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Helen Ofield, president
Lemon Grove Historical Society

1949: A Distant Spring

by Helen Ofield

A look back at Lemon Grove 69 years ago in April, when “Grovians” worked to build their town in the post-war world.

Rosie Came Home: “Rosie the Riveters” from Lemon Grove worked the line at Convair and General Dynamics during WW II, but four years had passed since those women, clad in overalls, kerchiefs and work boots, had welded wings on airplanes when they weren’t making do with ration coupons and fake butter. (Remember the white goop with a bright yellow dot in a plastic sack that had to be massaged to turn the goop yellow?)

In 1949 women were heading church, club and PTA events to raise money for charity and a burgeoning school district, running businesses—and keeping fit in weekly gym classes in the aptly-named Forward Club, founded in 1911 and still standing at 2010 Main Street (see the wonderful interior photo above).

Local leaders urged their neighbors to “join something—anything—to help move our town forward,” as Marian Batchelder put it.

Marian masterminded a floor show for a PTA dinner-dance, requiring her pals to don 1890s and 1920s bathing suits and dance a Charleston to music by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Toomire on organ and piano. Hubby Clark Batchelder acted as a life guard, while other men in Western attire competed for Best Yodeler and Best Square Dancer. A barbershop quartet of local men entertained.

Mobs showed up at the Forward Club to enjoy this all-Big Lemon event for which literally everything was home-made—the tickets, door prizes, costumes, decorations, food and you-name-it; somebody made it or donated it.

Kids were everywhere, getting in the way, eating everything and giggling like mad when their shoeless mothers pranced out as bathing beauties in bloomers, ruffled mob caps, droopy tunics and sashes.

Mrs. Byron Netzley, wife of the school superintendent, was the field marshall who organized the fête, which netted $160, a considerable sum in 1949.

Signs of the Times: The Lions Club of Lemon Grove built three big signs headlined “Welcome to Lemon Grove” and installed them on Imperial Avenue near Campo Road, Broadway at Central, and on old Highway 80. The homemade signs had light-reflecting paint and were visible at night.

The goal: Bring visitors and business to the little town with the Big Lemon and “contribute to the welfare of the community,” where life was all volunteer all the time.

Lemon Grove Business Mens League and Chamber of Commerce members did the job: M. H. McCrary designed and painted the signs. A. E. Donnelly, the “Sewer King of Lemon Grove,” cut, threaded and fitted pipes as standards to hold them up. Bob Johnson and Jackson Ammons found the sign locations. Ted Haaf, Forrest Baxter, R. H. Schnick and A. P. Schnell installed them. Charlie Baxter took photos.

Got Shuffleboard? The come-and-get-it energy of new business owners bent on building clientele led to pages of recurring ads in the Lemon Grove Review:

Pal’s Place by the Grove Movie Theater offered free shuffleboard with fried chicken and beer.

Scotty’s Drive-In, 8251 Imperial, showed free movies nightly while you consumed frosties and entertained the kids.

Lemon Grove Lumber, 7750 North Avenue, offered WW II surplus D-handled shovels for $1.25. The company’s familiar tower stood at the entrance to town for decades and held the fire alarm on top.

Lemon Grove Home & Auto, 3331 Imperial, offered a 25-foot hose for $2 and a free can of car wax if you bought anything else for $2 or more.

Hunter’s Nursery, 3110 Sweetwater (still there since 1919) offered a gallon of weed killer for 30 cents.

Walter’s Jewelry, 7773 Broadway (estab. 1946) offered four silver teaspoons for $1.89.

Mason Feed & Supply (estab. 1891) touted Nellie L. Packer, winner of the Pillsbury Trophy for growing the best wheat in California. Her secret? Bart-38 wheat seeds, long hailed as a hardy species nationwide—and sold at Mason Feed by the 50 and 100-pound sack.

Miller Dairy (estab. 1926) cut to the chase: “You deserve the best. We are.”

