‘Blasts Of The Pasts’ is a series of articles brought to you by the Inland Empire Musicians Hall of Fame (IEMHOF), a group that documents and recognizes the musical tapestry of the Inland Empire. The IEMHOF hopes to preserve the musical history of the IE by building an archive of recordings, photographs, and memorabilia that begins with the 1940’s, a collection which would be accessible by any musician and researcher.
Hollywood had the Whisky. San Francisco had the Fillmore. San Bernardino had the Swing Auditorium. Not as famous as the first two, the Ralph Swing Auditorium provided a venue that could hold 7,000 people and attract famous, near famous and not so famous groups.
If you were a teen in the 60’s and 70’s you may have fond memories of this landmark building. Today, some Inland residents look back and can’t believe they missed so many opportunities to see great musical acts that appeared on stage there.
Ralph Swing was a native son of San Bernardino who practiced law before becoming one of California’s most influential state senators. He was also one of the local citrus industry’s biggest boosters. He helped found the National Orange Show and later served as manager and board president. Swing Auditorium would be located on the National Orange Show grounds in San Bernardino. Mr. Swing was a leader in establishing the Metropolitan Water District which made the dynamic growth of Southern California possible.
In 1949, the construction of Swing Auditorium was completed. It was the center-piece of the National Orange Show that featured citrus exhibits from nearby communities, and all the other activities that go along with a county fair. I am sure there are many seniors in the area that still remember the fun-zone rides when their heart could take it.
Bob Lewis, a local promoter, brought in many acts for the entertainment of the Inland Empire. Failing to book the Beatles in 1964, instead brought in the Rolling Stones, for their 1st American appearance for $5.00 admission.
Other Rock acts to appear at the Swing were Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Dead, Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, The Supremes and Fontana’s own Sammy Hagar. If you were a hot act, you played the Swing. These shows often gave young local acts their first chance to appear before a large audience. Often promoted by local radio stations, they often used talented local musicians to “open” for the more well known performers. These are the musicians that the Inland Empire Musicians’ Hall of Fame (IEMHOF) is trying to recognize, along with their more famous brethren.
Other famous acts would appear at the Swing, including Bob Hope, 13 years straight, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jack Benny, Louis Armstrong, along with the infamous Grammy Hall of Famers, the Harmonicats.
Things did not always go as planned at the Swing. There were several riots including one of a racial nature at the KFXM annual March of Dime Dance. It appears that the area was not ready to have Dick Dale and James Brown on the same card. Musician no-shows, and over bookings led to other problems. Still Swing Auditorium was the place to go to see great entertainment.
The Swing would take its final hit when a twin-engine Cessna crashed into the building in 1981. The pilot and his passenger both perished, along with the Grand Dame of San Bernardino Venues. It was never rebuilt, but for 32 years, it was the place to be both as a performer, and a fan, in the Inland Empire.
This article was written by Susan Parker. A former board member of IEMHOF, Sue is currently the FaceBook coordinator of the FB site. For glimpses of the IE music history please visit and sign-up for future developments at facebook.com/iemhof/.
The IEMHOF is working to become a not for profit entity. We do accept non-deductible donations. Contact Jim Sahlstedt @ firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Tax deductible donations can be made to the SBVCA for use by the Inland Empire Musicians Hall of Fame. Please note this in your contribution. Thanking you in advance for your support.