October 22, 2002
Hanson: This is an interview with Mr. Larry Williams at his home in Riverside, California, for the San Bernardino Oral History Project on October 22, 2002. This is Joyce Hanson. Good morning, Mr. Williams.
WILLIAMS: Good morning.
Hanson: We are going to start off by talking about, I suppose, your grandparents, we decided. And they have some interesting background on the railroads.
WILLIAMS: Well, let me start with my maternal grandparents.
I was born in 1943 and my father went off to war, was pulled away from his job on the railroad and I went to live with my maternal grandparents on 6th Street in San Bernardino. My grandfather worked for the Post Office. His name was Richard Nelson, William Richard Nelson, and my grandmother's name was Maude. They lived on Sixth Street just off of F Street in an individual house-type apartment situation. I remember Grandpa, as young as I was, riding his bike to the Post Office down on 5th. Let's see, that would have been D Street, 5th and D Street. The Post Office is still there. He was the janitor and the custodian and he'd go in early in the morning riding his bike there and make sure everything was ready for the day, and I remember Grandma taking care of me and singing songs and telling stories and she would walk me down to the railroad tracks close by and tell me that is where my dad worked. And then when my father came back from the war we moved to a place on 9th Street, kind of a similar type place, kind of a horseshoe complex of individual homes, they were rentals. We lived there and I started elementary school, Jefferson Elementary School which is no longer there. It has been turned into something else. I did kindergarten, first grade and I think by the time second grade came we were moving up north to Ladera Road by Little Mountain near Shandin Hills. But while I lived on 9th Street, one of the vivid memories was my father walking me to 5th Street Lake, which is now Secombe Lake and he always told stories about how it was fed by an artesian well and the lake is still there today, and we would fish. Back in those days people walked everywhere, even if you had a car, you didn't take the car for little short trips like two or three miles, you walked. So we walked down to the Lake and fished and that was a vivid memory of mine.
Just going back a little bit, I want to include my grandfather that I lived with that was the custodian and would often ride to the malt shop with me on his handlebars. It was a real treat to have a malt, the malt shop on E street. And this street was one of the main streets of San Bernardino, still is. Another story I remember when the war first started, or the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, my grandfather was called to the Post Office along with all the other employees for an emergency meeting. He was there and they informed them of different things and when they found out Grandpa was packing a .45, they all got nervous, (laughter) Nobody showed up armed but my grandfather did. Of course he was in the Cavalry with Teddy Roosevelt and he actually rode a horse in the Cavalry with Teddy Roosevelt, told stories about Teddy Roosevelt.
Anyway, back to living on 9th Street. I remember while we lived there it snowed. Weather was different back then. We used to have summer thunderstorms with thunder and lightning and heavy rains, which doesn't take place any more. In 1947 it snowed and it lasted for three days. Then my mother was a waitress, she worked at George Jr's up on Highland Avenue, which was a Greek restaurant serving all kinds of cuisines, and I started second grade at Davidson Elementary School. We moved to Ladera Road in north San Bernardino, and Ladera Road - we really moved up town - as you go north in San Bernardino you are going up town, so we were living on Ladera Road and I was going to Davidson Elementary School. When I got to the fourth grade I had the distinction of having the mayor's daughter as my teacher, Miss Blair. Mr. Blair, her father, was the mayor of San Bernardino. Of course I would walk to school every morning and once in a while a police car would pull up beside me with the mayor driving and my teacher sitting beside him asking me if I would like a ride.
Hanson Did you go?
WILLIAMS: I'd get a ride to school with the mayor chauffeuring me in a San Bernardino City Police Car. (Laughter). That was really interesting and she was a delightful teacher. I remember taking a lot of field trips. Then I went on to Arrowview Junior High School in my junior high days and then on to San Bernardino High School. I graduated in 1960. I remember a lot of rivalry between San Bernardino High School and Pacific High School, which was recently built and lots of rivalry. Of course if we weren't stealing their Pirate they were stealing our Cardinal bird.
Hanson: Let me ask you something.
Hanson: Why is the Cardinal the mascot for San Bernardino High School.
WILLIAMS: I'm not sure.
Hanson: No one seems to know.
WILLIAMS: My father went to San Bernardino High School and I followed that tradition and graduated in 1960. I had several teachers, let's see, Mr. Pearson was an English teacher in high school that was instrumental in getting me thinking in terms of college and teaching, and a Mr. Fidalie who was my Spanish teacher also encouraged me. Up until about the eleventh grade I hadn't really decided (laughter) and then I finally decided I wanted to be a teacher and I was accepted at Arizona State College at Flagstaff. And speaking of that, this ties in the railroad tradition: my grandfather who was William Henry Williams was from Missouri, probably had at most an 8th grade education, started working for the railroads. He was, I think, the shop keeper at Needles. And the Needles train station had a Harvey House, and my other grandmother, Catherine, who was born in Chicago migrated out and became a Harvey Girl. So Grandpa met my grandmother and started courting her and they told all kinds of stories about the carryings-on out there in Needles. There were lots of Indians and when the Indian Chief died the police had to go out because they were stacking him up on a big derrick with all his possessions, and dogs and wives and they were going to set it on fire. The police had to intervene to save -- at least the wives, I don't know about the dogs.
