Pioneer Park

Note: Permission was obtained from the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society to use excerpts from "Pioneer Park - Past, Present and Future" by the late Martha Gaines Stoebe.

(Most Photographs Courtesy of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society)

The First Park in San Bernardino

When the expected Indian attack never materialized, the original Mormon settlers in San Bernardino decided to move out of the fort that they built in 1851. In 1853 the City of San Bernardino was laid out like a miniature Salt Lake City. The town was one mile square, laid out in blocks containing eight acres each.

A block-square public park was established in the center of the town. It was located between 5th and 6th Streets and Salt Lake (E) Street and California (F) Street. The park, in the early years, was called the "Public Square", then "City Park" and "Lugo Park" (for the Lugo family, the first owners). In 1915, the City Council officially established the name of the park as Pioneer Park instead of Lugo Park.

Painting Depicting Relaxing Under a Pepper Tree in Pioneer Park in the Early 20th Century
(Relaxing Under a Pepper Tree in Pioneer Park in the Early 20th Century)

In 1856, the Mormons held a huge Fourth of July celebration in the Town Square to compete with a rival group of former Mormons, who called themselves the Independents. The Mormons erected bleachers in the park, had a brass band, dignitaries to give patriotic speeches and an extra-tall flagpole with a huge flag which was saluted by firing their brass 12-pounder cannon.

When the Mormons left San Bernardino in 1857 to return to Utah, there was much confusion over who owned the land that was part of their original purchase. They had bought it as a group and it did not belong to any individual. Dr. and Mrs. Quinn obtained title to part of the land and the Catholic Church purchased the rest of the parkland.

Early Buildings in the Park

Over the years various building were built in this eight-acre park including: a home for Dr. and Mrs. Quinn, a small wooden church built in 1865 and after that church burned down in 1878 another small church was built. When that church was destroyed, a brick building was erected in 1910 for a new church that is still standing at the corner of 5th and "F" Streets.

In 1873, the Catholic Church gave the northern part of the block, about five acres, to the "inhabitants of the town of San Bernardino for use as a public park".

The Log Cabins of the Pioneer Society

The Pioneer Society of San Bernardino was founded in 1888 and built a log cabin in 1901 (on Court Street) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Mormons. A second log cabin was built for a street fair two years later. Both cabins were torn down after the respective events because no permanent site could be found for them.

Third Log Cabin Built by the San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers
(The Third Log Cabin Built by the San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers)

A third log cabin (18 x 20 feet) was built on 4th Street for the "Festival of the Arrowhead" which took place in May of 1908. This time the cabin remained in place to be used as a headquarters for the Pioneer Society and then as a museum for the Centennial Celebration held in 1910. On November 11, 1911 a cornerstone was dedicated in what was then called Lugo Park and the 4th Street log cabin was moved to the site with formal dedication ceremonies on February 12, 1912. Over the following years many additions were added so that by the 1930's it was almost 5,000 square feet.

Pioneers in Front of Their Cabin
(Pioneers in Front of Their Cabin with a California Condor and Mountain Lion Mounted on the Roof.)

Each of the log cabins and additions were built by the pioneers themselves, even though the men were all over seventy years of age. On July 2, 1915, the City Council officially established the name of the City Park as "Pioneer Park" in honor of those pioneers.

For over forty years, thousands of visitors enjoyed the use of the log cabin, for meetings, dances and dinners. Many just came to look the many displays and early photographs. Then once again fire struck the park; in December of 1973, a blaze thought to have started in the kitchen completely destroyed the historic old structure. The cabin itself and its furnishing were a great loss, but the saddest, most demoralizing factor was the destruction of hundreds of photographs of early pioneers, which could never be replaced.

St. Catherine's Convent School

St. Catherine's Convent and Girl's School
(St. Catherine's Convent and Girl's School around 1890.)

In 1880, Dr. Quinn died and his widow donated their home and land on the corner of 5th and "E" Streets to the Catholic Church. The property was used as a convent and girl's school (named St. Catherine's) for the next 45 years. St. Catherine's closed in 1925 and two years later the land was leased and The California Hotel was built on the property.

The California Hotel

The Beautiful California Hotel
(The Beautiful California Hotel was known as a High Class Place for Over 45 Years.)

The California Hotel, built in 1927, on the corner of 5th and "E" Streets, overlooked Pioneer Park with its beautifully manicured lawns, stately trees and many monuments. And with the San Bernardino Mountains in the background, the California Hotel soon became one of the most popular spots in town. Many celebrities and dignitaries stayed a night or two. At one time, radio station KFXM had a studio there. One of its announcers doubled as a singer. His name was Ernie Ford - later he became famous as "Tennessee Ernie Ford".

Eventually, the hotel went out of business in 1972 and the subsequent sale of the land was completed in 1977. After some delay occasioned by a low-key effort at historic preservation, the structure was finally torn down in 1985.

St. Bernardine's Catholic High School

Not long after the hotel was built, St. Bernardine's Catholic High School was started in a building standing between the hotel and the church on 5th Street, and it remained there for nearly 40 years until it was replaced by a senior citizens' housing apartment building.

