This vibrant city of nearly 200,000 souls is NOT even close to being considered a ghost town.
However, since it is Ghost Town USA’s hometown, we proudly feature its story on our pages.
I have lived here since the mid-1980s population influx, and have enjoyed researching the history of the city
and watching its trends towards the future. Any unattributed opinions or perspectives given below are solely mine
as an aware resident and do not necessarily reflect official city views or policies, or those of any other agencies or groups.
A brief historic timeline of
Cahuilla Indian settlements along hill bases around the valley.
Anza Expedition --- Spanish expeditionary force under leadership of Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, marched through the region from Yuma to Northern California.
Gold discoveries in western Sierra foothills on January 24 create a mass rush to California.
September 9, President Millard Fillmore signs legislation making California the 31st state.
Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company stage route extended west from Tucson to Los Angeles through what is now Temecula and up Temescal Valley through Corona. Many local histories incorrectly claim it ran through Western Perris and Moreno Valleys then over Pigeon Pass/Reche Canyon to San Bernardino. However, it never did. That route was established by an independent stage company.
Frank Elwood Brown (A civil engineer educated at Yale University, New Haven, CT) and Edward G. Judson (former New York stock broker) began development of Redlands.
Brown contracts to provide water to the town of Redlands. He and Judson formed the Bear Valley Land and Water Company and built a dam on the Santa Ana River in Bear Valley (now called Big Bear Dam/Lake).
Town of Alessandro established. It was named after Alessandro the hero in RAMONA, Helen Hunt Jackson’s popular novel. Alessandro was located under what is now the north end of the runways at March Air Reserve Base, due east of the current March Air Museum. The plat was recorded on July 8, 1887, and was filed by Pomona developers French, Packard and Rockwell. The following year, a railroad station was established on the west side of town. On January 18, 1888 the post office opened, but the development company folded in 1890.
In August 1890, Frank Brown and the Redlands-based, reorganized Bear Valley and Alessandro Development Company (with investors from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York) looked across the hills south of Redlands at the struggling town of Alessandro, and the undeveloped Mahe Tract (basically Moreno and eastern Sunnymead area) and envisioned a new area ripe for development if water could be provided. He and the company obtained water rights from various nearby locations ranging from the San Bernardino Mountains, to the Whitewater River, to the hills southeast of the future development. Maps were drawn up and Alessandro would be anchor the western end of the development by relocating slightly to the north, while a new town, New Haven (in honor of the Connecticut investors, as well as the home of Brown’s alma mater – Yale University) would anchor the eastern end. They would be connected by a long boulevard.
The town of New Haven is platted and developed by Brown & Judson, but was just a small part of the larger overall development that was planned for the area now mostly covered by today’s city of Moreno Valley. Except for Redlands Boulevard, all the north-south streets were named after people (probably in their development company), while the east-west avenues were given botanical names. In October the name was changed to Moreno (which is Spanish for Brown.)
Perris & Alessandro Irrigation District formed by order of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. This was the first salvo in the litigation battle between Redlands and the Moreno Valley region over use of the Bear Valley Dam water.
Moreno development begins at the intersection of Alessandro and Redlands boulevards. The post office opened February 19, with Francis M. Townsend as the first postmaster.
The first lots in town went up for sale on April 29, and Moreno quickly sprinted to a population of 500 and a plethora of businesses and homes popped up all over.
In May 1893, Riverside County was formed from part of San Bernardino and San Diego counties. For county seat honors, Riverside was the only name officially on the ballot, but a space was provided for write-ins. Moreno did poll 11 (Gunther states 13) votes, a distant second.
The Moreno-Riverside Stage line began operation. Owned and operated by Hadley & Williams, it ran down Box Springs Grade, which at that time was a steep, dangerous road. A daily stage line also ran from Moreno to Redlands (via San Timoteo Canyon), carrying mail and passengers.
Physical development included:
Increasing agricultural needs, increased demands for water by upstream users and drought conditions caused a decrease in water available for local farmers and towns. This was coupled with a severe drought and the priority rights of Redlands. In 1896, Frank Brown’s development company folded and the water was turned off. Moreno and Alessandro both faded as litigation over water rights began. Alessandro was quickly reduced to just a brick hotel, while Moreno also disappeared slowly.