At any rate, they migrated to San Bernardino and my grandfather was head of the stores, that was all the supplies for the railroad. They built a house up on Alexander Street, which was in an older part of town, and I remember my father telling me as he was growing up he worked at the Arrowhead Golf Course as a caddy. He caddied for a number of famous people around town. That was probably one of the main centers for the people, the Arrowhead Country Club San Bernardino.
Hanson: I think it still is
WILLIAMS: Lots of history in the southern part, because that is where the railroad is. Speaking of railroads, they had this huge tower, and it was, I guess it was something to do with the whistle that blew every morning at 6 o'clock telling people it was time to get up and go to work. In those days all over the town - north, south, east, west - you heard that and it also blew for lunchtime and it blew for the workday end, so my father followed in the Santa Fe tradition. I think he started out as a brakeman and worked up to Engineer over the years when he came back from the war.
Growing up in San Bernardino I remember so many things living on Ladera Road, which runs into Marshall, that area - Little Mountain - intrigued me so I was always hiking Little Mountain and Shandin Hills - that was my playground. And to the west of it a place that we called the bomb plant. The reason it was called the bomb plant was that there were a lot of mounds of dirt that were ammunition storage places, so we called it the bomb plant, even though the ammunition had been removed years ago we'd ride our bikes out there and hike around. In those days you didn't think about all this parent supervision. We just roamed and hiked, and nowadays it is not quite the same, parents drop the kids off at school and pick them up from school; in those days, believe it or not, I would ride my bike or walk out to the bomb plant or Shandin Hills and I'd go hunting and I would carry a .22 on my handlebars or by my side, along with my lunch, and go off for the day. I might leave at 8 in the morning and come back at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Quite different in those days. It was so free and wonderful to be able to explore. Oh, there was a cave, too, called Coyote Cave, up in Little Mountain where we would hike to and we'd go in the cave and light candles. I imagine it is closed off by now.
At any rate, a lot of fond memories of Little Mountain and the bomb plant and Culligan Soft Water across the way. Back in those days we didn't have all these freeways. There were no freeways. Everywhere you went you by walking or by driving, just surface streets and if you went to the beach, which was quite an event, you drove usually leaving San Bernardino down La Cadena Drive through Colton, then down through Corona and the Santa Ana canyon. Those were all surface road, no freeways. I remember going past the lighter-than-air blimp hangars down towards Tustin or wherever, Orange County, and all the strawberry fields, lots of strawberry fields on the way to the beach.
Another big event was going to Oak Glen in those days. Sometimes we had to stop and let the car cool down; cool off the radiator because sometimes you'd overheat. We always looked forward to apples and apple cider. We'd go up to Lake Arrowhead or Lake Gregory, Big Bear. Plus, you've probably about the Arrowhead Hotel and the arrowhead above it.
Hanson: Tell me.
WILLIAMS: Well, as you go up Highway 18 on the hillside there is a big arrowhead, and there are all kinds of stories about how it got there. And below it is the Arrowhead Hotel, which was frequented in the early days by a lot of movie stars. (Grandfather clock chimes. Unable to hear what Mr. Williams said). They would also go up to Lake Arrowhead, a lot of movie stars, and Palm Springs were the places. Well, I remember my parents taking me to the Arrowhead Hotel and they had hot springs there, and swimming pools. It was just such a neat place. In the later years Campus Crusade for Christ purchased it, I believe it has been sold by them now and a company is going to develop it. And up - that was Waterman canyon, right off of Highway 18 Waterman Canyon, there was also, I believe, a place called Seven Oaks, which was another resort you could go and stay and had swimming pools and Waterman Canyon was up near there, so we had a lot of neat places to go and things to do.
Back in those days besides walking everywhere. It seems like there were a lot more parades. I remember walking from 9th Street over to E Street to watch the parade and getting all dressed up in cowboy costume. Lots of parades in those days, and drive-in theaters and soda shops. I'm trying to think of a few places - Oh, there was Harry's Roller Rink on South E Street. I remember going to in middle school and high school. They had an organ and organ player and when you skated, you skated to organ music. And there was a soda fountain up on Highland, but I can't remember the name now. The gentleman who had it, he had it for years and years and he assembled model airplanes so it was a combination soda shop and model airplane shop. Plus in those days I remember I was always into motors, I had a motorbike, a little car I built with a lawn mower engine, you would just go all over the place. Our house on Ladera Road had an alleyway so when I got the motorbike I really wasn't legal for the streets so (laughter covers words). You know how that goes.
