Over the past 100 years, many celebrities have visited Lake Elsinore to enjoy recreational activities, work on film and television productions or buy property, according to Jeanie Corral, a resident of the city since 1964 and an author of two local history books.
While Corral did research for her books, she discovered interesting information on celebrity visits, which she’s shared with the Lake Elsinore Historical Society (LEHS) and others. She said that the first celebrities to enjoy Lake Elsinore’s hospitality were boxing legend John L. Sullivan, President Grover Cleveland and actress Lillian Russell in the late 1880s. In the 1920s, humorist Will Rogers and composer and lyricist Carrie Jacobs Bond visited. Actor Frank Morgan, who was the Wizard in the “Wizard of Oz,” vacationed in the city after he made the movie in 1939. And, during the 1930s and 1940s, actors Clark Gable and Andy Devine came often to fish and duck hunt at the lake. “Elsinore was a regular haunt for many movie stars,” Corral said.
Actor Steve McQueen frequently stopped by in the 1960s and 1970s and hung out at The Wreck, a bar off Main Street. Chris Hyland, a member of the LEHS, said that McQueen stopped in Lake Elsinore during motorcycle trips around Southern California and could be seen relaxing outside The Wreck with his biker buddies. “My understanding is, he used to sit out in front of it,” Hyland said.
Most celebrities visited for recreation, but some came to work on film and television productions. In 1938, actor Tyrone Power starred in the movie “King Solomon’s Mines,” which was filmed in the Alberhill and Lake Elsinore area, Corral said. In 1970, the film “Norwood” was shot almost entirely in the city. It starred Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Joe Namath, Dom DeLuise, Carol Lynley and Meredith MacRae. Corral said that she saw the “Norwood” stars and remembered that they were friendly and mingled with the locals. She also mentioned that the 1985 television special “And the Children Shall Lead” was partly filmed in the city and that actor Levar Burton starred in it.
Kim Joseph Cousins, president and CEO of the Lake Elsinore Chamber of Commerce, said that the 1970 motorcycle documentary “On Any Sunday” was partly filmed in Lake Elsinore. McQueen co-produced the film and had some small scenes in it.
Some celebrities liked Lake Elsinore so much they bought property to live or vacation there. The family of 1920s child star Jackie Coogan owned a house on Skyline Drive and contributed to the original building of the city’s St. Frances of Rome Church, Corral said. At the height of his career in the 1930s, actor Bela Lugosi was a weekend visitor and owned property near Lugonia Street, which is named after him. Author Dorothy Cottrell, who wrote the book “Singing Gold,” owned a house and Cottrell Boulevard was named after her. Actor William S. Hart, the top western star of the silent screen in the late 1910s, owned a house that he used in the summer. It’s known that actor Johnny Weissmuller was a resident in the 1940s, but Corral said she’s not sure if he owned the house that he lived in.
She said that Lake Elsinore’s most famous, exciting and glamorous resident was evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. In 1929, she had a palatial retreat built for her that’s known as Aimee’s Castle. It cost approximately $25,000 to build the six-bedroom, five-bath Moorish-style castle, which overlooks the lake. It has unique features such as underground catacombs, gold doorknobs, mosaic work on the ceilings and a prayer tower. After McPherson’s death in 1944, the castle passed through several owners and is currently on the market for $999,000.
The sons of some celebrities attended the Elsinore Naval and Military School, which operated from 1933 to 1977. Corral said that the son of actor Brian Keith attended the school, but she doesn’t know the names of other notable people who sent their sons to the school.
Corral thinks that celebrities still come to Lake Elsinore now to attend boat races and other events because they can blend in with the locals and not be recognized. “It’s easy to do that here,” she said.