by Phillip B. Burum, Executive Vice President, Diversified Pacific,
President, Building Industry Association (BIA) Baldy View Chapter
One of the key reasons the Baldy View region is one of the most desirable destinations for homebuyers and homeowners is because it offers three unique and distinct environments: lush valleys, towering mountain ranges and scenic deserts.
The Baldy View Region’s diversity of environments also offer a wide range of famous and distinctive hauntings and macabre tales that offer a fun (and chilling) introduction to the area. With Halloween on the horizon, it seemed worth dedicating a moment or two to our storied haunted history.
You can find details of many of these stories by searching ‘San Bernardino Ghost Stories’ in your favorite web browser but a few of my favorites include Will Rogers’ haunting of the California Theatre in San Bernardino or the story behind the 1976 comedy ‘Hawmps,’ which comically portrayed the US Army’s failed attempt to domesticate camels to traverse the Mojave Desert in the 1850’s. While the movie was indeed a comedy, the true historical events of the army’s efforts led to stories of the ‘Red Ghost of the Mojave.’
By far, however, my absolute favorites surround the history of the Guasti area along with the death of one of our most iconic screen legends.
Prior to Prohibition, the Cucamonga Valley boasted among the largest assemblage of vineyard acreage in the world. By 1939, the Guasti area was home to more than 40 wineries, 13 brandy distilleries and a storage capacity of more than 13 million gallons of wine. By the mid-1940s our region included approximately 35,000 acres of vines.
After the 1980 publication of the mob expose ‘The Last Mafioso’, a myth erupted about how these vineyards harbored a ‘gangster graveyard’ favored by the Las Vegas and Los Angeles Mafia families. Although historians later debunked the myth, many still believe at least one famous gangster met his fate in the area, and still makes his presence felt today. Since the late 1950’s passersby have recounted stories of a spectral figure wandering the old Guasti vineyards. Mob insiders suggest that it might be the lost spirit of Chicago gangster Louie ‘The Russian’ Strauss who was garroted by his mob associates and reportedly entombed in the still-under construction I-10 Freeway. Combining the mobster’s gruesome death with the tales of a plane crash during World War II that produced a haunted tree and a 1903 train wreck that resulted in the deaths of, and subsequent hauntings by, more than 30 vineyard workers, the Guasti region is as well known for ghostly adventures as it is for its more than century long production of California wine.
A slightly more bizarre story has roots in Pomona, originating from the crash that killed a Hollywood legend. The 1955 auto crash that claimed the life of film star James Dean on a lonely highway spawned one of Hollywood’s most notorious curse stories. After the crash, Dean’s insurance company sold off the remains of his Porsche in the hopes of salvaging some very expensive car parts. On October 21, 1956, at the Pomona Sports Car Races (now part of the Pomona Fairplex and Auto Club Raceway), two amateur racers using parts salvaged from Dean’s car crashed – killing one. Some time later, the body of the car crushed a truck driver when it fell inexplicably from a flatbed and a garage, in which it was stored, burst into flames. Finally, the wreck of Dean’s car mysteriously vanished from a sealed railroad car – with only the pink slip left behind. Each of the above events can certainly be chalked up to bad luck but, to the believer, it is equally likely that the car was cursed and possibly the inspiration of a Stephen King horror classic.
As the area around Guasti continues to develop, with more and more rooftops covering homes and businesses, keep in mind the story of Louie, the vineyard workers that met their end in the form of Engine 113 and the passengers of the ill-fated World War II flight that contributed to the unnatural growth of the twisted and grotesque tree growing in an area where nothing should have grown. Even with all of the haunts and legends, or maybe because of them, there is still no better place to raise your family than here in the Baldy View region. I hope you find the home you are (haunting?!?) hunting for.