Let me just check to see if there are some other things. The YMCA was very big in those days. When I lived in northern San Bernardino my dad took me to a bus stop and showed me how to catch the bus. I was probably eight years old, and I learned to ride the bus from not far from our house down to 5th and F Street where the YMCA building, and I'd go spend the day there. And there I'd catch a movie and catch the bus back home. Like I said, in those days parents didn't worry about their children as much, as it was a safer, more gentle time. When I talk about it to young people nowadays, or parents nowadays, they can't believe it was that free.
Plus besides the mayor living on Ladera Drive, we also had a number of other people, Dr. Ahbee, the dentist, lived two doors down across the street, the Scorjells, who owned Bed and Mattress Factory lived directly across the street.
Oh, the most infamous neighbor of all was Mrs. Maloof. Mrs. Maloof was the mother of a lot of the Maloof boys, one of them went on to be a furniture maker, another a car dealer. In fact they owned a Packard Car dealership. Oh, she was a little eccentric and she had a big house just up the street, and as time went on, she got a new neighbor who called her "Onestrap" Annie, because she always wore overalls with one strap hooked and one strap down, so she got the name "Onestrap" Annie. She was always combing the neighborhood and alleyways and finding treasures in people's trashcans (laughter) - a very interesting lady. There was a Mr. Reed that was in insurance, and he went back to school and became a teacher. He too taught in Rialto for a number of years. A Mr. Smith next door who worked for a Title company. There also was a neighbor who started Phototron Company. I don't remember their last name.
In San Bernardino, I remember Pioneer Park down there just off of E Street. They used to have big cannons - I don't thing they are there any more - but it was called Pioneer Park and they had these cannons from past wars out there. That always impressed me. Of course, Perris Hill was a big thing back in those days. I remember going to the swimming pool plus my father belonged to Sons of the Golden West, Californians who were natives, and they would have picnics out there and they would actually roast a pig in the ground and I remember all the good food that was served at those barbecues...
Hanson: I just talked to someone who's probably one of the older members, he is 93, he was in Sons of the Golden West. He didn't tell me about the pig roast. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: Well they had a lot of other things that I won't tell you.
Hanson: Oh, come on!
WILLIAMS: They were quite a group. Oh. Has anybody told you about Inspiration Point on North E Street?
WILLIAMS: Well, let me tell you about Inspiration Point. As you travel up E Street it is a pretty straight line. As you get to Little Mountain it takes a curve, and off to the left is Inspiration Point. And that is where all the kids went for a little smooching in those days. You could look out over the city of San Bernardino...
Hanson: Yes, I know where that is.
WILLIAMS: ...and the lights, and back in those days it was much clearer, and I don't know, I haven't been over there for a while. Up above they have the Castaways...
Hanson: Right. Castaways is still there.
WILLIAMS: Yes, that has been several different things. Started out as Castaways, then it was a Mexican restaurant, now it is back to Castaways. But Inspiration Point is a place that the boys would take the girls for a little necking.
I was thinking just before you arrived how about Cal State, before it was there, there used to be an airfield out there, but I can't remember the name of the airfield. I remember going to it. I know they have a hang-glider club.
Hanson: Yes, they do. There is a small landing strip back there.
WILLIAMS: It is called Devil's Canyon.
Hanson: Yes, yes.
WILLIAMS: And the water project was - Just north of the college there used to be a nudist camp. Has anybody told you about that?
Hanson: I've been up there.
WILLIAMS: Oh, have you seen it?
Hanson: Yes, I've seen it.
WILLIAMS: (Both talking at once) -- called the Circle K or something -
Hanson: I don't know what it was called but I know it is up there, because one of the professors on campus does some tours -
WILLIAMS: I see.
Hanson: -- and she takes everyone up there. That's where you have lunch.
WILLIAMS: Lunch at the old nudist camp! Well, that was a nasty place. Very private. It was in the canyon. And years ago I was hunting up in that area, another time I was riding my motorcycle - I've always ridden motorcycles, and I was up there and I passed through the old area and you could still see remnants of it.
Hanson: Yes, the old pool is still there.
WILLIAMS: I made a quick exit because a pack of dogs came after me and I left very rapidly.
WILLIAMS: This whole area, the whole valley has such a rich history and I think back to times gone by when it was a gentler, easier life. But you know, nothing stays the same, everything changes.
Hanson: You are right.
WILLIAMS: I remember some of the mayors we had, besides Mayor Blair. You probably heard about Mayor Ballard.
Hanson: No, I haven't.