Son of Paleface: Hollywood, always deplorable on the subject of American Indians, continued to churn out a movie a week, many distorting the history of the Old West, yet managing to enter the psyche of generations of Americans with tales of noble or ignoble savages, brutal or heroic cowboys, and rampant historical fabrications.

The Grove Theater showed ‘em all. That week in April, the “fun-filled Western whopper” The Paleface with Jane Russell and Bob Hope, vied with the “super Western thrill” Blood on the Moon with Robert Mitchum, both for a 10-cent ticket.

The Paleface (1948) billed as a laff-riot, featured Calamity Jane (Russell) bent on learning who was running guns to the Indians only to marry a feckless dentist (Hope), who becomes the town hero. The movie’s song, “Buttons and Bows,” won the Oscar. Injuns were played by Caucasians in brown body makeup.

The film made money, leading to the sequel, Son of Paleface, with the same cast in an equally improbable plot.

This film was inspired by the more intriguing Buster Keaton silent film (1922) of the same name. Keaton plays a butterfly collector, who accidentally wanders onto tribal land to find evil oil tycoons forcing the Indians to vacate their oil-rich, ancestral land. The diminutive Keaton leads the tribal revolt and persuades the tycoons to split, thus earning the moniker “Little Chief Paleface.”

Blood on the Moon was unusual—a black and white, psychological, film noir Western wherein a drifter (Mitchum) happens on a classic conflict between cattle ranchers and homesteaders. A conniving swindler (Robert Preston) plays both sides against the middle—caught in the middle are displaced Indians—leading to a bloody showdown.

Indian Endurance: They were here first—at least 17,000 BP. But not until 1917 did the California Supreme Court declare California Indians citizens—and not until June 2, 1924 was the Indian Citizenship Act actually passed.

The Lemon Grove Women’s Forward Club was in the vanguard of local education, philanthropy and advanced thinking. The women pondered Indian events at its weekly meeting. Pioneer member Dassah Newton and Anna LaMotte, state chair of the Indian Welfare Committee for Federated Women’s Clubs, noted that some 10,000 Indians had served in WW I and more than 30,000 in WW II.

In 1949 there were some 23,571 Indians in California. Unlike those in Arizona and New Mexico, they were eligible for pensions and social security. But the Arizona Navajo, suffering from malnutrition, tuberculosis and lack of education (kiddies herded sheep instead of going to school), needed help.

On a motion of Mrs. Forrest Baxter, seconded by Mrs. Newton, the Forward Club voted to allocate $72 to equip a school, $8 to feed an orphan, $10 to nurse an infant, and $20 to the North Island naval effort to airlift supplies to Arizona Navajo reservations during snowbound winters. While $110 isn’t on the radar screen in 2018, in 1949 it was a chunk of the Forward Club’s treasury.

See the Lemon Grove History Mural, 3308 Main Street at Pacific, for a portrait of Lemon Grove’s Native American (Kumeyaay) forebears painted by Kathleen Strzelecki and Janne LaValle.

And so it went in the spring of the Cold War when kindness and cruelty, movies and mayhem, Rosie and friends, guys with signs, businesses with come-ons, and our Indian ancestors and their children made up the complex world of an endlessly fascinating American small town.

About this column: Written by Helen Ofield, president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society, based on articles in randomly chosen newspapers archived at the H. Lee Cultural Center that afford a look back at the way we were. The column has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the San Diego Press Club.

Helen Ofield
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Helen Ofield

Helen M. Ofield is the president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society. She spearheaded the saving of Lemon Grove's first church (built 1897) and its adaptive reuse as the Parsonage Museum of Lemon Grove, and the saving of the H. Lee House (built 1928) and its adaptive reuse as the city's cultural center. Her civic history, Images of America: Lemon Grove (Arcadia 2010) includes photographic content advised by Pete Smith. She is an award-winning writer-producer for national and local film and television, as well as for print and online news media, a member of the San Diego County Historic Site Board and the Society of Professional Journalists, and a long-time historic preservationist.
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