La Verne Magazine
Summer 2003

Walker House Captures San Dimas’ Past

by Taylor Kingsbury

Late in the 19th century, the completion of the transcontinental Santa Fe Railway sparked a brief area land boom. A great hotel was constructed in 1887, intended to serve prospective buyers of San Jose Ranch Company land (now San Dimas). The bed and breakfast was designed to provide an opulent glimpse of the region’s expected future prosperity. But the travelers never came. The economic flurry disintegrated, and the 13,200 square foot hotel never housed a single paying guest in any of its 30 rooms. The statuesque estate was first purchased for private residence in 1889 by James and Sue Walker, who acquired the First Street and San Dimas Avenue hotel and 40 surrounding acres. Their home remains a central point of interest in the community, while their 40 acres has become part of the prosperous western-themed city of San Dimas. The San Dimas Sheriffs Station rests on land once occupied by the Walker’s barn, and downtown businesses thrive in an area that was once vast citrus groves. Six generations of Walker descendents lived in the Mansion from 1889 to 1978, when the property was leased to Don Wilcott, who dubbed the Walker House the San Dimas Mansion for his business venture, though the restaurant was named the Mansion Inn. Wilcott opened the home to the public as an elegant formal dining facility, which operated until the mid-1980s. One selling point of the restaurant was its addition to the National Register of Historic Places. The restaurant was a success, if only briefly, and served meals to luminaries such as John Wayne and Richard Nixon.

After Wilcott terminated his lease, the Carruthers family trust (Walker family descendents) maintained ownership of the Mansion. For several years, it was leased out for private functions. In early 1998, it was put up for sale; the following year, a three year lease-purchase agreement was forged with the San Dimas Festival of Western Arts, which began preparations for the conversion of the site to facilitate the San Dimas Western Arts and Learning Center. In 2000, the San Dimas City Council voted to assign the lease to the city of San Dimas, while the Festival retained responsibility for organizing funds to manage the upkeep of the vast property. Though the city was now spending a great deal of money to finance the building, it remained largely unused. Most San Dimas residents’ only contact with the house was during the annual Western Days celebration, where the porch of the Mansion functioned as an information center. In November 2000, the city officially purchased the Mansion from the Carruthers family trust and has plotted repairs and possible usage since then. It remains closed to the public.