1955: Bursting at the Seams

News from the Feb. 10, 1955 edition of the Lemon Grove Review when schools, theaters, chicken coops, restaurants and hospitals were packing them in.

Monterey Heights teacher Mrs. Smith leads her class of baby roomers to newly-built classrooms.
Monterey Heights teacher Mrs. Smith leads her class of baby roomers to newly-built classrooms.

Full Throttle:  By 1955 post World War II births and businesses had a head of steam that would drive the economy for the next 15 years.  For the past four years Lemon Grove had been one of three fastest growing communities in San Diego County with housing developments mushrooming all over town.  

Three Rs Packed:  Some 2,800 students, grades 1 - 8, were crammed into schools built for 400 and hadn't had a full day of school for a decade thanks to split shifts.  But a year earlier, local voters had approved a $550,000 school bond to build 22 classrooms with all amenities at Golden Avenue, Monterey Heights, San Miguel and Vista La Mesa Schools, areas where new housing had especially impacted enrollment.  In less than a year, all 22 were built at a savings of $77,000.  

Starting on Feb. 7, 1955 all students returned to a full-day schedule.  First grade teacher Mrs. Robert Smith at Monterey Heights led the way to new classrooms as her young charges carried chairs, boxes and books (see photo).  The moppets were Robert Schlegel, Robert Forrester, Sheryl Johnson and Susan Peake.  Where are these wee alumni now?  Call home if you know, 619-460-4353.

The 1955 school bond was a classic of the genre and a harbinger of those to come wherein 'Grovians thronged to the ramparts and taxed themselves on behalf their kids' education.  In every case -- and we're talking into1998 and 2008, the most recent bonds --  funds were administered with a pecunious efficiency that would make an eagle-eyed banker sing.

Not a Seat in the House:  At the Grove Theater, the main source of accessible entertainment (25 cents to 50 cents a ticket), hundreds of parents packed the evening double bills, while their progeny thrilled to goonier fare at the Saturday matinees.  That week the theater ran the tear jerker "The Last Time I Saw Paris" in which Elizabeth Taylor dies, Van Johnson mourns and Paris looks sensational.  The companion feature, "The Command," another Bad Indians-Good Cavalry picture, had Guy Madison leading a wagon train through hostile Indian territory while a flawlessly coiffed and made-up Joan Weldon tended the campfire.

At 2 p.m. droves of moppets showed up for cartoons and "Oklahoma Annie" starring a pig-tailed Judy Canova in full Ozark bumpkin mode.  She was a major player between the 1930s and 1970s in vaudeville, radio, TV, movies and night clubs.  Though her name has faded, Judy's lasting hold on Americans' affection stemmed in part from the closing number on her weekly radio show (1943 - 1955), "Goodnight Soldier, wherever you may be…" 

Cheep, Cheep:  In 1955 'Grove hen coops all over town were still delivering daily breakfast eggs and Sunday dinner.  Mason Feed & Supply (estab. 1891), 8280 Imperial, advertised weekly in the Review, but changed the art work to reflect the influx of 1950s families in business attire.  Dad, Mom, Junior and Princess in hats, coats and gloves were seen leaving Mason's with boxes of baby pullets (25 cents each), bags of Purina Chick Startena ("the best in the nation") and Purina Dog Chow ("make a winner of your puppy!").

Some good things never change.  Today, 'Grovians are still raising Rhode Island Reds, Bantam Cochins and Plymouth Rocks in the back yard and collecting fresh eggs for those extra-special omelettes.  The Lemon Grove Historical Society has a copy of "The Biggle Poultry Book" by Jacob Biggle (1910), still a bible for chicken and turkey ranchers.

Dinner for Four:  In recognition of the baby boom, fabled boîte Michael's Pub and Steak House, 7828 Broadway, and nearby competitor Pal's Cafe, 3521 Imperial, each opened a "Family Dining Room" and "Family Menu," the better to persuade Mom and Dad to bring Junior and Princess in to dine on home-cooked fare.  

Michael's was posh and reservations were required, but for $1.50 you got prime rib or seafood while Alice Walters played the organ and Mac McGrath and Dick Cole warbled current hits in "a never ending program of entertainment."  Not to be outdone, Pal's, though entertainment-starved, offered $1.25 family meals of BBQ, seafood, steak or chicken ("ours are LOCAL!") every night in the week with no reservations needed.

Heliport for the Multitudes:  Grossmont Hospital was feeling the crunch as the Southern California population boomed and more people needed care.  In early February the hospital board approved a "heliport," a 150-foot paved circle adjoining the parking lot, to permit emergency aircraft from Gillespie Field and the Coast Guard to land.  The hospital district covered 700 square miles from Grossmont to the Imperial County line and south to the Mexican border.

Mrs. S. Haag, Harris Street, formed the Lemon Grove chapter of the Grossmont Hospital Women's Auxiliary and held the first meeting at her home on Feb. 15, 1955.  Committee chairs included Dr. Simon and Mrs. Mary Lou Brumbaugh, Central Avenue (both passed away in 2013), Mrs. Robert Sutton, Massachusetts Avenue (wife of the soon-to-be school superintendent) and Mrs. John Landesco, Skyline Drive.  These women were dealing with a major scare -- read on:

The Polio Killer:  The Salk vaccine would not be officially approved and announced until April, 1955 after three years of clinical trials.  Poliomyelitis was infectious and tended to strike in damp spring weather, claiming an average of 20,000 victims annually, largely children and young adults -- though 1952 saw an epidemic of 58,000 cases.  Everyone knew of somebody who had been crippled or killed by the disease.

In February, 1955 the annual Success Valentine Dance at Michael's Pub (tickets $1) climaxed the Lemon Grove Polio Fund Drive, which already had $3,100 in the bank.   Everyone in town was involved in the fight: The Mothers' March raised $542, schools $591, Grove Theater, $85, Girl Scouts $44, pie sales $150, churches $322, and the list went on.

Michael's and Pal's Restaurants continued their friendly competition in the effort when Pal's threw a banquet on Feb. 16, starring the Marines who had marched from the Chosin Reservoir to freedom in the Korean War--and then from San Diego to Los Angeles for the March of Dimes.  (See our column for Jan. 13 2014, "1955:  Walking the Talk," detailing these dual missions.)  Like Henry Goldy at Michael's, Pal's proprietor Ted Fetters bankrolled the dinner and gave all proceeds to the local polio fund.  Even the musicians' union performed gratis.

There is still no cure for polio but the preventative Salk and Sabin vaccines (Sabin was approved in 1962) have dropped the number of cases world-wide to under 1,000.

Talking Points:  Given all of the above, who were you going to call?  More importantly, how were you going to call?  1955 was still the age of the telephone party line -- but Pacific Telephone was working hard to change that.  Shown in a large ad in the Review, a pair of California farmers installed a phone and saved $400 because they were able to locate a new tractor at a good price (see photo).  Cost of the call?  $1.  

"And that's the aim of telephone people everywhere--to bring you the good service you need to get things done," wrote Pacific Tel in its low-key-but-still-hard-sell way.

Chat with you in cyberspace, dear readers.

And so it went 59 years ago when Lemon Grove babies and their parents were the impetus for every activity in town.

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.  In 2012 and 2013 Ofield was awarded first, second and third place awards in non-daily, online column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists and the San Diego Press Club.


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