A look back at Lemon Grove, 55 years ago this week.
Come Fly With Me: The 12th Annual All-Woman Transcontinental Air Races, also known as the Powder Puff Derby, included three pilots from Lemon Grove— Mrs. Roy Davis, a housewife, Mrs. R. Sanders, a secretary, and Mrs. Isabelle McCrae, a nurse. The women took off from Montgomery Field on a 2,200-mile course ending in Charleston, S.C.
Nearly 100 women (most of them "ordinary housewives") in 50 aircraft spent up to four days on the flight after taking off 10 seconds apart. Each competed against a "par speed" handicap and the winner was the pilot who got the best performance out of her aircraft. There were optional stops at Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, Midland, Abilene, Tyler, Jackson and Montgomery. But Macon was a mandatory stop where the pilot signed an official log book.
By the way, Isabelle McCrae won the derby in 1954 and 1955 in her Bonanza Beechcraft. With her brother, Donald Garrett, also a pilot, she ran The Chateau, Lemon Grove's first and very beautiful nursing home.
The Powder Puff Derby was launched in 1929 in Cleveland when 20 women competed, among them Amelia Earhart and the winner, Louise Thaden. After World War II it was named briefly for Jacqueline Cochran, the famed flying ace and the first woman to fly a B-52 bomber from the U.S. to Britain. The slightly demeaning "powder puff" reference belied the guts and skill of women who earned their wings just like men and flew wartime spy missions, war supplies, Flying Samaritan medical drops into Mexico and Central America, postal deliveries and more. The last race was 1977 when air traffic congestion and shrinking corporate sponsorship killed off a competition that thousands of women loved.
It's been 100 years since women first earned their flight licenses, though a French opera singer, Marie Elisabeth Thible, was actually the first woman to fly—in a balloon in 1784. Watching her from the ground was founding father Thomas Jefferson, then a diplomat to the court of Louis XVI. Today, thousands of women continue to train as pilots, though precious few have been hired as commercial pilots. Hey, Federal Aviation Administration, time to exit the Pleistocene.
No Fly Zone: Andrew Jensen, 77, the town's legendary bird fancier, suffered a major loss when his uninsured house at 8225 Adams Street burned down and with it several aviaries. Miraculously, his diverse birds survived, among them, emus, ostriches, parakeets, ducks, geese, chickens, parrots, canaries, cockatoos, pheasants and peacocks.
The native of Hamburg, Germany, had settled in Lemon Grove in 1922 to become adored by kids and adults alike for his birding skills, gentle humor and ability to mediate local disputes. According to local youngsters, what "Mr. Jensen says ..." became law.
After the fire, Jensen lived in a trailer on his "little acre of paradise," but had to sell off possessions and some property to pay for the rebuild. Neighbors raised $150 to buy furniture. Just after Thanksgiving, 1957, he moved back into his new cottage amid cheers and applause, and tables laden with lemon cake and coffee.
Over the Top: Dr. Simon Brumbaugh, noted local physician and president of Lemon Grove Kiwanis, donated the money that sent the town's United Fund Drive into the stratosphere with $2,308, the largest in East County. Dr. Brumbaugh, who delivered countless babies—many still living in the area and with grandchildren of their own—also co-founded the Lemon Grove Medical Group, once a powerhouse with 18 physicians. Today, the building houses our City Hall and Sheriff's Substation, 3232 Main Street.
Sky's the Limit: Some lucky local family stood to win $500 in silver dollars contributed by Lemon Grove merchants to promote Christmas shopping in the Big Lemon. There was nothing to buy and nothing to guess. Just fill in a coupon with your name and address and wait for the news on Dec. 23. If you lost, there were consolation prizes—turkeys, hams, jewelry, watches, even a pair of blue suede shoes, a white sport coat, and a pink carnation. Whoa!
Stairway to the Stars: Jerry Goodman, 41, Central Avenue, was a leading research scientist with the Pacific Air Force's "Operation Suntan" and a discoverer of a powerful new sun ray that could power space vehicles. Goodman announced the breakthrough at the Worldwide Air Force Radar Evaluation Conference at Ogden, Utah.
"This may well be a stairway to the stars," said Goodman. "Though the sun ray is detectable only by radar, it has tremendous force and places us close to converting electromagnetic rays into power just as Einstein forecast in his Theory of Relativity."
In 1955, Goodman's research team picked up interference while working on Okinawa on the use of radar to predict hurricanes and tsunamis. They realized that they had isolated a heretofore unknown sun ray. Their next goal was to determine the ray's impact on humans and space craft.
Mom's Hollywood Walk of Fame: The Grove Theatre's ad in the Lemon Grove Review was a major come-on to stressed mothers:
"MOM! Do you want your young 'uns out of the way while you prepare that Thanksgiving Dinner? Here's your solution! Send all the kids, any age, to this theatre starting at 9 a.m. continuous, where they'll be entertained until it's time for dinner. They'll love it—and you'll enjoy it"
The triple bill for moppets (at 25 cents apiece) was "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein," "Walt Disney's Thanksgiving Day Mirthquakes" and "King of the Khyber Rifles."
The first kid-pleaser pitted Bud Abbott and Lou Costello against Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man all played by Lon Chaney, Jr. in full mufti (fangs, huge square head, fur).
The second was a "laugh riot cartoon attraction" starring every single Disney character—Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto and the gang. Today, you can buy the movie poster online for $9.99 (framed, $49.99).
The third starred Tyrone Power as a British officer (but, secretly, a half-caste Muslim Indian) who spoke Pashtun and wielded an expert rifle against evil Muslim forces led by fanatic rebel Karram Khan. After endless shoot-outs in the Khyber Pass, Tyrone got the girl and a promotion, and the kids got to go home and eat turkey.
As a post dinner treat for the grown-ups, the Grove offered Victor Mature and Susan Hayward in "Demetrius and the Gladiators," a sword-and-sandals melodrama hailed as "It begins where 'The Robe' left off!"
We'll spare you the unbelievably convoluted plot, dear readers, save only to note that Hayward delivered another tour de force as a psychotic Roman hedonist while Mature did his moist-eyed, who-do-you-think-I-am hero single-handedly fending off lions, Praetorian guards and other gladiators. After a day over a hot stove, Mom and Dad undoubtedly enjoyed this escape into the wilds of ancient Rome.
And so it went at the onset of the holiday season in the Big Lemon in 1957 when the stars came out all over town.