1988: The Big Squeeze

News from the Feb. 6, 1988 edition of the San Diego Union when The Big Lemon captured hearts and minds inside and outside our borders all over again.

The Big Lemon moves to make way for the Orange Line.
The Big Lemon moves to make way for the Orange Line.

Moving Day:  In the nation's plaster parade of civic folk art, none ranks higher than the 1928 Big Lemon of Lemon Grove.  Our paean to citrus was resplendent by the railroad tracks for decades until 1988 when a new trolley track, the Orange Line, put the squeeze on the old lady and she had to move -- all 3,000 pounds of her. 

She didn't go far -- a few feet southwest and closer to the bus stop on Main Street.  But the heart-stopping operation drew thousands of 'Grovians and their kinfolk to midtown as La Lemon was strapped to a cushioned base on railroad ties and hoisted gently into mid-air.

By noon the deed was done.  Her plinth was rebuilt, her venerable, green wooden "Best Climate on Earth" sign went to the Lemon Grove Historical Society (you can see it today inside of the Parsonage Museum) and a pleasing wrought iron fence was installed to enclose our lemon and her little lemon orchard.

Going and coming, travelers can alight near one of the great symbols of Roadside America and the only giant fruit in the world next to a mass transit line.

There is something in the nation's water that prompts local worthies to build immense symbols of their towns.   LIke the Mars Rover, we are not alone.

At Durant, OK The Big Peanut sits smack in front of city hall, vying with The Goliath Goober of Ashburn, GA where a 15-foot pedestal supports a 10-foot nut.

At Enterprise, AL, where cotton used to be king, a mammoth Boll Weevil asserts its questionable appeal.

A 50-foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant stands guard over Blue Earth, MN where, ho-ho-ho, they freeze a zillion peas annually.

To be outdone, Neillsville, WI boasts a 17.5-ton wheel, The Big Cheese, 

adjacent to Chatty Belle, The World's Largest Cow, who, were she real, could produce 270 gallons of milk a day, or enough to refloat the Titanic.

No slouch in the annals of the elephantine, Wisconsin also came up with The World's Largest Six Pack (LaCrosse), which can hold 22,000 gallons of Heileman's Old Style.

Perhaps most crushing of all is the link to America's weight problem, The World's Largest [Spare] Tire at Dearborn, MI, where this icon of the auto industry would need a 160-foot long truck to carry it.

Silver Screen:  A few years ago, a pair of adorable documentary filmmakers, Amy Elliott and Elizabeth Donius, came to Lemon Grove to film our Lemon for "World's Largest," their amusing chronicle of America's humongous civic symbols.  The film debuted in 2010 at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival at Austin, TX and was screened a dozens of other festivals nationwide.  Here's the website:


Lem N. Grove:  He was "born" in 1972 and assorted good sports took turns depicting this popular mascot at Old Time Days parades and other events.  He showed up the day The Big Lemon was moved (see photo).  In his day he became "real" and got mail at city hall urging him to invest in silver mines, buy vacation packages, purchase cars and gamble in Las Vegas.  

After the Parade:  As all know The Big Lemon was designed in 1928 by architect Alberto Owen Treganza, who asked ranchers to bring him their prettiest lemons to serve as a model for a huge parade float.  We still don't know whose lemon got the nod, but we do know the Lemon won third prize in the Fiesta de San Diego parade, July 4, 1928.  

The Lemon also represented the town in the 1929 and 1930 parades.  Each time it was stored at Park Lumber Company, which had donated the building materials. In the summer of 1930 the papier maché Lemon was covered with fresh plaster and repainted, then installed by the railroad tracks.

Tony Sonka, who coined the civic slogan "Best Climate on Earth" in 1925, paid to have the phrase painted on the sign that adorned the lattice work that once surrounded the Lemon.

And so it went a scant quarter century ago when The Big Lemon was only 60 and still younger than springtime.

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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