Litigation over the water from Bear Valley dam ended, and the City of Redlands was awarded priority rights. Coupled with the continuing drought which had nearly drained Bear Valley (Big Bear) lake of its water, most farming in the Moreno Valley area ended. Most of the wooden buildings in Moreno and Alessandro had been jacked up and moved to Riverside and what was left was either torn down and loaded onto wagons, or abandoned. Some houses were even stolen and moved, much to the chagrin of the building’s owners!
The entire Moreno Valley was nearly deserted except for a few dry farms, which produced crops such as wheat, oats and barley.
The Alessandro post office was discontinued October 31.
Moreno Mutual Water Company discovered water in San Timoteo Canyon. 33,000 volt electric transmission lines were pushed up Box Springs Grade and ran down through west end of the valley to the City of Perris.
Sunnymead Orchard Tract laid out by a Mr. Mead and other investors. This small farming community was named after him as well as the sunny location.
Alessandro Aviation Field was developed as a WW I-era training base for fighter pilots. On March 20, the airfield was officially named March Field in honor of early aviation pioneer Lt. Peyton C. March Jr.
Early development of Edgemont (Edge of the Mountains).
In Sunnymead, the Courtesy Market was established on Sunnymead Blvd. by H.O Larson.
March Field closed due to general disarmament program after WWI.
March Field reopened as flight training school.
Building known as “Old Moreno School” built in Moreno. This building replaced the older one built in 1893. It has been remodeled and is currently a private residence.
Grevillea Ave (Sunnymead Blvd) was paved.
In 1940 the community of Edgemont was established along US 395 and it contained several stores and “a few dozen homes.”
US 395 widened, which helped the struggling businesses in Edgemont. Camp Haan was established by the United States Army along the west side of US 395 to house and train thousands of troops being sent overseas. March Field was a bustling base, and was home to large numbers of aircraft. A post card from the collection of a friend of mine shows twin engine B-58’s on the tarmac.
The Perris Valley district of the California Electric Power Co., established an office in Edgemont to supply power to Edgemont & Moreno.
Due to WW II having ended two years before, Camp Haan closed, hurting both the economy of Edgemont and Sunnymead due to the mass exodus of soldiers. However, postwar growth and the development of March Air Force Base as a major installation prompted continued growth, and the community began to grow.
Midland School obtained a couple old barracks from Camp Haan for use as classrooms. Other buildings from the old base were relocated all over town. Sunnymead’s population was estimated to be 1500-2000.
1st annual Sunnymead Fair took place. Fairgrounds were located where Sunnymead Park now is (Perris/Fir)
1st major development of tract homes with 150 cottages built in Edgemont by David K. Boales. He also built some outside the east gate of March. Boales also built a large hardware/lumber store on the southeast corner of Hwy 395 and Alessandro Blvd. In 1971 it was sold to Bill Heidrick and operated as Edgemont Lumber & Home Center until it closed in 1990. It burned and was torn down in the early 2000’s.
In Edgemont, Baker’s Serve-Ur-Self gas station built. Location not determined, but from old photo appears to be on the northeast side of a major intersection (Old US 395/I-215 & Alessandro?). It was close to the heart of the Edgemont business district, and in addition to six pumps, offered Goodyear Tires and full services.
Clarence and Shirley Glidewell purchased the old Courtesy Market on Sunnymead Boulevard, enlarged it, and increased the stock. The name was changed to reflect the new owners – Glidewell’s Courtesy Market.
Eastern Municipal Water District began supplying water for the valley.
Estimated population was 7500
Some of the businesses operating at this time included
Riverside International Raceway opened. (In mid-1950s Bob Hope was on the Board of Directors.) Site of major racing activities, including the Skip Barber Driving School.
Census figures gave the population of the entire Moreno Valley area as around 15,000. US 60 was completed as a freeway in the Badlands area. Construction through Moreno Valley was finished by 1965. Valley Bank opened its doors at the same location it is now (under a different name) at the intersection of Heacock St./ Sunnymead Blvd.