WILLIAM: He was the mayor - we actually had some riots in town -
Hanson: I don't know about those either.
WILLIAMS: He was famous - he armed the fire department. He was a former fireman before he became mayor and he armed the fire trucks to go into some areas to fight fires, because there was some rioting going on. I think that was in the '70s, early '70s or late '60s.
Hanson: Rioting as a result of the fires?
WILLIAMS: Uh, I'm not sure if it had any connection with the Watts Riots or what, but there was some civil unrest back then and he became infamous for arming, the fire trucks aren't usually armed -- but the firemen wouldn't go into certain places unless they were.
And you've probably heard about how the smog came to pass here. In the early 50's you just saw if off towards the west, LA. My father, working for the Santa Fe would tell how horribly your eyes would burn when you were over there. And slowly but surely that smog crept over and reached San Bernardino and I remember that was probably mid or late fifties, and people started moving to Yucaipa, because Yucaipa was smog-free then. Now they have their share too. And my dad always predicted, he said someday it will be solid development between here and L.A. - San Bernardino and L.A.
If you drive down the 10 it has almost come to pass, because there are not many empty spaces, it is pretty well developed. And I'm predicting someday between here and San Diego will be totally developed. I'm sure it will come to pass.
Hanson: We have so many people moving into this area, that it is just exploding. It is unbelievable.
WILLIAMS: Well, I just saw that we are the fastest-growing place in the nation. I think out towards Ventura is ninth, and somewhere, Atlanta, Georgia is in there. I remember - Riverside, San Bernardino, Inland Empire. There's the fastest growing and developing - and this morning I just read we are short 675,000 homes in this state for all the workers and all people are coming.
Oh, Mayor Holcomb was also another long-time - his family has quite a history.
Hanson: I've heard stories about Mayor Holcomb. Let's go back a little bit. For the tape, for the people who might listen to this in the future. Explain about the Harvey Houses and what they were:
WILLIAMS: Okay. Fred Harvey was an ingenious fellow who decided he could be very prosperous and fill a need by having restaurants right on the Santa Fe line. You know, the Santa Fe Line went from Chicago clear out here to the west coast. And all along the way you had train stations. So Fred Harvey, with the Santa Fe, developed his restaurants and supplied the workers, and the girls that he hired came to be known as "Harvey Girls." He had very strict rules and was very, oh, what should I say, watchful over the girls and as it turned out, just like my grandmother was whisked away by my grandfather, he had to keep resupplying Harvey Girls because they often married. But they had special dress, in fact, I was at the Grand Canyon recently and they had a Harvey House there. In fact, I think the Harvey Girls are the ones who took care of the Hotel and they all had special uniforms and they came from all over and had very strict rules as to conduct and behavior.
Hanson: Did they have to -- was there a special place where they had to live?
WILLIAMS: They were supplied their meals and their housing, and they in turn would do the work that needed to be done in the restaurant.
Hanson: Did they have curfews for them?
WILLIAMS: Oh, yes! They had curfews and of course they were working a good share of the time but, yes, there was very strict rules and he took care of them. I don't imagine that they made a whole lot, but - and like I said, my grandmother was a Harvey Girl and grandpa came along and they married and then they eventually migrated to San Bernardino and I think they built their home on Alexander Street for probably three or four thousand dollars. They lived there for many, many years. Grandpa died - that was William Henry Williams - died in the early fifties. Grandma lived another 40, almost 40 years, and she died in early nineties. So she stayed there for a while and then migrated down to Oceanside, to Carlsbad, and then eventually up here.
I don't know if you know this but my father explained to me that the tradition of the naming of the boys - my grandfather was William Henry Williams, my father was William Robert Williams, I am William Larry Williams, and my brother is William Jerry Williams. And I do have a half-brother, of course, he had a different father, and his last name is Taylor, so he didn't get in. Consequently I go by Larry. But they told me that was an old Canadian tradition.
Hanson: I didn't know about that.
WILLIAMS: Anyway, I wouldn't have continued that tradition, but I had all girls anyway so I didn't even get a chance.
Hanson: No Wilhelminas in there.
WILLIAMS: No Wilhelminas.
Hanson: Let's go back. High school. Did you belong to any clubs? What were the big events in high school?
WILLIAMS: The big events in high school were the football games. We would go down to the Orange Show stadium and that is where a lot of the games were held. The Friday night football games were big and San Bernardino High School had some fabulous players back then, and we usually had a very strong football team. That was the big night out - Friday night going to the games.
Hanson: What did you do after the games?
WILLIAMS: Oh, we usually rode around up and down E street and had all these - let's see, there was Roxy's, that was a drive-in, and Snow's, that was a drive-in, and the kids would gravitate toward those areas. There were even a few drive-ins on Highland Avenue, but E street was the main drag. That was "cruising" - cruise E street. Of course, nowadays they even have regulations against that.
