A look back at Lemon Grove, 53 years ago this week.
St. John of the Cross Dedication: On Feb. 22, 1959, Lemon Grove's newest church, the 182-foot long St. John of the Cross on Broadway at Washington Street, was dedicated at a standing-room-only ceremony conducted by Bishop Francis Buddy of the San Diego Diocese and Msgr. John O'Donagh of the parish. Construction of the Spanish Mission Revival style church began a year earlier and the first Mass was held at midnight on Christmas Eve 1958.
Serving 1,500 families and seating 1,100, the church featured the now-famous nine-foot statue of Christ sculpted of blanco tarrara in Italy and set on a six-foot-high pedestal. The church interior featured 70 pews, flooring and screens of Appalachian red oak, an altar of Italian rosetta marble, Tuscany rose marble, and Egyptian black and gold marble, a “crying room" for mothers and babies, an invalids' chapel equipped with hearing aids, four confessionals, and shrines to the Holy Family and St. John, the patron saint of the church.
Beautiful stained glass in the nave and baptistry cast glowing light, including 18 14-foot triple lancet windows and six-foot windows in the sacristy and choir room. The huge medallion over the front entrance contained eight smaller medallions featuring musical instruments used in the worship of God. Music has remained a central feature of the church from the beginning—the children and adult choirs are trained by Music Director Suzanne Kennedy, and there are numerous professional chamber and choral concerts throughout the year, and performances of musicals produced by Youth Director Steve Browne.
St. John's originated in 1939 as the Mission of Encanto. The first church was built in 1940 and is today the Knights of Columbus Hall. The church school was built in 1948 and, by 1959, had grown to some 700 students, K - 8. Today the school campus has been greatly expanded thanks to a capital campaign chaired by Finance Director Ilse Hanning.
This fall, the Lemon Grove Historical Society will mount an exhibition in the Parsonage Museum about the spectacular St. John of the Cross Rodeo and Horse Show (1941-1957) that made possible the building of the original school and contributed to the building of the new church. Drawing sellout crowds and such celebrities as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (Trigger came, too), the rodeo was nationally famous and was accompanied by a huge, outdoor barbecue.
Newsie's Bike Saga: Paperboy Gary "Red" Zwerneman, 11, North Avenue, was whipsawed by events between Christmas 1958 and February 1959 when an apparent guilt trip intervened.
On Dec. 22, Red parked his old bike outside the Grove Movie Theatre (Imperial at Lester) while attending the matinee and someone stole his chrome headlights. His widowed mother couldn't afford to buy new ones. But on Christmas Eve, Red won a 28-inch, red Columbia bike in a drawing sponsored by Lemon Grove Rexall Drugs. He began using the bike on his paper route and proudly rode it to Golden Avenue School after Christmas, where it was stolen.
Red reported the loss to the Sheriff and offered part of his paper route earnings, "no questions asked," to anyone who'd help him get his bike back. The intrepid newsie then stood on the corner of Main and Imperial with a sign explaining the deal.
Lo, within 48 hours the Sheriff reported a red Columbia bike parked outside the precinct. Red was reunited with his bike and hopefully lived happily ever after. And the crook? We'll never know who robbed the fatherless, 11-year-old breadwinner, but we'll accept that belated guilt trip any time.
Piggly Wiggly Pix Parade: Piggly Wiggly, 7825 Broadway, offered a "Kiddie Photo Parade" for 49 cents per portrait and extra prints at 25 cents apiece.
"Dress your children up and bring them in this weekend," urged the ad. "You'll love our Natural Color Photos. Limited to children under 12."
Aunt Jemima—Live: Lemon Grove Kiwanis sold tickets to its second annual pancake supper with this ad: "See Aunt Jemima IN PERSON! Come in and taste her DELICIOUS PANCAKES!" The live Aunt Jemima was probably Aylene Lewis, an actress hired from the mid-1950s into the late 1960s to portray the antebellum character at the newly launched Disneyland. Her personal appearances marketed the Jemima pancake and syrup brands, along with the Magic Kingdom.
Though Aunt Jemima is a throwback to a romanticized view of loyal slaves in the Old South, as well as a link to 19th century racist minstrel shows, the 1889 character actually lives on today, albeit in modernized form. The bandanna and chubby cheeks have given way to a soft hairdo, pearl earrings and a lace collar.
Promotional copy asserts, "The Aunt Jemima brand continues to stand for warmth, nourishment and trust—qualities you'll find in loving moms from diverse backgrounds who care for and want the very best for their families."
The Kiwanis pancake supper once held in the "junior high cafetorium" became the famous annual pancake breakfast in the middle school auditorium. The goals are the same: raise money to help community groups, kids and projects.
Future Growth: Lemon Grove and Spring Valley would need 560 acres for industry within 10 years or risk falling into economic decline, said Norman Lighthart of the Lemon Grove Chamber of Commerce at a lunch meeting of the local Men's Club in Michael's Pub.
Lighthart said one acre for every 125 residents should be allocated for industrial growth and that 100 industrial employees yielded an average of $330,000 in income to spend locally. He cited the federally supported highway "Beltline" project that would widen Sweetwater Road to four lanes to help spur industrial zoning.
"The trouble with the Board of Supervisors is they think about residential zoning when industrial zoning is what we need," said Lighthart.