The camping program of the Diocese of Los Angeles began in the 1930s when the Right Reverend William Bertrand Stevens, second bishop of Los Angeles, began taking groups of young people to camps in the San Bernardino Mountains for a week or two each summer. Even then, the program was known as Camp Stevens.
In the mid-1940s a group of clergy and lay persons from the San Diego area rented a camp in the Cleveland National Forest near Descanso, and began a second program, called Camp St. Aidan. In 1950 a committee, under the leadership of the Rev. Jack Lax and the Rev. C. Boone Sadler, Jr., purchased the buildings they had been renting. Just after that summer camp season a disastrous forest fire leveled the campsite. Undaunted, the group searched for another site and found a beautiful 66-acre property near Julian for sale for $20,000. They managed to raise enough for a down payment, bought the property, and re-established Camp St. Aidan in 1952.
At the same time, the Diocese of Los Angeles, under the leadership of Bishop Francis Eric Bloy, completed a capital fund drive that included $175,000 to develop a diocesan camp. In 1953 the San Diego Camping Committee agreed to transfer the Julian property to the Diocese. In the summer of 1954 Camp Stevens moved to its permanent home near Julian. Soon an outdoor chapel, pool, summer camp cabins, and a director’s house were added to the existing ranch buildings that consisted of a small ranch house, workshop, tool shed, and four small cottages.
In 1957 an Episcopalian of rare talent offered his abilities to aid the youth of the diocese. Nat “King” Cole, the popular jazz musician, took the stage at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, and the sold-out concert provided most of the funds needed to construct the Dining Hall and kitchen. The Dining Hall was completed in 1961, along with a summer camp infirmary (that doubled as a lodge for weekend retreats in the fall, winter, and spring) and St. Mary’s Cabin, an additional small dorm cabin near the Dining Hall.
Demand for weekend retreats increased through the 1970s and early ‘80s, necessitating a new master plan that resulted in the construction of Blum Lodge. Named for the Rev. Edward Blum, first resident director of Camp Stevens, the lodge was completed in 1987 and includes two meeting rooms and lodging for 48 persons. The Bishop’s Lodge, with a meeting room and lodging for 24 persons, was completed in 1992 and was named in honor of the Right Reverend Robert M. Wolterstorff, first bishop of the Diocese of San Diego (the San Diego Diocese was established from the Diocese of Los Angeles in 1974).
Alarmed by the increasing encroachment of development around the Julian area, the Camp Stevens Board also developed a plan to purchase adjacent properties as they became available. By 2002, six adjacent parcels had been purchased to protect Camp Stevens as a ‘peaceful place apart.’ These 200 additional acres also provided wonderful new areas for hiking and nature study.
Over the past three decades Camp Stevens’ year-round programs have expanded to include environmental education for school groups, ropes/challenge course team building programs, weekend Discovery Retreats for youth groups, family programs, organic gardening workshops, adult retreats, and off-site wilderness programs in the High Sierra, Baja California and the Galapagos Islands.
On September 15, 2007 a forest fire seriously damaged Camp Stevens. 70 acres of forest were severely burned and 12 buildings were destroyed, including our chapel, four guest lodges (70 beds), six summer camp cabins, and one summer camp bathhouse; four other buildings were damaged. Fortunately, the central campus, including the Dining Hall and Blum Lodge, sustained only minor damage so that Camp Stevens could continue to operate, albeit at a much diminished capacity.
The fire was very destructive, but it has also been a renewing force, providing the opportunity to rebuild in a way that is more effective for retreats and summer camp, more energy efficient, and more fire-resistant. We have developed some great new designs and begun rebuilding. The new Bishop Wolterstorff and Lax Sadler lodges are now complete, and three new yurt cabins are now in use, bringing our year-round lodging capacity up to 120 beds.