Hanson: Right (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: Back in those days cruising was allowed and boy, did we cruise.
(Second side of tape - start of conversation missing)
WILLIAMS: That was not only the first McDonalds but the McDonald brothers lived - they built a house up on Shandin Hills. Have you heard about that?
Hanson: I haven't heard about that.
WILLIAMS: One of the lady realtors in town bought it, and fixed it up. But one time the McDonald brother before they sold out - not only opened the first one there on E street but built their home up there. It is quite a mansion.
Hanson: Now, McDonald, originally I know McDonalds started out as a barbecue pit, but that was before you would have been there.
Hanson: You would have been just a kid then.
WILLIAMS: In those days McDonalds had several windows, one to the left where you went to get your fries and paid for them. Then you went over and ordered your hamburgers, they did it separately. The fries were probably a nickel or dime and the hamburgers fifteen cents, and yes, that was quite the place, McDonalds. Everybody went to McDonalds.
Hanson: Who were some of the more famous movie stars that used to come out and go to Lake Arrowhead?
WILLIAMS: Lake Arrowhead, I understand that Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe would frequent not only the Arrowhead Springs Hotel but places at Lake Arrowhead and Palm Springs. Jimmy Durante, Bing Crosby, of course in the later days, Liberace. A lot of those were the watering holes, you'd say, for the stars and the elite and famous.
Hanson: It is interesting that they would come out this way, when there is so much in L.A.
WILLIAMS: Well, maybe they didn't have that much back then.
Hanson: Well, that's true. That's true.
WILLIAMS: These were kind of getaways. Maybe they could get away with more! (Laughter) Lake Arrowhead or the Arrowhead Hotel or Palm Springs. Yes, Palm Springs was a biggie, too.
Hanson: Tell me about up in north San Bernardino before the University came in. When you were up there. What was it like up there?
WILLIAMS: It was all wide open brush, sagebrush, jackrabbits, cottontails, coyotes, lots of coyotes, a few oak trees, eucalyptus trees. Devil's Canyon always had such a mystery to it and you could only go so far up into Devil's Canyon before you had to stop. But, and the wind always blew down through there
Hanson: It still does.
WILLIAMS: There is a wash that goes down through there. Plus old Route 66 runs along there, off to the side, old 66 is just the other side of the train tracks that go from San Bernardino out through the Cajon Pass.
Just to the other side of the train tracks to the west is old 66, and I remember Sammy Davis Jr. years ago was returning to LA from Las Vegas and was down around Mt. Vernon or it might have been old 66 and was in an automobile accident. That's where he lost an eye.
Hanson: So San Bernardino is famous for Sammy Davis Jr. losing his eye.
WILLIAMS: Old Route 66 (laughter covers statement) happened back in those days that was rather infamous.
Hanson: Kendall was there, though, because they have those little houses from World War II along Kendall.
WILLIAMS: Oh yes.
Hanson: ...so that was developed, that part of Kendall, at least. Every thing else was open.
WILLIAMS: Yes, there was, I think, a radio, it must have been a lookout tower originally on top of Shandin Hills that turned into a radio tower or repeater. One time in it there was actually a lookout tower for fires.
I remember we'd get to the very top there was this fenced off area that we couldn't get into. In later years they put, I think, a repeater station up there. But yeah, it was such an interesting time to be able to go hike Shandin Hills and go over on the other side and go to Coyote Cave, the bomb plant and all those other places.
Hanson: I'm sorry, what you used to call the bomb plant, did that have anything to do with the things that were up there during World War II?
WILLIAMS: Yes, that's where they stored the ammunition. And of course they had removed the ammunition by the time I was roaming out there. But that bomb plant is just across the road from the golf course, Shandin Hills Golf Course.
All those homes they built up in the little nook in the mountain there, that little canyon, that is where I roamed and where all those ammunition dumps were at. And I know there were some military out there by Kendall trying to -- but I'm not sure what that was.
Hanson: I heard some stories from some people, of military things out there and they weren't quite sure what was going on. Let's talk about that red light district.
WILLIAMS: My father told me, he remembers D Street as being a red light district growing up and living in San Bernardino and it seemed to be accepted for many years, but then, it didn't seem to bother the Santa Fe, but when Norton went in, they decided that the air base close by they needed to clean up that, so they shut down the D Street red light district, but I understand all the girls moved into various houses all over town so they didn't really stop it, they just spread it from one area to all over. The oldest profession continued.
Hanson: (Laughter) And still continues. Downtown was obviously much more built up back then, a lot of stores and things. What were some of the bigger stores that were down there, where people used to go out shopping.
