Monday, February 27, 2012

Pencil from the past writes its own history

Pencil from the past writes its own history

Seventy five years later, it’s still sharp enough to take an order.

The yellow pencil from Beaumont Hardware & Lumber is a throwback to the days when everyone met at the hardware store.

Tradesmen sat on old nail barrels smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee from mugs. Youngsters put nickels in a big red machine and waited for cold Cokes to come tumbling down. Women dressed up in their finery strolled about the store to see the latest in dishes.

During the 1930s and 1940s, hardware stores were filled with small-town charm and friendly, helpful clerks—many with a handy pencil tucked behind their ear.

Serving customers with flair

In those days, homespun, tongue-in-cheek advertisements in the local paper kept customers flocking to Beaumont Hardware and made household names out of employees like the late Don McLaughlin. In a career that spanned decades, the former Beaumont city councilman would wait on customers and then go to their homes and businesses to install linoleum, repair Formica table tops, and spruce up wood floors.

Here’s an excerpt from an early humorous advertisement written by Myrl Beck Sr., co-founder of Beaumont Hardware. A snippet at the end jokes about sales at the store.

“Don (that’s Don McLaughlin, you know…) was complaining the other day because he was so swamped. Said he never got to loaf like the rest of us do and couldn’t we do something about it.

“So we decided to do something for Don and the only thing we know to do is to write an ad about him—that ought to do the trick. It works swell on everything else we have down here. If we have something we’re especially fond of and don’t want to sell, we just put a special price on it and invite all you good people to come down and buy it—and it’s ours for life!”

In about 1930, the Bebee and Beck families opened up venerable Beaumont Hardware, one of many early and beloved hometown businesses.

“Everyone showed up at the hardware store, it was a great place to be,” said Bill Bebee, whose father Earl was a co-founder. “In those days, nobody was in a hurry.”

For more than 50 years and at two different locations, Beaumont Hardware lived up to the wording imprinted in black lettering on the old pencil: “The Builders Supply House.”

Many remember the hardware store’s big, brass cash register with mechanical keys and “store accounts” that allowed customers to sign for merchandise and pay at the end of the month. Some fondly recall how the lumber foreman at Beaumont Hardware had a school named for him. The former Andy Chavez Elementary School is now a maintenance operations and child nutrition center for the Beaumont Unified School District.

A trip back in time

In your mind’s eye, a slight twisting of the pencil between your fingers is almost like turning back the hands of time in Beaumont. The clues are right there for all to see. The phone number? It’s only four digits: “3372.”

For baby boomers growing up in Beaumont, a “four-digit” phone number seems very quaint. Some remember the days of telephone prefixes and how dialing “Vi 5” followed by four numbers could reach anyone in Beaumont.

The next clue is the hardware store’s simple address: “5th & Grace Sts.”

The address evokes memories of a seminal moment in the history of our hometown’s transportation: the coming of the freeway.

In the late 1950s, Beaumont’s old downtown area along Fifth Street was razed to clear the way for Interstate 10. Beaumont Hardware and many businesses were bought out and relocated before the freeway came through in 1961. The hardware store moved to Sixth Street and Michigan Avenue and continued to serve customers there until its sale in the 1980s.

Living history

In today’s digital age, with our master-planned communities and 24-7 lifestyle, the humble pencil from Beaumont Hardware links us to our past. We think of bygone stores like Mobley’s Department Store, Gray’s Ice Cream and Conley’s five and dime. And while many things may have changed, it reminds us that our history endures and is being rediscovered anew by succeeding generations. The solid pencil with its sharp tip could easily write the next chapter in our city’s great history.

(The Beaumont Blogger would like to thank the San Gorgonio Pass Historical Society for preserving this reminder of our heritage during this centennial year.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Keeping a memory alive

If he were still alive, Cipriano Rangel (1881-1946) would surely delight at how children still laugh and play in a park named for him.

Rangel Park sits south of the railroad tracks in a close-knit neighborhood that dates back to the very beginnings of Beaumont.

And while Rangel passed away 66 years ago, we can still catch a glimpse of a beloved figure from the city’s past. It can be found in a six-page, heartfelt account preserved by the San Gorgonio Pass Historical Society.

Loved by all

As we peer at the handwritten pages through plastic sleeves, neatly numbered in pencil at the top, we see a smiling gentleman who kept the streets clean at a time when the clip-clop of horses could be heard all over town. Rangel, like the Pied Piper, attracted a gaggle of youngsters as he went about his work with a push broom and a cart.

