Book review: “San Bernardino”

The sprawl in the Los Angeles metro area is so extensive that one is tempted to describe San Bernardino, Calif., as simply one of its many suburbs.

It may surprise some that San Bernardino was founded in 1810 and was incorporated just three years after the City of Angels. With more than 200,000 people, San Bernardino remains one of the largest cities on Route 66. And Arcadia Publishing‘s newest addition to its Postcard History Series, “San Bernardino” by Steven Shaw (128 pages, $19.99), helps flesh out San Bern’s colorful history with black-and-white images.

With a compact introductory history of the city written by current Mayor Patrick J. Morris, Shaw’s collection of hundreds of postcards serves as an informal retrospective of San Bernardino. You see early images of Third Street, which remains one the city’s main arteries (and eventually carried a portion of Route 66). You see photos of trains and railroad depots, when the city was a major rail center. A few postcards show the famed natural arrowhead formation on the San Bernardino Mountains.

San Bern also held a love-hate relationship with water. Mountain streams and natural springs made the city an oasis from the Mojave Desert and powered its rise as a producer of oranges. But flooding also was a chronic problem, especially a ruinous deluge in 1938 that was documented by a few postcards.

“San Bernardino” gives a few pages to the Mother Road. Images of vintage Route 66 businesses include the Wigwam Motel, Motel San Bernardino, Mount Vernon Auto Motel, Mission Auto Court, Orange Blossom Motel, Sleepy Hollow Auto Court and the Gate City Auto Court (seen above).

But my favorite section contains images from the long-running National Orange Show. Undoubtedly inspired by the Tournament of Roses Parade in nearby Pasadena, the industry showcase featured ornate structures built of fruit. Citrus sculptures included a train, stagecoach, a chariot, the local courthouse, and the base for a Statue of Liberty that, in total, was nearly 30 feet tall. It seemed the show’s organizers were determined to one-up each other every year, and hundreds of thousands of spectators attended each year to witness it.

Shaw’s text with the photos is consistently interesting and informative. My only complaint is he seldom lets readers know the fate of some of these great old structures of yesteryear. Perhaps it’s a little too depressing to know.

It’s also somewhat unfortunate that a few of the postcard images weren’t printed in color, especially those from the Orange Show. But this undoubtedly would have raised the printing costs considerably.


(“San Bernardino” is available at area bookstores, independent retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at or 888-313-2665.)

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