May 29, 2003
Hanson: This is an interview with Thelma Press at her home in San Diego, and this is Joyce Hanson for the San Bernardino Oral History Project. Today is May 29, 2003. Good morning Mrs. Press.
PRESS: Good morning. It's delightful to have you here, sitting out here looking over this beautiful view.
Hanson: It is beautiful here.
PRESS: It's very, very calming to the spirit.
Hanson: It is.
PRESS: Of course I was very sad to leave San Bernardino after being there for over 50 years and raising my children there. And you know when I reflect back at the time when my kids were growing up and I was a young bride growing up with them, San Bernardino was a beautiful place; clear skies, in fact they were crystal clear, and also the mountains were so beautiful. You could see them in the spring in the summer and in the winter with the snow capped mountains, and people would always say, "Why do you live in San Bernardino?" It's a quiet city and it's so beautiful out there and peaceful and quiet. But things changed as the years passed by, and it became a city which would always annoy me, as people would say, "San Bernardino, oh we passed through that city." And in my talks the Historical Society would say, "You know, this is not a pass-through city, this is a city where you should stop and enjoy and meet the people. They are the most wonderful people."
So, as my kids were growing I was involved in the PTA you know, and of course the arts and our synagogue and I worked with Mr. Ballard, the Mayor, and then when the City Hall was built; and I have a piece of paper here that I will share with you so you can keep in your files. Mayor Ballard had lost the election to Mayor Holcomb. When Mayor Holcomb became mayor his first two terms were two year, then they changed to four years. So I came in with Mayor Holcomb, first as a volunteer, with Mayor Ballard as a volunteer, then Mayor Holcomb. And then in 1974 we started the Bicentennial Commission and at the end of 1974 to 1975 I became the Bicentennial Director. We had a wonderful group of commissioners; Art Nelson, from the library was one of them. And we decided to create a variety of programs and Johnnie Ralph at the library, has the archives. After we finished the Bicentennial a few cities were asked to archive their activities, and we were one of them. We sent the documentation to the Library of Congress. So Johnnie has two cases of them, you can always delve into them if you need to. And, since then, I've always archived with Cal State through Johnnie the annexations of the city, and a variety of redevelopment projects. I always made sure if there were extra copies that Johnnie would have them. And, I remember after the Bicentennial Art Nelson came to me and he said, "We need to have the Friends of the Library." I said, "Fine, let's get some of our commissioners back and we went through lists. He would come and meet with me and we put together a series of names and wrote to the people and they were all very excited and he says, "Well now you can be the President," and I said "No, I'm too busy in the Mayor's office, but let's ask Bill Coleman," because he was the President of the Bicentennial Commission. And I kind of talked him into it. I said "I'll follow you, but you just be it so we can get it settled." And so he did, and Friends of the Library have been very, very successful. I'm sure Mayor Holcomb has spoken to you as how Cal State started.
Hanson: Yes he has.
PRESS: He talked to you about that? And so I've been involved with the University from the City angle. So, after 1976, I have to say before this, every time I went downtown I was just appalled to see the ball and chain smashing buildings. It was just very distressing because having had a British background, where things were cherished and protected, and restored; I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. I mean the Carnegie Library should never have come down; it should have become a little museum. But they had to justify the demolishing of that library to put a new library up. And then, of course, there's a lot of talk of demolishing the Municipal Auditorium and we fought for that, but eventually that came down. They said it would suffer through any new earthquakes. But when they pulled that building down they had an awful lot of trouble because there was so much cement in that building, it would never have come down. But the library is an asset. But you know, the movie industry would come and film there, and it was a wonderful background for films. So, I kind of rallied the commissioners around and I said, "You know, we must do something about the protection of these buildings." And the Pioneer Society, Mr. Harris was (this was another Harris), was very active with me in other projects, and he came to me one day with tears in his eyes and he said, "You know I'm getting old, I bet all these older people that have survived, mostly women from the Pioneers, I would like to merge. I said, "That's a good idea, I was thinking of starting a Historical Society, so let's see what we can do." So we asked a friend of mine, Bill Russell (he's passed away since then), if he would do the by-laws. So Harris and Fred Holiday and myself worked together putting the by-laws together and in 1977, I think, you can see on the historical house you know, if you go down there you'll see when it all came about. We merged the Pioneer Society and the Historical Society and made it one society. So we decided we needed a headquarters, and Vern Potter, who was very active and grew up in the community and they were buying property, Santa Fe Federal Bank, and they had some wonderful homes along "D" Street. If you, I don't know if you've seen this, I think I might have a double copy of this... this is one of the books I did during the Bicentennial (not this one, some of these things I'm going to let you have). Johnnie has one of these, it's this little red book, it was Arda Haenszel's documentation, but when I said you know we needed to do something like this, she brings me papers like that. Is she still alive, Arda Haenszel?
Hanson: No she passed away about two years ago.
PRESS: Okay, now she promised she'd give her papers to the museum.
Hanson: She gave them to the Feldheym Library, to the California Room.
PRESS: Okay. Well she said she'd either give them to the museum or to the Feldheym Library. Well, she brought all this stuff, and I went though it and, of course, condensed it and put together this. I don't know if you've seen it, but Johnnie has a copy of it, and it gives you all the old sights and the history of the area.
Hanson: Okay, I'll have to go and get this from Johnnie.
PRESS: And you can then go through, she'll probably even make you a copy, because another thing I did when Bob Holcomb retired was a history of Bob Holcomb, and she has a copy of that, and that's good documentation too. But I was always very modest about not putting my name on things you know, but Penny says we've got to do it because she was involved in it, the pictures and stuff, and so there's a stamp on it. Who made the stamp?
But anyway, when I look back, as I was driving downtown in San Bernardino, Arrowhead had some beautiful homes, "D" Street had some beautiful homes, and Ron had quite a lot of this on "D" Street and had visions of expanding Santa Fe Federal. And I went to him and said "You know Ron, there's a neat little Queen Anne house there and we'd like to have that for our Historical Society." He said, "Oh, that's great, okay, you can have it." So he transferred the house to us, he says "but you're going to have to have a location in two years because we're going to have big plans there." So, we rented the house to a Native American and when Chris Harris and I (he was from the Pioneer Society)... and they had that little log cabin on the grounds there and then it burnt down and then they built a place which the Catholic Church then bought. He said to me, "Let's go look through this house." So, when I went to look though the house, it had wonderful stained glass and the windows were the early windows with the wavy natural glass. And he said, "You know, I think this was a house of joy." I said, "No it wasn't." He said, "Look at all these washing sinks in all these rooms." So I did a little research and I found that the woman who had acquired that house took in young women (I've written the history of it, and it's in the house which you can inquire to... I think I have a copy of this, and Johnnie should have all these copies), but anyway, when the house was first acquired by Judge Otis, he had visions of probably doing a two-story, but he soon became a judge, so he moved to Redlands and built a mansion. But, his mansion then was moved over the years, maybe 20 years, 25 years ago to Fontana and became kind of a boutique shop. He then sold it to Judge Campbell, and it was in his family for many years and he rented it and so forth. But, before Judge Otis, when he built that house, it became a boarding house for refined women who came from other cities and needed a place-as a housing unit. The woman who ran it was very strict and so that's why you had these washbasins around, it wasn't part of that red light district.
