Birth of a Boîte: Michael's Cocktail Lounge & Steakhouse, 7828 Broadway (later Pelikan Pub; now, Jenea's Hair Design) opened its doors on Oct. 3 to begin a 20-year run as the town's politically-connected watering hole, the bistro of choice for $1.50 steak dinners, parties, club luncheons, secret confabs with would-be candidates, and, reputedly, under-the-table deals of all kinds.
If you were introducing a new product line, starting a political campaign, or celebrating anything, founder Henry Holdy urged you to book tables at Michael's and show the world your show-stopping stuff amid white napery, crystal goblets and silverware, and a "menu second to none in San Diego County."
Michael's was also the first sports bar in town (though the phrase wasn't yet current). You could thrill to the World Series on a black and white, 21-inch TV that Holdy occasionally whacked with a towel to get the horizontal lines to focus.
Michael's was where Tony Sonka was fêted in 1964--Sonka, who had lavishly contributed to every significant event and purchase in the 'Grove since 1907, ran Sonka Bros' General Store (today, Grove Pastry Shop) and owned half the town.
Steaks were never so rare, nor martinis so dry since Michael's bit the dust.
Pioneers on a Roll: Harold Holaday and WW II war hero Bob Johnson, both of the Swedish immigrant Johnson family that landed in the Big Lemon in 1912, opened Lemon Grove K-F Motors. 7490 Broadway, home to the snazzier-than-thou Kaiser-Frazer sports cars, sedans and custom coupes.
Founded in 1945, Kaiser-Frazer was the only automaker to vie with The Big Three (Ford, GM, Chrysler), though its meteoric rise was brief, ending in 1953. But the classy Kaisers with their jewel colors, advanced front wheel drive and upscale rear wheel drive caught the attention of a car-hungry public for seven lucky years.
"We chose the K-F line [for] more automotive advancements than any other car on the market for the money," said Holaday.
The family had run Lemon Grove Auto Rebuild for decades and knew from engine blocks and carburetors. On opening day, Oct. 17, they offered free coffee and donuts and deals galore. Fortunately, their repair business soldiered on after K-F collapsed under the weight of entrenched competition.
Well Shod: Ray Purtee, an 18-year 'Grovian, opened Lane's Shoe Shop, 7763 Broadway, with "nationally renowned lines" like Grace Walker women's shoes ($7.89), John C. Roberts men's shoes ($9) and Red Goose shoes for moppets ($5.99).
Lavish door prizes dominated grand openings in the 'Fifties. Lane's offered a 53-piece set of Rogers table silver, a $65 man's suit, and "bikes, toys 'n trinkets" for kids. Winners' names were posted in the store window for three days after the drawings. S&H Green Stamps were ubiquitous, along with the free coffee and cookies "right through Thanksgiving."
Lane's Shoe Shop moved into quarters formerly occupied by Evelyn Wigton's Style Shop, which doubled its floor space by moving next door. Apropos...
All Charged Up: Wigton's of Lemon Grove and El Cajon promoted monthly charge accounts to a willing public, hence the move to more palatial digs. You paid off your account every 30 days or tied it to your payroll dates. With monthly fashion shows, two-for-one deals and 53 major brand lines in stock, patrons from throughout San Diego and East County flocked to Wigton's for wardrobe revitalization.
The store featured Dior's New Look, cinch-waisted shirtwaist "day dresses" with comfortable pumps that "made housecleaning a breeze," an expanded foundation and lingerie department, a large section of formals and dressy dresses, and free or discounted alterations.
On opening day every woman was given a silk corsage for fall wear and free hosiery if she opened a charge account.
Mamma Mía! Resident 'Grovians, Iggy, Frankie and Paulie Leone opened Leone's Italian Café at 3015 Imperial at Lincoln in quarters vacated by the Orange Blossom Inn (near the modern VFW Hall). Among the specialities were Iggy's Italian Tomato Pie, pepperoni pizza (flipped on site), wines "from the old country" and beer. Hours were a mind-bending 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.
Master Sunbeams: McMahon's Furniture, Olive at Broadway, reopened on its 33rd birthday with "a sensational line of Sunbeam appliances" for mixing, toasting, brewing, shaving, baking, boiling and ironing, ranging from $8.99 to $14.99.
Milady could stop by and enjoy free, fresh coffee from the Sunbeam Coffeemaster ($8.99), enter the free drawing for a Sunbeam Mixmaster ($11.99) and observe a Sunbeam factory rep demonstrate every appliance.
With its weekly, full-page ads in the Review, McMahon's symbolized America in the Fabulous 'Fifties -- awash in high quality products all made in the USA, purchased on credit, no cash down.
Hen House Day: Lemon Grove's agricultural roots were alive and well post WW II as evidenced by the array of ads in the Review for farm and ranch products.
Bill's Feed Store, 2563 Sweetwater at Broadway, held Pillsbury Hen House Day when you tested your skill in a culling contest, candled fresh eggs and brought your chicken coop up to snuff with fresh laying feed, bug repellent and new hay. That was when Lemon Grove was still home to thousands of chickens.
One of the town's oldest businesses, Mason Feed & Supply (estab. 1895), 8280 Imperial, advertised live chicks, rabbit pellets, timothy hay, horse tack, a free leash with every purchase of 25 pounds of Gaines dogfood ($3), and "moral support for the Kiwanis Kids' Day program."
New Pol in Town: Lemon Grove was part of the newly-formed 28th Congressional District -- and Lionel Van Deerlin's hat was in the ring. Ultimately, he was elected to Congress in 1962 and served for 18 years.
New Paint in Town: We all know latex paint. But in 1952 it was called the "sensational, new RUBBER PAINT" offered in "wonder-tones" for $4.99 a gallon with a free roller at Lemon Grove Hardware and Lemon Grove Lumber.
New Asphalt in Town: Pioneer realtor George Casteel persuaded Broadway businesses to underwrite blacktopping east and westbound lanes on Broadway from Grove Street to Buena Vista Avenue. Led by fire chief Ray Carmody, local firemen swept and hosed off the street. Darlene Tritthardt, then vying to become queen of the Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon, aided Casteel in drumming up support.
New School District, Too: The drumbeat had begun to unify the Lemon Grove School District and keep it distinct from Spring Valley, La Mesa and San Diego. More about this in a future column, dear readers.
The Old Pro: In the 1950s, issues of the Review were notable for the explosion of ads placed by diverse stores doing a roaring business. The new editor (1952), Max Goodwin, had begun his 34-year pursuit of great stories, readership, promotion of local business, support for youth and, above all, advancement for Lemon Grove. He, too, symbolized 'Fifties optimism and entrepreneurial energy.
And so it went in the autumn of 1952 when our town was like a freshly-minted copper penny shining in the Best Climate on Earth.
About this column: Compiled by Helen Ofield, president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society, from newspapers archived at the H. Lee House Cultural Center. Each week, we take a peek at the past with some news and advertising highlights from a randomly chosen edition of the Lemon Grove Review. Ofield was awarded first place in 2013 and second place in 2012 in non-daily column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists.