C.A. Stevens, the longtime owner of the Summit Inn restaurant at the top of Cajon Pass in Southern California, died Feb. 5 after contracting COVID-19. He was 88.
Stevens owned the restaurant and an adjacent motel along old Route 66 for nearly 50 years until he sold it in 2016. A month after the sale closed, the now-infamous Blue Cut wildfire destroyed it and 300 other structures.
According to a story in the Victorville Daily Press, the Dill City, Oklahoma, native’s family moved to California when he was a child. He was a Korean War veteran and worked for Standard Oil before acquiring the Summit Inn in October 1966 in a package deal with a service station and motel on the property.
The Summit Inn was not only famous, it also attracted famous clientele. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and other celebrities were known to have stopped by, according to Stevens’ family.
Elvis ordered a cheeseburger meal on his way to Vegas. But as “The King” waited, he reportedly kicked the jukebox and stormed off without his meal after observing that none of his songs were included on the playlist.
Stevens witnessed it all, and he was always ready for a good conversation if he could have one.
“He was just very friendly and gregarious,” Lori Schoffstall said. “He loved talking to people.” […]
Former employees and family members said Stevens, at the Summit Inn, established a “friendly, warm atmosphere” for both regulars and strangers alike. Whenever the Cajon Pass closed for snow, they said stranded motorists were treated to hot coffee and hot chocolate while they waited for the thaw.
Van Heest said the property at the top of the pass was a “beacon” when there were fewer services available for drivers along that stretch of Interstate 15 — something that was in no small part due to the character of the man who owned it.
“The Summit Inn was a sign that you were home,” he said.
According to another article years ago, Stevens in 1994 refused to sell his restaurant to Denny’s because he “liked the place the way it was.”
Stevens also was admired by his employees. Three of his cooks who arrived from Mexico to work at the restaurant later became U.S. citizens because he helped them with the paperwork.
Stevens’ daughter said he was shocked about the fire that destroyed his former restaurant. The Summit Inn had survived many other wildfires in Cajon Pass.
“I know that it was hard for him to lose the Summit because he did still like that connection,” she said. “He would say how much he missed going up to the Summit, how much he missed having that there.”
The Otto Recinos family of Wrightwood, California, purchased the restaurant in July 2016 for about $1 million. Months after the fire, the family said they would rebuild, but the effort never got off the ground. They had to spend $300,000 to clean lead and asbestos from the wreckage.
The Summit Inn had operated since 1952, although its roots in Cajon Summit date to the late 1920s.
(Image of Summit Inn by danpadilla via Flickr)