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Book features snapshots of San Bernardino’s part
By Penny E. Schwartz   - 04/27/2007

The Press-Enterprise

The Rialto Historical Society will shine a spotlight on San Bernardino at a May open house featuring Steven Shaw, president of the San Bernardino Historical & Pioneer Society.

Shaw will discuss his book of historic San Bernardino postcards, published in January as part of the Arcadia Press historical postcard series.

In 2003, Shaw published a photographic history of San Bernardino's fire department for Arcadia's "Images of America" series.

"I was inspired to do the San Bernardino postcard book by a similar Arcadia book published about Redlands," Shaw said.

He has been collecting postcards for 30 years and has 700 to 800 in his collection. Found at swap meets and in antique stores around the country, many of the cards depict the city from the late 1800s to the 1990s.

"I was amazed by what San Bernardino looked like back then," said Shaw, who is in the fourth generation of his family to live in the city.

His great-grandfather, John Gerald Shaw, of Maine, settled in San Bernardino in 1886, said Shaw, 55.

John Shaw owned 80 acres in what is now Highland, where he worked as a building contractor on numerous homes. Shaw's father, Raymond, was San Bernardino's fire chief in the 1970s.

Shaw worked for the Fire Department for 25 years and has been president of the historical society since 2000.
Although his earlier fire department book was arranged chronologically, Shaw organized the postcard book by topic, with categories including early San Bernardino, railroads, hotels, public buildings, water, the National Orange Show, Arrowhead Springs and Route 66.
Mayor Pat Morris wrote the introduction.

Shaw included a short explanation with each postcard image.

"I was limited to just 50 words, but I could have written so much more," he said.
History Lesson

Explanations required historical research, much of which was conducted with Sanborn fire insurance maps that show not only what each building looked like but who owned it.

"I learned a lot of things many people don't know," Shaw said. "For example ... the municipal auditorium in Pioneer Park was the first building west of New York City to have an acoustical tile ceiling."

Rialto historian John Adams said the book is "a fascinating history of San Bernardino, illustrated with 225 photographs from Shaw's huge vintage post card collection, and is a must for anybody with an interest in San Bernardino."

Shaw's interest in local history came through his work with the Fire Department. He started collecting fire department memorabilia from around the country and found mementos of San Bernardino in many places.

His burgeoning collection led him to found a San Bernardino Fire Department museum, with his friend Allen Bone, of Redlands. It was housed in a south San Bernardino industrial building lent to them by a friend.

Among their prized possessions were a vintage San Bernardino Fire Department ladder truck and an 1890 horse-drawn hose wagon that they restored and exhibited in six Rose Parades.

The museum was open from 1992 to 1998 but closed when
Shaw's friend needed his building back.

"That was when I became involved with the historical society," said Shaw.

On Display

When he first joined, he mowed the lawn and did building repairs. He started to attend board meetings and became president in short order.

"I still occasionally mow the lawn when needed," Shaw said with a chuckle.

The historical society building at Eighth and D streets became a home for some of the fire department memorabilia. Other pieces are in storage but soon will go on display in the 1918 San Bernardino Santa Fe Depot on Third Street, which was restored in 2004.

Teaming up with the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society, the city historical society will use half of the old baggage room for displays.

Plans include opening the museum twice a day, when the Amtrak train comes through on its Los Angeles to Chicago run, and every Saturday. The venue will be open by July 15, the depot's 90th birthday, Shaw said.

Shaw's books on San Bernardino are available for viewing at the historical society building.

"I hope that they will inspire people to come in and look through our written records," he said.

The San Bernardino Historical & Pioneer Society is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Programs on the city's history are offered at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. A link to the historical society can be found on the city's Web site, www.ci.san-bernardino.ca.us.

Shaw said he is considering writing more on city history.

"There is so much more that can be done," he said.

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