Banning's history, captured in book for Centennial

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Posted: Monday, October 21, 2013 12:00 am

People weren’t initially drawn to the Pass area. They passed through here, historian Bill Bell writes in his book, “Banning, California: A Pictorial History Through the Decades,” which was published this month by the Record Gazette.

“As more travelers experienced the San Gorgonio Pass, they began to appreciate its unique beauty and acknowledge the potential of the Pass as a destination … in the 1870’s, the history continues through the turn of the 20th Century as Banning incorporates and grows into an essential presence in Southern California as the gateway through the San Gorgonio Pass.”

His book, published earlier this month, was commissioned by the Banning Centennial Committee and printed by D-Books Publishing/Walsworth Printing of Maceline, Mo.

Bell has written movie scripts that were never filmed, and compiled local histories for a few cities in Southern California while working as a cultural resources consultant for Riverside-based LSA Associates, but “Banning California: A Pictorial History” is the first book he has authored.

He currently works as an archivist for the Banning Public Library.

“It took a great amount of time to pull all these images and text together into a readable and coherent history covering nearly 170 years,” Bell says. “I’m very pleased with the quality of the book, and I think it will hold up well through the years.”

His book delves deeper into Banning’s founding, long before it was incorporated in 1913.

For the project, Bell relied on history compiled in Tom Hughes’s book, “History of Banning and San Gorgonio Pass”; notes from early pioneer C.O. Barker; early copies of The Herald of Banning, the Daily Banning Record, the Record Gazette; and derived from publications by many other area historians, including Steve Lech and Betty Kikumi Meltzer.

“Bill was the obvious choice” to lead the project, according to Toebe Bush, president and CEO of Century Newspaper Group, which owns the Record Gazette. “He’s Banning’s historian, and works for the Banning Library. We wanted to publish a history book that included not only past history, but recent history that has not been documented other than in newspapers. We are extremely pleased with how the book came out — Bill did a wonderful job capturing over 100 years of local history, and the photos we had to choose from were exceptional.”

Bush explained that the Record Gazette had promoted the book’s publication months in advance, inviting readers to submit pictures and anecdotes to be considered for inclusion.

Interspersed throughout the book are pictures of buildings and places that no longer exist: former wineries and churches, hotels and orchards.

“He did a great job — the way it’s written, there’s continuity between his book and Tom Hughes’s book,” according to historian Mike Rose, a member of the Banning Centennial Committee. “It was fun to see two different books covering our history with such a fun spirit. His (Bell’s) is historically more accurate; he had more information to work with.” (Tom Hughes published his history of Banning in 1939). “There were a couple of things that even caught me off guard in his book that I never knew before, which is kind of neat. As a work, it’s a very good history publication, and I’m so proud to have that come out of our town” in time for Centennial.

Copies of the book are being sold exclusively at the Record Gazette during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, and sells for $26.95, including tax.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at .

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