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West Mineral King 22

Becker Cabin

The Becker Cabin, built in 1929, is a well-preserved example of the summer cabins that sprang up in West Mineral King between 1924 and 1930. Constructed out of local and recycled materials, the cabin has sheltered four generations of Beckers

It was summer in the early 1930s. Frank Becker stood on the slopes of Empire Mountain with an old brick in his hand. The Roaring Twenties, a decade when stock values soared, women’s dresses inched up their legs, and jazz filled the airwaves, had ended with a stock market crash in October 1929. The worldwide Great Depression was underway.

The brick Frank held represented another crash, the end of another era. It was a remnant of a two-story bunkhouse that sheltered about twenty men who worked the Empire Mine of Mineral King in 1879-80. An avalanche destroyed the bunkhouse in April 1880, effectively ending the Mineral King mining period and marking the start of a new period featuring a resort in East Mineral King. Now Frank intended to use the brick to help launch a new, albeit more personal, era.

A place to spend the summer

In 1929, Frank and his wife Livonia were high school teachers in Los Angeles. Frank, taught mechanical arts, and Livonia taught physical education. Since the mid 1920s the Forest Service had been encouraging educators from Los Angeles to build summer cabins in a tract about a mile below the end of the Mineral King road. The development, known as Faculty Flats, had evolved into a tight-knit community of about twenty-five families. It wasn’t long before Frank and Livonia decided to join the community themselves.

Frank and Livonia purchased a permit to build a cabin in the tract. The land was nestled in the trees on the north side of the Mineral King road near the western end of a double string of cabins. Ironically, the Becker lot was one of the only flat pieces of property in Faculty Flats. That summer, Frank began to build the cabin with help from his son Richard and his friend Fenton McClellan.

They started with framing lumber salvaged from a Baptist church in Los Angeles that was being demolished. Frank carted the lumber up from the valley in multiple loads while constructing the cabin’s frame.

When the frame was complete, they covered the outside of it with shingle siding and a shake roof made from local materials. James A. “Jimmy” Mehrton split the shakes while constructing the original Silver City Store and rental cabins.

The resulting cabin exhibited typical Faculty Flat architecture.  

It was a small, rectangular building with a kitchen and living room downstairs. A half-story loft up above held three queen-size beds. It had a steep roof with an overhanging side gable. Amenities included a covered front porch with shingled rails, an open back porch where the family took its showers, and a shingle-sided privy.

The only significant thing the cabin lacked was heat.

Growing up in Mineral King

“Oh but it's nice to get up in the mornin'
When the sun begins to shine.
4 or 5 or 6 o'clock, in the good ol' summertime.
But when the snow is snowin'
and it's murky overhead
Ooh it's nice to get up in the mornin'
but it's nicer to lie in bed.”

Every morning Richard woke the cabin’s inhabitants with this song. As long as he could remember, he had spent each summer in Mineral King, and he delighted in sharing its traditions with his children.

The cabin hadn’t changed much since his childhood. The first important change was the addition of a fireplace and external chimney in the early 1930s. Frank and Richard built them from stones lying about the cabin and incorporated a number of bricks gathered from the ruins of the Empire Mine bunkhouse. The fireplace introduced a new era of relative warmth sure to help shivering children “get up in the mornin’.”

For about thirty years, all the residents awoke each day to take turns exiting the cozy cabin and walking through the cold to the outhouse. Then, in 1953, Richard built a one-story addition next to the living room, thereby enclosing half the front porch. The addition contained a small bedroom and a bathroom with modern plumbing.

Carrying on the tradition

Like Frank and Livonia, Richard and his wife Margaret were integral members of the Faculty Flats society, as well as the broader Mineral King community. They spent every summer in Mineral King, cherishing the land’s cultural heritage and passing it, along with new traditions, on to their children.

When Mineral King was threatened by prospective development of a vast Disney ski resort, Richard joined the Organizing Board of the Mineral King District Association (MKDA), which eventually supported the Sierra Club in a lawsuit against the National Forest Service to block Disney’s plans.

Sadly, his father Frank didn’t live to see the 1978 legislation that made Mineral King a part of Sequoia National Park. He died in 1974, and passed the cabin permit on to Richard.

Richard and Margaret were able to see their children and grandchildren continue enjoying Mineral King year after year, however. Their grandchildren vividly remember their annual trips to the cabin from Boise, Idaho.

“The trip to the cabin every year was what we looked forward to. We knew every August my dad would drive the sixteen hours in a car packed with kids, hauling a trailer behind for our two week vacation.”

The trip was stressful but well worth the effort. “The minute we arrived the mood shifted, and any trace of exhaustion or frustration vanished from my dad's face,” granddaughter Adria says. “We would all just pick up where we left off the year before.”

Adria and her siblings, Elaine, Luke, and Claire, relished activities that would be familiar to prior generations in Faculty Flats. They and their friends walked down to Silver City, hoping to hitch a ride back up the road. They pulled timeless pranks on the residents of other cabins. At night they walked to the Timber Gap parking lot, lay down in the middle of the road, and counted shooting stars. And they welcomed a rousing rendition of the morning song at the start of each day.

Each year on the last night of their stay in the cabin, her father hosted a pizza party. “We would have fifteen or twenty kids in our tiny kitchen while everyone helped assemble the pizzas,” Adria remembers, “My dad would watch on happily.”

“He was lucky enough to spend his summers there from the time he was born, and we were lucky enough to have a dad who knew how important it was for his kids to do the same.”
 

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