Beaumont Library Director Gwen Bronson wrote the tribute to the dedicated street sweeper. It seems to have been authored right around the time of his death. One passage poignantly describes how church bells peeled in his honor throughout Beaumont on Sept. 5, 1946.

For nearly a quarter century, the humble man worked as a street sweeper, tipping his hat to townsfolk and greeting them with a cheery “Buenos Dias!”

Rangel spoke fluent Spanish, French and English and rumor had it that he graduated from a university in Mexico City. But the writer never says what brought him to Beaumont and so we’re left with an enduring mystery.

But we learn many things about Rangel from the article. We know that he faithfully raised the American flag everyday in his neighborhood at Fifth Street and Egan Avenue.

Beloved street sweeper

And he could sure take a joke from his young admirers. One summer night, they snuck up and painted black stripes on Rangel’s horse the day before he was to ride in the Cherry Festival Parade. But in the end, we also know how much Beaumont loved the humble street sweeper. At a rosary, flowers overflowed the church for the man who had become a fixture to his neighbors in a small town.

And fittingly, they named a park in his honor that still keeps his memory alive to this day.

The Beaumont Blogger would like to thank the San Gorgonio Pass Historical Society for providing information for this article on Cipriano Rangel.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ripped from the headlines: “Boost Beaumont!”

The old hometown newspaper—with its fraying, yellowing pages—delivers a glimpse back in time and new hope for the future.

The September 6, 1912 edition of the Beaumont Leader hit the streets with the latest on our hometown—two months before cityhood. As usual, the weekly newspaper proudly proclaimed: “WE PRINT ALL WE KNOW.”

This early newspaper, perhaps the oldest surviving bit of newsprint about our hometown, will be displayed on Thursday evening, Feb. 9 at the City’s Information Social. The Beaumont Blogger would like you to take a look and discover your city’s rich history. Please join us from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for hot cocoa and learn all about your city government.

We’ll be celebrating our 100th anniversary on Nov. 18, 2012.

Headlines announce stories of the day

Generations of readers have been captivated and spellbound by newspaper headlines, even if they’re increasingly found online these days. Hollywood often talks about stories “ripped right from the headlines.”

Well, the Beaumont Leader exhaustively chronicled the everyday lives of our forefathers in a small farming town. A century ago, the front page carried stories like this:

Well Known Beaumont Lady is Called to Life Beyond”

The story began, “Once more the community has been shocked and saddened by a visit from the Grim Reaper who spares no homes.”

Many other stories filled the front page, but as readers reached the bottom, they came across this headline:


New Teachers in High School Faculty—Others Engaged”

Scattered about other pages of the paper were stories about Beaumont’s incorporation petition to the county Board of Supervisors, signs of oil being discovered south of town and an article reprinted from the Hemet News about a booming canning factory creating huge prosperity in that town.

Boosting Beaumont

One story touted a Board of Trade exhibit that showed how eucalyptus trees grow “wonderfully fast” when planted in Beaumont. Other articles talked about the rising sugar beet industry in town, T.H. Silverwood returning from Los Angeles with a new team of horses to raise apples north of town, and several boys heading out for 10 days of hunting, fishing and camping in Whitewater Canyon.

Advertisements also covered the pages of the Beaumont Leader. They suggest a growing, vibrant local economy in the early 20th Century. One front-page advertisement touted Belford’s Grocery offering Lovell Peaches for canning for three cents a pound. An ad from Beaumont Pharmacy tried to attract students, saying they could listen to music recordings for free on the latest gadget—a Victor phonograph. Other ads advised readers to stock up on their supply of coal for the winter and get their wagons and buggies repaired by blacksmith L.C Gist.

Call to arms

Back then, hometown pride was an article of faith, just as it is for so many today. As we approach Beaumont’s 100th anniversary, its residents have much to celebrate. In the Sept. 6, 1912 edition, the Beaumont Leader issued a challenge that still rings true today:

“Be a booster. He who looks only on the dark side is a curse to himself, his country and his God, if he has one. Conditions are perfect in Heaven. Nowhere else. Don’t yamp like a guttersnipe. Make the best of everything and be a man among men. The pessimist can always find something to feel sore about. Look on the bright side. It will do you good.”

The Beaumont Blogger would like to thank the San Gorgonio Pass Historical Society for preserving the Sept. 6, 1912 edition of the Beaumont Leader and for sharing the newspaper with the community.