WILLIAMS: I do remember theaters back then were much more than they are now. Like there was the Temple Theater it is no longer there. When you walked into the Temple Theater there were chandeliers, velvet and waterfalls and I heard they closed it down because it became rat infested. But it was a beautiful theater. California Theater is still there today, but the Ritz is gone and the California Hotel was, I think, where the library is now, the Feldheym Library. The California Hotel and it was a meeting place for the movers and shakers. The Harris Company down a little further on E Street was quite the place to go.
Hanson: Was that owned by a local family?
WILLIAMS: Harris family, I believe, was local and since then they have sold out to Gottschalks. Harris store isn't even there any more, I don't believe.
Hanson: No, they closed it down not too long ago.
WILLIAMS: Oh, it is the Carousel Mall.
WILLIAMS: The Carousel Mall is where the Harris Company used to be. And oh yes, that was the place to go at Christmas.
Hanson: Norton, with this new area they're putting in. Now Norton was a big employer, right?
WILLIAMS: Huge. Huge employer. I think as the Santa Fe started to dwindle, Norton filled a gap and it was a huge employer, and hopefully the redevelopment will be a huge employer again.
Hanson: Yes, we can use it.
WILLIAMS: The old Santa Fe train station was quite a gathering place and quite a building. It was actually, I remember my grandfather would go to work and sometimes Grandmother would drive him to keep the car, pick him up, take him out to lunch, but every time she dropped him off by this tunnel and he would literally go down in this tunnel and cross over all those tracks to the shop area. Cause you know, you don't walk across those tracks. So there was a tunnel underneath all that and grandpa would walk the tunnel over to the shop side and -
Hanson: I hear they are restoring that depot down there.
WILLIAMS: Yes. But another reason I went off to Flagstaff to college was the fact that my father was an engineer and I could get a student pass to ride the trains for free. So I literally went to that train station on my first trip to Flagstaff by train and I got on the train and went off to college, and about once every two months I'd ride the train home for a visit and I became quite the train rider. I learned how to study and sleep on the train. But I have to tell you, coming home, whenever we got close to that Cajon Pass coming from Flagstaff it was always so demoralizing to see that smog creeping its way up on the high desert. But they tell me it's getting better!
Hanson: I've heard that. I've heard stories on campus from some of the older professors came when the University opened thirty years ago you couldn't even see the foothills, that it was just brown.
WILLIAMS: Well, I base that on the fact that when I was working for the schools, the school district would contact us if we were a certain stage, Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and they haven't had, I think they only called an Alert six times this past school year. We used to get called a lot more often, so if they only called six Alerts during the whole school year, then it is getting better because we'd have to restrict activity. If it got too bad, we'd have to keep them in the classrooms. At least not let them go out and physically exert themselves, just passing to the restroom and back to class.
I think I've certainly covered most ...do you have any other questions? You've heard about the early Mormons? If you go way back, in fact, up along Cajon Pass there is place called Mormon Rocks.
WILLIAMS: Have you seen those?
Hanson: Yes, one of my students just did an internship up there for the Forest Service at the Mormon Rocks.
WILLIAMS: Well, that's right alongside the Mormon Trail. They wound up in San Bernardino and they built their fort right where the courthouse is. And of course you've heard that it was called the "Valley of the Smoke"?
Hanson: No, I haven't heard that.
WILLIAMS: We have this inversion layer to claim, and so whether it is smog or smoke it kind of hangs in and we got the reputation for being called, the San Bernardino Valley, the Valley of the Smoke.
Hanson: See, I hadn't heard that before.
WILLIAMS: That is from Indian legend (laughter). There's a lot of Indian travel through here, living in the area, and the pioneers and a lot of rich history.
Hanson: You were talking about a lot of parades. What were parades for? What kinds of celebrations?
WILLIAMS: Well, it was usually patriotic, or western days or - we used to get Roy Rogers, Monte Montana, a lot of the early cowboys. Monte Montana even came out to the schools. I remember at Davidson Elementary School Monte Montana doing his rope tricks, on his horse. It was quite the thing, right down E Street or Highland Avenue, lots of parades in those days. But the people would turn out and they just literally walked from wherever they lived down to E Street or up to Highland.
My grandmother Catherine walked all over San Bernardino. I mean, she lived on Alexander Street but I mean, she didn't think anything about walking down to the Harris Company, which was South Street, which had to be four or five miles, and nowadays people don't walk. They get in the car and drive.
Hanson: (Laughing) Around the corner, usually.
WILLIAMS: And rode the buses a lot. A lot of times I would walk, I'd walk from my house on Ladera Road clear down to South E Street.
Hanson: That's a long walk.
WILLIAMS: It's good walk.
Hanson: So, what did you guys do to get in trouble when you were in school?
WILLIAMS: What did we do to get in trouble? There was something about pomegranates, I don't even like them that well, but stealing pomegranates out of people's yards. Everybody had pomegranate trees and we'd go up and down the alleys and find a pomegranate tree and steal some pomegranates.
