A look back at Lemon Grove, 56 years ago this week:
Ride 'Em, Cowboy: Back when men were guys, women were gals, kids were tykes and horses were champs, come summer, most folks in Lemon Grove, and many from beyond its borders, beat a path to the hillside and field by the original St. John of the Cross Church on old Imperial Avenue (today Broadway) for the annual rodeo.
Every July from 1941 to 1957, Lemon Grove became the center of the rodeo universe with its famous Mission Rancho Horse Show, barbecue, fiesta and stage show. The dynamo priest, Msgr. Daniel O'Donoghue, had launched the huge event to raise funds to build both a parish school and the famous church you know so well on Broadway. He succeeded, then moved on to St. Martin of Tours in La Mesa, where he cut a swathe that Sherman would have envied.
In 1955, the church transferred rodeo management to the Junior and Senior Lemon Grove Chambers of Commerce, which agreed to keep raising money for the school and the church, as well as for the yearned-for public swimming pool (even now but a hazy dream), parking maintenance along the railroad track, and aid to the Business Women's Club for its landscape beautification projects.
In 1956, tickets were $1.25 general admission, and kids were 50 cents. For $2.20 you got box seats in the shade.
The lavish barbecue, masterminded by parish women, involved entire cows roasting for days in pits, then served with baked beans, homemade cole slaw and coffee for $1.25 or 65 cents for kids under 12. Barbecued beef sandwiches for 25 cents were served all day "to fill the void." A food bazaar offered soft drinks, pies, cakes and cookies "in case someone was still hungry."
"Liquid refreshment with plenty of ice to ward off the heated atmosphere" was code for beer and lots of it.
Handicapped patrons were transported in trucks. Piggly Wiggly Department Store donated a Ford full of groceries as a drawing. Local businesses underwrote the trophies. The Ace Drive-In Movie Theater donated overflow parking space. Governor Knight flew down from Sacramento to be parade marshall. Stunt rider Shari Smooch stood on her head on the saddle of a galloping Appaloosa. Jim Snodgrass leaped from horse to horse while downing a calf.
Men were encouraged to grow sideburns, mustaches and whiskers for rodeo week. "Smoothie Cards" were sold to the unwhiskered gentry for a nominal fee to excuse the bearer from being fined and/or jailed during the rodeo. "Jail" was a plywood box in which languished the clean-shaven sinner whilst his peers threw pies at him (not those baked by the parish ladies, we hope). No man was safe. Hugh "Bonanza" Maguire, head teller at U.S. National Bank, sported a goatee. Ollie "Two Gun" Martin, post office clerk, glued on mutton chops. Earl "Tex" Smart, lawyer, topped his befurred cheeks with a black Stetson.
English dressage events, children's competitions, bull-dogging and other Western events, Roman riding by the 11th U.S. Cavalry, and the big enchilada—Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Trigger—wowed the fans. Famed tenor Dennis Day, the Sons of the Pioneer, Buffalo Bill Cody, Jack Haley of "Wizard of Oz" fame (minus his tin suit) and other luminaries, as well as a cowgirl beauty contest and competitors from as far away as Kentucky and Virginia, made rodeo week in Lemon Grove the stuff of legend.
Coming This Fall: The Lemon Grove Historical Society will revisit those rodeo glory days in a special exhibit in the Parsonage Museum, starting in September. If you missed the 17-year run of the rodeo, you can thrill to sensational photographs, sound effects, artifacts and barbecue, and find out why local bronco rider Gerry Smith broke all records in "bone-rattling displays aboard the hurricane deck of the wild Brahma bull descended from the sacred cattle of India and able to gore the life out of anyone who attempts to ride them." The historical society is partnering with Lemon Grove's own Apollo Stables and the Coyote Canyon Wild Horse Preservation Project to convey the folklore and history of a Big Rodeo in a Small Town.
Let the games begin.
Dry as a Bone: The baking heat of the summer of 1956 prompted Helix Water Works to ration water. The aptly named Clarence Watters, district engineer, said it was the third driest period in local history with 14 inches less rainfall at Cuyamaca Lake. The driest year was 1933-34 at the height of the Great Depression when 18.42 inches of rain fell. In 1927-28 rainfall was 21.32 inches. Watters said runoff in 1956 was enough to supply the district with 32 days of water with the rest purchased from Colorado River supplies.
New Taps in Town: Nevertheless, 700 homes were planned for the Monterey Heights subdivision in Lemon Grove, every one of them to feature "modern kitchens and bathrooms" rife with running water. The development encompassed south central Lemon Grove into the Encanto neighborhood. Financier A.E. Watwood, an inmate of the influential Lemon Grove Men's Club and president of the Larwood Company, revealed to the club that a man could "sharpen up his teeth and make money without doing much work" if he bought land near a growing city (like Lemon Grove). Today, the pleasingly developed Larwood and Watwood Streets just off Canton Drive in the Monterey Heights area recall how sharp Mr. Watwood's choppers and judgment were.
Deals: In honor of Rodeo Week, Mayfair Supermarket, Broadway at Olive, offered a fifth of Kentucky bourbon for $3.69, a six-pack of Kold Brau beer for 83 cents, two pounds of plums for 25 cents, a giant box of 20 Mule Team Borax for 35 cents, KC Fluffy Baking Powder for 19 cents, and a two-pound loaf of Kraft Velveeta cheese for 76 cents..
The Del Mar Turf Club offered Lemon Grovians seats from $1.20 (tax included). Drew Motors, 7220 Broadway, urged Ford owners to trade in their old trucks for a new F-100 pickup at "prices too low to print." Fishermen made out like bandits if they bought 1,000 worms for $5 (they needed that many?) from Worm World of El Cajon.
Our favorite ad was the mysterious "Let us dress your poultry. HO9-4214." Were they garbed in Dior's New Look or were the attendants simply removing guts and pin feathers? Either way, in 1956 Lemon Grove had a chicken in every pot and chickens (and horses) in nearly every backyard.