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1955: Walking the Talk

News from the Jan. 13, 1955 edition of the Lemon Grove Review when the town's second effort to become a city went down in flames.

Round two in the long march to cityhood.
Round two in the long march to cityhood.

They Said No:  It had rained all day on election day.  Yet 70 per cent of 5,000 registered voters showed up to turn Lemon Grove into a city.  But 2,180 voted no, while 1,607 voted yes.

Interestingly, a city manager form of government drew 1,675 ayes and 1,102 nays.

Seventeen people vied for seats on an illusory city council, with businessman Bert Betts the top vote getter at 1,636, future school superintendent Robert Sutton second with 1,600, and Dr. David Wilhite and John Dail at 1,317 and 1,133.  Mr. Leone of Leone's Italian Restaurant pulled the least votes, 200, yet his linguine ranked high with the Gods of Pasta.

The popular Clark Batchelder, emcee of the fabled St. John of the Cross Rodeo & Horse Show, drew 1,299 votes for a mythical city clerk against four competitors well down in the count.

As the old pro, Max Goodwin, editor of the Review, wrote, "Neighbors may once more be speaking to each other as the wreckage of incorporation was being hauled to the dump…"

Proponents said they were too tired to envision another attempt, but would resist any move to annex the town to San Diego.  Apparently, opponents were fired up by a hit piece caricaturing proponents as looney.  Does anybody have one of those 1955 campaign pieces?  Call home if you do:  Lemon Grove Historical Society, 619-460-4353.

They Said Yes:  Nine candidates were running for the board of the La Mesa-Lemon Grove-Spring Valley Irrigation District (today, Helix Water District), three of them from Lemon Grove.  Robert Von Willer, a local plasterer, incumbent Harry Griffen, and realtor Roy Nielson yearned to stop "piecemeal improvements at exorbitant cost" in their tracks.

Nielson accused the incumbent board of neglecting health standards, poor public relations, using outmoded laws and lacking long term financing for future improvements.

Robert Browne of Browne's Appliance (still in business on Main Street) was dying to run, but, oops, wasn't a registered voter.  Irrigation District law required a candidate to own property in the district, be an elector and be a registered voter who had voted in the previous primary and general elections.

They Said Maybe:  Dr. Frank Gigliotti, chair of the Citizens' Committee on School Costs, said "maybe" the school district should buy William West's 19-acre orchard on Palm Street and "maybe not."  A grand jury had recently investigated rising costs of school construction and the committee was hot under the collar.

The school board wanted to build the future Palm Junior High on the site to accommodate a rising school population in a town "destined to be built solid with homes at excellent assessed valuation" as board member Bert Betts put it.  That has come true--Lemon Grove is "built out."

Attorney Vroman Dorman endorsed the board's decision, telling Gigliotti that "a recall is always possible."  The latter and his colleague Rush Rowley accused the board of "not giving complete study to the problem," a charge refuted by school superintendent Byron Netzley, who came to the meeting armed with flow charts, assessor's valuations and school enrollment data.

And William West?  He came to Lemon Grove in 1914, bought oodles of land at $200 an acre and raised citrus crops generating up to $10,000 annually.  In 1955 he succeeded in selling his remaining 19 acres to the school district at $5,000 an acre, netting a cool $95,000 (in 2014 dollars that's $798,000).

They Said Help:  Four marines walked 148 miles from San Diego to Los Angeles at a dime a step (1,300,000 steps x 4) to raise money for the March of Dimes.  The annual polio prevention drive was underway in Lemon Grove and everyone in town was on board with coin drops, balloon sales, weekly drawings and kiddie parades, all to raise some $5,000 for the cause.  But it was the marines who got everyone's attention and put them on the front page of this edition of the Review.

In December, 1950 Sergeants Kenneth Womble, Warren Flournay, Harry Orlish and Wayne Sands had fought and walked out of Chosin Reservoir to the sea during the awful, awful Korean War.  They recreated the walk of "the Chosin Few" in 1955 in full combat gear, carrying their weapons and field packs and camping along the road.  

You remember the Battle of Chosin, dear readers, wherein 200,000 Chinese and North Korean troops fought 20,000 U.S. and UN troops.  Some 3,000 marines were trapped in the Chosin Reservoir and spent three days fighting to escape to the Port of Hungnam and evacuation.  The marines lost 2,000 men and the remaining 1,000, all wounded and frostbitten, dragged their fellows to safety.  While not a "victory," the battle turned the tide of the war and certainly demonstrated what it means to be a marine.

They Said Clean Up Your Act:  The Lemon Grove Business Women's League, a proponent of incorporation, was sick of litter, crummy landscaping and lack of county services.  The club, with its 13-member board, raised $1,500 for lawns and sprinklers at midtown by raffling yet another handmade playhouse -- this time, won by local merchant Herbert Lowes, also an incorporation fan.

They Said Deliver:  Postmaster Frenchy Faucher accounted new mail delivery to Morose, Mazer and DiFoss Streets, starting Jan. 17, 1955.  Each home had to provide a suitable mailbox placed on the house, which needed a "suitable walkway connecting it to the street."   

The town was growing from within and neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed postal carriers from their appointed rounds in the best climate on earth.

And so it went 59 years ago when Lemon Grovians talked and walked for causes, not one of which was small.

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.  In 2013 she received third place in the "History" category from the San Diego Press Club.


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