Julian Haunts: Ghosts and Spirits of the Pine Hills Lodge

In early September, 2014, SDPRS traveled to the historic mining town of Julian, California, to conduct a follow-up investigation of the Pine Hills Lodge – a picturesque mountain location, which offers various events, weddings and overnight stays.  The lodge is a perfect getaway for anyone wishing to have a break from city life and surround themselves in the beauty and serenity of Julian’s mountain landscape.

Here is a historical description of the lodge, which comes straight from its brochure:

History of the Pine Hills Lodge

Pine Hills, once the gathering place of San Diego County’s socially elite, continues to offer excellent accommodations in a rustic setting. At the turn of the century, the lodge was originally built as a romantic hideaway in the mountains amongst the surrounding apple orchards and forests. The history of the Lodge is a fascinating part of its unique ambience.

The Pine Hills Lodge was built in 1912 by Col. Ed Fletcher, a prominent real estate developer and banker in San Diego. The Lodge was designed by world famous architect Richard Requa, known for many of the structures in San Diego’s Balboa Park and Zoo. The bark-on wood log construction is considered irreplaceable and was done by builder Charles Engebretson.

In August 1925, the Lodge was sold to Fred A. Sutherland, owner and operator of the Sutherland Stage and Yellow Cab. He was a friend of Jack Dempsey, the prize-winning professional boxer. Sutherland built a gym at the Lodge and convinced Dempsey to come to the lodge to train for his second fight against Gene Tunney. On September 23, 1926, Dempsey lost the fight, but the gym he trained in remains standing to this day.

Over the years, the gym was used as a local movie theater. In the era of the 1920’s- 1940’s cabins and tree houses were built to accommodate the demand for more guests visiting the property. The tree houses are now gone. In 1980 the new owner, Dave Goodman, transformed the gym into a dinner theater for local amateur productions of known plays. After a 23 year run the theater closed in 2004 as the demand waned.

Since the purchase in 1998, major renovations have been completed, restoring “the famous Lodge” to its former splendor. In July 2003 the Lodge was acquired by new owners who plan to continue the legacy of rustic ambience. Under new management, the Lodge staff aspires to rekindle a reputation for delectable foods, gregarious service, and above all, a genuine feeling of tranquility and amicable hospitality; a step back in time to a romantic hideaway.

SDPRS first learned of the lodge’s haunted history in 2011. Since that time, the team has conducted two overnight paranormal research investigations at its premises, with this past September’s being the most recent.  The team will be working on a follow-up project in early November, 2014.

Like many other haunted locations, the Pine Hills Lodge has a wide array of paranormal claims, ranging from apparitional sightings, disembodied voices and footsteps and a general eerie feeling of unseen eyes watching your every move.  Additionally, the geology of Julian’s mountains contains quartzite, limestone and other geological attributes, which are known to retain spiritual energy.  Furthermore, Ley Lines can possibly explain why some locations are spiritual highways and Julian is no exception, as many Ley Lines run straight through the town and its adjacent mountains and hills.

From reading the brochure, you are aware that Mr. Dempsey utilized the gym as a practice location for his boxing.  The gym was also used as a theater for various plays.  There is a theory that postulates why theaters are known to have ghostly energy: it’s because of the vast array of emotions felt from hundreds of people, which seem to have an everlasting stay at their respective location.  It is theorized that ghosts and spirits thrive on these various emotions to manifest and communicate with the living. Could this be one of the reasons why the gym-turned-theater at the Pine Hills Lodge houses paranormal activity? 

There is another reason, a sad one in fact, why this particular area may house ghostly energy: an accident occurred during Dempsey’s reign, where a large wooden beam fell down and instantly killed a worker.  On both of our investigations, we have communicated with male energy inside the structure.  It is our sincere hope that this male energy finds peace and moves on to where he needs to be.

Each member of the SDPRS team has also experienced high strangeness in the projection booth area of the former theater.  We have all seen the residual sighting of a shadow figure repetitively walk past the projection window on numerous occasions.  We have since tried to recreate this phenomenon to see if there is some logical explanation, but to no avail.  Intuitive impressions suggest that this shadow figure is the ethereal form of a past projectionist who loved his job at the theater.

Another interesting phenomenon that surrounds this structure is the consistent knocking sounds heard while inside its premises.  We have investigated this occurrence only to discover that it isn’t a phenomenon at all, but the natural sounds of acorns hitting the structure or woodpeckers pecking on the outside walls.  In the morning after our investigation, we actually witnessed a woodpecker doing its thing and the sound was 100% reminiscent of the knocking sound we heard during the previous night’s research.

We have concluded that this gym-turned-theater houses paranormal activity that is both intelligent and residual in nature.  It is definitely considered a “hot spot” on the property.  We don’t have a lot of tangible evidence from this particular structure as most of our experiences are subjective in nature.  With that said, we will say that this so-called hot spot definitely has some mysterious high strangeness going on.

As far as the main lodge portion, which also includes a restaurant and pub, paranormal activity seems to be centered upstairs where the rooms are located. On numerous occasions, the owners and their staff have heard disembodied voices and footsteps.  While upstairs, and especially while in Room 6, people have seen the peripheral sighting of a shadow figure walk down the hall. One of the cleaning crew employees also attested to this phenomenon, as she described her sighting of a tall dark figure as it walked past the door.  For September’s research project, both Nicole Strickland and Maria Garcia stayed in Room 6 and Nicole discussed seeing the identical figure out of her peripheral vision while unpacking equipment.  There are speculations that this figure is the ethereal form of a past lodge owner.

Interestingly, vacationers have also smelled the phantom scent of smoke while upstairs in their rooms.  It must be noted that the upstairs portion of the main lodge experienced a fire during the 1930s or 1940s.  Thus, could these phantom smells be the residual imprints of the fire that occurred?  We had a guest investigator with us during our most recent investigation.  Toward the end of our project, we decided to do some EVP sessions in Room 3, which is where one of the past owners stayed while running the lodge.  Room 3 is situated directly across from the room that caught fire many years ago.  Our guest investigator, Gina, experienced acute coughing attacks during our EVP work in Room 3 only to improve once she left the room.  Was Gina’s body tapping into the residual energy left over from the fire?

During our EVP session, we had two recorders and a video camera running and Maria captured two interesting EVPs:  1) a male voice saying “Hello” and 2) a response to Nicole’s statement about us helping to relay a message to family members or friends, which sounds like “Let Me Go” or “Let Me Know.”  On our investigations, we always offer to help the energies and let them know that we can relay their message, should they have one to relay.

Some of the other adjacent structures on the property have also experienced paranormal activity.  Again, disembodied voices, footsteps and audible noise phenomena have been witnessed.  However, the energy seems playful and curious.  If you are in the mood to stay in a rustic ambience in the company of a ghost or two, the Pine Hills Lodge is the place for you. 

Stay tuned as we update this blog with experiences and/or captured evidence from our upcoming November research project.

Until then,

Happy Hauntings

“Hello”  in Room 3

Male Response in Room 3


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