Discovering the real San Dimas

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San Dimas Mansion, restored after $12 million, the crown jewel of the city.

IT was a dumb flick, and the only reason I was sitting in a screening room watching “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” in 1989 with then-Mayor Terry Dipple was because the movie was set in San Dimas and I needed a column.

Today, many still remember that column. More recall the movie, which became a cult classic. Twenty-one years later, art has a way of imitating life. The theme of the foothill city’s 50th anniversary celebration last weekend was “San Dimas: An Excellent Adventure.”

While the film featured Keanu Reeves as a dim-witted time-traveler trying to save the city from destruction, any connection to real life was bogus. The name was chosen by the filmmaker at random. Not a single scene was shot in the city.

I thought I’d catch you up on the real city’s history, so I did some windshield traveling with Denis Bertone Wednesday afternoon.

From the 210 Freeway, I exited at San Dimas Road. The yellow foothills knelt close to the freeway; the distant oaks scattered like green polka dots. Driving south, time slowed down. I passed an equestrian stable, Craftsman homes a Baptist church built in 1896 and the city’s crown jewel, the Walker House.

The mini-valley that is San Dimas was discovered by white folk in 1826, when Jedediah Smith rolled his wagon into what was then called Mud Springs. There’s a statue of him next to City Hall called “A Welcome Sight.” The Chamber of Commerce is 98 years old. Bonita Avenue looks like a Western set with wooden walkways. Incorporation happened in 1960.

“San Dimas is like a lot of cities around here,” Bertone said. “We are a small town, yet we are surrounded by 10 million people. You’re part of that 10 million but you are in the country … it is kind of an illusion.

The city leaders created that illusion through hard work and excellent management – from the City Council to the staff, including Bob Poff, the former city manager, and Blaine Michaelis, the current city manager. The council always voted for preservation of historic buildings and natural hillsides. The most courageous vote was 3-2 to buy the Walker House more than a decade ago. Last year, the $12 million restoration was opened to the public, complete with a new white-tablecloth restaurant, Saffron. Upstairs is home to the Festival of Arts (catch its next show Oct. 15) and the historical society. “We want this place to be used,” emphasized Bertone, who’s been on the City Council for 22 years – nearly half the existence of the city.

My main question was: What is the recipe for success for San Dimas?

Bertone said it’s convincing businesses, new and old, they can make it. Less than two years ago, the city brought in a Costco after the redevelopment agency worked for years buying up property, homes and other businesses to prepare the site.

“The city of San Dimas has no car dealerships. When they went south, cities like Glendora and El Monte suffered the most. Our sales-tax revenues went down but not by so much … we weren’t relying on that. It was a saving grace,” he explained.

The city is still trying to convince restaurants to move in. But its budget is in the black, something not too many cities can say today. “The thing to do for a healthy city is to diversify. Don’t rely on one type of business for sales tax,” he said.

The other part of this city’s success is preservation. With the help of the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, it’s getting ready to open 60 acres of significant ecological lands adjacent to Walnut Creek Wilderness Park.

Bertone knows a lot about keeping parks green. He formed the Coalition to Preserve Bonelli Park back in the 1980s, which successfully fought back a Pete Schabarum plan to build hotels and “chalets” in the county regional park located within the city. Later, the group stopped expansion of Raging Waters.

As we drove west on Bonita he saw a Chevron station and said: “The city would like to buy that gas station next to the Walker House for a park … how fantastic would that be?”

The “excellent adventure” continues.

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The new Costco in San Dimas, creation of the city redevelopment agency.

This entry was posted in environment, land use, Pasadena by Steve Scauzillo. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steve Scauzillo

I love journalism. I've been working in journalism for 32 years. I love communicating and now, that includes writing about environment, transportation and the foothill/Puente Hills communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar. I write a couple of columns, one on fridays in Opinion and the other, The Green Way, in the main news section. Send me ideas for stories. Or comments. I was opinion page editor for 12 years so I enjoy a good opinion now and then.

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