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Frances Park: Growing up in Banning

I arrived in Banning area in 1923. It was a great little town to grow up in. When I became school age, for a time we rented a place on West Ramsey Street. In those years Eighth Street was the western edge of town. On east Ramsey street there was a lumber yard, some commercial buildings, car agencies, and the Banning Plunge, as well as a few well kept motels. There was an auto race track farther west, near what was called the Eucalyptos Grove, which had hundreds of the tall trees and almost no houses. In 1929 Dad bought a new home in the 1100 block of North San Gorgonio Avenue. It was a charming English cottage style and I loved it. All around our house were almond and fruit orchards. The almonds had white blossoms which would fall like snowflakes. Peach orchards at Banning Heights, which everyone called "the bench" were very productive and during the summer harvest time one could hear the fruit trucks driven down San Gorgonio Avenue to the local cannery. The cannery employed several local peopl e and shipped in all directions, by train. We never locked our doors. The house is still there, and well maintained. For a while my sister and I were driven to school closer to town on San Gorgonio Avenue. Across the street from the Central school was the original Catholic Church. After a while I walked to school. It was okay going downhill, but hard for my little legs walking up. The California Cafe was located where Wing's now is. The City Hall and Police station were across the street, where new County buildings are now. The former Del Paso Hotel was in the same vicinity. It is now a retirement hotel, on the northwest corner of Second and Ramsey. It was a busy place during WWII when Patton's Army was training at 29 Palms.

Many downtown landmarks have disappeared. Halls Drugstore was on the northwest corner of San Gorgonio and Ramsey. It had an old-fashioned soda fountain. It burned down in later years. Where the new City Hall offices are was the C. 0. Barker residence, one of the most prestigious in town, covering an entire block, with fruit & nut trees around it. Across the street from it was the Baptist Church, an architectural gem, where the Gas Company now is, next to the historic Copeland House hotel.

Banning was a busy place on weekends, with traffic from Los Angeles and Hollywood traveling on Ramsey Street, often bumper to bumper. People would go downtown and watch to see if a movie star could be seen driving down to Palm Springs. In those days, prior to WWII, there were many active businesses, both north and south on San Gorgonio Avenue and east and west on Ramsey. The only grocery store was right on the southwest corner. The railroad depot was next to the train tracks, where the I-10 Freeway now runs. It was railroad. It was demolished after WWII to give the right-of-way for the Freeway. The only local bank, Citizens' National Bank of Banning (where I worked during WWII) was also demolished and a new one, Security Bank, built on west Ramsey Street. It is closed now. There was a bowling alley on the south side of Ramsey, near the California Cafe. Some of the high school kids would ditch classes to go and bowl. Banning Union High School was a two storey building on San Gorgonio. The buildin g was very old at that time (1930's) and was located where the present-day athletic field is. It was replaced by the Nicolet Street school. There was no high school in Palm Springs at that time, so students had to be bussed to Banning, an hour drive each way. Students from Cabazon and the Morongo Reservation were bussed, as well. The athletic coach was the bus driver. He allowed no problems with the kids. Several Indian students attended, both from Palm Springs and the Morongo Reservation. St. Boniface Indian School north of town on Indian School Lane only had classes up to the eighth grade, so those who continued on to high school were driven to school by Father Girard. The students there were taught industrial and domestic arts and agriculture. They raised cattle and worked in nearby orchards, including the Gilman Ranch. The school was started by the San Gabriel Mission Fathers, of the San Bernardino Archdiocese, and was a very historical site, located at the end of Indian School Lane. In later years it burned down, the entire campus was raised, and the only thing still visible is the old cemetery, which is now in disrepair. It was a great loss of history, as were the many busy retail stores on Ramsey Street and San Gorgonio. That was the heart of town, taken out by I-10 Freeway.

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