Bed & Breakfast: Staying at the
Knickerbocker Mansion Country Inn
By John Phane
Born in 1869 to a Native American mother and a white father, William Edwin Knickerbocker, or “Bill Knick” as he dubbed himself, heeded the cry, “Go West Young Man.” He traded his native Pennsylvania for the promised land of California, and there he climbed a mile-high mountain to find his home. Bill Knick mined for gold, logged, worked as Big Bear Lake’s first dam keeper, married Rose Pollard, claimed a prime piece of property and built his budding family a three-story log cabin out of giant trees felled by his own hand.
The exterior walls of the eclectically quixotic Big Bear Lake mansion are giant trees, halved and installed vertically—up-and-down—instead of the more traditional style of stacked logs. Stanley Miller, who with partner Thomas Bicanic runs the manor as a Bed & Breakfast, said, “It’s the largest vertical log house in the United States.”
The two welcome guests alongside Bijou and Faux Pas, Chocolate Standard Poodles, and a small, but attentive staff. Miller said the cabin measures 4,500 sq-ft., and he makes claim the mansion is now four stories because there is a basement level renovated as office space.
Miller’s other job as been as Neil Diamond’s concert tour sound engineer for more than four decades. “We’re the same age,” Miller said. “I told Neil that as long as he keeps going, I’ll be out there with him.” Chef Thomas, German born and raised, honed his skills for nine years at Patina Restaurant in Los Angeles.
“But we had a second home up here (Big Bear),” Miller said. “My partner wanted to get out of the restaurant in LA, and somebody said to us that we should own a B & B, so we started looking.”
When the partners first visited the mansion, it peered out at them from beneath a fresh mantle of fluffy February snow. Overcome by its inherent majesty, Miller said he turned to Thomas and said, “This is what we have to do.”
Formally operated as a B&B, the manor was empty and came completely unfurnished. In the past 12 years, they’ve redesigned, refurbished and filled the manor with carefully selected art and furniture pieces.
“We’ve worked very hard not to destroy the historical ambiance of the place,” Miller said. “The only original piece of furniture we have is a chest of drawers in the dining area that Kickerbocker himself constructed. Now, the furnishings are more European and antique.
“I like to term it, ‘Eloquently Rustic.’”
The original home had five bedrooms and two bathrooms. The partners transformed that space into four spacious guest rooms, each with private bath, TV and VCR, Internet and breathtaking views while preserving the stunning 24-inch-wide cedar paneling. The in-house rooms are given the appellations Cedar I through Cedar IV. All are charming with queen, sleigh or four-posters, and views of either the San Bernardino National Forest or Big Bear Lake. The attic is now the “Top of the Mansion,” a 700-sq.-ft luxury suite, offering magnificent views from its private deck.
“We worked very hard to save all the old paneling and moved it around as we reconfigured the building,” Miller said. “It looks original.”
Also on the 2.5-acre property is the Carriage House with four cozy, romantic rooms, each with fireplace. There is also the Carriage House Suite with an expansive great room featuring a river rock fireplace, dining/game table, and recently remolded marble bath with oversize spa/tub and separate shower. Outside is a large, private wrap-around deck with forest and lake views. Forest View III is a fully handicap-accessible bedroom with marble tile private bath and queen-size bed, accented with rustic log furniture and a stove with faux fire. Finally, Forest View IV, tucked away on the lower level of the owner’s private home, features a queen bed, private full bath and flat screen television with DVD. At maximum, Miller said the Inn sleeps about 26.
Guests enter the main lodge to a living area with original rock fireplace, a stairway constructed of split logs and dining area. Breakfast is included, and “Bistro at the Mansion,” the in-house restaurant lead by Chef Thomas, is open Friday and Saturday evenings. The Bistro features gourmet dining and one of the most discriminating, yet extensive wine lists on the mountain.
During our stay, we feasted on morning delicacies the like of poached pears, baked eggs with bacon and French toast with warm fruit and cheese covering. The breakfast menu is the choice of Chef Thomas, and he makes each a fresh and stimulating culinary experience. They try to accommodate special dietary needs and ask you advise them of any food sensitivities or allergies.
The Bistro offers a full menu and the pièce de résistance is the Chefs Five Course Menu with soup, salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert. We started with a delicate salad, feasted on Filet Mignon and finished with delectable chocolate lava cake. We’ve dined at most Big Bear eateries and the Bistro is second to none. No need to stay at the Inn to enjoy this fine dining experience, it’s open to the public.
“The restaurant can seat up to 100 for special events,” Miller said. He said the mansion is a perfect place for family reunions, anniversary parties, special, private holiday events and romantic get-a-ways. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” Miller said.
To make the Inn more practical for groups and conferences, the partners added a multimedia conference center that seats 50. “A lot of times people don’t think of using a small facility like us,” Miller said. “However, our space lets people look out the windows and enjoy the fact they’re in Big Bear at the same time they have a cutting-edge space in which to meet with their peers.”
Miller said as sleeping space is premium, “We often make deals with other Inns to sleep the people, and then they’ll come back here to meet, work and to eat. It works out wonderfully, and they get to eat Thomas’ food.
“I don’t cook. I like to tell people that I’m a professional eater. But I can tell you the food far surpasses that of any other eatery in this area.”
The grounds are well kept and the Inn—while only three blocks from the Village—is far enough off the beaten path to ensure the privacy and quiet one requires to really relax and unwind. Service in the dining room was excellent, and the food, excellent. Our stay was very pleasant and relaxing. Miller and Bicanic are excellent hosts.
The partners also operate “Bill Knick’s Cafe” at the Big Bear Discovery Center. It’s open 7-days-a-week in summer and weekends in the winter. Also with great food, learn about Big Bear and enjoy the National Forest.
The mansion is only a minute drive or three-block jaunt from the colorful Big Bear Village, which features shops, restaurants, and theaters. As Big Bear is Southern California’s only true four-season resort, it’s only a few blocks farther to boat rentals and ski resorts. Hikers can enter the National Forest right from the property.
Knickerbocker Mansion Country Inn
Inn Keepers: Stanley R. Miller & Thomas F. Bicanic
869 Knickerbocker RoadP.O. Box 1907
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Phone: (909) 878-9190 – FAX: (909) 878-4248
Toll Free: (877) 423-1180