forest Service. This decision was made after an outbreak of hepatitis at our YMCA neighbor, Camp Round Meadow.

Bob Bland, of the Anaheim Church, set about putting new roofs on the buildings with increased pitch and strength to accommodate the weight of the winter snows. He also designed and built, with much help, the marvelous porches. The exterior walls were removed from the cabins, insulation installed and new board and batten exteriors put on to conform to Forest Service and San Bernardino County codes. At Forest Service insistence, we cleared a twenty-foot fire trail clear around the camp. Ide Keeler, a professional sanitarian at the time, researched a sewage disposal system.

At the insistence of the Forest Service and the County, we had unexpectedly changed from a simple summer camp to a year-round conference facility. We did not have the money, so we sold bonds, at six percent interest, to any UU we could interest in buying one. Campaigns were held in all UU churches, and the appropriate money was raised. Oh yes, all the water pipes had to be buried so as not to freeze during the winter, and sewage pipes were laid and connected to our new sewage disposal system.

One more thing was needed, an assembly hall. Plans were drawn and an estimated $40,000 was needed. We wondered from where the money would come. We publicized the need, and the Rev. Claire Blauvelt, minister of our new Costa Mesa Universalist Church, and former minister at Throop Memorial, called me with a lead. He thought an elderly member of Throop Church, a Mrs. Theresa Homet Patterson, might be interested in giving the building. Taking the plans for the proposed lodge, I drove into Pasadena and met with Mrs. Patterson on May 8, 1961. She agreed to give $40,000, but asked that the lodge be named after her family. I assured her we would be glad to name it “Patterson Hall”; but she said, “No”, it was to be named after HER family, the Homet family. The name is French, she told me, and pronounced Oh-may.

Sometime before we started planning for the lodge, we purchased two more surplus buildings from the Air Force. One is now our Coffee House. We originally planned it for our Maintenance Building, but having a maintenance area as the first thing to be seen upon driving into the camp proved to be a mistake. The building was then remodeled to be a meeting place. The Coffee House, as I recall, cost us $1500, delivered.

The second building we had agreed to purchase was the March Field hospital building. We thought this building could be a series of bedrooms, kitchen and conference room. I don’t remember the price, but $5000 comes to mind. Plans were made to place it in a clearing across the drive, and to the east, of the shower house. A change in our board officers brought new check signers, which meant that the officer’s signatures did not match the bank’s records. We knew we had ample funds in the bank, so confidently, we sent the check through again. It bounced a second time before we could get our signature cards straightened out. The hospital was sold to another bidder.

The final signing of papers, which then transferred the leasehold and gave us the property, took place at the Mill Creek Ranger Station on January 6, 1961. The summer of 1962 was our first full use of de Benneville Pines. We had a total of 676 people at the various camp sessions. June 16-22 was LRY week with 75 people; June 23-29 was the First Family Camp with 80; June 30 – July 5 LREA (religious education) week with 150; August 18-24 was Junior High Camp with 77; August 25-30 was the Second Family Camp with 200; September 6-9 was a district Churchmanship Conference with 94 people.

At the end of the Churchmanship Conference, on September 9, 1962, with Homet Lodge barely underway, we had a grand dedication ceremony for de Benneville Pines. Mrs. Patterson was escorted to camp for the occasion. Ed Gorgers, Professor of Telecommunications at USC, and member of the Long Beach Church, was commissioned to write a play for the occasion. It was titled, “Farewell to Eden”, and had only three characters-Adam, Eve and God. The play was well received and the day was a big success.

To the best of my recollection, the PSD/CUC officers and others active in the purchase and initial organization of de Benneville Pines were as follows: Ide Keeler, San Bernardino Fellowship; Dr. Ben & Mrs. Jean Lundberg, Claremont Church; Bert Shaw, Riverside Church; Dr. Frank and Mrs. Bonnie Wills, Riverside Church; Art Horn, Throop Memorial Church; Dick Mulford, Throop Memorial Church; Bob Wylder, Long Beach Church; Bob Bland, Anaheim Church; and John Quinn, Santa Barbara Church.

I gave up my positions as District Consultant PCUC and State Superintendent CUC on December 31, 1962, and Arthur Olsen became Executive Secretary of the new Pacific Southwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. In August of that year, our family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and I withdrew from responsibility for de Benneville Pines.

I hope my recollections are helpful to you. De Benneville Pines will always be a special place for me.

We are ever grateful to the foresight of the Unitarians who recognized the need for a special place where people could gather in nature and breathe clean, crisp mountain air while sharing their ideas about making a difference in the world. Camp de Benneville Pines , named in the memory of George deBenneville, is that special place and it is owned by the congregations and fellowships of the Pacific Southwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. From Santa Barbara, Phoenix and Coronado members and friends have enjoyed the wide variety of programs for children, families and adults over the past 37 years.

A special program entitled “Share the Vision” is expanding the role of the Center in the life of the surrounding Churches and Fellowships. In keeping with the philosophy of cooperation and interdependence within our wider community, the Center is available for use by groups other than Unitarian Universalist.