A look back at Lemon Grove, 32 years ago this week.
Old Time Days Are Here Again: And they were terrific. Over April 25-26, “the way it was” showcased civic heritage with a 110-unit parade, a 20-booth craft fair, a Community Business Costume Contest, contra dancing, square dancing, clog dancing and round dancing, a taco eating contest, exhibits of artifacts and photographs by the Lemon Grove Historical Society, kids' bike decorating contest, kiddie costume contest, decorated horse contest, lemon pie eating contest, rollerskating derby, equestrian displays, majorette exhibition, and countless deals in local stores.
Parade meisters Bob Mastny and Dr. Sam Smith, abetted by the Lemon Grove Chamber of Commerce, decreed, “No political ads, never place marching bands behind horses and bring in plenty of clowns.”
They did all three, no mean feat, given that the entire City Council had just been re-elected, and there were five marching bands and roughly 300 horses.
The parade marshall was Leonard Klein, who had moved to town from New York in 1957 “because it was like heaven out here.” He ran Marder's Stationery on Broadway and his license plate was LG92045 (the former ZIP code). He was house manager for the Lemon Grove Players and on the board of the Chamber of Commerce.
Agnes Osgood, founder of the Lemon Grove Historical Society, provided original photographs of old-time Lemon Grove, Gene Powell of Lemon Grove Camera, 7848 Broadway, provided reproduction expertise, and 28 local businesses underwrote the “Old Time Days Special” supplement to the Review.
At 8 p.m. on Saturday, the Lemon Grove Players presented Dirty Work at the Crossroads in the junior high auditorium (general admission tickets, $3; kids, $1.50). The hilarious, three-act melodrama was produced by Estelle Lauer, directed by Michael McLeod, with musical numbers by Anona Bolieu, sets by Harold Berg and Bob Burns, costumes by Richard McEwen, and a cast and crew of Lemon Grovians ranging from children to senior citizens.
Dr. Amorita Treganza, the first Miss Lemon Grove (1928), was on hand to witness the crowning of Veralynn Kowasch, 17, Miss Lemon Grove 1980. The 1979 queen, Danielle LaGace, handed over her crown to the Mount Miguel High School junior, who won in a field of eight finalists. The Rotary Club sponsored the pageant and Filippi's Pizza Grotto sponsored the after-party.
Said Rotary president John Stenbeck, “I'm amazed at how much pizza these girls can eat and still look trim.”
Otis Selton, manager of Gibraltar Savings & Loan on College Avenue, won the Community Business Costume Contest with his Wyatt Earp cowboy duds replete with faux six shooter, badge and spurs.
Grove Pastry Shop offered lemon coconut cupcakes for 20 cents. Mason Feed, established in 1891 where the pastry shop is today, offered discounts on feed for “rabbits, horses, cows, and chickens”—the ranch animals of choice in town since 1890. Flakey's Donut House offered a dozen free donut holes with coupon. Gumbo's Liquor & Deli, 7826 Broadway, offered a half-off party tray with purchase of a super sandwich. Not to be outdone, Fiesta House Liquor, 8291 Broadway, offered a “Fiesta Torpedo” for $1.49, a 12-pack of Old Milwaukee for $2.89, and any magnum of champagne for $3.29.
They Saw It All: In 1980 there were still pioneer families in town who recalled Lemon Grove's earliest days. People like William Lindsay, 83, who said, “We moved here when I was 15 in 1912 when 400 people lived in town. Nearly everyone had an orchard. There were lemon trees everywhere you looked. There was a general store that sold everything you could imagine. The congregational church was the big thing in town. It was nondenominational and everyone went there, except for a few Catholics who had to go over to La Mesa for church. Even the boy scouts met in the church. There were parties, dances, April Fools Day events, just everything happened at the church.
“I remember the dentist in town by the name of Dr. C .L. Good. He had a habit of kidding my girlfriend about me. He would wait until she was in his chair and her mouth full of clamps and then start teasing her. But she got even. At a church party she presented Dr. Good with a big, chocolate covered caramel that was really a chunk of yellow Fels-Naptha soap. He took a big bite and started to chew on it. He spit it out when he started foaming at the mouth.”
Mrs. Lauer Wins a Prize: Estelle Lauer received the “Women in Action” award from the Lemon Grove-Spring Valley Soroptimist Club for her services to youth, education and culture in Lemon Grove. A plaque proclaimed her accomplishments, while a $50 check was paid to her favorite charity, the American Field Service, which sponsored foreign student exchanges to further global peace and understanding. The Lauers were hosting a student from Ghana at the time.
Recently, Lauer wowed a packed house at the Apr. 5 History Alive lecture in the H. Lee House when she related her adventures as a teacher, writer and parent, and her eyewitness accounts of key moments in Lemon Grove's modern history.
