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Lemon Grove is Past 100 as a Town, Not Even Middle-Aged as a City

This week we look at milestones, and a surprising number of mummies.

Birth of a Town: The first map of Lemon Grove was filed with the County Recorder's Office on Oct. 5, 1891, by Joseph Allison. He was the son of Robert and Tempa Allison, who, in 1968, had purchased Lot 12, encompassing 4,252 acres of the former Mission Rancho lands owned by the Santiago Argüello dynasty. The acreage became Lemon Grove, La Mesa, part of Spring Valley and the Encanto neighborhood of San Diego. Joseph and his brother, Frank, sold portions of Lot 12 to every pioneer grower in Lemon Grove.

Some said Tempa Allison named Lemon Grove. Others said William Troxell, a pioneer citrus grower and builder of the third house in Lemon Grove, came up with the name. It seems logical to give Tempa the credit as the Allisons arrived before the Troxells. Joseph Allison, by the way, built the first house in Lemon Grove in the vicinity of present day Broadway and Lemon Grove Avenue. To our knowledge (and sorrow), no images of the house exist.

On Oct. 5, 2012 Lemon Grove turned 121 as a place—but as an incorporated city, it was 35 years, 3 months and 4 days.

Birth of Oscar's:  On Oct. 1, 1941, Robert O. Peterson opened Oscar's, his first drive-in restaurant, in National City. A few months later he opened an Oscar's in Lemon Grove and it became the most popular hamburger joint in town. People went to the Ace Drive-In, or to the Grove Theatre, and then headed to Oscar's for a burger, fries and a malt.  

In 1951, Peterson founded the Jack in the Box chain—and now we have two of them. Oscar's is long gone, though the memories linger on.

Birth of a Center: On Oct. 12, 1989, after 17 years of effort spearheaded by Lois Heiserman, the Lemon Grove Senior Center was opened and dedicated in a gala ceremony. Flags flew, the Mount Miguel High School Matadors Band played, dignitaries lauded the achievement, Top Hat Catering served a lavish spread, and hundreds of Lemon Grovians applauded.

Mayor James Dorman presented the key to the facility to senior activist Elwyn "Tex" Middleton and hailed Councilwoman Heiserman for her unremitting efforts on behalf of seniors. Today, you can see the handsome bronze plaque on the wall of the attractive center memorializing the woman who never quit until she crossed the finish line with an entire building.  

The Center is managed by Catholic Charities and offers low-cost daily lunches, bingo, fitness classes, movies, field trips, and parties. We can attest to the festive nature of the latter as the primary party planner is Audrey Hamm, Chair of Special Events at the Lemon Grove Historical Society, working in tandem with Pam Takahashi and Margie Bungacich.

Birth of a Legend:  On Oct. 17, 1980, a Lemon Grove woman was cleaning out her garage in the 3400 block of Sweetwater Way and found a couple of mummies in a box.

"When she looked in the box, she went bananas," said sheriff's homicide Detective Sgt. Curt Ring. "She had bodies in her garage."

The 16-year-old pregnant Indian woman and her year-old child were upwards of 1,500 years old and understandably dried out. The young woman may have died in childbirth as the head of the fetus was in the birth canal. How the one-year-old died wasn't determined.

Why, we hear you cry, would this happen on a tiny street stretching uphill from East Broadway and dead-ending at Sweetwater Road just under the modern freeway overpass?  

In 1966, two teenage boys went to Chihuahua, Mexico, to hunt for a mummy of their very own. They found the mother and child naturally mummified in the cool air of a Chihuahua cave. Somehow, they smuggled their prize over the border, but couldn't tell Mom and Dad about the find. Instead, they persuaded a friend to store it in her garage and not tell her mom and dad. The secret endured for 14 years until the fateful moment when Mom decided to work over the garage.

Fearing murder, she called the cops. The cops called the Museum of Man, where Rose Tyson, curator of Physical Anthropology, arranged to X-ray the bodies at the San Diego Zoo and the Veterans Hospital in La Jolla. Police traced the bodies to the two boys—by now grown men and not itching to be found. The Museum of Man contacted Mexican authorities for permission to permanently display the mummies and Mexico said yes.  

Today, three decades later, you can visit the museum and see the mummies in a lucite box. The young mother is still wearing her yucca loincloth and yucca hair adornments.  

As some readers know, Mexico has no laws governing the use or misuse of mummies. In America, Indian remains must be repatriated to the ancestral tribe for reburial.

As time went on the Garage Mummies joined the Verandah Mummy in myth and legend. The Verandah Mummy was allegedly a baby found beneath the porch of the old Col. Theodore Bryan mansion that once stood where Union Bank is today at Golden and Lemon Grove avenues.  

Col. and Mrs. Bryan had an adopted son of willful ways. Naughty behavior included tippling in the parlor and toying with the chambermaid. In Victorian times, unwed motherhood was scandalous and a Civil War veteran, pioneer citrus grower and community pillar like the Colonel disliked scandal. It appears the baby was either stillborn or ushered to an early grave by the desperate maid and her paramour, or, perhaps, just the maid.  

When the Bryan house was demolished in the 1960s and part of it moved to Mt. Vernon at Washington Street, the Verandah Mummy emerged. Over time, the lone baby became twins, then morphed into triplets. And so it went. The Grove was awash in mummies—but not really. In both cases, human misery was involved.

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