Friday, December 17, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
No matter what you did to a Timex watch, it seemed to keep on running. Some of you may even remember those "torture" test commercials ("Timex - it takes a licking and keeps on ticking"). Delighted TV viewers would watch their flickering screen in amazement as the iconic clock survived the high diver's leap into water, the hoof of a galloping horse, or a propeller blade in the water.
Maybe it hasn't been quite so dramatic in Beaumont when it comes to keeping track of the hour. But we've all heard the famous expression, "Time stands still for no one." Perhaps it's never been truer than for the old clock in the heart of our city. For nearly a half century, we've driven right by it, glanced up, noted the hour and most likely just kept going about our business.
But in our hustle-bustle lives, do we ever take the time to wonder about that old clock and its significance? Or those big, black hands with tiny arrows that precisely count the minutes and hours of our lives?
Sure, we know that many small towns across America have a tall clock somewhere in the city square. But our clock near the steps of the Civic Center has it's own story, one that deserves telling.
Here's what the Beaumont Blogger knows about the clock that has stood sentry-like for decades.
Nearly a half century ago, the local Soroptimist Club embraced the idea of creating a community clock for Beaumont. On December 23, 1963, dedication ceremonies were held at Beaumont Avenue and Sixth Street - the clock's original location. Over the years, the clock became a fixture. When a car knocked the clock over, people rallied around. They had it meticulously restored and moved to City Hall, where rededication ceremonies were held October 2, 1998.
Today, the face of the clock stares out at passing traffic along the main drag through town. As the seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years tick by, the clock remains a steadfast symbol of Beaumont's timeless small-town spirit.
Friday, October 22, 2010
During the 1970s, Mike Thompson and his buddies would have fun testing the spot on Oak Glen Road. They would pile into a car in downtown Beaumont, head north into the mountains and wait to be amazed. This was small-town fun at its finest on Friday and Saturday nights.
Coasting to glory
The boys had the routine down pat: Come to a stop, put the car in neutral, let off the brakes, and within moments, the car seemed to be miraculously rolling uphill and gathering speed. There were hoots and cheers, but not because the laws of physics had suddenly been suspended in the San Gorgonio Pass. No, this was a contest with bragging rights!
You see, the boys were trying to see how far they could coast—even if they had to tap the brakes a few times as they rounded tight corners. This was a time of heavy cars and little traffic in the Pass—and sometimes they would go far! Thompson remembers careening through Cherry Valley before gliding right up to the old Alpha Beta on Beaumont Avenue—a five mile run from Gravity Hill. (A few years ago, the supermarket was torn down and replaced by a new Stater Bros.)
Over the years, the attraction and myth of Gravity Hill grew along with the hometown coasting contests. That place seemed to intrigue and even mystify the locals. But with the teenage years so full of merriment, it always seemed that answers could wait. Besides, why ruin such a fantastic legend and spoil the fun?
Still, as he grew older, Mike Thompson found himself occasionally drawn to the “mystery of Gravity Hill.” It nagged at him. When the Beaumont Blogger asked him to relive his teenage years by going up to Gravity Hill and making one final run, well, he just couldn’t resist. Thompson grabbed his carpenter’s level and headed for the spot at 12849 Oak Glen Road.
“This is something that I always wanted to do,” he said.
Looking for answers
Was the celebrated spot an optical illusion or a true life mystery? Or were magnetic or even supernatural forces at work? The phenomenon has been reported around the world in almost every culture—some places just seem to defy the laws of nature. Experts say the layout of the surrounding landscape produces an optical illusion that tricks us into believing that a very slight downhill slope is actually uphill. And so, a car left out of gear will appear to be rolling uphill against gravity’s pull. Scientists say the most important factor contributing to this illusion is a completely or mostly obscured horizon. Without the horizon for a reference point, it becomes very difficult to judge the slope of a surface.
Solving a mystery
Thompson wanted to know if the seemingly matter-of-fact explanations made sense. He placed his level on the ground and carefully tested the roadway at three points. He uses the tool everyday as a construction superintendent, and it never lies. Thompson stood up, grabbed the level, and carried it like a walking stick. After nearly 40 years, he had his answer to the secret of Gravity Hill.
