Arrowhead Springs Hotels

By Nicholas R. Cataldo

(Photographs Courtesy of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society)

Everyone has seen the Arrowhead. You know, that amazing phenomenon seemingly branded onto the mountainside north of San Bernardino.

Mountainside of San Bernardino Featuring the San Bernardino Arrowhead

The Arrowhead is host to a number of Indian legends. One story tells of a flaming arrow leading the Native Americans into the valley. Others claim that the unique formation represented battles between good and evil, or showed the way to good hunting grounds and to therapeutic springs.

And speaking of springs, this landmark points directly to an area of hot water bubbling up from under ground ... indications of its proximity to the San Andreas Fault.

The possible health nourishing benefits of Arrowhead Springs were well known to Spanish missionaries visiting the valley. In writing to a fellow padre in 1820, Father Zalvidea mentioned: "Father Joaquin (Nuez) continues troubled with his diseases, and today, (Sunday) he was not able to say Holy Mass. He is thinking of going in a short time to the Sierras in order to take the baths of Agua Caliente; he will stay there at least 15 days."

Agua Caliente, meaning hot water, was the name given by the padres to the northern section of Rancho San Bernardino adjacent to Arrowhead Springs.

The Mormon families who arrived from Salt Lake and started up the colony of San Bernardino built a logging road up Hot Springs Canyon (now known as Waterman Canyon) to the mountain crest in 1852. While passing just west of the springs on the way up to the timber country, some of them undoubtedly wandered over to try out the baths.

David Noble Smith
(David Noble Smith)

It was David Noble Smith who first came up with the idea of converting the springs into a health spa. Traumatized by the death of his father and other family members from "consumption" (as T.B. was known as in those days), he developed a burning desire to become a healer. On one of his prospecting trips after arriving in California in 1857, Smith stumbled upon the hot springs and vowed that one day a spa would set on those grounds. And that's just what happened in 1864.
Dr. Smith and  John Brown, Sr.
(1864 photo of Dr. Smith, on the left, and standing behind the old Mormon
Monument is John Brown, Sr., who helped Smith develop the springs.), who helped Smith develop the springs.)

Arrowhead Springs Hygienic Infirmary
(Arrowhead Springs Hygienic Infirmary)

Dr. Smith (his M.D. was self-appointed) started using the natural hot mineral water to treat people with various illnesses inside his "treatment house." The original wooden buildings which made up his crude complex were enlarged into a hotel in 1868.

Arrowhead Springs Hotel No. 1 1868 - 1885
(First Arrowhead Springs Hotel - David Smith, 1868 - 1885)

During his twenty one years helping (or at least attempted to cure) sufferers with "Consumption, Dropsey, and other incurable diseases", Smith never used the Arrowhead moniker until just before his death in 1885. He preferred calling his enterprise the "Hot Springs Infirmary" or "smith's Hygienic Sanitarium."

Despite his efforts, Smith's venture was a financial failure. In 1883, Smith decided to lease it to Messrs. Darby and Lyman of Los Angeles. Darby and Lyman put a new roof on the two story structure and added an ornate veranda around the entire exterior. At this time, Darby and Lyman also removed the one story "Treatment House". Wanting a larger facility, they were still dissatisfied with the results, but it was all they could do since Smith still held the title to the property. That was resolved, when Smith died March 17, 1885. "Conveniently", the hotel burned down 3 days later.

Arrowhead Springs Hotel No. 2 1885 - 1895
(Arrowhead Springs Hotel No. 2, built by Darby and Lyman, 1885 - 1895)

Darby and Lyman incorporated and formed the Arrowhead Hot Springs Company. In 1886 the hotel was rebuilt by for $150,000. Eventually a wing was added to each side, bringing the total number of rooms to 120. Arrowhead Springs Hotel became the largest hostelry in the San Bernardino area. But it only lasted until 1895 when it was destroyed by fire during a 4th of July celebration.

Arrowhead Springs Hotel No. 3 1905 - 1938
(Arrowhead Springs Hotel No. 3, built by Seth Marshall, 1905 - 1938)

The third Arrowhead Springs Hotel was built in 1905. Bought by a Hollywood Consortium in 1930 and promoted as a luxury resort, the hotel soon became the hangout for big name celebrities like Loretta Young, Mary Pickford, Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart. Sadly, the "Golden Era" of Arrowhead Springs was short-lived. A forest fire destroyed it in November of 1938.

Present Day Arrowhead Springs Hotel
(Present Day Hotel - Built in 1939.
Purchased by Campus Crusade for Christ in 1962.)

At a cost of $ 1.5 million, a new, luxurious, six-story Arrowhead Springs Hotel opened in December of 1939. Judy Garland, Al Jolson, and Rudy Vallee were among those featured the all-star grand opening. The Hollywood Crowd was back ... but not for long.

World War II arrived and that was the end of Arrowhead Springs as a luxury resort. The hotel was taken over by the military and used as a naval hospital in 1944. Over 6,000 Navy battle casualties received treatment there over the next two years. After the war, attempts to bring back the rich and famous to Arrowhead Springs fell on deaf ears. The one time "Hoity Toity" hot spot was no longer considered the place to be as great advances in air travel made it easy for traveling to places like Mexico and Hawaii.

Arrowhead Springs Hotel Entrance in 1960
(Arrowhead Springs Hotel Entrance in 1960)

Several attempts were made to restore the hotel's one time popularity--Elizabeth Taylor spent her honeymoon with Nicky Hilton on the 6th floor--but each suffered financial loss.

A new era for the hotel started in 1962 with the purchase by Dr. William R. Bright, founder of Campus Crusade For Christ. Arrowhead Springs came back to life as the international headquarters for the Christian organization. This went on for the next three decades until Bright decided to relocate to its main offices to Orlando, Florida in 1991. Campus Crusade continued to use the property as its conference center until 1999.

Today, grandiose plans for Arrowhead Springs are in the making. At the present time the area is currently closed to the public and will remain so until negotiations with a new owner are completed.