And then after the Campbell's it went to the Miles, and so it was kind of in the House of law all the time. The Miles home was behind, which has been moved next to the Heritage House, and we had hoped eventually to acquire that and do an antique and a little lunchroom, but Mr. Maudsley took it from under us. I don't know how that worked out, but anyway. I said after two years, "You know, we can't find a location, it should be in it's own location. If the state is going to let me mark it as a point of historical interest, I can't move it too far away. You have an empty lot at the corner." That lot had a beautiful house there that was one of the founders of Santa Fe Federal. So, he said, "Alright, you can have it." And I was leaving to go to Europe so I had Fred Holiday and Mr. Thompson, who was active in the society to go down and sign the papers. I said, "I can't make it, you sign the papers." So we acquired the property. Well, in the meantime, we rented the house to the Native American and he drank too much liquor one night and the house was on fire. But before that I said, "We need to insure this, you know, it's an old place and this is going to be our home." So we did, and with the insurance money we were able to move the house on the corner. And my husband, who is a general contractor, we owned Pressco Lumber Company and he sold that to his brother. I had Mike Murphy, the architect, and he kind of tilted it so it sits the way it does, and we had to go to the City for all kinds of permits, of course I was in the City in the Mayor's office. They said, "Well, we put the house there, but at sometime if the street has to be changed and so forth, we have to have an agreement that we can do it." I said, "Well, let me tell you something, if you look at that corner, it has a round curved corner, and that's where the carriages would come and let the people off. If you destroy that, you destroy the last of the carriage corners in the city." So, they agreed, and as you notice there's a stand there where they tie their horses and so forth. And so I set about restoring that, unfortunately I couldn't save the other houses on the street, very beautiful ones. But, we did acquire pieces from there that we could put in. And so I raised about over half a million with in-services and so forth, and if you go through the house there are these big doors that pull out, and they were all painted and I said I know it's natural wood and so I started scrubbing it down and a young man came in and he said, "You know what? When you come to the brass stuff just put some tomato sauce on it, it'll take it all off." But anyway, we scrubbed it all down and I had one of my husband's workers from the lumberyard, Ray Seevers, who really dedicated a lot of time, and he then set about doing the restoration. And then, my husband and I went to Williamsburg and I noticed that the flooring had a very narrow hardwood. You know, we think that all these things are modern things, but you know, you go to Williamsburg and see the governor's house and he has this gorgeous wallpaper and all the modern colors you know? So when I came back I said to my husband, "You know we have to find some very fine old narrow hardwood," and we did. Because the floors at that time were kind of old, really scratched up wood with not necessarily plywood, but you know I guess they put something else under there. So we covered that and gradually it came into looking pretty good. There was a young Norwegian man, a kid, up in the mountains, and there were trellises at the back and they were in very bad shape, so we had to remove the trellises and the front porch was all boarded in and made into another room. When we took it apart we found all the beautiful work was still intact. So the President of the Sons of Norway, Roy Olson, said, "You know we have this young man and he's learning from his grandfather, he's very talented." So we put the building at the back on and he copied all of that. He did a wonderful job on the back porch too. And then my daughter came in, because she's a designer, as I told you, and she researched and brought a lot of paper copies from the Vanderbilt's home in the south that was really from the 1800's and so forth and the colors and then the house came alive. Then Penny Holcomb and myself went though the community and talked and spoke to different groups and a lot of people came out of the woodwork giving us things. I never went alone, because you know how elderly people say, "Oh someone came and took my stuff."
PRESS: And nurse Cramer, she was with the schools, she gave us this box that belonged to a nurse Craig, it's in the house, and I'll have someone show it to you. And I did the documentation, which I used to train the docent's, and recently there was an article in the paper on the Heritage House, but the information was wrong. You know I said Mildred; you've got to look at that when they come to speak to you. But anyhow, Leslie Harris' company was very, very generous; they gave us the stove, and the bed there was his father's bed. And, many people that brought things in were Pioneers whose families came on the wagon train, so it's really a gem. It's a little house museum gem. When we were removing the artifacts of the Pioneer Society, because we had them stored, I missed a teapot, a pewter teapot that belonged to Wyatt Earp's father, and I never found it again. Somebody must have walked off with it, not really knowing what it was about. But, they had all these guns you know? And so they brought them in and I said, you know I asked the city for some old cases and some of the drug companies had old cases and that's what you see there, we redid them. And I said to Art Harris, he brought the guns and put them down, and he said, "I'll come back to help you." I said, "Oh, there's nothing to it." Well I picked up one of these and almost fell flat on my face. And I was in shock, because you see in the movies, they pick up the guns and shoot... and I said to myself, "something's funny here." They must just be pieces of wood or something; they could never be that strong. But those rifles are all from the pioneers who came on the wagon trains. And I really wish Chris Harris and Fred Holiday were still here. You have all of this, History of the City of San Bernardino?
PRESS: Many, well I wrote all of this.
Hanson: I was wondering where that came from.
PRESS: Yes, I wrote that. Now this is interesting. I'm going to give all this to Johnnie eventually.
PRESS: But you can look through it, we won't put that on yet.
PRESS: Have you seen this?
PRESS: Okay. These are old photos of San Bernardino.
PRESS: Look through that, I'm going to give that to Johnnie.
PRESS: You can tell her I've got some treasures for her.
Hanson: You sure do.
PRESS: I've never done this, they asked me, you know I called Steve [Shaw], who's now the president when I was leaving, I said you have to take over. I'm leaving and I don't want to see this go down.
Hanson: Wow, these are...
PRESS: You've seen this, haven't you, Legends of the Arrowhead?
Hanson: Yes I have, I interviewed...
PRESS: Okay now, our dedication ceremony was on May 20, 1983. I did this, and Johnnie should have this.
PRESS: Ask her if she has the dedication ceremonies. I'll bring it down and then I can have her copy it for you. And then I have another old book that is just precious, it's a big book, I'll have to show it to you. See it tells you here when Christian Harris and I you know, and he said it was a house of joy, and I said no way. Well for getting all of this done, my husband supervised, the State of California gave me an award, which is displayed. But, Johnnie should have this.
PRESS: And if she doesn't have it, I'll bring it in. This is interesting isn't it?
Hanson: Uh huh. Those are great pictures.