“You’re actually going downhill,” he concluded. “But it looks like you’re going uphill.” His words came out softly though, as if to protect the mystery for all time.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
As a Beaumont High School student in the late 1940s, Evelyn Salley (now Olson), remembers piling into cars with her friends and driving Cherry Valley’s twisty roads way up to the “old oak tree.” Her daughter Karen Thompson, now the City Clerk of Beaumont, took those same roads in the 1970s with her own friends as did her future husband, Mike Thompson. Mother and daughter say the oak tree has been part of growing up in Beaumont for generations now.
Over the decades, little has changed about the teenage ritual of gathering ‘round the giant oak tree. Young people park in a circle around the tree—whether they were driving big, heavy Fords and Chevrolets in the late 1940s or tooling around in 1970s “muscle cars” like the Chevelle SS or Olds 442. Like a scene from a James Dean movie, teenagers would go from car to car as they laughed, talked and danced the night away to the sound of car radios. In the 1940s, they listened to Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Eddie Fisher. Over the years, word spread about the gathering spot overlooking the Pass. In the late 1940s, maybe two dozen kids would hang out around the tree on weekend nights. By the 1970s, more than 100 teenagers could be seen crowding around the stately looking oak, listening to Aerosmith, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Led Zeppelin.
The regal looking coastal live oak dominates a plateau area about seven miles north of downtown Beaumont. The tree is located along Avenida Miravilla at the entry to Mile High Ranch. A narrow dirt road heads off to the west, which you can follow to see the grandest oak in the Pass. Hidden beneath the branches is an old stone cabin, a big fireplace and a campfire ring.
Local nurseryman Christopher Layton recently surveyed the imposing oak tree. He estimates the tree is 60 to 70 feet tall and that its canopy on top is about 100 feet across. The oak has always had a special place in his heart. During the mid-1960s, Layton remembers family picnics beneath its branches, and how much everyone enjoyed his mom's bread and butter sandwiches and homemade fried chicken.
Just as it has for decades, the oak is a destination out on the plateau, where car radios reverberate and young people take in the panoramic view of city lights below. Off in the distance, they spot the blinking antennas perched atop Mt. Davis and a sliver of white light in far off Orange County. And so, for a new generation, the steadfast, silent oak keeps a lonely vigil over a slowly unfolding tomorrow in the Pass.
Friday, September 10, 2010
With its majestic crown of shiny, prickly leaves and ripening acorns, the grand old oak shields dozens of tiny American flags in the hometown memorial. The stars and stripes flutter in the breeze and pay homage to the sacrifices of those who served in Iraq and around the world. Since the memorial went up in the Pass area five years ago, thousands and thousands of cars have streamed by. Many of those drivers—patriotic and perhaps a little curious—have pulled off along Highland Springs Avenue just past Oak Valley Parkway and caught a glimpse of the neat rows of flags—standing guard like watchful sentries. It’s a bucolic setting where range cattle graze from behind barbed-wire fencing. Taking just a few moments from their daily lives, people are lost in moments of profound gratitude for the men and women who have served—and sacrificed their lives—in faraway lands.
The ultimate sacrifice
“I grew up here all alone; you know, so spindly, small and frail,
‘Twas nicer here way back then, a horse and buggy trail
By the side of this country lane, I stood only four foot high,
I hardly got a sideways glance from folks a passing by
I am an oak, a scraggly oak, not mighty and not tall
I’m approaching 80 years; I’ll be 80 in the fall…
‘Twas first a flag, then two more, I did not understand
And then I heard the prayers of those come praying hand in hand,
Each flag is for a mother’s son who went to meet the call,
I’ve seen the tears and heard the prayers for those who gave their all,
And so my job, both night and day, protect these many flags
Shade those who come to mourn their loss and do the best I can
I’m proud to be out here, there are no other trees to guard the many flags that
Stand and flutter in the breeze.”
Saluting the troops
On this day, Sept. 11, 2010, let us gather under the shade of this spreading oak and give thanks to our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and sisters and brothers, who serve us so faithfully across the globe.
Friday, August 27, 2010
The deodars have been part of our heritage since Fred Hirsch, owner of the Highland Springs Resort, planted them in 1930. Back then, people dreamed of an evergreen parkway that would also serve as a windbreak. Around the world, the pyramid-shaped trees—with their bluish-green needles—generate awe and deep respect. In Sanskrit, the word “deodar” means “tree of the gods.”
