A look back at Lemon Grove, 44 years ago this week.
Lem N. Grove II: When the ailing Lem N. Grove, long a symbol of Lemon Grove Old Time Days and other civic bacchanalia, collapsed, Hugh McCray, Costada Court, stepped in to save the day. He crafted Lem N. Grove II out of fabric, wire, paper and plastic with a removable top so that some good sport could climb inside and walk down Broadway in the annual parade.
Mrs. McCray sewed the black-and-white checked pants and black sleeves, while Mr. McCray crafted the yellow, lemon-shaped corpus of this son of the Big Lemon.
Lem N. Grove II debuted during Thanksgiving at Browne's Maytag Appliance Center, 3282 Main St. (they're still there!), where he stood jauntily next to a faux street sign also crafted by McCray. Apparently, you signed on for your turn and Lem would stand in your store and welcome the fans.
Interestingly, in May 1968, Lemon Grove "celebrated its 100th anniversary." Meaning they hearkened back to 1868 when land speculator Robert Allison bought the old Santiago Argüello rancho lands that became Lemon Grove, La Mesa and Spring Valley.
Before the Prague Spring: Bill McGrath, an alumnus of St. John of the Cross School, was vacationing near Prague, Czechoslovakia, when the Soviets invaded on Aug. 20, 1968. That fall, the 20-year-old McGrath enrolled in the University of Vienna, Austria. Always on the lookout for a good story, the old pro, Max Goodwin, editor of the Lemon Grove Review, asked him to visit Prague and report on life under the Russian Bear.
With nine other students on special visas, McGrath visited the "city under siege" and wrote that city parks were full of tanks, jeeps, trucks and soldiers; that local clothing was "poor looking" and food "not much;" that streets were dotted with makeshift memorials strewn with fresh flowers for protesting Czechs who died during the invasion; that harsh yellow lights gave the nighttime streets an eerie look; and that cameras netted a firm "nyet."
When told they couldn't take pictures, the girl students spoke to the soldiers and showed them their "magical" Polaroid cameras that produced images in an instant. The delighted soldiers posed for shots and kept all but one that McGrath bargained for by trading a fountain pen.
In a less sanguine moment, the students watched angry Czechs taunting a small man, who was trying to inflate his tires. The crowd had spotted his license plate—Bulgarian—and some had deflated his tires. Bulgaria had supplied troops for the Soviet invasion.
Msgr. McDonogh Buys a Suit: Fr. John McDonogh, for 19 years pastor of St. John of the Cross Church, stepped down amid hoopla and cheers from some 1,000 parishioners who presented him with a $100 gift certificate to a fancy men's store in downtown San Diego.
"Buy a new black suit, Father," urged his fans. But the monsignor would have none of it. Short, fiery and frugal, he routinely gave away clothing, food and advice to members of his own and other parishes. The thought of spending a princely $100 on himself would not sit well with the angels. Yet, not wishing to be rude, he repaired to the men's store and was greeted by a brash young salesman.
"You'd look great in this grey pinstripe," he announced, whipping out a bespoke number straight from Savile Row.
Fr. McDonogh was outraged. Not only did the pinstripes cost more than $100—and $100 was bad enough—but they were grey! Irish dander up, he ripped the gift certificate to shreds and stalked out. Later, he confessed his short-tempered deed to some parishioners, one of whom gave him $100 in cash and urged him to go to Roberts Hall, where suits maxed out at $49.50.
The gambit worked. Fr. McDonogh emerged natty in a black suit ($37.50), carrying another black suit ($35.50) for assistant priest Fr. Murphy, and a third black suit for the new monsignor of the parish, Fr. Patrick Kearny. The third suit cost $49.50, so Fr. McDonogh threw in the extra $22.50 and all was well again at St. John of the Cross.
He Got the Job: Larry Hunter, president of Hunter's Nursery, established 1919 at 3110 Sweetwater, won the contract to supply the City of San Diego with 1,400 trees in concrete boxes to spruce up downtown streets for the holidays and beyond.
Today, Larry's son, Guy, and his daughter, Kindahl, run this landmark business in our town. And the bookkeeper? None other than 96-year-old Betty Hunter, who, until last year, could be seen at the nursery, walking uphill carrying a five-gallon plant in each hand. When the gods made Betty, they broke the mold.
Keen Interest: Southland Savings & Loan, 7770 Broadway, offered the nation's highest interest rate on passbook savings accounts if you left your money in the bank for a year. Five percent compounded daily yielded 5.13% annually. What has to freeze over before any of us sees such a rate of return?
Sporting Kids: Jan Shinski, a 7th grader at Lemon Grove Junior High, won so many figure skating awards she became the official entrant in the Pacific Regional Championships, the precursor to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Two local Pop Warner football teams, the Brahmas and the Roadrunners, won the Midget National Crown and the Pee Wee Eastern League titles after creaming El Cajon and Chula Vista with their "machine style" playing as head coach Shortly Bannister described it.
Mt. Miguel High School's Mermaids A and B swim teams swamped El Capitan at the Girls Swim Meet at Carman Ranch on Sweetwater Road. In a breathtaking display the Mermaids won the butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, medley relay, freestyle and free relay, setting a new district record for the number of events won.
Gilbert Mendoza, a noted distance runner, led the Mt. Miguel varsity track team to glory in the cross country event against Monte Vista.