Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

A bank robbery, a jail cell, and Perry Mason's creator - History comes to life in Old Town Temecula

Lucette Moramarco

Gunshots rang out as the bank manager and a rancher chased after two bank robbers trying to make their get-away in a yellow Model A Ford. The rancher was driving a 1930 Buick which quickly caught up to the robbers who had just stolen $1200 from the First National Bank of Temecula. This happened on August 14, 1930, but for a group of students from Mary Fay Pendleton School, the story was just as exciting as if it had happened yesterday.

Last week, I accompanied the students on a field trip to the Temecula Valley Museum, which included a walking tour of Old Town Temecula. On the tour, Docent Jim Ott brought history to life, telling us what happened that morning almost 80 years ago when a ranch hand named Miguel Diaz walked into the bank with a gun, only to be greeted by name by Agnes Freeman, the clerk. (Her father was foreman of the ranch where Diaz worked.) He went ahead with the robbery but stopped two miles down the road when he ran out of bullets.

Mr. Diaz spent a few days in the Temecula jail before being sent to prison for three years.

The jail still stands, not far from the bank (the restaurant that now occupies the former bank’s building on the corner of Main and Front streets). A favorite stop for the third, fourth and fifth graders, the one-room jail with 18-inch thick granite walls can be found in the Old Jail Courtyard off of Main Street along with small gift and jewelry shops.

The Temecula Valley Historical Society’s tour guide brochure is available at the museum for anyone who wants to take a self-guided tour of the other historic buildings in Old Town Temecula. For groups of any age, arrangements can be made with the museum for a docent led tour. There is no charge, but donations are appreciated.

The museum offers a detailed history of Temecula from the days of Indian settlements to Spanish mission lands, from Mexican land grants to the planned community of Rancho California. The docents are very knowledgeable and can explain the stories behind the objects, from the flags that have flown over our state to the stones used by the Indians, from the tools used by cattle ranchers to two off-road vehicles designed by one of Temecula’s most famous citizens, writer Erle Stanley Gardner.

Many of Gardner’s Perry Mason books, later adapted for movies, radio and television, were written at his Rancho Del Paisano where he lived from 1937 until his death in 1970. One museum exhibit is a replica of his Temecula office, while two off-road vehicles that he designed can be seen in the lobby.

The upstairs area of the museum includes an interactive section for kids, with period dress-up clothes and a life-size horse for them to climb, which added another dimension to their history lesson.

Another area for kids is the playground out in front of the museum where there are also picnic tables, all part of Sam Hicks Park where the museum is located. For families who like educational outings, a trip to the Temecula Valley Museum is a fun and inexpensive way to spend the day.

Temecula Valley Museum

28314 Mercedes Street

Temecula, CA 92590

(951) 694-6450

Hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m .; Sundays are 1 to 5 p.m.

To schedule a tour, call (951) 694-6452.

For more information on the museum, visit http://www.cityoftemecula.org/temecula/History and for more on the area’s history, visit http://www.temeculahistoricalsociety.org/index.html.

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