There is some question as to whether the Wigwam Motel is in Rialto or San
Bernardino. It is right at the city limits so it will stay here until next time I go out
that way or until one of you residents out there sets the record straight.
In Search of the Wigwam
by Dan Harlow
A Brief History of Rialto, CA
Rialto Historical Society
P.O. Box 413
201-205 North Riverside Avenue
Rialto, CA 92376 Tel. (714) 875 1750
HISTORY OF RIALTO
Nestled below the San Bernardino mountains is the pleasant city of Rialto. Its dynamic
growth reflects the successes of Rialto's past.
The city of Rialto is believed to have been settled prior to the year 1500. Ancient
artifacts were discovered by archaeologists indicating Indians lived in the Rialto area
between 1500 and 1800 A.D. Where these Indians went, or why, remains a mystery. Records
indicate that in 1769 the King of Spain awarded portions of this area to selected Spanish
The Mormons settled in l851 purchasing the Lugo Ranch ( now San Bernardino ) and
claiming portions of the bench which later became known as Rialto. (This claim was later
disallowed by the United States Government.) Families began moving in by the year 1854 and
vineyards, citrus groves, ranches and agriculture soon prospered. It was here in Rialto
where Muscat Grapes were first grown and cuttings from the original plants were sent to
many parts of the neighboring counties. An adobe house from this time period is believed
to be the oldest house in Rialto and is now restored in Lilac Park.
In the fall of 1888 it became evident that schooling was needed so the first school was
built and Brooke School District was formed. Records show that up until 1920, the Brooke
School District was in continuous operation, except for a very short time in 1888. A
prominent Rialto family bought the first school house in 1921, remodeled the building, and
members of the family have resided in it ever since.
In 1887 a railroad connector line was built between San Bernardino and Pasadena by the
Santa Fe Railroad. Along this line, town sites were located every 2,600 yards and by the
fall of that year over 25 new towns were built. This same year the Semitropic Land and
Water Company was formed, with its purpose to organize the purchase, improving and selling
real estate, water, water rights and privileges.
Also in this year a group of Methodists arrived seeking a new college site. Although
the college was never built, it was these Methodists who started the town of Rialto. It is
not known how Rialto got its name. One story is that it is a contraction of Rio (river)
and Alto (high). Another belief is that it was named after the Rialto Bridge located in
Venice, Italy. In either case, the bridge has remained a community symbol and will
continue as the "Bridge of Progress".
Despite the land boom of the 80's and the crash of 1889, Rialto continued to grow. By
1893 there were half a dozen businesses and 35 homes. Rialto's popularity quickly began to
grow as it became known as a town of lovely homes and pretty shaded drives.
The Rialto School District was formed in 1891. The staff consisted of two teachers, and
a principal with separate play areas for the boys and girls.
The Chamber of Commerce was established in 1907. Within four years the population had
grown to 1,500 with 40 businesses and a local newspaper. The Chamber made its decision to
incorporate in the spring of 1911. The election results on October 31st of the same year
were one hundred thirty-five for the incorporation and 72 against. Rialto thus become a
sixth class city. Citrus became an important commodity in Rialto's early growth and at one
time seven packing plants were in use sorting, packing and shipping citrus to all areas of
Foothill Boulevard was repaired in 1913 and became a section of the trans-continental
Highway System. The following year the Pacific Electric completed its line through the
city of Rialto. Today the tracks above First Street and the Pacific Electric depot on
Riverside Avenue are a part of the Southern Pacific Railroad System.
A fire in the 20's swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in the downtown
area. Today this area has matured with new store fronts, updated buildings and rising
modernization. Also located in Rialto are seven major retail shopping centers spread
throughout the community.
Rialto's population growth had increased to 3,156 by 1950. In 1956 the population
soared to 15,359. By 1964 it showed an increase to 23,290 and 33,500 in 1978. Rialto is
four miles wide and 8 1/2 miles long. Rialto's population has grown to over 75,000 as of
The city of Rialto lies in the west portion of the San Bernardino Valley, due west of
the County Seat. Rialto is sixty miles to the east of Los Angeles and 103 miles north of
San Diego. Rialto is proud to be a city of commercial, residential, educational, cultural
and industrial growth.
Rialto children are served by the Rialto Unified School District. There are two high
schools, three middle schools, and fourteen elementary schools. There is also one
continuation high school, and eight private schools.