Compiled by Steve Williamson, Museum Specialist
Temecula Valley Museum
The population of Temecula in 1970 was only 220 people.
The population of Temecula (not including the surrounding areas of Murrieta and Rancho California) was virtually unchanged from 1900 to 1970. After the completion of Interstate 15 in 1985, the population of the community exploded from roughly 1,800 in 1980 to 27,000 in 1990 and 57,000 in 2000 and 101,000 in 2010. Today the population of Temecula is more than 106,000 people.
The Swing Inn Café actually was an “inn”.
During the 1950s there was a motel on the corner of Third and Front Streets called “Andersen’s Swing Inn, Motel and Café.” The motel closed its doors in 1969, but the café was leased to, and eventually bought by, its current owners who continue to call it “The Swing Inn Café.”
Many famous mystery novels were written in Temecula.
Writer Erle Stanley Gardner called Temecula home for 33 years. The lawyer turned mystery writer, most famous as the creator of the very popular fictional lawyer “Perry Mason,” never knew Temecula to be anything more than a small town of two hundred people. Erle wrote many of his novels from Temecula, and communication with agents and publishers was through the mail. Not until after WWII was he able to get telephone service to his ranch. Before that time, the nearest telephone was the switchboard at the Palomar Hotel which he often used to exchange messages. Erle’s ranch house still exists on Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians tribal land.
The 500-man Mormon Battalion camped in Temecula.
Under orders from President James Polk, the Mormon battalion left Council Bluffs, Iowa on a 2,000 mile march west to support the forces of Gen. Stephen Kearney during the Mexican-American War. Along the way they blazed a trail from Santa Fe to San Diego to be used as a military supply line. The Battalion made camp in Temecula on the night of January 25, 1847. Two years later the same trail was used by thousands of emigrants seeking their fortunes during the California Gold Rush. The same trail was later used by the Butterfield Stage Line to make the first overland mail deliveries to California.
The baby from the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through Temecula with the Mormon Battalion.
On the face of a U. S. one-dollar coin is an Indian woman with an infant. The woman is Sacagawea, the guide who accompanied Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, carrying her two-month-old baby. The baby was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Forty years later, J. B. Charbonneau was a guide to Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke and the Mormon Battalion between Santa Fe and San Diego. The name J. B. Charbonneau is among those etched into the granite of the “They Passed This Way…” monument in Sam Hicks Monument Park.
Sam Hicks Monument Park in Old Town was once a school yard.
Sam Hicks Monument Park was once the site of the one-room Pujol School House, which was originally built in 1888 and replaced in 1915 by the two-room Temecula Union School, which burned to the ground in 1971. For nearly one hundred years this popular City Park was a school yard. Today, Sam Hicks Monument Park is home to the Temecula Valley Museum and the Chapel of Memories.
The arches in Old Town say “Temecula, est. 1859,” but we’re much older, and much younger.
The date on the arches celebrates the first Temecula Post Office, which opened on April 22, 1859. Located in the Magee Store on the south bank of the Temecula Creek, the Temecula Post Office was the second post office established south of San Pedro. Temecula actually began as a village established by Native Americans thousands of years ago, calling it “Teméeku” from the Luiseño word “Temecunga” – “teme” meaning “sun,” and “nga” meaning “place of”. The City of Temecula was established in 1989. This truly embodies our City Slogan, “Old Traditions, New Opportunities”.
The City of Temecula might have been called the City of Rancho California.
Throughout the 1980s newcomers to the area were buying homes in what they knew as Rancho California. “Temecula” was a rustic old town west of the freeway. When the community was poised to become an incorporated city, the choice was put to the voters as to whether they would like the new city to be named “Temecula” or “Rancho California.” The vote could have gone either way. Fortunately, the name “Temecula” won out. Today Temecula is one of the few cities in the state that is known by its aboriginal name.
Ronald Reagan once owned property on the Santa Rosa Plateau.
Shortly after the Vail Ranch was sold in 1964, the Rancho California Development Corp. began to aggressively promote the area. The State Governor and future President purchased 770 acres of land on the Santa Rosa plateau. He later chose, instead, a site near Santa Barbara to develop into his “Western White House.”
Winchester Road used to be called “Banana Street.”
Traveling north on Jefferson Avenue, Banana Street was followed (in alphabetical order) by Cherry Street, Date Street, Elm Street, Fig Street, and Guava Street.
The original owners of the Welty Hotel had eleven children – all girls.
R. J. and Mary Jane Welty were pioneers in the town that grew up around the railroad depot during the mid-1880s. Their first hotel burnt to the ground in 1891. They built a new hotel in the same location on Main Street later that same year. In 1896 they built a general store and boarding house on the corner of Main and Front Streets. Both of these buildings are still standing and represent two of the oldest buildings in Old Town Temecula. The Weltys had eleven children – all of them girls!
A glass of Callaway wine was served to the Queen of England.
During Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to the United States in 1976, a bottle of Callaway’s 1974 White Riesling was chosen to be served at a luncheon honoring the Queen at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Her Majesty enjoyed the wine enough to ask for a second glass! It was a tremendous honor for Temecula’s very first winery.
