“Education is part of our goals and tours are a great way to get people to hear more about Fullerton’s historic past,” said Ernie Kelsey, President of Fullerton Heritage, and Chair of the volunteer organization’s tour group. “What’s great about these tours is that they’re not only fun and give you exercise, but so many people learn about the City. It’s fun to go through and educate people about a building or an area or a historic event that happened that they didn’t know happened. People drive by these historic buildings every day, and they don’t know how historic they really are.”
Beginning at the Fullerton Museum Center, the downtown tours take people on a walk through the City’s history with photographs and visual aids to show what buildings looked like then and now. Their tours started in 1992. There was one led by docents, but pamphlets were also distributed so people could go on the walks themselves.
The group’s guided tours have been on a two-year hiatus due to COVID. However, on Saturday, April 2, they resumed. Fullerton Heritage offers both downtown walking tours and Hillcrest Park walking tours. They also do special request tours. In the past, they’ve done this for a Brownie troop, a Morningside group, and family reunions. Prior to the pandemic, five to six people typically attended the downtown walks. However, now that the organization has been advertising on Facebook and Instagram, they are seeing a higher turnout. On their April tour, ten people attended, even though twenty had reserved spots in advance.
Kelsey has been leading historic walking tours of downtown Fullerton for the last 16 years. He shadowed and eventually took over as tour chairman from Warren Bowen. Bowen was a Fullerton native and Fullerton Heritage board member for years. “He led the walking tours and had so much information and stories because he lived it,” Kelsey said. “He taught me that people care about what happened inside the buildings… He worked in the Icehouse and was even Mr. George Amerige’s driver. He had a wealth of knowledge that I still talk about on the tours today.”
Fullerton Heritage tries to offer the tours monthly, but they do skip the summer because of the heat. Kelsey leads people on a big loop around the downtown district. The group moves from the Museum Center to the train station, where they talk about how Fullerton was founded. Making their way up Harbor Boulevard, they stop along the way to talk about the Rialto Theatre, the Chapman Building, and the California Hotel. They follow the street until they reach the area where the Springfield Banquet Hall Building and the Fox Fullerton are located. The tour group then walks to Fullerton High School, stepping through all four historic buildings on the campus. While there, they talk about Charles Kassler’s mural on the side of the auditorium. Afterward, they arrive back at the Museum Center where they started.
“It’s about two to two hours and 15 minutes depending on questions and the group we have. It’s a very fun and informative tour; flat and pretty easy to walk,” Kelsey said.
As a tour guide, Kelsey has a few favorite stops along the way. He really enjoys talking about the train station, the Rialto Theatre, and Fullerton High School. “My personal favorite stops are the train station and the Fullerton Transportation Center because so much of our City history is tied to the railroad,” he said. “At this stop you get to talk about the town’s founding with the Santa Fe Depot, our agricultural past with the Union Pacific Depot (Old Spaghetti Factory), and local transportation with the Pacific Red Car (Hopscotch).”
Kelsey also really likes the Rialto Theater stop because people are always surprised that it was a silent movie theater. He also enjoys visiting his alma matter, Fullerton Union High School. “It’s fun to walk the halls and end up talking about the Fullerton Auditorium and the Kassler Mural on the east side, he said. “The mural wasn’t uncovered when I was there so it’s fun to be able to talk about it. Like I said, every stop is interesting because there’s so much history in our downtown.”
Fullerton Heritage’s next historic walking tour will be happening at Hillcrest Park on April 30 at 9:00am. They start and meet at the stairs located in the parking lot at Lemon and Valley View. The Hillcrest tour teaches people about how the park was created by the city of Fullerton. They walk up and down the hills, including some stairs, bringing guests to the WWI Memorial, the Isaac Walton house, and showing them all the upgrades the City has done to the park.
Admission for all guided walking tours is $5 for the public and free for Fullerton Heritage Members. Visit the Fullerton Heritage Facebook page to find the latest tour schedule. To request a tour or make a reservation, you can call their hotline at (714) 740-3051 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.