San Bernardino: Distinguished by foothills, French fries

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

San Bernardino may not be the Eden the early inhabitants stumbled upon, but the creeks and river are still inviting, and snowcapped mountains grace its backdoor in the wintertime. Sports and cultural events abound in this storied city where the McDonald brothers opened the restaurant whose name became synonymous with fast food.


San Bernardino map: A map accompanying an article about San Bernardino in Sunday’s Real Estate section noted the location of the Ontario Motor Speedway. The speedway was demolished in the 1980s to make way for commercial and residential development. —

Mormon pioneers from Salt Lake City arrived in San Bernardino in 1851, drawn to a valley rich in water, willows and sycamores. They purchased the sprawling Rancho San Bernardino from former Pueblo of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Maria Lugo for $77,000. Two years later, they laid out the grid for the city of San Bernardino, the site of today’s downtown.

The settlers, in addition to establishing the oldest incorporated city east of Los Angeles (in 1854), created a school system and successful lumber trade, says Steven Shaw, president of the city of San Bernardino Historical & Pioneer Society. In 1857, they were recalled to Utah to face an expected war with the United States. Most left their new homes, selling them for 10 cents on the dollar, Shaw said.


By the late 1800s, the city had beautiful Victorian buildings, upscale shops and two hotels downtown. A brief rate war between the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads in March 1886, which resulted in a $1 fare for 24 hours, sparked a tourist rush to the West Coast. A local boom ensued.

Railroads historically have had an important role in San Bernardino’s economy, but the city’s airfield also played its part. In July 1942, the municipal airport was renamed San Bernardino Army Air Field. During World War II, the Air Transport Command used the field. In 1950, it was renamed Norton Air Force Base, providing support for missile programs. The base was shuttered on March 31, 1994, but airport officials say they are negotiating with four airlines for regular passenger service to begin next year.

Culture came to the Inland Empire city in the early 20th century: Talents such as Edwin Booth, Al Jolson and Sarah Bernhardt graced San Bernardino’s Opera House stage.

And then there’s the city’s contribution to popular culture. In 1948, Richard and Maurice McDonald converted their barbecue joint on E Street into McDonald’s restaurant, which sold burgers for 15 cents and French fries for 10. Ray Kroc bought the rights to the name, and the rest is history.

What it’s about

The city of about 200,000 residents no longer is the unspoiled valley of yore. Along with the ancient creeks and the Santa Ana River are suburban sprawl and smog. Although the city is a major warehousing and industrial hub, it also is home to the Hyundai Pavilion at Glen Helen, a major outdoor concert venue, and Glen Helen Regional Park, with fishing and a small water park.

Nearly all of the old downtown Victorians are gone, but architecture buffs still can find little treasures such as the historic San Bernardino Courthouse, Heritage House and the Santa Fe Depot.

For a taste of stately residential architecture, Valencia Avenue, north of 30th Street, is lined with vintage mansions across from the Arrowhead Country Club and golf course. Those seeking newer suburban tract housing and modern schools buy in the Verdemont neighborhood, a large housing development north of the 210 Freeway, said Chris Colten, ZipRealty Inc. broker associate and longtime local.

And baseball fans, take note: San Bernardino hosts the Western Regional Little League playoffs each year.

Insider’s viewpoint

Historian Shaw’s wife, Gail, remembers the novelty of taking the bus downtown for shopping at Woolworth’s in the ‘70s. The 40-year-old also recalls the delight of strolling down Highland Avenue, where “everyone went to the little stores,” instead of malls, she said. “It was a safe place to grow up.”

Seeking a place to raise their family “above the city,” Barb and Rob Reynolds bought a home in Verdemont 20 years ago. Part of the appeal was the 20-mile drive to Lake Arrowhead, where the family of four has spent many summer vacations. They also enjoy winter trips to the snow at Wrightwood, about 30 miles away. That’s where the couple tied the knot 20 years ago.

Best of all, “we love the view,” Reynolds said of her home in the San Bernardino Mountains foothills.

Housing stock

There are about 42,500 single-family homes and 1,550 condominiums in San Bernardino. Recently, there were 2,531 single-family homes listed for sale, from $80,000 for a two-bedroom home in 672 square feet to $4.9 million for an eight-bedroom home in 8,635 feet on an 85-acre ranch. More typical of the high end is a three-bedroom home in 2,419 square feet, listed for $1,150,000. There were 148 condos listed, from $89,500 to $495,000.

Report card

Among the 42 elementary schools in the San Bernardino Unified School District, scores on the 2007 Academic Performance Index Growth Report ranged from 556 to 800 out of a possible 1,000; from 591 to 912 at the nine middle schools; and 538 to 832 at the seven high schools.

Historical values

Residential resales:

Year...Median Price





* 2007...$310,000

*Year to date

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems;; NortonAFB.html.