PRESS: And this is the first Charter. The City was incorporated and then dis-incorporated, as you know, from the history. But I found that years ago, and I think it was in Picks Book Shop, so I'll get that to Johnnie.
PRESS: She has to restore it.
Hanson: Yes, she does.
PRESS: So you're going to ask Johnnie for the historical installation booklet and the red book so you really get the breakdown, and you might ask her if she has the Sturges dedication booklet. If she doesn't, you can call 384-5415 and ask for Harold. Tell him you spoke to me and you'd like a copy of that.
Hanson: Okay, great.
PRESS: And I have two copies of this, so I'm going to give you a copy. Point of Historical Interests in the State of California. Okay, so tell Johnnie I've got some treasures for her besides what I'm sending her.
But anyway, to come back so that Heritage House was then preserved, and I marked it as a point of historical interest, and they allowed me to have it because if I hadn't moved it one lot over, to that lot that had the carriage corners, everything would have been demolished and destroyed. So, and that's an unusual for them to do that marking.
Then of course I helped mark the California Theater, and I helped mark the Saint Bernardines Church. Monsignor Bradley came up and he was in tears and said, "You have to help me, they want to black ball this down." And I said, "They can't." Even though it's been the second or third building, it was still the first Catholic Church in the area. So he brought me the facts and I put them together, and my secretary, Gloria Brown, who has passed away since then, we worked on our lunch hour. It was simple to do, and I sent it in and it was just in time because they weren't meeting in a week, so everything went into effect and it was marked, and he had a mass. He blessed me in that mass, but I wasn't there. Unfortunately I was traveling someplace. But anyway, I remember him coming up and saying to George Webster and Bill Leonard, "You have to come with us to a meeting to Bishop Strahling." The Diocese, you know, it's a congregation that's dying and so forth, so when we went up there, Bishop Strahling, who was Native Son, he grew up in San Bernardino, he was a box boy in George Webster's grocery store at the corner of "E" Street and Marshall. And, he said, "You know, we've put up this high-rise and we're thinking of putting up another high-rise." And I said to him, "Bishop Strahling, you can't do anything to that church, it's marked as a point of historical interest now." And, for some reason, if you do (because he was saying seismically and so forth you know), and I said "If you do, you won't get any state money like you got for the first one, or federal money." I said, "You have to realize that." He says, "Well we have no money to restore it." I said, "Bishop, we don't need your money, people will rally." And I said, "One of the things that I don't know why people ignore this, that things come full circle and people will start living downtown again." Because see what's happened in San Diego?
Hanson: Uh huh.
PRESS: I mean they've, they older parts they're restoring, they're putting up bold block and they've got high rises for people and affordable living units and so forth. And, I said it will get done. So, Bill Leonard then put a committee together, and there was, I forget the young man's name, but he was really very instrumental in seeing it through, and I was busy doing other things and I was coming back and forth, because I was thinking of retiring the first time in 1993. I didn't quite like what they did with the nave, you know, it kind of closed it up, which they never should of, because that was the beauty of the church, but at least it's there. And the congregation has been growing, because people have been coming back down again, and people have to understand that in cities. I've been through so many cities and the older part gets older because they're developing a new redevelopment shopping center and then that goes down because houses are moved out and they build another shopping center. They must do things with those parts of the city, and this city, San Diego, has been very clever in doing that.
Anyway, I was in the Mayor's office for 23 years. During the Bicentennial we started the International Council. A lot of visitors were coming in from all over the world, and I was very curious, I asked a few, "Why are you all coming to San Bernardino?" They said, "Well, this is a second-tier city, and the first tier is the big cities. They don't have time for us, and we really want to know all about an American city." So, we had unusual visitors all though that time. We also had our sister city visitors, but I remember coming down "E" Street, and on "E" Street, at the corner of "E" and Third, that was before all the changes were made. They had the Bank of America, Annabelle's Drug Store, and then they had Picks down the street and so forth, and they had the old City Hall further down. And then across the street they had Shane's Department Stores and then the Antler's Hotel, and then Harris'. And then down the street was Sears. Well, I think it was Warner Hodgdon that was involved, have you seen that big book of his?
Hanson: Yes I have.
PRESS: He's really a visionary you know? You can't take that away from him. And, things started to move, and all these beautiful buildings started getting demolished. They lost the integrity and soul of the City of San Bernardino. Because now what has happened? Those on "E" Street further down (you know, were the California Hotel was), and that might have been saved. The people that bought it, I forget their names now, they wanted to make it into an old folks home, and you can't do that. The rooms were, as they were, it was difficult to do that, with each one having their bathroom and you know, you have to have certain requirements and handicap requirements. If they had just allowed it to be a hotel and had enough money to do it beautifully and graciously, like other cities have done, it would have still been there. But that property was always, the Catholic land, and you know the history of that?
PRESS: So, with all the different arguments, that came down, which was sad. And, of course, the Catholic Diocese I think wanted to eventually put another high rise there, which in time would have been alright if they'd done it like San Diego is doing it with these single dwelling nice units with lofts and so forth. They had visions of that. There was a plan when Mayor Wilcox was there, when they had to upgrade the building codes and design of the city. Have you seen that?
Hanson: I haven't seen that.
PRESS: It's in the library someplace. Ask to see it. It shows you how they developed some wonderful planning. And, of course, Mayor Valles now wants to do the lakes and streams, which would be beautiful, because, unfortunately, the integrity of all those... when the Bicentennial was finished and I did all that archiving, I wrote a letter to the Mayor and Council and I said, " The only historical part that is left of the City is the inner city." And I wrote a letter to the Mayor and Council (I have it someplace), asking them to look at the inner city with all these very charming old homes. And, to give an encouragement of a tax break, and have people make boutiques and so forth, and Marshall Julian, the City Administrator, was all for it. Well, it never happened, and you started getting absentee landlords, and they started buying up these places and sometimes people would call me and say, "Oh they're going to pull down this place, and I remember what it was like," and that was behind what is today the County Administration Buildings. Well, the integrity of the building had completely gone. They had raised the inside, they had done all kinds of things on the outside and so you didn't have the integrity to do historical documentation to save it. So, one by one, all these different beautiful little places were taken and demolished and other progressive new style things were... and I remember saying in a meeting with Warner Hodgdon, Mayor Holcomb and a few other people that if you don't start restoring this current city hall the way it is now, that too in time will be demolished. You have to have a plan of rehabilitation, and I still don't know if they have it. So, I remember "E" Street that way, and then suddenly the bulldozers were coming and they were removing it because they had this new plan. And, the Antlers Hotel, I remember they called me and they gave me the washbasin and the barber chair, and I had that for years. But I tried to save architectural pieces that we could incorporate in other things.