The City of Temecula’s motto “Old Traditions, New Opportunities” was proposed by a 12-year-old girl.
In 1990 the Temecula Chamber of Commerce conducted a contest to find a slogan for the new City of Temecula. The winning entry was submitted by Heather Short, a sixth-grade student at Temecula Middle School. The City Council formally adopted the slogan on September 18, 1990.
The original cityhood proposal was to merge Temecula and Murrieta into one large city.
In March of 1989 the City Committee submitted to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) a proposal for the incorporation of one large city to include all of Temecula, Rancho California, Murrieta, and Murrieta Hot Springs.
Rancho California Business Park was once an airport.
Shortly after incorporation, the Rancho Airport at the corner of Rancho California Road and Diaz Road was closed and the airport businesses relocated to the new French Valley Airport in an unincorporated area along Winchester Road. The property that was the Rancho Airport was subdivided and developed into the Rancho California Business Park.
The chapel in Sam Hicks Monument Park was once the local Catholic Church.
Originally built in 1917, St. Catherine’s Church was located at the corner of Front and Sixth Streets. For many years it was the only church in town. The building was abandoned when the Catholic Church relocated in 1990 to a new church building at the corner of Santiago and C Streets. The vacant building was purchased by Tony Tobin and a group of local history enthusiasts and moved to its current location, completely restored, and renamed the “Chapel of Memories”; currently used for weddings and celebrations.
Prior to 1985, Temecula had no high school.
For nearly one hundred years the Elsinore Union High School was the only public high school for miles around. Graduating eighth graders from Temecula elementary schools were bused to the Elsinore Union High School. In 1982 the Elsinore Union High School District Board approved the construction of a new high school on property donated by Rancho California Development Corporation at the corner of Rancho Vista and Margarita Roads. On September 7, 1985 the Temecula Valley High School was formally dedicated and opened for classes.
Riverside County’s first Tax Collector lived in Temecula.
José Gonzalez came to the Temecula Valley with Juan Murrieta in 1873. He was an experienced accountant and worked as Juan Murrieta’s ranch manager. When Murrieta left the Temecula Valley in 1884, Gonzalez stayed and became San Diego County’s Assistant Tax Assessor. When Riverside County was created in 1893, Gonzalez became its first Tax Collector. He continued to live and raise his family on his 60-acre ranch in Temecula.
Old Adobe Plaza was built around the home of Riverside County’s first Tax Collector.
The adobe home of Riverside County’s first Tax Collector, José Gonzalez, is still standing and today forms the foundation for the Old Adobe Plaza on Jefferson Avenue.
The City of Temecula has an official city flower.
On September 18, 1990 the City Council passed a resolution making the “Temecula Rose,” a registered hybrid rose, the official city flower and encouraged its use in both public and private landscapes.
The first Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival was held in the parking lot of the Tower Plaza.
The brain child of airline pilot and avid balloonist Walt Darron along with event promoter Evelyn Harker, the first annual Balloon and Wine Festival brought 4,000 people out to watch 35 hot-air balloons launch from the parking lot of the Tower Plaza (then known as the Rancho California Plaza) in the spring of 1984.
Temecula was featured in a famous Clorox commercial.
In February of 1973 the Clorox Company came to Temecula with a proposal. They asked every housewife in town to give up their Clorox for 30 days and agree to be interviewed about their experience at the end of the 30 days. The commercial aired between August, 1973 and May, 1974 and opened with a photograph of Temecula’s Main Street with the name “Temecula” superimposed on it. The announcer began by saying, “We actually took away everybody’s Clorox in Temecula, California – population 270….”
Temecula played an important part in exposing the treatment of Native Americans in the United States.
In 1883, famous author Helen Hunt Jackson visited and stayed overnight at the general store owned and operated by Louis Wolf and his wife Ramona. The story she was told by Ramona Wolf about the 1875 eviction of the Temecula band of Luiseño Indians from their ancestral village formed the basis for her popular romantic novel “Ramona”. The book, while fictional, detailed the plight of the Native Americans and polarized public opinion about their treatment.
Wolf Valley was once called “Louisville”.
During a land boom in the mid-1880s, local postmaster and general store owner Louis Wolf advertised the sale of lots in a community he called “Louisville.” The boom ended in 1887 and the community of Louisville never took root. But that part of town even to this day is called “Wolf Valley.”
The city has two time capsules.
The first developed during 1988 and ’89, when those involved in the campaign to incorporate the community collected documents, newspaper articles, campaign buttons, and other cityhood related items. When the election was over and the cityhood campaign was successful, the organizers placed many of these items into a box which they asked the general contractor for the Temecula Town Center shopping complex to bury in a common area. This capsule is scheduled to be unearthed in the year 2040. The other was a project by the Temecula Redevelopment Agency, to place a time capsule in the Gateway Arch at the north entrance to Old Town. The Agency solicited essays from local schools, and other items such as photographs, planning documents and newspaper articles. The Gateway Arch time capsule is scheduled to be opened in 2029.