August 22, 2022

Photo Essay: Boating Lake Arrowhead, Upon the Centennial of Its Neighboring Norman-Style Village

Ever since I took the tunnel tour at Lake Arrowhead a year ago, I've been eager to actually experience the lake from its surface. 

The only problem? You need to be a homeowner to get access to the lake. No land rights? No lake rights. 

There is, however, an exception: the Arrowhead Queen tour boat. 

Regularly scheduled cruises take visitors on an hour-long journey around the lake during daylight hours—but if you book a special cruise through Rim of the World Historical Society, you get a two-hour cruise led by local historian around sunset. 

I was booked on one of those historical cruises last month—but the three-and-a-half-hour drive from home to Lake Arrowhead in Friday night rush-hour traffic made me eight minutes late. I literally missed the boat. And all I could think to do was sit on the dock at Village Point and cry. And watch some ducklings follow their mother across the surface of the lake's Village Bay. 

Fortunately, I came to my senses and decided to get something to eat before getting back into the car and driving back home—so I went to the nearest Mexican restaurant, Papagayos, for a margarita and a steak quesadilla. 

What I didn't know then—and what I discovered upon my return to Lake Arrowhead Village a month later for my Arrowhead Queen do-over cruise—was that Papagayos is located in the village's former ballroom (a.k.a. casino building). And it's the only original building of the 100-year-old Norman-style Lake Arrowhead Village that remains—as the rest of the "old" village was demolished by intentional fire in 1979 and rebuilt and expanded in 1980-2.

This time around, for my second try at catching the cruise, I arrived early enough (just barely) to see the Arrowhead Queen returning to the dock from its last public cruise of the day. 

It's a riverboat-style paddle wheeler—though not the original Queen to sail the lake. That one sank. 

This is the second such Queen at Lake Arrowhead—and our captain assured us that this one would run ashore before we'd ever need life preservers.
It really stands out on the lake—as the rest of the vessels are privately-owned motorboats, jet skis, kayaks, and others of the smaller sort.
Like a good student, I sat right up front so as not to miss any of the historical lecture...

...and to the far right-side of the 60-seat interior... I could get the best photos of the shore out the window right beside me. 
Where rocker Duff McKagan tried to sober up but ended up partying too much with Motley Crüe's Tommy Lee

The manmade Lake Arrowhead was originally intended to be a reservoir to provide water supply to San Bernardino—but by a geological fluke, what's downstream is actually north of the lake, in the Mojave Desert. And the water wasn't legally allowed to be diverted in the other direction. 
The next scheme was to use the lake to generate power—hence the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company. But the final idea to really stick was to create a recreational lake at the center of a newly-developed resort area, which was completed in 1922. It was managed by the Arrowhead Lake Company until it was sold to the Los Angeles Turf Club (owners of Santa Anita racetrack) in 1946. 

Sammy Hagar's former circa 2009 French chateau

And since then, it's attracted the well-to-do mountain elite to take up residence in this "Land of Enchantment," from Hollywood plastic surgeons and business leaders like Barron Hilton and Max Factor... musical legends Liberace (who had piano keys painted on his boats), Brian Wilson (of The Beach Boys), Sammy Hagar, and Duff McKagan...
...and actors like Eriq La Salle (from E.R.), John Hillerman (from Magnum, P.I.), Pam Dawber (from Mork & Mindy) and Mark Harmon, Anne Heche, Roseanne Barr, and John Candy.

Patrick Swayze had a home there, too (above)—until he and his wife sold it in 1997 and moved to their New Mexico ranch. Cary Grant married Barbara Hutton at Lake Arrowhead in 1942. And Dick Clark and Priscilla Presley were once known to be locals as well. 

Its scenic shores have provided locations for numerous movies shot at the lake, including Heidi (1937, starring Shirley Temple), The Yearling (1946), The Great Race (1965), The American President (1995), Space Jam (1996)...
...and other movies starring Charlie Chaplin, Kirk DouglasJoel McCrea, Laurel & Hardy, Bette Davis, Rock Hudson, Gary Cooper, and many many more... locations with names like "Eagle Point," "Tavern Bay," "Shelter Cove," "Totem Pole Point" (though the totems all fell by the 1980s), "Tombstone Point" (a rock wall made not of broken headstones but remnant rock from grave marker-making), and "Blue Jay Bay."

Of course, I'm less interested in how the lake attracted the glitterati and more interested in getting close to the what was the tallest concrete tower in the world—a.k.a. the "outlet tower" sticking 43 feet out of the water's surface when the lake is full (which it's clearly not). It connects to Tunnel #1, which I climbed through just a year ago. 

Completed in 1908 as part of the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company project, it was supposed to release water as part of the original irrigation plans for the lake. By 1917, it was involved in generating electricity from the lake for local residents (which ceased in 1929). It's still there to lower lake levels under threat of flooding, although that process is pretty slow and maybe too slow for a potential emergency event. 

History aside, the Arrowhead Queen cruise provides a great way to see the lakefront properties (many of which have intricate stonework and retaining walls) from the perspective of the lake itself—which, in some cases, is the only way to see them, since they're hidden from the streets and highways that pass by them.

Watch the video above for a peek at Lake Arrowhead Village circa 1985, just a couple of years after the old village was destroyed to pave the way for a new, upgraded, more tourist-friendly experience.

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