CHULA VISTA: LEMON CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Lemonade anyone? On August 12th we celebrated the industry that put Chula Vista on the map. In the late 1800’s land developers composed of stockholders and directors of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, formed a corporation named the San Diego Land and Town Company. Chula Vista was chosen as the development’s name, which in Spanish means Beautiful View. Before this, the Chula Vista area consisted of four homes with a windmill and a well for water. The site also included the old adobe La Punta Rancho House, once home to Santiago E. Arguello and his wife Guadalupe Estudillo Arguello.
The developers discovered Chula Vista was perfect for growing citrus. They divided 5,000 acres into parcels of 20 acres. Every house built had to be “of approved taste and plan, to cost not less than $2000.” The parcels sold quickly and lemon trees were planted while orchard houses were being constructed. Large Victorian homes started to be built, surrounded by lemon groves. The first houses had no running water or indoor plumbing. The community didn’t have gas or electricity at first, so kerosene lamps were used for light at night, and cooking was done on a wood-burning stove, which was used to heat the home. Large storage water cisterns were used for domestic water use. Later the newly built Sweetwater Dam water source came online to supply the community. Most families had a cow for fresh milk, chickens for eggs and fruits and vegetables were grown in gardens, then canned or dried.
Growers banded together in co-ops to market, pack and ship their lemons and oranges. By 1896, Chula Vista had two packing plants and eventually was the home to two large co-ops-the Chula Vista Citrus Association, associated with Sunkist, and the Chula Vista Mutual Lemon Association affiliated with Mutual Orange Distributors. They operated large packing plants in the city until the 1960s.
The railroads developed a specialized railroad car called the “reefer” using at first ice, to transport lemons to the Midwest or East Coast without spoilage.
There was spraying, cultivating, fertilizing and hauling lemons by teams of horses. During the winter months smudge pots burned all night and growers learned to use the roots of orange trees and graft the lemon tree to it, improving the ability to survive in cold, too much rain, or drought. Lemons were harvested year-round. Pickers used special ladders with one supporting leg pushed into the tree. Lemons were collected in picking bags and loaded into wooden field boxes, then taken to the packing plants.
The lemons were sorted with three grades of Fancy, Choice and Standard, each with its own identifying lemon crate label for easy identification. The artwork and names associated with these labels have made them a popular item for collectors.
Chula Vista proclaimed itself the “Lemon Capital of the World” in 1900 with 3,000 acres, producing lemons. For many years, business in Chula Vista centered around the lemon industry. One of the early plants was at the corner of Center and Landis Street, called the Leach Packing Plant in 1908. Chula Vista was the home to many packing plants throughout the years.
In 1911 Chula Vista was incorporated as a city, and some houses were being modernized with gas, electricity, indoor plumbing and telephones. Community activity centered around Third Avenue with horses and wagons. Streets were paved with the introduction of automobiles.
Life was full of hard work for the lemon ranchers but one lifelong resident recalled “It was a simple way of life”.
We want to welcome our new members of the society, Silvia Artega, Jordan McNally, Silvia Herrera, Carlos Beltran, Anne Schillaci, Xyrone Ocampo and Enrique Valencia. Thank you for joining our South Bay Historical Society. We look forward to seeing you at a future event to be announced.