Now, I went to the City of Baltimore and they had a wonderful redevelopment plan of saving the integrity of the old city. I remember I went on a hill with this staff person and I looked down and it was like Rome being rebuilt. They took these row houses and they had what they called homesteads and they gave it to a person that would help with the restoration for $1.00, and some of these were little stores that you could live above. They wanted to bring that whole system back and then after so many years they could sell it. But, they made a fortune, the people that finally, the single owners before. And, I brought all this back with theater improvements to the redevelopment, but I'll never forget Gary Van Osdell, who is still there now, he came back, he said to me, "Thelma, they get millions and millions of dollars, we only two million dollars, and you know, what can we do with that two million dollars? This is a very old city." But they did a remarkable job in Baltimore, and I think this is one of the best city rejuvenations I've ever seen. So, all these buildings came down, and you have what you have in its place today. But what you're going to see again, unless that river plan goes through, and streams, you're going to see disintegration completely again, because of all the absentee landlords who don't care. I mean, in my office I had people coming from Los Angeles because these people are renting to druggies who were kicked out of L.A. and moved into areas where they couldn't get housing. So, when people have called me and said, "What is the mayor doing, she's got all these houses..." I said, "The only way the city will thrive and can be rejuvenated, is to do this, because there's no integrity left in these homes. And, not only that, these absentee landlords don't care who they rent to, and you're going to have a crime pit here.
So, it must change, and San Bernardino, whether we like it or not, is going to grow. But how we grow is up to the people there now. Because of the water and the land, it definitely will grow with the shortages of water. But, thanks to Mayor Holcomb this is preserved, and you have to meet that growth, and you have to meet it with a quality of life, and that's what Mayor Valles wants to see.
Hanson: I've spoken to her, and she was telling me about her plans and this historic district that she wants to restore.
PRESS: Yes, and if it doesn't happen, the inner part of San Bernardino will forever be a slum. And you know, the outer growth, and I remember I always said when Mayor Ballard was Mayor, I used to say to him, "Mayor, why don't you have an ordinance that every rooftop in this city would be the Spanish tile. Because then they had that bad fire, you know what happened.
And, well, they said people who have their roofs are not going to change you know. I said, but when the new housing goes on, it would be beautiful. I was aghast when I saw Valley College put up a new building and not use the Spanish tile. But, anyway, they were annexing and it's too bad he didn't annex Highland. He annexed little portions, but if he had annexed Highland there, that would have been San Bernardino and you could have had a beautiful growth.
Hanson: I've had other people tell me that they thought that was a big mistake.
PRESS: We went around trying to explain to the people, but Mobile Oil I think had estates there and so you know, that money was kind of spread around giving a different opinion. But, it would have made a better area.
Now, of course, if they go up into the hill regions, as they've gone up here, but I don't know if developers would want to put that kind of investment in it. But, eventually, they'll have to because of water. There are many Indian legends, and one was to tell the Indians to go to where the arrowhead was, because at the base of the mountains there were streams that would keep this area in liquid silver or whatever they called it, liquid gold, forever, because of the water. So those things will come to pass and so San Bernardino really has a great future, but I just hope the City officials that follow Mayor Valles, because she does have vision, will see that some of these things will happen but I sincerely hope that happens because that will really make a big change in the City.
And then there was Sturges, the school over there, and Dr. Wheeler and Harold Boring called me and said you know, this is going to be demolished because of seismic and so forth, and I think the City needs something like this, which I'd always talked to them about. So I went in front of City Council; here I'm in the City Mayor's office, and I remember Mr. Katona, the Councilman, "Oh no, if we try to save the municipal auditorium we'll save it." I said, one has nothing to do with the other. One's a big auditorium; this is a school auditorium that we need for the young children in the community. There isn't a place for them to perform. Well, it was the third time Mayor Holcomb said go back and fight for it, and I think Ann Botts became the Councilwoman, I said we don't have enough votes. They don't have the vision for saving this beautiful valley. So he said, go once more, and Ann Botts gave me her vote, so it was saved. And the Redevelopment Agency bought it. We could have had it for $1.00, we had to pay like $10,000 for it, but it was a vital piece of property first of all. We re-marked that and I went about getting money and I think with in-services and everything we accumulated $1,000,000, and my husband again came in to supervise the work, and Michael Murphy came in again with the changes and so forth. And, the school district was part of this and Hal said, "Do you want the parking lot?" and I said, "No, let's have a joint use of it for $1.00." And, later on, when I had left, they wanted to close it and I had a policy with the city you know. What I did was, a lot of research and I did a half percent fee on contractors building commercial buildings because all the contractors coming in to do that Hospitality Lane Redevelopment lived elsewhere. They took their money out; they didn't give us a dime. So, this was bringing us money, which then went to the arts and culture and so forth. And, the school district then kept that lot. So when I was leaving the school was cutting the budgets and so forth, I mean the City, and they wanted to close it or sell it and I said, "What are you going to do for parking?" I came back to the city, and they said well, we have the parking lot. And I said, "Oh no, that's in a partnership with the schools for $1.00. You have no parking there if you sell that. Then I found the policy we had written and so Shauna was the administrator, so she kept that intact, because when she saw the policy she says well, we can't do that now. But, it's been a great place for children and when I left it, I left it in the hands of Bill Lemon; he's like one of my kids. And they're having problems now.
And, it belongs to the Redevelopment still. In fact, somebody called me and said we owe Redevelopment money, and I said what money, it belongs to them. You know, we raised over $1,000,000 to rehabilitate it and I went absolutely to everything seismic, because we had all the City different divisions working on this and they said well because it's historical you can do this. I said, "No way, if there's an earthquake or there's a problem, what's with the historical? We have to do it according to the seismic laws." And we did. So it's a perfectly good building. And, when the school buildings were being demolished, I saved the architectural masonry, and I remember we had coffee and donuts, a lot of the unions helped, and one man in the tile union came to me and said, "Thelma now you've got to come and talk to the crew and tell them what you want." So I was telling them this and one of them looks down at me and says, "You know Mrs. Press, you're just like my wife. There's nothing to it." But we took that and that's what we have on the front of Sturges.
But you know, money is short right now and it just breaks my heart to think that they are not doing well, and I know, the mayor and I talked about doing an international center which has started as a cultural center, but it's too bad they don't join; because today you have to have cooperative activities because money is tight again. I remember the years when I was in charge of the Tournament of Roses float, we raised $100,000, and most of it went to the float builders. We won a lot of prizes, but when Mayor Holcomb came back into office he said, "Okay now, how's the float doing?" I said, "Mayor, I'm not going to do it anymore." He said, "Why?" I said, "First of all Mayor, our local organizations are suffering for money; the symphony needs money and all these other groups, and here we raise money to have a float, the money goes out of the City and the organizations are really having a tough time and I just don't have the heart do it."
A lot of progressive builders had left the area and weren't giving support, and money was getting tight. Because of that, I think that the City, at that time went back, it didn't go forward.