At their own peril, politicians, developers and pranksters find they must tread lightly around the trees. Over the years, some nature lovers in town have threatened to chain themselves to the deodar trees’ massive trunks to keep chainsaws at bay. A few years ago, planning commissioners heard such a threat and promptly spared two of the stately trees. A developer even changed the entrance for a new subdivision along Beaumont Avenue because of the deodars. And beware any prankster who would tamper with the beloved trees. In the early years, thieves sneaked out and under the cover of night, plucked themselves a Christmas tree, only to find themselves caught by sharp-eyed officers patrolling the parkway. The thieves had to plant a new deodar and water it for a year.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
If the old building could talk….what tales it would tell.
Today, the Beaumont Antique Mall, with its big façade and rounded, Quonset-shaped roof, sells the treasures of the past. But way back in the late 1930s, the homey building started out life as a movie house where the likes of Gary Cooper (“High Noon”) and Gene Autry (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,”) showed up and signed autographs at hometown movie premieres in the Pass.
It’s part of Beaumont’s “silver screen” past, a time when Hollywood came calling. Ida Mae James and C.L. “Jimmie” James arrived in town in 1937 and built a movie theater along old Highway 99. Today, the main drag through Beaumont is called Sixth Street. Their son, Brion James, who used to spend every night at his parent’s movie theater, dreamed of the day when he too would appear on the big screen. James went on to become a well-known Hollywood character actor. He appeared in more than 125 films during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s with the likes of Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis, most famously playing the character Leon Kowalski in “Blade Runner.”
“I play out negative fantasies for people,” he used to say about character acting and playing bad guys. “I’m the guy people love to hate. And they always remember the bad guy.”
Brion James, who also appeared in more than 100 television episodes ranging from the “Dukes of Hazzard” to “Dynasty,” died on August 11th, 1999.
Beaumont’s comfortable little movie theater eventually fell on hard times. Audiences loved paying a dime or a quarter to see 1940s hits like “Casablanca,” “Mrs. Miniver” and the wartime favorite, “Sergeant York.” For decades, when the house lights dimmed, Beaumont’s youngsters ducked down into their seats, munched popcorn and thrilled to the exploits of John Wayne in “Red River” (1948), and then a few years later to a new rebelliousness that swept America, as vividly portrayed in rock ‘n’ roll classics like “Rebel Without a Cause” starring James Dean (1955).
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, Beaumont’s cinema days had passed. The building at 450 E. 6th St. became a roller rink, a motorcycle shop and finally an antique gallery. Today, only a few remnants survive of this town’s “picture palace” and its storied past. If you look up, you can see the carved, wooden door that once led to the projection room. On the second floor, right next to that door, a big hole still remains in the wall. It’s the spot where many a projectionist kept a nightly vigil to make sure those film reels kept spinning.
Monday, August 2, 2010
How would you like to slip back in time and peek into the origins of the Beaumont Library? Well, you can do just that. At the library, hand-written letters dating to 1908 are now on display. With fountain pens, members of the local Woman’s Club wrote in a neat, precise slant and praised the Bank of Beaumont for setting aside a room for their books. But what they really longed for was a fitting library filled with the knowledge of the ages.
For a few years, the dream of these women would remain elusive. But in 1911, they successfully galvanized public support for an election that created the Beaumont Library District. In those days, only men could vote and final tally was 59 to 27.
In August, the Beaumont Library will officially begin a year-long centennial celebration that heralds the founding of the Beaumont Library District in 1911, said Library Director Clara DiFelice. The Woman’s Club had achieved what an early headline in the Gateway Gazette boldly predicted: “And that settles it! Beaumont women have started out for a library and they always get what they go after.”
The road to building Beaumont’s library would be long and winding. But the Beaumont Woman’s Club forged ahead and rallied townsfolk. Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s foundation also awarded a $10,000 grant for the library. In 1914, Beaumont built the library with its graceful Neo-classical architectural style at Eighth Street and California Avenue.
Beaumont had its own library building only two years after becoming a city. Just like libraries built by the steel magnate across the country, there was close attention to details. For example, original plans still on file for the Beaumont Library called for an umbrella rack with a copper drip pan. Those plans required a shelf for the Webster’s dictionary and a newspaper rack with room for 20 editions. The children’s round reading table was to be 51 inches in diameter and 22 inches high. And the librarian was to have a comfortable swivel desk chair.
