You have no idea how uninspired it is for a newspaper reporter to write about one of the least interesting topics ever – the weather.
It’s been raining, it’s been dry, it’s been snowing, it’s been windy, it’s hot or it’s been cold – something they pretty much already know – can be a dreary task.
But a little bit of Heaven once more uncovered more than 50 years ago. And it was in Hell.
Between 1955 and 1964, the Riverside County desert hamlet of Hell was actually selling gas to travelers along Highways 60 and 70, about 30 miles west of Blythe. The 1960 Census found 17 hardy souls living there, though some dogs and a few rabbits suggested.
And possessing the phone number to Hell was just an appropriate holiday.
• Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17, 1958: “LA’s Hotter Than Hell – Only 97 There” was the headline for a 104-degree day in Los Angeles while Hell was 7 degrees cooler. The story quoted Hell service station owner Charles Carr who always prepared to give colorful writers to pep up their weather stories. Among his other responsibilities, he has been elected president and was the lone member of Hell’s Chamber of Commerce.
• The Associated Press wire service, April 4, 1958: Headline for its story in a Modesto paper said, “Rain Hits Deep – Even to Hell.” The story began “It’s been raining like the devil in Hell.”
• United Press International wire service story, Dec. 24, 1960: “The Thousands of Cars in Traffic Jam at Hell,” the Carr’s gas station. Imagine having to explain being late for holiday dinner because you spent Christmas Eve in Hell.
• In oh-so-refined Redlands, the Daily Facts couldn’t bring itself to an unholy location on Sept. 26, 1963. The headline simply stated, “In THAT place it was cooler at only 99.” Hell’s temperature that day was well below 106 in Los Angeles.
• Pasadena Star-News columnist Ray McConnell wrote on Oct. 29, 1959, about his difficulty trying to call Hell (in the days before long-distance direct dialing). The first operator he had no idea where he was, but the line was busy. Later, McConnell finally got to ask Carr what Halloween was like in Hell. “Every night is Halloween in Hell,” he was told. Carr said there were only his three kids there, “and they’re devils all the time.”
• The Pomona Progress-Bulletin shocked the community Dec. 28, 1960 when it was announced a local teen church bicycle club had to bed down in Hell. The Cycle Club of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pomona en route to Phoenix. Rev. Walter T. Rea, via short-wave radio, assured parents their kids were in good hands in Hell.
But the march of civilization, and transcontinental traffic, eventually drove out Hell forever. In 1964, Caltrans began to build a multi-lane freeway that today is the 10 Freeway. Faced with putting up an expensive bridge for motorists to access Hell’s gas station, the state’s bean counters offered Carr $ 75,000 for the whole place. He accepted and Hell disappeared, but not without spawning more stories.
• UPI story in the San Bernardino Sun, Dec. 5, 1964: “Highway Crews Make Sure Public Can’t Go To Hell,” the headline for the story of Hell being razed. The story said the place had one last bit of attention. Yes, newspapers could not resist the temptation “to remark truthfully that it was a cold day in Hell.”
• The Ontario Daily Report, on Oct. 14, 1964, editorialized that “Instead of the State going to Hell, as some politicians aver, Hell went to the State.”
• Even after it was paved over, Hell continued to provide some fun for newspaper people. In 1967, a Los Angeles man who owned 80 acres near the site was livid that someone had stolen his 4 × 8 for sale sign on the property. “Sign Theft Raises Cain Near Hell” was the Times headline about theft. The story reported that “Indio deputies will be sent to Hell to investigate.”
Hell is long gone today, at least in that part of Riverside County. Caltrans is repaving that part of the 10 Freeway. I may confidently report to you, slightly messing with the ancient proverb, that “The Road to Hell is Being Repaved with Good Intentions.”
A little piece of Heaven
“You’re in Helmet?” was the puzzling response I got from one of my daughters to a text I sent last year. “What is Helmet?”
It only took a moment to realize that I had been victimized by the autocorrect feature on my cell phone. The “Hemet” I originally wrote was subtly changed by a phone unwilling to believe there’s a place by that name.
And as for guessing, I bet this frustrating technological editing can be a frequent irritation today for the folks of Hemet who regularly text.
Hemet’s name was not simply a modern annoyance. Back in 1920, he briefly shocked the parishioner of Pomona’s First Methodist Church after calling his minister, Dr. Walter C. Buckner, to discuss a church matter.
The caller was taken aback when told that Dr. Buckner “had gone to Heaven,” reported the Pomona Bulletin of Nov. 20, 1920. Even in those less-connected days, it took no time for the sad news to spread throughout the Pomona of the noted theologian’s apparent demise.
But his death, with apologies to Mark Twain, was exaggerated by that mumbled phone conversation.
“Dr. Buckner returned, not from Heaven, but from Hemet, and has been busy explaining just how it all happened, ”the Bulletin said. He had been a speaker as part of a series of meetings in Hemet.
The Upland Library has published the free weekly pages of the Upland News. The work was done through California Revealed and the State Librarian.
The collection includes weekly copies from 1910 into the 1970s, as well as other related titles. The paper was previously only used using the library’s microfilm and a poorly working microfilm reader. The paper’s editions are not in chronological order, causing a bit more searching to find a specific date.
To access the pages go to Uplandca.gov/library, then click on Library Resources and then Local History to find the pages.
Ontario Heritage will hold its annual Walking Tour of the Euclid Avenue Historic District begiining at 10 am on May 21.
The walk will begin at the Iron Skillet, 805 N. Euclid, and explore one of the city’s earliest neighborhoods, visiting homes and features of the area including the avenue’s center median.
Tickets are $ 5 for Ontario Heritage members, $ 10 for non-members, and youths 12 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased at 9:30 am prior to the walk or online at www.ontarioheritage.org.
Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Empire history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JoeBlackstock. Check out some of our columns of the past at Inland Empire Stories on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IEHistory