Then the base closed, and we tried to keep a base history and I think that also is in place if you check with Bill Leonard. They were doing a base history, and he also has the Orange Show history that you can get with him. Then I tried to save the Courthouse, but the County asked me to hold off. They were thinking of doing that, a new Courthouse. So I gave my file to Bill Leonard because it showed how we had approached the state to mark it as a point of historical interest.
But, in the ensuing years, the City received a grant to do a reconnaissance survey of the City and it's buildings and so forth. A few of us, Penny Holcomb, myself and staff of Redevelopment sat down and really reviewed the City very thoroughly. We called in the architects from San Diego (I forget their names), the historical architects, I mean restoration architects, and they worked with us. Now, we finished that reconnaissance survey and that book is in the Building Department. I'll go in my City file and find the lady's name, because Deborah I think has left. While we were doing the reconnaissance survey I realized that 25th street was still intact, so I did research on that with a couple of the interested parties who wanted to do the history of the houses. And so, I did that and I sent it to the state and, again, Gloria my secretary and I were working on our lunch hours and I've done books on that, and I think the library has the book that I did. But some of the homes, a couple of them have them still. You might ask, the lady whose picture was in the paper recently with her home there. I'll think of her name in a minute. And the state accepted it as a point of historical interest. So, that whole street is marked because it was part of the Lugo Grant that land. And, those houses are very interesting. Some of them have these little milk-opening doors where the milkman would put the milk in and all that stuff. And the people that held onto them did the books; one's an architect. Some of these names escape me now, but I'll think of them and I'll give you a call. Anyway, so that is marked and preserved.
Then the other streets around were calling, and we'd look them up in this reconnaissance book, survey book, but there were not enough on those streets, and people had changed the facades and so forth, so it was a little difficult. In recent years after that, you know and I think the architect may, whose done a lot of these homes here, who's considered one of the early Spanish design architects, I think he did one or two of those homes if I can remember back. And Noytra did a house on the hills and then Dr. Goodman owned that house for a while. But, other than that there haven't been too many real distinguished designers that did any, except in like one street there. If you look back into that form, I gave you that form on his markings?
PRESS: The adobe was pulled down after adobe at night, let's see; I tried to mark the flume up on 40th that Dr. Hack owned the house there. The flume was an original flume by the Mormons, and I'd done work on that and it's in the file someplace.
The Pioneer cemetery and the Jewish cemetery, I marked the Jewish cemetery, and that was unusual because they didn't want to mark it, but because of the early fathers who settled the City, they marked it. And they have some very, very old graves there. You should talk with Rabbi Cohen and he'll give you some of the early markings there.
So, it was the Andreson Building which I helped on, and then I marked the California Theater and the Sturges and the Historical House and the church and I had a file on all the old churches, and as I was leaving, one of the reporters called me and I gave him my file, but I wrote his name down and I'll get a hold of him sometime. Now the Fred T. Perris house, they pulled that down overnight practically. But we had marked it, and the Mormon Council House of course and we just had markings, when you go through that red book you'll find all that stuff in there.
At the southeast corner of San Bernardino County Courthouse there's a marking of the Pioneer Monument, which was the fort right over there. It's just too bad all of these went. And it was interesting you know, when they were working on "E" Street and Third Street, it was Third Street where the Courthouse was, that was all Chinatown.
Hanson: Yes, I've heard about Chinatown.
PRESS: And we found basins and all that kind of stuff underground. People were there with their Geiger counters and glass dishes and so forth, because they were removing the railroad ties that ran down there. That was another mistake; they should never have removed those ties. We could have had a rapid little uptown trolley like San Diego.
And Bing Wong, you should get to talk Bing Wong, he's getting elderly. Tell him I told you to call him.
He had this statue in Bing's, and he called me up about 15 years ago or maybe 10 years, I can't remember. He says, "I want to leave the statue in your hands, and I'll bring it down to the Heritage House?" So I've got that statue in the back room, the meeting room. And she stood there and she said, I stood by and she said, "I hope you'll be happy in this house." And that came from the old Chinatown. So, that's really historical.
So, everything is kind of here you know. It would be interesting to check to see how many stand.
Hanson: I know, I'd like to do that; I'm going to do that this summer.
PRESS: Yes. You've not seen that before have you?
Hanson: No, I haven't.
PRESS: So, I roped Johnnie into being President of the Historical Society for a while. She was a good president, but she has so many responsibilities. So, she was still president when I was leaving. I called Steve and I said, "you need to do this." Oh, he was thrilled. He was absolutely thrilled because he was always interested in the old fire pieces and stuff. And he's done a real good job, I'm really proud of him. It's nice to see the younger ones come up and do those kind of things.
I was sad to see the old Sears building going down, because it had character, and then the little hotels there. When I go back to San Bernardino I hate to drive down the streets, I try to get on the freeway, because it is just so sad. It saddens me to see the disintegration and the closures of all these buildings because it was really charming. You know when you take the small boutiques and the owners away from an older part of the town; you lose a certain part of not only history, but integrity. You go into the malls and then as the economy goes up or down they close.
Hanson: I know. That's what's happening with Carousel Mall. It was doing well.
PRESS: Yes, you can see that was happening with Carousel Mall because you've got that other mall. And this is not only in San Bernardino, it's all over, so. You ask me some questions.
Hanson: Okay. Tell me about the Bicentennial Committee. What kind of things did you do for Bicentennial in San Bernardino?
PRESS: Well, the first thing, one of the first things we did when the Commissioners came in, they came from a cross-sector; they came in with ideas and I remember telling John Lowe with the Campus Crusade for Christ, because he'd always worn us down, I said "John, this country was started on religious freedom and we're not going to end it in a war for religion. You know, we have all different faiths here, you know, we're really a nation of nations in this little city of ours. Because when I did that International Council we kind of researched and got 40 community groups that were different ethnic groups. And Jim Brewster is trying to pull that up again. He'd been here to visit me. The young man I trained turned out to be just a disappointment, but I said, "We'll have a church of the month," and we had so much fun. The black churches dressed up and oh we had great fun. The different city officials took time to go around to each one of them.
We had the children of the schools make tiles with the American flag, no we did a little girl with a bell, and Johnnie has all this in her files, so you can go in there and get the information. And we did the bell with the American flag colors. They did that, and we put them on the Radisson Hotel wall. But then of course when they did their rehabilitation that was all pulled down.
We had different groups in the city, like the Daughters of the American Revolution; they wanted to plant a liberty tree, which is planted in the front. We did this documentation of the red book. Everyone wanted to do something. All these different groups were doing something as part of the history.
The Mormons rebuilt a fortress design which is in there. And then we had a play up on Shandin Hills in the park there where we relived the entire history of the settlement of San Bernardino. The Mormons were just wonderful. They all came in and they dressed up and we had horses flying down with the Native Americans on top of them and it ran for two or three days, so we did that and then we had, what was his name Joe Page, I think that was his name; he took a bicycle ride across the United States. We funded him on that.