Carnegie might do a double take if he could see changes at the library—especially a very ambitious one in the making. Over the decades, the main library building has been expanded to make room for more books and a community room. A library once heated by chunks of burning coal now has the latest high speed Internet access. A few years ago, an elevator was installed to the second floor. And looking ahead four or five years, a big, new addition to the Beaumont Library will be built on a lot next door. It’s an eloquent tribute to a group of dedicated women who treasured books and a self-made tycoon, who steadfastly believed in the power of learning to change lives.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
“You find out what your friends have been up to,” he said. “And everyone is so friendly at Market Night. I would advise people to come check it out. It’s good family fun.”
Friday, July 9, 2010
Mayor Brian De Forge remembers his mom and dad making popcorn, gathering up the family of seven and heading down Sixth Street to watch a movie under the stars. Often, they would spread a blanket out on the ground near a movie speaker. In those days, people would roll down their car window, remove a speaker from a pole, attach the speaker to the glass and adjust the volume. In the days of double features and cartoons, restless youngsters could scamper off to a swing set near the oversized screen and play. Eventually, the Cherry Pass Drive-In went the way of most drive-ins and was torn down as times changed.
Yesterday, once more!
That long-ago era of family fun still thrives in modern-day Beaumont. Every Tuesday night this summer through August 17th, the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Recreation and Park District presents “Movies in the Park” at Noble Creek Regional Park. On Tuesday, July 6th, the movie “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” delighted an audience of young and old in an amphitheater setting. The 2009 animated film is based on a beloved children’s book about the town of “Chewandswallow.” In the movie, a young inventor dreams of improving everyone’s life and finally food falls from the sky like rain. On next Tuesday, July 13th, the movie is “Blue Hawaii” starring Elvis Presley. After that, it’s back to cartoons.
So, if you’re looking for a fun way to spend an evening with the kids, the Beaumont Blogger recommends a starry night out at the movies. Bring a blanket and lawn chair and some marshmallows for roasting in the fire pit, and enjoy some old-fashioned fun for a new experience! The event is co-sponsored by ChurchForFamily in Beaumont. A $1 per family donation is requested.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Honoring the flag
So, the next time you’re in City Hall, please take a moment to glance at Old Glory. And with the Fourth of July coming up, let’s all pay tribute to a living symbol of Beaumont’s history—our stars and stripes forever!
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The big vault door almost beckons as you walk into Beaumont Civic Center and spot the safe lodged in the north wall near the glass double doors. The combination dial and heavy metal door with gold leaf lettering bring to mind safecracking scenes from old Hollywood movies.
Have you ever wondered what’s inside the old Cary Safe and what’s it doing in the middle of a well-traveled public hallway? The dial is frozen, and the combination was lost decades ago. Even so, this is one safe that Geraldo Rivera won’t need to crack.
This is a mystery with an answer. Geraldo, who came up nearly empty-handed years ago when he cracked Al Capone’s safe on live TV, would come up short again. Capone’s safe had some dirt and a few empty bottles; the safe inside the Civic Center is just the vault door. There is nothing behind it, except a small bit of wall space.
Few people know that little secret in small-town Beaumont, yet they keep trying in vain to open the safe; children and adults stop in the hallway, glance around, reach for the combination dial, tug on the handle, and hope for the best.
Actually, Beaumont displays the door because it’s a piece of local history and a bit of Americana. The venerable Cary Safe Co. was located in Buffalo, N. Y. around 1900 and made safes for companies all across the country. Today, collecting, restoring and trying to open the old safes is a big hobby with a wide following on the Internet.
The history of this safe began in 1928 when today’s Civic Center opened as Beaumont High School. The plans included a very secure concrete vault room, further fortified by a heavy door manufactured by the Cary Safe Co. For decades, the vault room and its heavy door remained hidden away in the Finance Department. Several years ago during some remodeling, the vault room was torn out to create more work area. But city officials couldn’t part with the old safe door. So in keeping with a city that loves its past, Beaumont had the vault door displayed for everyone to see. When Beaumont celebrates its centennial in 2012, the old Cary Safe will be part of the many pieces of history that tell the story of our hometown.
