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Heritage Snapshot: Part 144

By Richard Schaefer
Community Writer
2015-01-22 at 23:16:12
In 1964, Loma Linda University’s Advisory Board of Councilors adopted a project to construct a gymnasium-auditorium. A year later, they had developed plans featuring a geodesic dome roof design, a platform for various performances, and a seating capacity of 2,800. The gymnasium section would include showers, lockers and space for physical training. The pentagon-shaped building accommodated a basketball court or two volleyball courts, hardwood flooring and folding bleacher seats on the sides. A three-sided balcony comprised the second level. On June 30, 1966, Mr. Dale Gentry, a wealthy San Bernardino entrepreneur and former president of the National Orange Show, donated in trust to Loma Linda University the California Hotel, on the north-west corner of Fifth and E streets in San Bernardino, which he had owned since 1939. The next day, as planned, the University sold the hotel to Mr. Stephen P. Rehwald, another San Bernardino businessman and an old friend of Dale Gentry. The University used the money ($300,000), and with additional financial support from the Loma Linda University Councilors, built and equipped the Dale Gentry Gymnasium. J. Dale Gentry was born April 12, 1884 in Sedalia, Missouri, and died at age 90 with a $3.5 million estate on May 20, 1974. He had owned San Bernardino’s first Ford dealership from 1911 to 1929. He was a left-handed, non-smoking, Republican teetotaler who never married. He became a very successful and wealthy man, even through the Great Depression. By 1922 Gentry’s Ford dealership was selling 1,200 cars a year. With 50 employees it was the second-largest employer in San Bernardino. The Santa Fe Railway was first. Later, Gentry installed a large walk-in safe in his office in the California Hotel to protect his diamond and coin collection, which included bags of gold and silver coins. Gentry was known as an individual—a one-of-a-kind character. During the early years of the hotel, Hollywood celebrities regarded San Bernardino as an adventurous outpost and liked to weekend at both the California Hotel and the Arrowhead Springs Hotel. Famous guests of the California Hotel included movie stars who traveled from Hollywood to attend their movie premiers across the street at the West Coast Theater. Guests included: Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Betty Davis, Death Valley Scotty, Betty Grable, Gorgeous George, Hilo Hattie, Bob Hope, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Dorothy Lamour, Giselle McKinzie, Roy Rogers, Will Rogers, the Sons of the Pioneers, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, Mae West, Edmond G. “Pat” Brown, Goodwin Knight, Earl Warren, General George Patton, Vice-president Richard M. Nixon, and Adlaid Stevenson. A groundbreaking ceremony for the gymnasium was scheduled for Sept. 27, 1966. On Nov. 1, 1966, Mr. Dale Gentry received double honors from Loma Linda University. At a noon meeting of the President’s Committee, when Administration announced that the largest aluminum geodesic dome gymnasium in the United States would be named in his honor, they also named Gentry “University Associate.” In 1968, the Dale Gentry Auditorium and Gymnasium opened under a shining aluminum geodesic dome on the north side of Stewart Street, near today’s Centennial Complex. Loma Linda University built six new tennis courts west of Gentry to replace those removed for the gymnasium’s construction. Loma Linda University School of Dentistry promptly scheduled the new facility to be used for its Alumni-Student Convention, March 7 through 9, 1968. Over the years, Gentry Gymnasium accommodated athletic events, concerts, and annual post-graduate conventions. It became a sanctuary when the University Church was being refurbished. It even served as a refugee center for local flood victims in 1969 and for Vietnamese Seventh-day Adventists following the fall of Saigon. Then, the swimming-pool question arose once more (1983). The institution’s Board of Trustees voted to replace the outdated, inadequate pool. It was, after all, 53 years old. The $350,000 project would include heating and filtering equipment along with dressing rooms. By August, however, a familiar problem arose. Construction estimates had escalated, and the Board put the project on hold as they tried to balance future budgets. Condemned as “deplorable,” the old, 1929 pool had to be closed (October, 1983). The Board debated about what to do. On one hand, the projected a $1 million cost of building a new facility on the existing site would appear to be inconsistent with the cuts that were being made in other areas of the University due to lack of funding. On the other hand, some observed, the facility might attract both students and faculty to the campus. Renovating the existing facility was deemed to be unreasonable. Finally, the Board decided to authorize Administration to proceed with the preparation of plans and fund raising, but to defer a final decision until January 1984. Although the Board voted to authorize construction of a new swimming pool on the site of the old pool, a new idea dominated the campus scene. Before the project could be started, the Budget, Finance and Planning Committee recommended that the new swimming pool become Phase 1 of a plan to relocate the University’s recreational facilities altogether. In the late spring of 1984, the Board voted that the project should proceed. Besides including parking for 50 cars, the recreational facilities would include a walking and running track, tennis courts, playing fields and a gymnasium. The chosen site? A 26-acre parcel adjacent to the railroad right-of-way, East of Anderson Street. Two years later, the Board voted to include a student center. First a University-wide building moratorium would have to be lifted. Within another five years, the proposed facility had acquired a name, “The Recreation and Wellness Center.” The University invited five architectural firms to submit proposals. By September, the project had been divided into two phases. Phase I would cost $4.5 million and Phase II, $8 million. Meanwhile, groups met in a series of workshops to study conceptual site plans, building plans, budget estimates, and a schedule for construction.

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