First incorporation drive began with a feasibility study. A sewer bond was approved, and sewer lines were soon to be installed.
Issue of incorporation defeated in the election.
US Highway 60 western terminus moved from Pomona, CA to Ehrenburg, AZ, with the routing through Moreno Valley being renamed as State Highway (SH) 60.
On October 24, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the dam at Lake Perris.
Census figures showed the population increasing.
· Edgemont – 3500
· Moreno – 250
· Sunnymead – 6708
Issue of incorporation again raised with the publication of a 54 page feasibility study on January 31, 1972.
A new restaurant built on southeast corner of Heacock/Sunnymead, where the Der Wienerschnitzel currently stands.
Census figures showed a major increase in the population.
· Edgemont – 5215
· Moreno – 1175
· Sunnymead – 11,554
A 95 page feasibility study was again undertaken and a report issued for incorporation of Moreno Valley in June (despite the 1980 date on the cover). In September, a 40 (+/-) page
supplement was also issued. This got the incorporation wheels rolling - again.
In February, the shopping center on the southwest corner of Perris/Alessandro built. (K-Mart)
The next attempt at incorporation was defeated, but growth began in earnest.
On November 6, 1984, the incorporation battle finally ended and on Dec 3, 1984, the City of Moreno Valley was born. It had a population of 47,000.
1st city council consisted of:
Riverside International Raceway closed in August.
City of Moreno Valley population reaches a population of 118,779, and the community makes news as the fastest growing city in the country.
Moreno Valley Mall at Towngate opened at the old raceway site, just about the time the economy took a major dump. Throughout Southern California cities and towns were badly hurt by the crash. Most economists called it a recession, but in the Southern California region many folks considered it a depression. Call it what you may, but it lasted for several years.
March Air Force Base de-commissioned to a reserve base. City offices relocated into the first city-owned “City Hall” building on Frederick Street, just south of Alessandro Blvd. The boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s subsided and the city economy slowed, with layoffs occurring in both the city employees and the school districts. In 1995 the official estimate of population was 139,300 people, making it California’s 25th largest city.
The major “recession” of the 1990s finally ended with a major increase in growth bringing a large number of residential developments. In the 2000 Census, 142,381 folks were counted, making it the state’s 29th largest city. Commercial and industrial projects began sprouting throughout the city, including a new LOWE’S Home improvement store, and WALGREEN’s new 750,000 square foot warehouse, housing their Southwestern US distribution center (Opened Jan 2004). Other large projects included new office buildings for WASTE MANAGEMENT, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT (BLM) which relocated from Riverside to a spot across from City Hall and a new SOCIAL SECURITY OFFICE, also across from City Hall.
The 90’s recession was forgotten as major growth began. Population estimates in 2003 placed Moreno Valley’s population at nearly 151,000.
Some of the major projects that were built in this time period include:
· WASHINGTON MUTUAL BANK, built a larger facility in Towngate Center.
· 5 NEW PARKS
· SENIOR CITIZEN’s Apartment building on Eucalyptus Ave, just east of Heacock.
· SUPER WALMART built just west of the Auto Mall.
· CIRCUIT CITY, WENDY’S, MIMIS, APPLEBEES and BAKER’S BURGERS restaurants opened south of LOWE’s on Day Street.
· HYUNDAI: A new dealership located at auto mall.
· HOME DEPOT: A second Moreno Valley store at the northwest corner of Perris Blvd and Iris Ave. opened in January 2004.
· LAKESIDE PLAZA: a new shopping center anchored by a Stater Brothers grocery store opened at the northwest corner of Lasselle/Iris, while the northeast corner shopping center was anchored by a LONG’S DRUG STORES.
Numerous other commercial developments popped up, while industrial construction included a dozen or so “Big Box” warehouses built on spec. Some of these were quickly leased out as distribution centers for national chains such as LOWES and ROSS DRESS FOR LESS.
In 2003 the city issued over 5600 building permits, the largest number since 1989. Beginning in 2001 sales prices on existing home increased 20% or greater per year, while new home prices pushed into and quickly exceeded the mid-$200,000 range. Both new and existing homes were selling very well and there was also much commercial and industrial expansion. The City ventured into the electrical utility business.