Hanson: What did you do with them?
WILLIAMS: I guess we threw them at things (laughing) or ate them.
My parent's home was like, they had three back yards. They were all divided off. The first back road off Ladera road was grass and trees, barbecue and incinerator combination, fenced. The second back yard was more grass, bushes. And then the third back yard was a grove, all these different fruit trees. We had Banty chickens back there and I'd collect the Banty eggs. We'd have little chicks, and they were cute. I remember putting up a bale, my father put up some bales of hay for an archery thing, and I was practicing archery in the furthest back yard and I remember a compost pit that my father dug one time and I turned into a cave for a while. And b-b guns, everybody had b-b guns and we were always target practicing or shooting sparrows. And some of the kids would literally have piles of sparrows by the end of the day. Sounds horrible now but back in those days we didn't think much about it
Hanson: That's what kids did.
WILLIAMS: With the guns, the target practice and shoot, and motorcycles - I probably had a dozen motorcycles in my lifetime.
Hanson: Tell me about this club that you were in where you did motorcycle rides.
WILLIAMS: I just started recently...
Hanson: Oh, you did?
WILLIAMS: Southern California Vulcans.
Hanson: Tell me about them.
WILLIAMS: My bike looks like a Harley but it is not, it is a Japanese Harley. I finally joined and we take rides regularly and we do a lot of benevolent things. They have several things they do for children, abused children and toys for children at Christmas time. But everybody in the Post likes the wind in their face. We just took a memorable ride a few weeks ago. We rode from Tom's Farms to Julian, and we went a little different way and it was wonderful because it was lots of curves - working your way up into the pine trees, past Lake Henshaw and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Then I was in Rotary for years in Rialto. It is interesting, when I graduated from Flagstaff I wound up teaching in Long Beach for one year. And a friend of mine was teaching in San Bernardino and turned my name in and Dr. Wheeler in Personnel at San Bernardino City Schools then, so I came up at Spring Break and interviewed with him and he told me "I'd love to hire you but Rialto's unifying and we don't know how many teachers are going to stay with Rialto or come with us since Rialto's a county school" so I said, "Oh, Okay," so I left and immediately went over to Rialto and interviewed with Sam Simpson in Personnel and he offered me a job on the spot.
Hanson: There you go!
WILLIAMS: I told him, well, if you still want me after you get my papers, send me a contract. The next day I had a contract in the mail down in Long Beach, and I spent 34 years in Rialto as a teacher for 9 years, assistant principal for 9 years, and a principal for 16 years. The last eight years I opened Morris Elementary School. Eight years before that I went back to Boyd elementary where I first started teaching and was principal there.
Hanson: What grade did you teach out there?
WILLIAMS: Um, I taught K-6, my favorite grade was fifth grade. Everyone likes the social studies units. Early exploration, westward - (pause), colonization, westward expansion. Those were great units. And the age groups, they still love the teachers. By the time they become sixth graders, they don't all love their teacher.
Hanson: Yes, yes. I interviewed a woman who was in Rialto School District for thirty-some years and she said the same thing. She loved the fourth and fifth grade.
WILLIAMS: Well now, my last year was the '98 school year and I had a K-6, Morris was a K-6. But the very next year it was going K-5 and I would have loved to be a principal in a K-5 but I wasn't going to hang around to experience it. I was ready to retire. I was fifty-five and a half.
Hanson: Lucky you.
WILLIAMS: And my wife and I thoroughly enjoy retirement. We travel and she pursues her art interests, both oil painting, water color painting and now she is in to clay. She has her own potter's wheel, kiln, a regular art studio out back.
We go to workshops. We went to Mendocino two years ago for a woodfire kiln class and Mendocino has a whole block strictly art colony right in the middle of town.
We stayed at a campground and every morning I dropped her off at the class in the Baja Bug and then I went exploring Mendocino. This past summer we went to Idyllwild, which there is an art school, an art colony and she took a class from two potters we met in Monta Ortiz, which is down in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. We met them the year before and then she finally got in their class this past summer, she spent a week, and I dropped her off again from the campground in the Baja Bug and went exploring Idyllwild. They are in the midst of a water shortage, Stage 3 alert. But it is beautiful, some interesting things about it. At one time they were like a lot of places, very discriminatory. Blacks could not buy in Idyllwild years ago. Jews could not buy. Of course that's illegal now. Most people still can't buy because they are so limited. And so if you have to buy up there, you buy something that is previously owned. I don't think there is any new property available.
Hanson: Did you notice when you were in San Bernardino, let's talk a little bit about this, the racial divide. When you were in the school system there going to school, how many black and Hispanic families were there.
