Nicholas R. Cataldo
Kendall Drive draws hundreds of automobiles along its North San Bernardino path each day. Seemingly everyone has been acquainted with this busy highway.
But how many of today’s motorists know about its colorful past?
Probably not very many.
The story of Kendall Drive begins in 1924 when civic leaders came up with the idea to construct a safety highway designed to bypass the dangerous "Death Curve" where Cajon Boulevard makes a sharp bend.
On December 25th of that year, the San Bernardino Sun noted that the Cajon Pass Road would be extended into the city of San Bernardino. The report stated:
"By extension of the Cajon Pass road north of Little Mountain and down "E" Street, the dangerous Verdemont curve will be eliminated and traffic from the desert will be brought through to the business district and past the High School and Municipal Auditorium."
The road’s construction took about two years to complete. During that time it was decided to name the new highway after Albert G. Kendall, who was a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors from 1918 and 1926.
The Sun reported on September 17, 1926 that the "Kendall Memorial Highway (as it was originally called), an extension of North E street across Little Mountain and linking the National Old Trails Highway ( soon to be renamed Route 66) at Verdemont, will be ready for travel within three months…The highway will be 30 feet in width and will traverse Little Mountain at a maximum grade of 6 per cent with wide curves, permitting “high gear” travel in automobiles. On the north, the road will descend into Arrowhead Suburban Farms districts, and extend to Verdemont on the east of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific railways, eliminating the double crossing at Verdemont.
U.S. Route 66 –which extended from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California meandered through the Cajon Pass before making its way into the San Bernardino along Cajon Blvd.
Traffic became so heavy in the San Bernardino area, that a "Business Route 66" — along Kendall Drive and "E" Street was needed for motorists desiring to visit for a while.
The Hobbs Guide for 1932 informed travelers that a rest stop was recommended at the "Junction" where Cajon Blvd. and Kendall intersect. At this stop was a gas station, a store and 4 (AA) cabins equipped with locked garages ranging in price from $1.50 – $2.00 per night.
In later years, several businesses near the "Junction" were on hand to help out such as the Junction Cafe where 42 buses from five different lines made rest and meal stops daily, the Buckeye Inn–where hundreds of burgers were dished out every week, and Leo’s Italian Restaurant which served generous portions of Italian Food.
The "Junction" turned out to be more than just a popular rest stop for motorists. This was also the spot where legendary dancer and singer, Sammy Davis Jr. lost an eye in a terrible automobile accident on November 19, 1954.
Following Route 66 as the morning sun was rising, the entertainer approached San Bernardino by driving southbound along Cajon Boulevard. According to California Highway Officers R.W. Collins and W.B. Perdew, who investigated the accident, 72 year old Helen Boss of Akron, Ohio, was also heading south along Cajon and apparently missed the turn at Kendall. When she stopped her car and backed up to turn around, Davis’ convertible ran into her and he suffered a severe gash to one of his eyes. Although the eye had to be removed, the famed crooner of such hits as "Hey There" and "The Candy Man" survived with his life, thanks to the efforts of eye specialist, Dr. Fredrick H. Hull at San Bernardino Community Hospital.
As more and more people were traveling along Kendall Drive, grandiose plans were under way to beautify this popular route by planting palm trees along its right of way. The San Bernardino Sun had this to say on December 31, 1945:
"The San Bernardino Chamber of Commerce several years ago planted parallel rows of Victoria Palms bordering Kendall Drive the entire distance from Little mountain to Verdemont. The majority of the trees are still living and reaching favorable hight. Wartime maneuvers over part of the area destroyed some of the trees however. There was talk about replanting and extending the palm lined lane along Cajon Blvd. in Devore."
The late Sun columnist, Earl Buie, mentioned in one of his columns in 1965, that a few of the palms were still around.
Although the highway has long since lost its "Business Route 66" designation, Kendall Drive is still well used today…and if you look carefully, you might even spot one of those Victoria Palm trees too.