Glen Bell, founder of the Taco Bell fast-food chain and a man who once had big plans for a Tuolumne theme park, died Sunday at his Rancho Santa Fe home in Southern California. He was 86.
Bell is remembered by locals who knew him during his work on the park in the 1970s as a man who loved trains and the history of the West, but, most of all, wanted to make people happy.
"He was very interested in the history of things, but it seemed to me
his main interest was having a place where people could recreate," said
Fred Boutin, a retired botanist who worked on Bell's landscape designs
for the park. "It was apparent how much he enjoyed seeing people have
Bell's park in Tuolumne came together for a brief time in the
1970s. It featured boat rides, train tours and, naturally, a Mexican
restaurant - though not a Taco Bell. However, Bell's full vision for
the Westside & Cherry Valley Railway theme park never came to be.
As planned, the theme park - centered around Tuolumne's logging and
railroad history - would have sat on 340 acres once owned by the
Westside Lumber Co. and would have featured several museums, various
exhibits, a recreation complex and resort areas.
Around 500 employees were expected to cater to the 1 million annual
visitors to the park by the time it was in full swing in 1990.
But it wasn't to be. Around the same time Bell was finished with
tacos - in 1978, when he sold Taco Bell to PepsiCo for $125 million -
he pulled out of Tuolumne, selling the West Side property, in which he
had invested $10 million, for $2.5 million.
The West Side property is now set to become a housing development
designed by the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, whose nearby Black Oak
Casino draws the kind of numbers Bell dreamed about.
Boutin, who still sees his landscaping handiwork when he drives by
the West Side property, thinks Bell could have made Westside &
Cherry Valley Railway theme park work if the multi-millionaire only
would have treated it like a business and not a hobby.
"It was disappointing that it all came to nothing," he said. "It was painful to see it disappear. But it was fun."
Boutin originally came to Tuolumne County from Pasadena to take a
job offered by Bell. He fell in love with the area and stayed after
Bell attempted to create other theme parks in Southern California
and Florida, but none ever mirrored the success of his fast-food
Bell launched his first restaurant, called Bell's Drive-In, in 1948
in San Bernardino after seeing the success of McDonald's. His
restaurant sought to take advantage of sprawling Southern California's
car culture by serving hamburgers and hot dogs through drive-in windows.
The World War II veteran next helped establish Taco Tia in Los
Angeles, El Taco in the Long Beach area, and Der Wienerschnitzel, a
national hot dog chain.
Bell launched Taco Bell in 1962 in Downey after cutting ties with
his business partners. He quickly expanded around Los Angeles.
He sold the first Taco Bell franchise in 1964. In 1978, Bell sold his 868 Taco Bell restaurants to PepsiCo.
Taco Bell is now owned by Yum! Brands and is the largest Mexican
fast-food chain in the United States, serving more than 36.8 million
consumers each week in more than 5,600 locations nationally.
Bell is survived by his wife, Martha, three sisters, two sons and four grandchildren.