Grant Holcomb, Sr.

Grant Holcomb, a scion of one of first and foremost families in San Bernardino history, lived up to his familial tradition and passed the torch on to the succeeding generation.
Born October 8, 1888, Grant Holcomb was the only child of William W. Holcomb and a grandson of William F. Holcomb.
Grant Holcomb’s place in San Bernardino can be put into context by a consideration of the feats of his grandfather, whose adventures as a frontiersman, pioneer and explorer are legendary. William F. Holcomb, popularly known as Billy Holcomb, ventured far and wide as a hunter and miner, prospecting at multiple locations between Vancouver, British Columbia and Arizona, culminating in the discovery of the Vulture Mine in Maricopa County, Arizona, from which more than eight million dollars worth of gold was extracted. An original 49er, he crossed the plains to California in the midst of the Gold Rush. He uncovered placer gold deposits in what is now known as Holcomb Valley, in the valley adjacent to Bear Valley, present day Big Bear. Within six months after his discovery there were two thousand men in the valley, working claims there. Billy Holcomb worked successfully at mining in Bear Valley for several years. It is a matter of historical debate as to whether he or the Mormon Church, which dispatched a large contingent of settlers from Salt Lake City to California where they established a colony in San Bernardino in 1851, did more to attract people to what soon became, in 1853,  San Bernardino County.  William F. Holcomb was elected and remained for several terms county clerk, treasurer and assessor, in which capacity he took on, and prevailed over, the California Southern Railroad Company that had refused to pay the local taxes levied upon it.
Billy Holcomb married Nancy Stewart, who had come to San Bernardino from Utah with her father. Their son, William Winfield Holcomb, was born in San Bernardino and attended the local schools, such as they were in those days and then served as a deputy clerk under his father as a young man. Thereafter William Winfield Holcomb became a logger, finding success in the lumber business as San Bernardino grew, later selling both feed and fuel from his lumber yard. He eventually hired on as a deputy sheriff, and later served in the capacity of the bailiff of the Superior Court in San Bernardino. In Santa Maria, California he married San Bernardino native Miss Isabella Grant, the daughter of John and Margaret Grant née Nish, whose family owned a cattle ranch and crop farm near San Bernardino.
Grant Holcomb was William Winfield and Isabella Holcomb’s only child, born at the couple’s house, located at Ninth and G Streets.
Grant Holcomb attended San Bernardino’s high school, during which he participated in the National Guard. He graduated in 1907, and then attended Stanford University, where he was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1911 and then his juris doctorate from Stanford in 1913. He was admitted to the bar in 1913, and set up his practice in San Bernardino, with a suite of offices in the Andreson Building. He worked in the same court where his father was the bailiff. A general practitioner, he had a large clientele, with a considerable caseload handling probates. Additionally, he served as a director of the California State Bank, the Gill Storage Battery Company and the San Bernardino Building & Loan Association. He was also on the advisory board of the Bank of America National Trust & Savings Association.
John Steven McGroarty in the Clarke Publishing Company’s California of the South Volume III, published in 1933, stated, “Closely applying himself to the work of his profession, Grant Holcomb is classed with the most talented and successful lawyers of San Bernardino, his native city.”
On June 15, 1916, at San Francisco, Holcomb married Miss Eleanor Frances Burkham, a native of California and a daughter of S. B. and M. L. Burkham, of Bodie. Earlier in his life, Mr. Burkham owned the stage line and the general store at Bodie, and operated a stage between Bodie and Carson City, Nevada, where the transportation of passengers and mail was constantly beset by the danger of highwaymen. Mrs. Holcomb was graduated from Sanford University as a member of the class of 1914, receiving an A. B. degree. By her marriage she became the mother of four children: Grant, Jr., Kathryn Lee, William Robert and Theodore.  She was a member of the Young Women’s Christian Association and a director of the Woman’s Club of San Bernardino.
Grant Holcomb was a Baptist and served as his church’s treasurer. Gregarious and active, he was a charter member of the San Bernardino Rotary Club, and a director of the Chamber of Commerce, of which he became president. While he was serving in the capacity of the chamber’s civic development committee he secured funds for the erection and outfitting of the Sisters’ Hospital. He was a member of and eventually the president of the Young Men’s Christian Association, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and was a Knight Templar Mason.
A committed Republican, he was active in the party as a member of the Republican Central Committee, of which he was at one point elected vice chairman.
He was a member of the San Bernardino County Bar Association and the American Bar Association, as well as the state bar committee that served in an advisory capacity to the judicial council.
In 1925, San Bernardino Mayor S.W. McNabb resigned to accept an appointment to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. Grant Holcomb was appointed to replace him and he was sworn in on February 9, 1925. Two months later,  Holcomb ran in the municipal election and was retained in office.  He served an elected term that ran from May 11, 1925 until May 9, 1927, when he was succeeded by Ira Gilbert.
In 1928, Grant Holcomb’s wife, Eleanor, passed away. In 1931, he remarried, to Miss Beulah Hartman.
Two of Grant Holcomb’s sons were personages of note. His son William Robert “Bob” Holcomb was a newspaper publisher and mayor of San Bernardino from 1971 to 1985 and again from 1989 to 1993.  His son Grant Holcomb, Jr.  was an actor, best remembered for his role as a reporter on the 1950s television series You Are There hosted by Walter Cronkite. He began his career as a performer on radio drama programs,  after which he was offered a position on CBS television, acting in the early television drama series Studio One in Hollywood in 1948, appearing on Channel 2 Action News, and the TV documentary series Eyewitness to History.  He also appeared in the 1961 film, X-15  and on  CBS News Extra: Project Mercury flight of Friendship in 1962.
Grant Holcomb, Sr. died on February 5, 1943 at the age of 54.
-Mark Gutglueck

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