A mild, mild West in the San Gabriel Valley

Special to The Times

San Dimas is a comfortable, modern suburb that holds tight to its Western roots. Along with the tract homes and strip malls, this San Gabriel Valley city offers a rodeo, horse trails and plenty of open space.

Mysterious moniker The area was known as Mud Springs and served as a watering spot for animals when explorer Jedediah Strong Smith passed through in 1826. But the name San Dimas had taken hold by the time a town started developing in the 1870s.

San Dimas is a Spanish version of St. Dismas, the traditional name for the repentant thief who was crucified next to Christ in the Gospel of Luke. But historians aren't certain why the name was chosen for this town.

The best-known story is that landowner Don Ignacio Palomares referred to St. Dismas after growing frustrated with horse thieves who prowled the canyons, and the name took hold for the area.

A more recent explanation is that Palomares simply named the area after his small hometown, the small town of San Dimas in Mexico.

"It's really difficult to pin down exactly how the name came about," said Paul Rippens, president of the San Dimas Historical Society.

Beginnings San Dimas had a rough ride early on. Homes, a restaurant and a hotel went up as the railroad came through in the 1880s. But a real estate bust hit late in that decade and the hotel never had a customer.

In time the citrus industry took root and the town grew. Groves were torn out for tract homes in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, San Dimas is mostly built out with a population of about 36,000. The old hotel still stands, and the city plans to restore it.

Drawing cards San Dimas is home to a historic downtown along Bonita Avenue with eateries, antique shops and San Dimas Hardware, which bills itself as "a real hardware store." The city has "a nice hometown feel and experience still," said Craig Johnson, a manager who has worked at the hardware store for 27 years.

Roady's Family Restaurant on West Bonita Avenue is a popular hangout for old-timers, serving up chicken-fried steak and biscuits and gravy. Regulars can rest on swivel chairs at the lunch counter. "We get the same people every day and it's like they're family," said waitress Shirley Reyna.

The downtown is gussied up with wood sidewalks for a Western look, but the frontier fixtures don't date back as far as some might expect. A city intern came up with the idea of Westernizing the old shopping district in the 1960s, and the theme caught on. "It's just kind of a fun thing," said Debbie Iketani, who has run a real estate business in town for 15 years.

The annual Western Days and rodeo in the fall also carry on the frontier theme.

There's still room to roam in San Dimas, with much of the 15.5-square-mile city devoted to open space.

The largest chunk is Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, which encompasses nearly 2,000 acres and offers hiking trails, an equestrian center and a 250-acre reservoir stocked with fish. The park also is home to a hot-tub resort, RV park, wedding chapel and Raging Waters water park.

The city's north end stretches into the Angeles National Forest. Near the forest, San Dimas Canyon Nature Center offers hiking trails, a natural history museum and a zoo.

Claim to fame In the 1989 hit movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," the time-traveling teen duo, played by Keanu Reaves and Alex Winter, live in San Dimas. But the film was shot in Arizona, according to Linda Kay, former president of the Official Bill and Ted Fan Club. Coronado High School in Scottsdale filled in for the real San Dimas High.

A decade later, the punk band the Ataris released a song called "San Dimas High School Football Rules," borrowing a line from the movie.

Stock report Most of San Dimas is more mild than wild, with horse properties concentrated in the north end of town. Houses include small turn-of-the-century bungalows and hilltop mansions. A 2,000-square-foot, 1980s-era home typically will sell for about $550,000, Iketani said.

As of late January, 42 single-family homes were on the market, with the least expensive listing an 850-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath home for $335,000. At the other end of the spectrum was a 6,233-square-foot, five-bedroom view mansion on 2.6 acres listed for $1,799,000.

Report card Part of the Bonita Unified School District, San Dimas High scored 721 out of 1,000 on the 2004 Academic Performance Index, while Lone Hill Middle School earned 735. Grade school scores ranged from 741 at Ekstrand Elementary to 831 at Shull Elementary.

Historical values Residential resales:

Year...Median Price 1990...$235,000





Sources: DataQuick Information Systems, api.cde.ca.gov, http://www.imdb.com , parks.co.la.ca.us, San Dimas Historical Society, Debbie Iketani of Pacific Coast Realty, http://www.wikipedia.com , http://www.sandimaschamber.com , http://www.cityofsandimas.com .

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