A look back at Lemon Grove, 63 years ago this week.
New Bank in Town: It was also the first bank in town. Universal rejoicing greeted First National Trust & Savings Bank, 7769 Broadway, next to the post office (when it stood near modern-day Mario's Family Clothing). For the first time ever, Grovians could bank in their own town and not have to journey to foreign lands like La Mesa and El Cajon. So great was the excitement that nearly every business in town ran a welcoming ad in the Lemon Grove Review.
The three-hour dedication party drew more than 2,000 people, who thronged the bank, spilled out onto the sidewalk, and devoured lemon doughnuts, lemon cookies, lemon layer cake and lemonade. Some 300 youngsters received comic books, "Peter Penny and His Magic Dollar," while war bonds were won by Hubert Miller of Miller Dairy fame, Carol Winkles of the Carol Ann Shop, and Mrs. I. Martin, whose back-in-the-day address was R.F.D. 1, Lemon Grove.
Lemon Grove postmistress Charlotte Nicolson, retiring after 32 years with the local post office, was hailed by bank president Frank Belcher with a toast and a first-day certificate. She had started as a clerk in 1917 when the post office was a small space at the back of Sonka Brothers' General Store (today, Grove Pastry Shop) and Tony Sonka was still the first postmaster.
The new bank was the last word in modernity: air-conditioned, paneled in birch and painted a "soft, calming green," lit with anti-glare fluorescent lights, with the new-fangled acoustical tile overhead and asphalt "noise-free" floor tile underfoot, furnished with comfortable chairs in "distinguished hardwoods and sophisticated fabrics," and offering an array of banking services.
Branch manager Jack Koop extolled the 200 safe-deposit boxes, wills and trusts service, commercial and individual savings and checking accounts, escrow service, money orders, foreign exchange, commercial, home and auto loans, and investment counseling.
Partygoers could open accounts on the spot and many did. By the close of business at 3 p.m. the next day, nearly 800 people had opened accounts.
Big Labor in Town: Mrs. and Mrs. van Gilse, owners of the Grove Theatre, were fed up. In their mom 'n pop operation, he ran the film projector and she ran the ticket booth and snack bar—only now a Projectionists' Union picket was marching outside the theater, prompting the couple to run this touching editorial in the Lemon Grove Review:
“We have employed a Union Operator for two years and told the Union at the expiration date of the two-year contract that we just couldn't continue to operate the Theatre at a loss during the mid-week days and it would be necessary for the owner to operate the projection equipment on the mid-week and that they, the Union, could have the time on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“This they rejected as well as my right to operate my own equipment in my own theater at any time, mid-week or otherwise. They suggested I close mid-week and open only on weekends. This I refused to do!
“We invite you, good citizens, to drop by and see for yourselves. If it is wrong for a man and wife to place their shoulders to the wheel and operate their own business without the help of Union or Non-Union help, then we are certainly wrong. We are employing no one where we once had Union help, so how could we be Unfair to Organized Labor?”
We think big labor should have compromised with the beleaguered couple, especially since they offered the union a three-day weekend. But what do we know.
Anyway, as everyone knows, the Ace Drive-In was getting ready to open its huge lot and would be an all-union venue, with the AFL-CIO's Billy Danielson in the projection booth for the next 30 years. Billy died this year after living happily in his Church Street home in the Grove since the 1950s.
Non-Union Water Line in Town: How's this for volunteer labor? Ten Lemon Grove pioneers, with names like Denlinger, Casteel, Sonka, Domke, Cass and Ferguson, spent 54 weekend hours laying the water line from the Lemon Grove Grammar School to the site of the new Community Center on School Lane. They also set the forms in readiness for concrete pouring. Mrs. Randolph Morse placed 18 coin boxes in local shops, urging residents to donate and help defray the cost of the new center. Talk about a do-it-yourself town. Lemon Grove has relied on volunteers for decades.
And those pioneers? It was the Denlingers who donated the land for Lemon Grove Park on Washington Street; George Casteel ran water lines along Central Avenue in WW I; Tony Sonka and family ran the general store, extended interest-free loans to local families during the Great Depression, and bought the first school bus; and Fred Ferguson was a local horse breeder, who taught kids how to ride in the St. John of the Cross rodeo and starred with William S. Hart in silent cowboy movies. They all had plumbing skills going back to the days of the water flume and the earliest orchards in town in the late 19th century.
Silver Screen in Town: If you brought your "Review" coupon, you got a free movie pass to the Grove Theatre with one paid admission, plus 8 cents federal tax. The Friday-Saturday double bill featured Lash La Rue and Fuzzy St. John in "Border Feud," and Dan Dailey and Celeste Holm in "Chicken Every Sunday."
Or, you could hold out for Sunday-Monday, when Hedy Lamarr and Robert Cummings in "Let's Live a Little" were teamed with Gallant Bess the Wonder Horse in "The Adventures of Gallant Bess."
The aptly named Lash La Rue (1921-1996), in a lengthy movie and publishing career, developed special skill with a bull whip. He taught Harrison Ford how to wield that mean whip in "Indiana Jones."
The long bearded Fuzzy St. John (1893-1963) starred in silent and talkie cowboy movies from 1912 to 1952. He originated the goony sidekick character and was often paired with Lash La Rue, who played heroes.