San Antonio Heights – A Dream of the 1880’s
Curves and circles and Crescents with one straight line through the center – this was the way San Antonio Heights was laid out and remains almost the same today.
The new Ontario Land Company of 1886 recognized right away that one of the most appealing prospects for residence areas was the mesa at the mouth of San Antonio Canyon, at an elevation of more than two thousand feet, where water was easily available from the sources already being developed.
San Antonio Canyon mesa had been publicized in 1880 for its “varied and beautiful scenery of plain, mesa, canyon and mountain, with proximity to fine hunting and fishing grounds,” by Dr. J. P. Widney, a brother of Judge R.M. Widney, an early founder of Ontario.
The Chaffey Brothers went along with this idea. The plans were to lay off the tract for a pleasure park and later for a fine large hotel. The first map of Ontario lands showed a V-shaped area next to the foothills above 24th Street which was to be laid out into residence lots. Alternate lots were to be sold for $300 each and the others for $400 each during 1884-1885.
The plans of the Chaffeys and the first Ontario Land Company were not carried out.
In three months after the new company took over in 1886, Charles Frankish, resident manager, wrote of its plans for the Heights to a prospective buyer in Nebraska: “It is the intention to build a commodious hotel with cottage accommodations, and an electric railway is to be built from the Southern Pacific railway at the foot of Euclid Avenue up the center of that avenue to the mountains, then by crescent along the mesa to the mouth of the canyon.
He began urging the members of the Board to recognize the potential for sales when a hotel could be put in operation. “The resort would bring thousands of people to Ontario to see the novelty of a complete electric road of seven miles, street and house lighting, hotel lighting, elevators, etc., all run by electricity. he wrote to the president of the company.
Dr. Widney had acclaimed the mesa for its asthmatic, tuberculosis and other troubles. Dr Elswood Chaffey, the youngest Chaffey brother and well educated physician who lived in Ontario, saw the possibilities for a sanitarium there to take care of the people who came to California believing the claims for restorative powers of the climate.
Charles Frankish opposed any emphasis on making a haven for invalids and wrote bitterly to the president of the Company: “We can run the whole business without the doctor’s advice.” On the completed survey for San Antonio Heights, a circle of seventy acres for a commodious resort hotel with cottage accommodations nearby was reserved at “an elevation to give spectacular views of the mountains and surrounding valley, the Pacific Ocean, and even included a view of Catalina Island on a clear day.”Carrying out these plans was delayed due to difficulties in installation of the electric railroad and pressure of more urgent business. It was almost a year later that the architect, D.Kilpatrick, won a contest for the best plans for San Antonio Park Hotel.
The design included a grand arch and two massive towers capped by observatories, the west one rising 150 feet above the mesa. The main building was to be five stories high with two wings of three stories and to cost $110,000.
And that was the last mention of the hotel – no building news or architect’s drawings. But the development as a residential area was much more successful. Inquiries for purchase of lots began in July, 1886, and the first deposit was received in November.
Part II – San Antonio Heights Became a Residential Area
San Antonio Heights, the district of curves and circles and crescents above 24th Street, was begun as a real estate developer’s dream in 1880. The Mesa was laid out in almost its present form in 1886 by the Ontario Land Company, and the first sale was in November of that year.
The rate of sales for lots in San Antonio Heights in the boom year of 1887 equaled that of the rest of the Colony. The first sale was made for $500 but prices soared immediately.
A sale January 10, 1887 was for a one-acre lot for $1,000. Water was not even being sold with these lands, but a domestic water system was guaranteed at rates to pay maintenance and running expenses. During the first twelve months, 37 lots were sold at a total price of $40,350, the highest price for a single lot being $3,000.
But December, 1887 was the end of sales by the Land Company for nearly fourteen years, except for a very occasional one.
Building on the mesa started with a residence built by JB Tays “near the foothills” in 1884 for $6,000. The boom of 1887 showed new houses being built by Nelson Stoddard and JA Tays, each for $2,000, and IS Miller for $4.200.
The end of the boom put a stop to building by the spring of 1888. Pictures taken years later show only one house near the foothills, which is known today as the haunted house [The IB Miller house – Photo] Mrs Miller, wife of the owner, died before the house was completed, and Mr. Miller never lived there. The story is that some workers who stayed over night there once a few years later were frightened by ghosts, some say a skunk and others say a white owl that flew through an open window.
Things did not look up in the Colony for two or three years following the end of the boom, and some members of the Ontario Land and Improvement Company decided to take unsold land in exchange for shares of stock. In this division of land, 290 acres on San Antonio Heights were given to the members.
Still, a few new homes were built. In 1891, Lyman Stewart started a house at the head of the avenue that “would eclipse anything yet built in Ontario,” and John Tays let the construction of his San Antonio Heights residence to John Gerry, a busy contractor in Ontario. Mr. Tays’ house was to cost $8,000.
Other houses were built either on the mesa or nearby. Mr. EP Fuller built a residence at the head of the Avenue in 1894.
The Ontario Electric Company built a power house in 1895 on the he north side of Mountain Avenue [photo], jus east of Park Boulevard. EH Richardson, the inventor of the Hot Point electric iron, lived in a tent house beside the power station where he was employed.
A park was laid out at the northwest corner of Mountain and 24th Street. The trees were set out, a baseball diamond constructed, and a pavilion promised. An article in the Ontario Record for July 30, 1904, stated: “The San Antonio Heights people gave an ice cream social at the head of the venue last Thursday for the purpose of raising funds to put in a fountain at the little 24th Street park.”
The electric railroad was extended to a new terminus at the park in 1907.
Much of the unsold land on the Heights was bought up by the California Land & Improvement Company in 1901, a Chaffey-owned company from Etiwanda days. JA Armstrong bought a block of 19 lots in 1919 and used it for a nursery. Another spurt of sales began in 1923 and 1924.
By then, the Ontario Land and Improvement Company had been dissolved and the Charles Frankish Company had taken over. Most of the rest of the unsold land was held by the Charles Frankish family and the San Antonio Water Company.
While San Antonio Heights never fulfilled the dreams of the 1880’s for years a pleasure resort, it has remained a place of interest to newcomers and visitors, and in late years has been popular for its scenic locations for homes.
Written by Bernice Bedford Conley – from Pages Of the Past – A History of the Communities of the West End of San Bernardino County. A series of local weekly articles published in the Ontario California, Daily Report newspaper from September 1979 to December 1980.