We had a lot of activities for the kids in school. People would dress up and go into the schools and talk about the founding fathers and so forth. I spoke to Rotary on occasion with those who signed the Declaration of Independence; what happened to them. Some drastic things happened to many of them. And, so it was a time of learning not only celebration, but for the younger generation to understand the history and the formation of this nation and what the pioneers went through. We take so much for granted.
I always say to my husband, "Thank God I didn't live in those years. I wouldn't have survived that trail the pioneers came over.
But, you know, the students would come and the scouts would come and they would study the Bill of Rights and so forth. And to think that we've had 27 amendments I think to our Constitution now. And then we had, what we did when we closed the Bicentennial, and then Art had a lot of things going on in the Library, we worked together. But, I wish you'd go into the book because we had this whole plan in this book and it's hard to remember everything.
Hanson: That's fine. I just want to hear what you remember.
PRESS: I remember, and of course we'd have a lot of lunches with these dignitaries that came, and they wanted to be part of the activities. We had ambassadors come in, and we had Mayors come in from different parts of the world, we had groups of people, and it was so interesting that they wanted to be part of the American spirit. And when you look at what's happening today, you know, when so many of them want to break the American spirit, for reasons that sometimes blow my mind. They come here to study, they see the way we do things and maybe there's a jealousy and resentment of what can be achieved and where they've grown up or lived, so they want to destroy something that is here which they cannot be a part of. I get very annoyed when I see after we've gone to Iraq "out with the Americans."
I was in Italy this summer. My husband was a little worried because my granddaughter was taking her junior year from a university; she's an art history major, and with the SARS or whatever you call it, and with the feeling with the United States, but in Italy when they found out we were Americans thumbs up. We love the Americans. So, it's hard to see that spirit that prevailed here so strongly with the world wanting to be part of it and the difference in the time now. I can't understand why that's happened, but it's here and I think maybe we should have another celebration like that. Maybe it would rejuvenate the spirit of America.
I remember the Buddhist organization coming with a big bell, a Liberty Bell, towards the end of the Bicentennial, and we had crowds of people there and everybody took a chance of ringing that bell, ending the Bicentennial.
The museum was involved with us because we had Pioneer Awards and so forth involving different people in the community. It also was a rejuvenation of the history of the area because we looked back to see the hundred years, and I found this book, I was given this book, and Rachel has the book, Rachel Clark, of the 100th celebration of our country. Then the 200th, you know we had books and we did all kinds of different things. But, I think what stays in my mind particularly is the different art competitions we've had for the children and the unification of the City in spirit and the unification of a country in spirit.
When the Bicentennial ended, a few of us gave $100 each to start a fund for the Tri-centennial, because we started without any funds. The City gave us an office and we really went out to get funding. You might ask Rachel about that fund, she gives me a report every other year.
Then we had the Constitution celebration. Because then they did that when the Constitution started. And then we went into the schools to have the teachers reflect the American history because that had stopped a while in the schools, teaching American history. So our groups went in there and we did that kind of... and it was almost like history lessons everyday. All the time students came in to discuss different things, as I said, Scouts came in and the organizations, the Daughters and the Sons of the American Revolution and the Native Sons. It was a wonderful time for them because they could then document their memberships and so forth.
One of the most fascinating things we did was a book on the Sons of the American Revolution, and Johnnie has a copy of that. And Stu Logsdon undertook that, he belonged to the Sons of the American Revolution. It was absolutely amazing how many people in the area were related to some of the founding fathers. And, of course, they have to come with documentations.
You know, this one was related to Edison, this one was related to Payne, and this one was related to... and it was absolutely fascinating, absolutely fascinating! And they were not people that lived in Los Angeles, the people lived in the San Bernardino area.
So, it's a blue book, and I'm not sure if I kept a copy, but in coming I had to change files, but Johnnie has it all, I made sure that she had this. When you look through that you'll be absolutely fascinated with it.
Hanson: I interviewed a woman who is a docent of the California Room and one of her relatives was a signer of the Declaration of the Independence.
PRESS: Well we must have her name in there.
Hanson: Yes, her name was Susan Ward Payne.
PRESS: That name is familiar to me. But it was so fascinating. You know they would come there and they'd sit with all these papers and I'd talk with them and then Stu would come in and I'd say I've got a bunch of papers for you, then he'd go out on interviews and interview the people. He was related to one of the signers, and some of them were related to presidents over the years. So, that was the most fascinating project we ever did, and I don't think another City did it, because when we were archiving I remember Senator Warner, he was the head of it, and we were archiving and all this is not only archived with Cal Sate, but it's at the Library of Congress. Because the same files went there, and so that was a great honor for our City.
Hanson: Yes it was.
PRESS: So I think that was the most fascinating one of anything we did. And of course the show that we put on in the park, in Blair Park, you know the pageant that we did, that was kind of interesting.
Hanson: Tell me about that. What was that like?
PRESS: Well, what we did was to re-enact the entire settlement, and it started with the Mormons coming in the caravan. Well, it actually started with the Native Americans, and the Native Americans came down on the hills on ponies all dressed up. We really had one or two Native Americans in the area that were thrilled to do this.
Then, the Mormons from the different states came together and, of course, they do great at keeping their own history. So they had wagon trains and were all dressed up and they showed they coming into the area and then they showed them building the fort and then how the Native Americans came you know and tried to attack the fort. And then they showed all these different people coming in, you see, in the book that you saw, coming into the area and then the Mormons deciding to settle the city and which street would be which street and so forth. We didn't show them leaving the area, because the Mormons weren't too happy with that. So, it was really the Mormons coming in and the Indians and the city fathers meeting to build a beautiful city.
But, it took about a couple of hours to remove all these horses and the people. I mean there were, I think we might have had 200 or 300 people involved in this whole thing, and they built a stage there.
So before I left, the Mayor wanted to do a 4th of July parade and I said well you have to have certain sections, you have to have the opening section with all the partitions and then you have to have the organizational section and then the history section. So, Judy from the Chamber was very excited about it and I did the format for her and then I called the Mormons and I called the Bishop who was Steve Udall (I think that's the last name), and I said "We need you," and we brought people in from the community to sit in on this parade. I said we want to relive this whole thing again, if you remember from the pageant, and I told them what we were going to do. He was so excited, he got the Mormons together and they had their little wagon train and I think 100 of them walked.
And we had all the different international council people that could participate, and the schools participated and they made banners. So I think our historical division was the best. It was most fun. They're still doing it I think, but they were wonderful participants. If you ask them to do something they're all there, because they love to relive their history. So many of the old ones have moved away or passed on, that it's sad. I'm glad you're doing this documentation. So ask me another question.