One of the trends that was not foreseen was building permit activity beginning to slide ever-so slightly in 2004 and 2005. During the summer of 2006, the housing market peaked in with existing home sales prices routinely exceeding $400,000. New tract home sales increased in fervor, with some of the largest tract homes seeing prices approaching $750,000. By the end of summer in 2006, the housing bubble burst and house prices began to slip slightly. Commercial and industrial growth continued to catch up to existing rooftops, but the pendulum had begun to swing the other way.
Construction began on the city’s largest shopping center (outside of the mall) and anchored by California’s 1st SUPER TARGET. The Stoneridge Town Center is located south of the 60 freeway between Nason and Moreno Beach, west of the Super Walmart and also includes a VISTERRA CREDIT UNION branch, JACK IN THE BOX, ROUND TABLE PIZZA, KOHL’S, BEST BUY and other businesses. Located just to the east, the city’s second CIRCUIT CITY, a STAPLES and a PETSMART were in process of construction. Further south another new shopping center was anchored by a STATER BROTHERS MARKET. Unfortunately Petsmart and Staples never opened; victims to the crashing economy. Circuit City no sooner opened than it was on the corporate hit-list for closing.
More restaurants and a pair of large hotels were completed in the Towngate area in the western end of town adjacent to the mall. In mid 2007, the Moreno Valley Mall at Towngate began renovations and shifting of existing tenants, while wooing new national chains including one of the first HARKIN’S THEATERS in California on the mall pad once designed for Bullock’s, which company filed bankruptcy in the early 1990s.
By the end of the year, sales of existing and new homes had dropped dramatically and showed signs of crashing far lower than what they were at the peak in the summer of 2006. Because of the lenient lending requirements of various financial institutions, thousands of homes, both older and brand new, were foreclosed upon. Many of those residents quickly found themselves owing way more than the house was worth. Some remained, but many bailed, leaving empty homes, many of which were nearly brand new.
One of the most controversial issues that occurred in the city of Moreno Valley happened in February 2007 when the eastern portion of the city was unofficially renamed Rancho Belago by the City Council at the behest of a large developer. This was claimed to have been done to aid in marketing the more rural eastern side of town, AND as an incentive to attract “upscale” development. Some folks decried the renaming, while others embraced it. The signs were similar to those of Beverly Hills, and actually attracted legal action from that affluent city, which resulted in a slight design change AND lots of publicity. Forgotten in this divisive fray was the fact that the City of Moreno Valley is in itself a name that was only 24 years old. In 1984, the city was incorporated from the three smaller communities: Moreno, Sunnymead and Edgemont. Proponents of the change pushed the agenda of it being a “neighborhood name” - despite the fact it consisted of about half the city’s area - everything east of Lasselle Street from the northern to the southern city limits, all the way to the eastern limit. The Anti-Belagoites (you heard that term here first!) contended it would divide the city and insisted that the proponents were pushing to secede from the City of Moreno Valley and form their own city.
The truth probably lies between those two extremes. My own take is: Why do away with a name that has been in existence since 1890 – MORENO. Especially since the old community of Moreno lies in the heart of the Rancho Belago name.
In November 2008, three of the 5 city council seats were up for re-election. As the seated council members remained unchanged for about 12 years, it was interesting to see where the city would head with new District 1 and 3 members outpolling the incumbents. The District 5 incumbent council member was re-elected for another term. At this time and through early 2009, the widely touted national recession slammed into Moreno Valley hard. As mentioned above, housing prices had begun dipping, and by mid 2009, bottomed out at around 40% of where they were just four years previously. However, if there was to be a silver-lining to this recession; that was the fact that many of the foreclosed homes were finally being purchased. With multiple bids on some of the homes, prices finally showed signs of stabilization.
