Residents share memories of RB’s early years
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Life in early 1960s Rancho Bernardo, whether one was an adult or a child, was very different from what it is like a half-century later. Yet according to some of its earliest residents who stayed in the area, there are similarities as well.
* * * * *
George and JoAnn George moved into their home at 12618 Sonora Road in the Hills on Oct. 5, 1963. The couple remembers the date well because it was the day after their wedding.
George George, a now-retired assistant fire chief with San Diego Fire-Rescue, spent part of the early days of his career at Station No. 33 in Rancho Bernardo during the mid-1960s. He said like today, wildfire was the biggest threat to the community. On Halloween in 1966 or 1967 their neighborhood was evacuated due to a wildfire. Another year there was “a pretty good size fire” in the area of today’s 4S Ranch.
The station was in a home on Bernardo Oaks Drive in Seven Oaks, with just a captain and engineer assigned. George said the garage roof had to be raised a bit to accommodate the fire engine’s height and there was no garage door. As was done for decades at the Bernardo Center Drive station, the engine had to be backed in. After a few years, two more firefighters joined the crew. Most calls were for medical aid.
The couple said they chose to buy a house in Rancho Bernardo because of its affordability. They planned to move to Poway’s Green Valley neighborhood, but that required they rent after they married so they could save up to purchase an acre of land and build a house.
When looking for a home to rent in Poway they came through Rancho Bernardo, which was in the initial stages of development.
“At the time, a house payment was as cheap as rent,” George George said. “In RB we could buy a house. … For $100 we could hold the house and had a down payment of $500 or $600. We figured, what have we got to lose?”
As time went on they added to the house to accommodate their growing family.
In the early ‘60s, no one they knew in San Diego had heard of Rancho Bernardo and they were frequently asked if they lived in Riverside County, he recalled.
“RB was really out in the sticks because there was no Mira Mesa or Rancho Penasquitos,” he explained, adding for a decade they had to pay long distance charges when calling San Diego numbers. The rate finally changed after Seven Oaks residents lobbied the phone company.
“It was beautiful,” JoAnn George said. “When you drove in you could see the golf course … and the olive trees were picturesque.”
While there were few amenities and businesses, recreational opportunities were many — especially at the RB Swim & Tennis Club — and the Georges said it was a very family-friendly environment. “It was a wonderful place to raise a family,” JoAnn George said.
The couple’s first child, Greg, was also the first baby born to a Rancho Bernardo family, they said. He was born on Aug. 21, 1964 in a downtown San Diego hospital. Had he not been a month premature at 4 pounds 9 ounces, the honor would have gone to the baby girl born to the family across the street from them in early September, they said.
Most shopping had to be done in Poway or Escondido. Some trips were eliminated once Safeway opened in the shopping center now anchored by Albertsons. George George’s mother, Frances George, moved to RB by the late ‘60s and opened The Chocolate Tree, a candy store near Safeway.
George George said one reason RB’s amenities increased within a few years was due to population growth largely fueled by retirees moving into Seven Oaks who could pay cash for their new homes.
“There was no traffic,” JoAnn George said, recalling how there were only a couple stop signs.
They went to Mass at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, which initially met in a garage because the church had yet to be built in Poway, they said. Their four children went to St. Michael’s School during their elementary years, though their oldest attended kindergarten at Midland Elementary. The Georges said they were hoping Rancho Bernardo High would open, but it did not until after their youngest graduated from Poway High.
The George children like many RB youngsters played youth sports. The family also attended the Symphony on the Green series and picnics on the golf course.
As for other memories, the Georges mentioned a December 1967 snowfall, enough to build a snowman in their front yard. “It blanketed all of RB,” JoAnn George said. “It was the first and last time it snowed in RB.”
* * * * *
Paul Robinson, the former Rancho Bernardo High principal, said his family moved to Rancho Bernardo in August 1963, shortly before his seventh birthday.
It was his maternal grandparents, Malcom and Eleanor White from Oklahoma City, who discovered RB.
“My grandparents were always fans of “The Lawrence Welk Show” and wanted to retire (at the Welk Resort in Escondido),” Robinson said. On their drive back to San Diego they saw signs for Rancho Bernardo and decided to check it out.
“They found out they could get a much better deal,” he said.
Soon after, the Whites convinced their daughter, Doris Robinson, to leave Oklahoma and move into a house across the street from theirs on Sorona Road in the Hills. The two houses were to be completed by June or July 1963, but were finished behind schedule and the family stayed at an Escondido hotel for a month, he recalled.
Robinson said he and older brother, Phil, attended Midland Elementary and Poway High. Robinson said he was able to attend Meadowbrook Middle School because it opened when he entered sixth grade. His brother was senior class president for the Class of 1967 and got the picture of a titan painted in the gym. Robinson graduated from PHS in 1974. To ride the school bus, students went to the Rancho Bernardo and Pomerado roads intersection.
“For a while there were not a whole lot of kids to play with,” Robinson said. Until the Swim & Tennis Club opened in 1964, there were no recreational facilities for children, so they entertained themselves by playing hide and seek and riding their bikes on the construction sites “until we were chased out. … We used to be able to ride our bikes on the old dirt trails and anywhere in Poway.”
Once the club opened, that was the place to be. “It meant more to us kids than you’d ever know,” Robinson said, noting it was the venue for swimming, basketball, football and Little League. He was on the latter’s first team.
Initially, residents drove to then-Naval Air Station Miramar to pick up their mail because there was no postal delivery or ZIP code for RB, he said. Later, mail was picked up from a RB store. The Chocolate Tree was the place youngsters gathered to get old-fashioned and rock candy while parents were at the drug store, barbershop or beauty parlor. The center also had a jewelry store, liquor store, small hardware store and bank, Robinson said. At the latter he opened his first savings account with money earned by delivering Times Advocate newspapers in Seven Oaks. Hollandia Dairy delivered milk to homes, dropping off bottles at the front doors, he added.
“RB was a great place to grow up,” Robinson said. “The only fast food was at the RB Inn, so when you wanted to pick up a burger, it was a luxury burger.”
The Inn was also the place for special events, he said, recalling a pro golf tournament there with Andy Williams in attendance. As a teen he helped set up for concerts, which drew big-name entertainers.
As for community traditions, Robinson recalled helping his grandmother make Christmas ornaments to decorate the olive trees along Bernardo Center Drive. Each tree was decorated to represent a state residents came from and his family decorated the one for Oklahoma. The tradition ended by the early ‘70s. Robinson also rode his bicycle decorated with streamers and playing cards in the spokes during the early Spirit of the Fourth parades.
Robinson said he misses the way everyone in RB knew one another during the early years, but saw a bit of that togetherness return in the aftermath of the 2007 wildfires.
“RB has always been a unique community in that way,” he said.
Robinson and wife, Robin, decided years ago that RB was where they wanted to raise their family. When purchasing their most recent home in Greens East three years ago, Robinson said he noticed a familiar signature on the last page of the CC&R documents. It was his mother’s, who for more than two decades worked as secretary for RB founder Harry Summers. Doris Robinson had notarized the papers in 1965.
- Vote early and often in Rancho Bernardo ‘mayor’ race
- Fire damages Rancho Bernardo house
- Wed 70 years, Rancho Bernardo couple believe in communication
Short URL: http://www.pomeradonews.com/?p=28755