Hanson: Tell me about the Sister Cities Program and how you got involved in that.
PRESS: Well, in 1959 I had a call from the Mayor's office, it was Mayor Cunningham, and he had said they were starting this program and [inaudible] and Seymour Schwitzer were involved and were going to form a committee. So, I said fine, they were looking at twinning with Tachikawa, Japan. The reason, actually, there were army people, I mean air force people at the base that were going over to Tachikawa, and the mayor of Tachikawa had heard for some reason about this program, I don't know how he heard about it, President Eisenhower had started it. So, the base people kind of talked with the mayor that this was going to be done and I think he called the Schwitzer's in. And so when they called me I said to myself, you know I will get involved because I was British before I was American, and my father was transferred to the far east and my school was transferred and so I was in that part of the world where Japan was involved with.
I went to Catholic University, and Mother Teresa was one of my teachers, but she was Sister Teresa. She taught me geography for about three or four months, and I didn't realize who she was. Well she had the Loretta Order, and then she went into her own order and she had this native costuming, but I kept looking at this gaunt face and her voice and it came back to me, she was Sister Teresa. When I left to come to Stanford University, I had kind of met my husband you know, but I had my papers to come to Stanford University and we were engaged. So, when I went to school, except for coming down to a major city to go to the University, I was away from everything. I was in an area like this, which was just beautiful, it looked like Scotland, and my school then had to be evacuated because it was close to Burma, and it was made into a hospital. When I was coming on a Dutch ship to the United States, a cargo ship, I saw all these atrocities all along the way, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies and their people were taken in the slave labor camps. It had made a deep impression on me, children that were starved you know and all this, not having seen this before.
I had been married about three months and I was pregnant already so I never went to Stanford and I thought I'd go to UCLA, but then I was pregnant and had a kid and I figured well, put it on the backburner. Because I graduated from high school when I was 15-1/2, because I was given a double promotion in wartime, and when I got to the university you can go all year long, so I had almost done like three years, but Stanford accepted two you know, the Associate of Arts. So, I saw all these Dutch children that had come from, because Shell Oil was very prominent in the Dutch East Indies and it was the saddest thing, there was a whole ship of children next door that this one sea captain had rescued and they'd come and asked us were we the first ship in port? And you know, we had a lot of candy and I'd buy the candy and give it to the kids. He took us aboard and he showed us where the Japanese had fired through and all these children had been in concentration camps. The captain's kids looked healthy, but they had bad hearts and the first chief engineer, his wife we had picked up too in Singapore, and she was telling me stories. You know how she kept her sanity by making handkerchiefs out of her dresses, and she gave me a handkerchief because I was always tiny, but I gave all my clothes away because they fitted all these different people that were so emaciated. By the time I arrived I had a pair of shoes and a dress and my box of jewelry.
My parents had gone back to England so I said, you know, if my kids, if I have to raise children they should not be punished by the sins of their fathers, neither should the Japanese children, because they were exchanging children at the time, you know we still do. So that's why I got involved, so that the next generation of children should become friends following the philosophy of President Eisenhower, that if people met people in cities twinned with other cities, then there would be a pathway of understanding, you become friends, almost like family and you wouldn't want to attack your family. So, that's how I began. I began locally and then I went as a first state representative and then when I went on the national board and I just retired off the national board two years ago because they had term limits and I'm now the vice president of the foundation.
In that time, I helped twin San Bernardino with nine sister cities. Some function very well and some don't. But this is the pattern across the country because with the Japanese one I brought in a younger generation who had exchanged as a student or were host families, so they took the responsibility and then their children were exchanged, so we're in our fourth generation there.
Some of the others, now Nigeria, because of the problems in Nigeria didn't work well. The Mexican were doing good and I helped them get where the universities were put together, but the committee has not functioned like they should because the old timers have moved away and they hadn't brought in the young people. I remember when Verna Reynolds and Mary Lemon were so active in United Nations and we had United Nations dinners, and the chapters all around the area were participating. They were all elderly people, and they were not really bringing in young people, and all those chapters closed. I remember going to Cal State and talking to Dr. Karey, is he still there?
Hanson: In what department?
PRESS: Political Science.
PRESS: Well I remember going and I said I'd like to meet with the heads of the Political Science and I said, "Will you do a model of the United Nations?" They said, "We do it on campus." And I said, "Well you've got to take it out because we have to get this out, the United Nations out in the community. " I said, "You know I've done some research and I asked people if they knew what the United Nations was and they said yes, it's a different country." I said this is ridiculous.
So, I went to the shopping center with the management division and they thought it was great, so we did that and people would come around and it was amazing, the ignorance of people. And then after that I said you know Bridge Karey, I think we need to go in the schools, so I checked with the schools because I was involved with the schools on different projects. And they said great, so we did this in the library and the kids just loved it. So then a year later I said to Bridge, "Okay, now you're on your own, you've got an in with the schools." And he went around with the schools, and I went to the 10th or 15th reunion before I left, and it was nice to see the younger people going out and taking responsibility.
Hanson: Cal State still has that Model UN Program.
PRESS: Yes, right.
Hanson: They've won so many years in a row now.
PRESS: Well, I helped get them going and Bridge of course was wonderful. He carried it on and I guess he retired, but it was amazing and I've sat on scholarships with the San Bernardino High School, because my kids all graduated from there, and whenever I asked the kids questions internationally geographically, they don't know it. When I went to school I learned geography, physical political geography and it saddens me that they don't get this unless they take it at the university.
But anyway, San Bernardino has great potential and the people are just wonderful people. Of course, we've had a lot of these questionable people that have moved in because of the easy housing, but I hope those who still remain there will continue, and many of the children have come back. My kids generation, most of them left, but those that went into being lawyers and some businessmen, and some doctors, I think their children came back. Mine did not-that's why I'm here.
Hanson: Because your children are here?
PRESS: Yes. My eldest daughter lives in Baltimore. She's married to a physician; she heads a foundation, the Pearl Stone Foundation, and then the second daughter is here. She's involved the Bazaar del Mundo which you will see in a minute. Then my son, the eldest boy (they are all graduates of San Bernardino High School-all with honors), so whenever they say that the school system isn't good it aggravates me to the devil, because it's a two-way thing, parents and children. And parents at the time were working with their kids. Ron lives in Santa Fe, he's a physician, and he works with the poor. Then Andrea has a Masters in Fine Arts and she's in theater in Los Angeles. Then Raymond, the youngest, as you know, he's a physician. My kid's peers, most of them, became lawyers, physicians, and journalists, and it was a time when, of course, there was a very strong parent involvement. I remember I sat in with the parents on the magnet schools when it was first starting and there was so much enthusiasm and then when I look at what has happened now, when I've gone into the schools, there's a decline of course, a disintegration because two parents have to work.
