City of Fontana History

The City of Fontana was founded in 1913 by A.B.Miller.  Fontana was originally an agricultural town of citrus orchards, vineyards and chicken ranches astride U.S. Route 66 (now known as Foothill Boulevard) and criss-crossed by numerous rail lines. Fontana was radically transformed during World War II.

Henry J. Kaiser’s steel mill in Fontana was the only steel mill west of the Mississippi River. The routing of the San Bernardino Freeway through a section of the town was followed by explosive growth, with the area becoming a prominent industrial suburb of San Bernardino.

Ross and Violet Gesler immigrated to Fontana.  Ross developed the Ross Gesler orchid in the greenhouses on his Arrow Boulevard home.  Later his grandson David Eshleman became mayor of the city.

In the 1950s and ’60s Fontana was home to a famous drag racing strip that was a significant venue in the NHRA circuit. Known officially as Mickey Thompson’s Fontana International Drag way, it was also referred to as Fontana Drag City or just plain old Fontana Drag Strip. The original Fontana strip is long since defunct, but the owners of NASCAR’s new Auto Club Speedway opened a new NHRA-sanctioned drag strip in Fontana in mid-2006 to resurrect Fontana’s drag-racing heritage.

Ro-Val’s automobile museum, located on Foothill Boulevard on the western outskirts between Fontana and Cucamonga, was for a while the home for many classic automobiles of the 1920s and ’30s, including a huge vehicle once owned by screen actor Fatty Arbuckle. When the Ro-Val museum closed, the vehicles were sold to Bill Harrah, a Nevada casino owner and automobile collector, who placed them on display in the museum located at his casino.

As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 128,929, but the present population is now estimated to have reached 189,021 (2009). This rapid expansion had much to do with the numerous large, new residential developments in the almost totally undeveloped northern part of the city, as well as with the city’s aggressive (and highly successful) campaign to annex several unincorporated, but developed, San Bernardino county island areas in 2006-2007.

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