By Mark Gutglueck
In 1880 Dr. J.P. Widney, a brother of Judge R. M. Widney of Ontario, publicized San Antonio Heights for its “varied and beautiful scenery of plain, mesa, canyon and mountain, with proximity to fine hunting and fishing grounds.”
In 1881 Charles Chaffey, Sr. interested his sons, Charles Chaffey, Jr. and William Chaffey, in developing property in the Etiwanda/Rancho Cucamonga/Ontario area. After Charles Chaffey, Jr. founded Etiwanda, he and his brother embarked on creating the Model Colony, known today as Ontario and Upland. Their plan was built around Euclid Avenue, a wide boulevard/vista extending from the top of Chino north toward Mt. San Antonio. Early on they considered including San Antonio Heights, “near the foothills” above Upland on the mesa described as “lying at the mouth of San Antonio Canyon” at an elevation of more than 2,000 feet “where water was easily available from a source already being developed.” as part of the colony. Consequently, the Ontario Land Company, as early as 1883 had designs of seeing the property on the mesa being developed into an upscale residential community.
On October 25, 1882, George Chaffey, Jr. incorporated the San Antonio Water Company.
In 1884 J.B. Tays undertook to build a personal residence on the mesa. That year, property on the mesa had been subdivided and lots were to be sold for $300 and $400.
The first map of the Ontario Land Company undertaking shows a v-shaped area next to the foothills above 24th Street
In 1886, the Australian Government invited the Chaffey Brothers to move there and undertake a much larger development in The Land Down Under. They sold their interest in the Model Colony and left.
Charles Frankish became the resident manager of the new Ontario Land Company. In that first year of Frankish’s management, which corresponded with the Boom of 1887, San Antonio Heights sprang to life.
In that boom year, Tays, Nelson Stoddard and I.S. Miller set about to build new houses on the mesa that became known as San Antonio Heights. Stoddard and Tays invested $2,000 each into the homes they erected and Miller had a grander design that cost $4,200.
On January 10, 1887 the sale of a one-acre lot for $1,000 was recorded. Water was not sold with he property, but there were assurances of the near-time completion of a domestic water system that would entail costs of no more than maintenance and operating for homeowners. The New Ontario Land Company had involved plans which included a pleasure park, a resort, a hotel, a sanitarium and residential lots.
In the first year, 37 lots were sold at a total price of $40,350, with the highest price being $3,000 for a singled well-positioned lot. In December of 1887, however, sales of property in San Antonio Height abruptly ceased. No further sales activity in San Antonio Heights would take place for more than 13 years.
The end of the boom brought about a complete halt in building in the spring of 1888. Pictures taken years later show only one house near the foothills which was later known as “the haunted house.” Mrs. Miller, the wife of the owner, died before the house was completed and he never lived there. One tale was that some workers who stayed overnight there were frightened by a ghost. Some said the apparition’s were white owls that came through an open door or windows. The fortunes of the model colony did not improve for some time. Members of Ontario Land Improvement Company took unsold land in exchange for shares of stock. As a consequence of this division of land, 290 acres on San Antonio Heights were given to members.
A few new homes were built as residences for the land owners. In 1891 Lyman Steward started a house at the head of the avenue that would eclipse anything yet built in Ontario. Tays contracted with John Gerry, a contractor from Ontario, to construct his second San Antonio residence, this one at a cost of $8,000. Other houses were built nearby. E. P. Fuller built a residence at the head of the avenue in 1894. The Ontario Electric Company built a power house in 1895 on the north side of Mountain Avenue, just east of Park Boulevard. E. H. Richardson, the inventor of the Hot Point electric iron, lived in a tent house beside the power station where he was employed by the Ontario Electric Company.
A park was laid out at the northwest corner of Mountain Avenue and 24th Street. The trees were set out, a baseball diamond constructed and a pavilion promised. An article in the Ontario Record on July 30, 1904, stated: “The San Antonio Heights people gave an ice cream social at the head of the avenue last Thursday for the purpose of raising funds to put in a fountain in the little 24th Street park.”
The electric railroad was extended to a new terminus at the park in 1907. J.A. Armstrong bought a block of 19 lots in 1919 and used the land for a nursery. Another spurt of sales began in 1923 and 1924. By then the Ontario Land and Improvement Company had been dissolved and the Charles Frankish Company had taken over. Most of the unsold land was held by the Charles Frankish Family and the San Antonio Water Company. While San Antonio Heights never fulfilled the dreams of its would-be developers in the 1880s, it became a district of upscale and quaint homes with scenic and yards and impressive views.
By Mark Gutglueck