PRESS: And it's very sad, but every time I've worked with the students that have been exchanged to Tachikawa, there's a difference because those parents are still involved with their children and, on the other side, we are four generations also Tachikawa. They have an alumni group of students and there are very strong commitments they're with the sister cities.
I've traveled to almost 100 nations, and of course before I left the Mayor's office I volunteered with Mayor Valles, so before I left the office we had a lot of Koreans visiting, and they were asking us about getting a Korean sister city, but the policy I set for the city is unless we have the citizens committee, you don't have a sister city. But, generally our sister cities across the country have grown fond of the group in Tempe, because our national president, Dick Newheisel was present for about 14-15 years and I was vice president under him. They took on Timbuktu, and when my kids were little if they were acting up I said, "Okay, I'm going to Timbuktu."
And then Timbuktu appears on the scene wanting to twin. Dick, being the president, took them to that city and of course they speak French, so they had to have an interpreter and he was a tall African, he must have been 6'4" in his robes, very impressive. He explained the plight of no water. They walked two miles to get water. So they took that as a sister city, they've dug six wells, and they brought new life into the city. And then they have a program where for $25.00 you can buy a goat or a sheep to give a family, and that's a new life for the family, so I've bought a couple of animals. I bought one in the name of my husband. Actually, I bought this goat and they said, "What are you going to name it? Lou, so Dick says what, an old goat, you're kidding me. But I had a birthday and they bought a camel in my name. It cost $400-500 for a camel, the camel's named Thelma, so I was going to write them a note and say, here's $25.00, I hope you're feeding my camel well.
But, so many of the groups have done such wonderful projects, and you know, then there was that trend, it's Cultural Student Exchange, and then they wanted to bring in the business end. When I was twinning cities I'd always say look, have different committees, because if you don't work business-wise, you know, give the business to the business people so that if that doesn't work out your cultural and your friendship is still going on. So in San Bernardino I think we've exchanged over the years since 1962 probably back and forth close to 200, and these students have been wonderful. Except for the first group from San Bernardino, we seem to have lost track of them. But, the rest of them have been doctors, lawyers, journalists, diplomats, educators, every field, and it's changed their lives, it really has.
I have to tell you, my eldest Japanese daughter is an interpreter with the Japanese State Department, and I remember I brought her for two years and she lived with us, and I sent her to Valley College. She said, "I want to be a teacher of English." I said, "I don't care what you want to do, but you're going to take typing." She said, "Typing?" Well, she wanted to stay and do four years and I said no, she tried to maneuver everything and I said no, you're the only daughter; you must go back to your parents. I'll still help you and we'll still love you. When she went back the university went on strike so she writes me, "Mother, I'm so glad you made me learn typing. I'm earning a living typing." So, it's been interesting, it really has, and my children have benefited by it. I was a charter member of American Field Service, and that was a different type of program. But you know, as I sat in the mayor's office and I saw all of these organizations flourish and then some of the disintegrate and we had an influx in America of private companies bringing foreign students in and competing with our home organizations. I remember they would come to me and say, "Can you find us housing?" I said, "No, it's a liability, I can't do it and you're competing with our own groups." Because they would get money for finding housing, and some horror stories came out of those. But, they're less now of course with all the problems we have now.
But, we had some wonderful American Field Service Students also. I remember one from Peru. We had him live with the Gabriel's; they were an old family in the area. He called me up and said, "I want to change my house." And I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, they make me work." And I said, "Well you came to America for an American experience, what do your brothers in the house do?" "Oh they work." "What do you do?" "I rake the leaves and I have to fold my own clothes." I said, "I'm not moving you, because the next house you won't have these easy jobs. You might have a harder job." "Oh, well my twin brother lives in New York and I don't know, he seems to be having a better time." So he says, "And I need money for all my photographs." I said, "Well you're going to take a class in photography." So we got him a class in photography. He was a maneuverer, I tell you. He was from Peru, but it was an interesting experience to look at the difference of the Japanese children and the Latin children that came into the area. They came from very well to do families, the Japanese children came from different walks of life, and their mannerism and their appreciation of what they were seeing were two totally different things. And so it was an experience for the children when I put both together and we went to Disneyland one time. The Mexican kids that came over from Villa Hermosa were so bored you know, they were sophisticated kids and the Japanese kids were so anxious and eager for everything. And I think the Latin ones really learned a lot from this whole day being with them, because they saw an appreciation through the eyes, which you know, they had everything. So it's been a great exchange for our kids, it really has.
Hanson: So, one last question.
Hanson: You've been given a lot of awards. Which award is most important to you and why?
PRESS: How did you know? Oh I sent you a list. Yes, I of the have tickets to the garage. Well, I would say each one in itself has its special place in my heart, and special merits. I think the one I received on the congressional records was very important to me for my kids because of the history connection. The one that I received from the State as being the Outstanding Woman of San Bernardino County also was special because it was something that felt very dear to me because of all the things I'd worked in that area, so each one is a little separate. And then, the Historical Award was of course very important as well to me because I made a difference of saving, of giving new life to a building. And then, I think the one I received in Israel when I went there for connecting Israel with American Sister Cities, but what I was doing was trying to connect Israel in a trilateral with an Arab city, an American city and an Israeli city, so that regardless of the politics of the day, the people would involve themselves with one another and disregard the difference, develop what we can do for one another, and I think that had special meaning to me too. But each award on it's own has its merit.
And then of course the last one I received in San Bernardino was the one of Lifetime Achievement from the Business Press. That was a complete shock, because when I saw all of these doctors and lawyers and so forth you know, and here was a lifetime volunteer almost. But I think when you make a difference in the lives of people and children and they make a difference in your life, that's an achievement and I encourage my children to do that, and they all have been involved in community, because if you don't give part of yourself to a community when the community has given to you, then you don't excel as a human being. That's the way I feel.
Hanson: Thank you. Wonderful interview.
[End of Interview] From Thelma Press' address on the marking of the Sturges Auditorium as a point of historical interest: IN REFLECTION "History may be compared to a skein of tangled threads gathered here and there. After a time, these strands are taken up, straightened and woven into a fabric that may satisfy the weaver - for the story is not of his or her day. So, as the present weaves the story of the past, it prepares the web of its own story for the future to weave." History of San Bernardino Valley from Padres to Pioneers, by Father Juan Caballera. I picked up such a thread in 1974 with the advent of the Bicentennial Commission. The City, for the first time in its history, finally realized the importance of identifying and saving structures of historical significance. However, as the director of the Bicentennial Commission and ultimately the International Council who inherited responsibility, we found that there were few places of historical significance remaining in the City of San Bernardino. One such structure was Sturges Auditorium. On November 18, 1977, I co-founded the Historical Society, with the late Christian Harris, president of the pioneer Society, for the city of San Bernardino. We were determined that falling brick and mortar would not continue to be the familiar scene in our City.