The jokester was Viola Silvis, who grew up in Lemon Grove, attended the first grammar school and married William Lindsay right out of San Diego High School. Dr. Charles Good built the Grove Pastry Shop building in 1912, ran a citrus orchard, was our county supervisor from 1914 to 1926, and, today, is the subject of a terrific exhibit in the Parsonage Museum, open Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The 1913 congregational church was torn down in 1994 and Civic Center Park stands on the site today.
Dr. Amorita Treganza first came to Lemon Grove in 1915 at age three to stay with her grandparents on Kempf Street while the family attended the 1915 World Exposition in Balboa Park. Reminiscing in 1980 she said, “There was no Broadway, only a dusty, unpaved Main Street and an even dustier Central Avenue, a few houses, the church and the Sonka Brothers General Store. It was owned by the brothers Emil, Ed and Tony, but it was Tony who really ran it. At one time he owned most of Lemon Grove. He was a shrewd businessman.
“When I graduated from high school and wanted to go to San Diego State College, I asked Tony Sonka for a job in his store. I worked all summer, six days a week for $16 a week. At the end of the summer I was ready for college, but the mortgage on my parents' home came due and although my dad was a very good architect it was during the Depression and he didn't have the money for Tony, so I took all of my savings and paid the mortgage off."
Treganza said “The Old Grey Goose” was the train that carried students from all over East County to San Diego High before Grossmont High was built in 1920. She said the trip took 30 to 40 minutes to reach Market Street, where the students disembarked and walked up 12th Avenue to school.
She recalled the veterinarian, Dr. F. P. White, who worked on people as well as animals at his office on the corner of Lincoln and Kempf. In those days, that corner was the end of town; beyond was all lemon trees. Doc White's wife was a huge woman named Fanny, who would fill up a wheelbarrow with vegetables from her garden and take it to anybody who was out of food during the Depression.
The late Dr. Robert Burns was the town's modern veterinarian, who was also served on the city's first council and was a mayor. Treganza's architect father, Alberto, designed the Big Lemon, restored the 1915 Spanish Village in Balboa Park for the 1935 Worlds Fair, co-desiged the San Diego Police Headquarters adjacent to modern Seaport Village, and left a legacy of handsome homes countywide after his death in 1943.
The family home lives on in fine style on Kempf Street.
Today, the Sonka Store is Grove Pastry Shop. The modern trolley track through town is the same track that carried “The Old Grey Goose.” Treganza worked her way through State College (today, SDSU) by packing lemons in the Lemon Grove Fruit Packing House and winning scholarships, one of them, unbeknownst to her, underwritten by Tony Sonka.
Pamela Griffen, daughter of Harry Griffen, “Mr. Helix Water District,” recalled life at their Alton Drive home “when Dad was still raising celery he hired a Japanese family that turned up at the door right after being released from one of the internment camps. He had placed an ad in a Japanese newspaper. The Nojimas turned into lifelong friends. Itoko, who is now 92, was recently moved to an assisted-living facility. Through them, we knew the Mukais and Tom Kida. Our celery fields connected to Mukai’s fields. We knew Eddie Dunn, the Sonkas, Jerry Walter. Mom and I used to go to the original location of the Grove Pastry Shop. The Denlingers lived two houses down the street on Alton and their two boys, Carl and Jerry, played and swam at our house all summer long. Dorothy’s parents, the Beidlemans, lived on the property, too.
“My dad was a general contractor and built many of the houses in Lemon Gove. All the houses on Hibiscus Street and several other streets including a group of bungalows off Golden Avenue. They were all the rage when he built them.
Over the past eight or nine years as I have been renovating the house, I have hired various local companies to do work. It is interesting how many of them say that they used to steal celery while walking home on Blossom Lane from Mount Miguel High School. They would carry a jar of peanut butter or Cheez Whiz and spread the stuff on the celery and eat it on the way home.
“I was in a drama class run by Valerie Cremer’s parents and we rehearsed in their house over by Palm Junior High School. I didn’t know that it and the Lee house were the same. Also, the house with the arches that was where Union bank is brings back memories. It was right across from the air raid alarm that was tested every Monday at noon.”
The town's Japanese families began arriving in 1912 and were respected for their agricultural expertise and tremendous work ethic. he Mukai fields ran along Sweetwater Road. The Kida strawberry fields were on modern Berry Street and Berry Street Park. The Denlingers donated the land that became Lemon Grove Park on Washington Street. The Eddie Dunn orchard thrives on Adams Street—the last one in town.
The Beidlemans, German immigrants, arrived in 1894. He was a plumber, who hooked the flume water to local orchards and was a plein air painter. One of his beautiful oils is in the collection of the Lemon Grove Historical Society.
The Griffen homes off Golden Avenue are on Acacia. Wilma Cremer ran the drama class. The Cremer home, a.k.a. the H. Lee House, was moved to Civic Center Park on July 12, 2002, to make way for construction of Route 125. The air raid alarm was on a tower at the Lemon Grove Lumber Company on North Avenue near the modern trolley depot.