The other issue that plagued the city was the bankruptcy and downsizing of major national retailers, which radically changed the marketplace. Due to the recession and newness of many of the stores for the surviving companies, when the corporate mavens looked at the bottom lines, they’d find that the stores in Moreno Valley weren’t performing up to “their standards”. As a result, many of the stores that closed had only been open a short time, as they didn’t have an “official” track record to fall back on. Some of the victims of the recession included corporate failures such as Circuit City, Mervyns, as well as many other smaller independents, and scads of Mom ‘n Pops. However, the economic downturn didn’t just affect the housing and business sectors. It also affected falling government revenue and cost of operation. To keep the budget balanced, the City itself faced massive layoffs. It offered long-time employees a “Golden Handshake,” encouraging them to retire. Dozens of long-termers took the offer, affecting employment and service levels at City Hall. Those retirements, and their associated cost savings coupled with other austerity measures enabled the city to prevent itself from failing financially.
Despite the doom and gloom during this time frame, a bright spot on Moreno Valley’s map was the complete revitalization of Sunnymead Blvd. This major commercial thoroughfare is the closest thing this spread-out city has to a Main Street and extends a tad over two miles from the eastbound State Highway 60 Pigeon Pass/Frederick Street offramp to Kitching Street, a half-mile east of Perris Blvd. Running parallel to, and just south of the freeway, it is lined with numerous businesses and small shopping centers, many of which are housed in old buildings that date back to the pre-freeway days when Sunnymead Blvd was US Highway 60. This was the main road through the tiny community of Sunnymead, leading traffic to and from Los Angeles from the Coachella Valley and points east. Many in today’s community complained about this “multi-million boondoggle” in a crashed economy, but most were unaware that the monies budgeted for the project came from state and federal funds, and were to be applied only to that specific project. The road has been completely reconstructed and new medians, west-end entry signage, sidewalks, crosswalks and streetlights were all installed above replacement underground utilities.
As the economic slump continued to drag on, the 2010 Census showed that the city was still growing, albeit slowly, with a recorded population of 193,365. What did change, and is changing the entire face of Southern California is the fact that the demographics of the city are changing. Housing starts remained minimal, as was most all new construction. Many new businesses opened. Many closed. Some shopping centers remained nearly vacant, while others adapted to the changing face of the city and thrived. Despite all that, housing prices began to advance slightly.
In November 2010, district 2 & 4 Council seats came up for election, and those seats were hotly contested. When the dust settled, another long-time member was gone, shifting the power in the council to two veterans and three newcomers.
At the far east end of town construction began on the massive Skecher’s distribution center but the general economic malaise still had the city (AND most of Southern California) still in its grip. The warehouse was completed and is now serving the community and all of Southern California.
By 2012, the economy appeared to be in the process of recovering. Over the past year, the city has been feeling a small wave of optimism and looks to a brighter future. At the time of this writing (September 20) the election campaign posters are again plastered across every available vertical surface and others are sprouting like weeds on every street corner and patch of dirt soft enough to pound a stake into. This election will feature fierce battles in Districts 1, 3 and 5, and will result in at least one new member on council. In District 2 & 4, the council seats are not up for grabs, leaving the District 2 member (and current mayor) as the last of the “old timers.” This is because the District 5 member is not running for reelection because he is taking a shot at the State Assembly. In Council Districts 1 and 3, the current council members are gearing up for their first reelection campaign against an increasingly incumbent-hostile electorate.
(Updates coming soon)
All in all, the city is still hurting from the half-decade “recession” of the 2006-2012 period, but not as bad as many other cities across the county, state and country. With the diverse workforce, job availability and reasonably stable financial outlook, the City of Moreno Valley is beginning to emerge from the worst economic “recession” since the 1930s, in pretty good shape. Once we shake off the sensationalized news of political issues, the city should stabilize. Granted, what the future holds is still uncertain, but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, and I don’t think it’s a train coming. Actually it might be. As of February 2015, there is actual work in progree on upgrading the rail line at the west end of town to Metrolink (LA Area commuter Light Rail) standards.
Also, check out the Facebook page for folks interested in the history of Moreno Valley.
Visit the City of Moreno Valley’s AWARD-WINNING Website!
Also visit: Ghost Town USA’s
A few LINKS to outside webpages:
FIRST POSTED: May 20, 2001
LAST UPDATED: February 24, 2015
All information on this page is
copyrighted © 2001-2017
by Gary B. Speck Publications
ALL rights reserved.
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