In the 1920s when the Inland Highway was still young, Hellers Bend was a series of S curves on the road along Ostrich Creek, threading its way through the hills.  Hellers Bend was bypassed in 1949 when South Mission Road was straightened by cutting through the hills. Hellers Bend Road is still there, serving as local access for residents on the West side of South Mission Rd between today’s Casa Estrella restaurant and Via Monserate to the south.

There was a myth circulated years ago that the road had been named for an elderly couple by the name of Heller, who in the 1930s drove off the road and were killed. This story cannot be confirmed. 

 The Fallbrook Historical Society wanted to identify this unfortunate couple to give them proper credit for the road named in their memory.  However, there is no record of anyone with the name of Heller interred in the Fallbrook cemeteries.  The next step was to check census records, but nobody with the name of Heller appears in the Fallbrook directories or U.S. Census from 1900 to 1930.    Perhaps the Hellers were just passing through.  Still, no listing could be found in any California cemetery for a Heller husband and wife, who both died in the 1930s. 

That led us to the newspapers.  It seems likely that the Fallbrook Enterprise newspaper would have reported a double fatality occurring so near the town, especially since the accident was notorious enough to get the road named after the victims.  Searching on the word Heller in the 1930s, several news reports of sensational accidents specifically mentioning Hellers Bend are found.  Each of these accidents are similar in that the vehicles went through the guardrail and almost, or actually did, go over the creek embankment.  Yet, none of these accidents had fatalities, and none of them involved anyone named Heller.

Going further back in time, a news clip on August 19, 1929 tells of a young man, with his girlfriend aboard, who skidded his motorcycle on soft sand on the road pavement and crashed into the rail posts at “Heller’s Bend”.  They were not too seriously hurt, but the fact that it was being called Hellers Bend in 1929, disproves the notion that it was so named in the 1930s.   A year earlier in 1928, a car of hunters from Los Angeles on their way to De Luz for a deer hunt went over the grade and about 20 feet down onto the rocks when the driver fell asleep while rounding one of the curves at “Hellers Turn”.  The hunters all walked away, but the Buick was a total wreck.  Once again, we see that the Heller name for this place was already established years before 1930.   In 1924, this time it was 5 duck hunters from L.A, who are inconvenienced when their car crashed into a boulder that had fallen onto the road at “Heller’s Curve”.

Our answer to how Hellers Bend got its name is found in the first ever reported incident at this spot in an April 30, 1920 news clip involving one of Fallbrook’s leading citizens of the time.  Harry Smelser was a banker, a merchant, and a future judge. The newspaper reports that he “came very near going over the bluff and down into the creek Tuesday when the steering gear on his car broke as he was rounding the turn by the big Heller sign south of town.”  What is a Heller sign? 

References to Heller grocery stores somewhere outside of Fallbrook are occasionally found in 1920s editions of the Fallbrook Enterprise.  According to the San Diego History Center, Matt Heller founded Heller’s Stores in San Diego in 1892 and incorporated the business in 1916.  It became the first major grocery store chain in San Diego County.  Eventually, in the 1920s there were 42 Hellers grocery stores in the County.  The Heller family sold the stores in 1929 and the chain was absorbed by Safeway in 1931.[1]

Hellers Bend apparently got its name from a well-known nearby billboard advertising the Heller Stores.

Tom Frew,
FHS Historian

    [1] San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, The Journal of San Diego History, Mathias Heller the Cash Grocer, by Robert Forward, Fall 1986