The Pavilion

Pioneer Park Pavilion
(The Pavilion was the Social Center of San Bernardino for Over 20 Years.)

The first building in the park itself was a large wooden structure called the Pavilion. It was opened on New Year's Day in 1891. It was constructed through the combined efforts of city officials and the recently founded Pioneer Society. The Pavilion soon became a very popular gathering place hosting everything from political rallies to religious meetings to social affairs, conventions, fairs, dances and parties of all kinds.

By 1910, Mrs. Beeman was conducting a kindergarten class there and Company K of the local California National Guard was using the basement to store ammunition. The building was used for the last time when Governor Hiram Johnson spoke before a large crowd in 1913.

Fire Destroys the Pavilion

Then, at 1 A.M., on a September morning in 1913, the building caught fire and was completely destroyed in a spectacular display of fireworks. The fire apparently started when a cigarette was carelessly discarded near the building. Only fire minutes after the fire erupted, the ammunition blew up and the flames and exploding shells could be seen and heard all over town, and many resident came out in their night shirts to watch the show.

The fire department was there, but all they could do was to try to prevent the fire from spreading to surrounding buildings; the church complex and the Pioneer Log Cabin were saved, but a new bandstand was destroyed and many of the park's trees were so badly damaged that they had to be removed. The fire was a real shock to the town; the Pavilion was sorely missed for the more than ten years passing until the new Auditorium was erected to take its place.

The Municipal Auditorium

In 1921, a bond election was held to finance a Municipal Memorial Hall in memory of the soldiers who had been killed in World War I. The bonds passed by a large margin and by September 1923, the hall stood completed on the site of the old Pavilion. It was a modern building for its day and it wasn't long before the building was called the "Municipal Auditorium".

The Municipal Auditorium that Replaced the Pavilion
(Ten Years After a Disastrous Fire, The Municipal Auditorium Replaces the Pavilion.)

It was in constant use for all kinds of events, including dances and entertainment by all the big bands at one time or another. During the twenties and thirties there was a dance every Friday night and a band concert every Tuesday night. On summer evenings concerts were staged on the east steps of the Auditorium with the audience seated on the grass. For years there was a traditional New Year's Eve celebration in the Auditorium, ending with a continental breakfast. There were also cultural events, political rallies, circuses, conventions; much of San Bernardino's social life took place there.

During World War II, The Auditorium was Made Into an Armory for Military Use

During World War II, the Auditorium was made into an armory for military use, but after the war social and cultural affairs continued to be held there. For many years, Marguerite Russell taught ballroom dancing in the Auditorium and high school dances continued to be held there well into the fifties.

By the sixties, downtown San Bernardino had changed so much that Pioneer Park was no longer considered the central gathering place. Many families had moved to the northern and eastern parts of the city and shopping centers had sprung up everywhere. There were fewer and fewer requests for use of the Auditorium; there was about one large gathering a month during the sixties, usually rock concerts.

The last large gathering at the Auditorium was a New Year's Eve dance, followed by a continental breakfast, on December 30, 1977, and in 1979 the building was closed for good. The estimated cost of renovating the Auditorium was twelve million dollars; a bond issue on the ballot to finance this failed, so the old building was finally torn down.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Pioneer Park
(The Soldiers and Sailors Monument Photographed by Ruth Parish in 2006.)

The "Soldiers and Sailors Monument" in Pioneer Park at 6th and "E" Streets was erected by a group of men who made up some of the last survivors from the Civil War. It was dedicated in April 1916, on the anniversary of General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox. The figure of a Civil War soldier stands atop the marble monument and on each of its four sides is a memorial to the soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in four different wars: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the Mexican War of 1847 when California became a part of the United States.

The Children's Obelisk

The Children's Obelisk in Pioneer Park
(The Children's Obelisk is Located South of the Soldiers and Sailor Monument. Photographed by Ruth Parish in 2006.)

In 1925, the "Children's Obelisk" was erected. It is a cement pyramid about three feet high with a bronze plaque attached to the pyramid that reads: "1925, To the Children of San Bernardino by A.E.O. Sciots No. 38". (The initials A.E.O. refer to Ancient Egyptian Order of Sciots, a part of the Blue Lodge of the Masons. This organization has long been known for its good work for children.)

Other Memorials

In 1950, a monument to Don Antonio Maria Lugo, the Spanish patriarch who owned Ranch San Bernardino before the Mormons bought it, was set in the park and dedicated by the Native Daughters.

In 1969, the American Legion Post 14 dedicated "Flame of Freedom" and four memorial plaques of black granite at the southeast corner of the "Soldiers and Sailors Monument".

In 1973, the "Freedom Tree" was planted on the east side of the "Monument" and a plaque was embedded in the lawn beneath it. The tree was dedicated to Major Robert Dyczkowski of Victorville, an M.I.A., and to all prisoners-of-war and other M.I.A.s.


Today, none of the historic buildings exist.

Pioneer Park, however, does exist today and, in addition to the Civil War cannons, the Children's Obelisk and the various war memorials, it is the site of the Normal F. Feldheym Central Library.

The Norman F. Feldheym Library
(The Norman F. Feldheym Library Photographed by Ruth Parish in 2006.)