Now, if you’ve got a few moments and want to see how hard-working laborers put their “stamp” on our city decades ago, stroll on over to the Beaumont Unified School District’s headquarters (formerly Beaumont City Hall.) If you look at the sidewalks in front of 500 Grace Ave., you’ll see smooth concrete poured and floated during 1929—the same year the stock market crashed and America plunged into the Great Depression.
By the way, do you know something about Osborn Company and the men who created those sidewalks? If you do, please contact the Beaumont Blogger and we’ll do a little more research.
But the Cuban Missile Crisis passed, test ban treaties were signed and the Cold War ended. The “all-clear” signal, however, didn’t mean the end of duty for a venerable air raid siren in a small town. Growing up in Beaumont, people knew it was lunch time when the siren went off at noon. For years, volunteer firefighters kept an ear out for distinctive tones that said, “Stop what you’re doing, and head for the station immediately.”
But today, the siren’s wail has gone quiet, perhaps forever. Seemingly relentless woodpeckers have pockmarked every square inch of a pole that the almost forgotten siren rests upon. Today, families enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Stewart Park never even glance up and notice the siren. If they did, most would be puzzled. The solitary siren keeps a silent vigil of its own—a throwback to a bygone era.
The era of air raid sirens was also a time when some Americans built bomb shelters in their backyards, listened to transistors radios and watched black and white televisions. There was the persistent worry of a giant flash, a mushroom cloud and the end of the world. It was an age when youngsters wrapped their arms over their heads, coiled themselves under school desks, and turned away from windows. They were acting out what many had seen in a 1951 Civil Defense movie called “Duck and Cover.” It starred Bert the Turtle who saved himself when danger arrived by ducking inside his shell. Today, you can find Bert the Turtle on YouTube. And if you look up in Stewart Park, you will see an old guardian looking out over Beaumont.
Some residents like Barbara Dwyer still love the quaint old-time street monuments. She’s lucky enough to still live on a corner with one. The marker sits along a dirt stretch of Cherry Avenue where it meets the paved Antonell Court. It’s imprinted with the word “Cherry” and below that in smaller, faded letters is “Ave.” Very little is known about the history of the few remaining markers left in town. But in Dwyer’s neighborhood, the markers probably go back at least a half-century like the homes.
“It’s kind of neat to have something from back in the old days,” Dwyer says. “We like it—even if most people don’t say much about it.”
Today, the street marker keeps a lonely vigil on the street corner. Cherry Valley resident Bruce Murrill works throughout Beaumont and often drives the city’s streets. During his travels, he’s seen three or four of the old markers. “I keep an eye out because they’re part of Beaumont’s history,” Murrill said. “I just kind of like them.”
Did the class of ’35 bury something beneath that patina-colored bronze cap or is the bronze cap simply a plaque left in commemoration by the students?
It’s been 75 years now.
At the front steps to what was once Beaumont High School (now the Beaumont Civic Center), the class from long ago left a “marker.” It reads simply, “35.”
We’ve all walked right past the marker while going about our business. For decades, a canopy of tall, stately deodar trees with feathery, outstretched branches has shielded the marker from nature’s elements.
But what (if anything) did the class of 1935 put away for some future generation to rediscover? Graduates from that class would now be in their 90s.
Back in the 1930s, the approximately 150 students at Beaumont High made their own fun. They tried to catch a greased pig at the Cherry Festival. They watched hometown farmers pit their finest draft teams against one another in pulling contests. Before a big game with Banning High School, Beaumont students would light a flaming, celebratory bonfire fueled mostly by abandoned outhouses. Girls would sell lilac blossoms along Highway 99 (now Sixth Street) for 50 cents a bunch. Wendell Wallace, from Beaumont High School’s class of 1938, remembers crowds of teenagers hanging out at the Standard station hoping to catch a glimpse of movie stars in fancy cars on their way home from Palm Springs.
Long ago secret
But there’s still the nagging mystery about what the classmates of ‘35 had in mind when they cemented that marker solidly into the ground. They weren’t the first graduating class. A plaque on the front wall proudly proclaims that Beaumont High was “erected in A.D. 1928.”
Did the class of ‘35 bury newspaper clippings, photographs or maybe some quaint souvenirs of small-town life? Seventy-five years later, should we let the past stay buried for others to discover in some distant time, or should we open a window to the past? Perhaps sometimes it’s best to let the mystery live on, so that we can always wonder what might be there as we walk near those steps in front of the Civic Center.