WILLIAMS: Oh, lots of black and Hispanic families, and here -- that's part of the division probably between South San Bernardino and North San Bernardino, because I was born at St. Bernardine's, and I told you I lived down on Sixth Street and I moved to Ninth Street and then I moved later on to Ladera.
Well, the Hispanics and blacks were mostly in the southern part. In fact, I mentioned a friend of mine, she lived right by the Santa Fe yards, probably a tenement type building and as you went north it became much more Anglo. That is where the Arrowhead Country Club is at, the more affluent. But that's all changed now, because San Bernardino still is very diverse but it is much more spread out. My parents always taught me that everybody is equal so I had black friends, Hispanics. But I know there was discrimination back in those days. I think we still have some today. But it is not as prevalent or as noticeable, but in some ways, you know, we make progress but sometimes we take two steps forward and one step back.
My concern now is the Inland Empire is projected for six million people in the next so many years and I'm thinking right now where I live. It is still, I have alternatives - I can go down and hop in the freeway; I can also go out by Lake Mathews, I can go to the 15 or the 215, back ways, back roads. But as it gets more and more congested now, I may have to reconsider things. I avoid L.A. like the plague. Sometimes you have to go.
There were so many neat people. When I was attending San Bernardino High School... I'm trying to remember the Principal's name...because years later he did an Interim Superintendency in Rialto - uh, Rennick, Otto Rennick was principal of San Bernardino High School when I went then and here years later he retired and I am a principal and president of the Rotary Club in Rialto and he's named Interim Superintendent. And he comes to Rotary and I mentioned the fact that he was my Principal in High School. He said, "Yeah, we never thought you'd go anywhere, Larry." (Laughter) -- in front of all my friends, and I said "Well look at me now, it is amazing what a good education can do!"
I think I got a good education, and I still feel you can get a good education if you really want to pursue - most communities have good schools and it is up to the student. I'm saying you only get as much out as you put in.
Hanson: We find the same thing at the University. There are some students who don't want to put the effort into it so they are not going to get much out of it. And really, they are losing, they lose a lot that way.
WILLIAMS: It surprises me, so often I've read that, you know, the importance of a college education, and I certainly agree, but how often people graduate and actually go into other fields than what they are trained for. But yet we can't underestimate that education. In fact, I told you my grandfather probably had at most an eighth grade education and he rose to head of a department, which is not possible anymore. You don't rise to the head of a department without a college education.
Hanson: Right. I was talking to a man last week who had a high school education. He graduated from San Bernardino High in 1928 and became head of a city department. And you are right, you cannot do that anymore.
WILLIAMS: It isn't possible any more. Now there are head of airlines, head of huge businesses, that came up through the ranks with very little education, lots of experience, lots of on-job knowledge -
Hanson: A lot of those people honestly have a lot of native intelligence. Maybe not a lot of book learning, but certain are level-headed and mature and that is something, too, that seems to be more of a problem.
WILLIAMS: I think the college education, as much as I hated all the GE classes I had to take, certainly rounded me out and filled in a lot of gaps.
Hanson: We are almost at the end of the tape, so is there anything else you want to talk about, anything else I haven't asked you that kind of pops into head here?
WILLIAMS: I don't get over to San Bernardino that often any more, but when I do drive over I've often thought of some of the places I've seen deteriorating, I've often thought that my parents and grandparents would roll over in their graves if they saw San Bernardino now, but I understand there are plans for redevelopment and hopefully it will come back and be a, you know, a vibrant, attractive city again, because I know they certainly were fond of the city and the environment and when you see the - of course I guess this happens to a lot of older neighborhood and certainly San Bernardino has been around so long now some of the houses are so old and it is a common thing to happen, but you'd certainly like to see it turn around, because it has a lot of great history. You've probably heard about the Earps, Wyatt Earp - of course that is Colton history, but -
I guess I was drawn to Riverside. However, my home, on a clear day, I still have the San Bernardino mountains out the back here, which is beautiful. I've made a point, during my lifetime whenever living in this area, which has been most of my lifetime, is having that as a backdrop, a view. It kind of grounds you, because you grew up with those mountains, beautiful mountains. Can't always see them but when you can, it is like you know you are home. And have you seen the arrowhead on the side of the mountain.
Hanson: Yes, I've seen that. I've heard all kinds of rumors about how that arrowhead got there, Indian legends and other legends.
WILLIAMS: If you ever get a chance to go to the Arrowhead Springs Hotel after they have finished developing it, it is well worth it. Just walk the grounds. I remember beautiful grassy areas with pools and mineral baths and all kinds of neat places. There are some wonderful places around it. I hope to go back up there sometime when it is completed.
Hanson: I do thank you very much. I think we are at the end here. Wonderful interview.
WILLIAMS: Adds a little?
Hanson: Adds a lot, actually. Thank you so much.