On Sept. 28, the last Saturday of the month, the community will celebrate with Bonitafest. For the 40th time, dating back to Oct. 19, 1973, parts of the community will be decked out in a holiday décor and some of the streets will be roped off for part of the morning to make way for the annual parade. So once more the tradition that had its start with humble beginnings will endeavor to entertain the throngs with those things that have almost always been met with the community’s approval.
The Bonitafest, along with its sponsor, the Bonita Business and Professional Association was the brainchild of the late Emily Ritter.
Ritter, a long time resident of the South Bay had, with a partner, opened up a dress shop, The Village Togs, in Bonita Plaza. She was determined to show the shoppers in the valley—particularly the ladies—that one need not go to Fashion Valley or Chula Vista or any other place to buy their needs and wants. This, of course, was a tough sell. She learned very quickly that old shopping habits are hard to break.
Bonitafest solved part of the problem, even though it was not a massive extravaganza. The literature tells us that there was street dancing, square dancing, singing and drink booths set up for thirsty fair goers.
Since a celebration of this sort is not complete without a parade there had to be one. Someone had arranged for a fleet of classic Thunderbirds that were used to transport the dignitaries and old timers on the parade route.
Ritter wrote at the time, “We had a lot of entries with a home town flavor. There were horseback riders and children with ponies, goats, chickens and dogs, all in wagons, or pulling wagons. We had Scouts, Campfire Girls, drill teams, bands, antique cars, Indian maidens and Tony Mesa Mexican Charro and horse. We also had representatives from the Sweetwater Woman’s Club, American Legion, Chamber of Commerce, and the most popular group of all, the Hole in the Wall Gang.”
I have to make a special comment on the latter. The Hole in the Wall Gang was consistent in showing up for nearly every Bonitafest parade that I can remember. They are a sardonic group of horsemen, numbering about 20, all dressed in the seedy costume of the old West, sporting an unlit cigar and carrying a carbine. They never speak and if they are spoken to they will stare you down until you look away. My kind of guys.
According to the literature the ladies of the woman’s club were the ones responsible for getting the “old timers” to their parade transportation and then back after the parade. The woman’s club also gave a dinner honoring all the old timers of the community. I attended a few of these and they were very enjoyable.
In later years Bonitafest grew and so did the parade. What had been a half dozen or so booths selling some sort of craft items or food multiplied to sections that numbered in the hundreds. Most of the parking area alongside the malls on Bonita Road were occupied with 10 by 10 spaces with hawkers selling everything from politics to corndogs. It was a truly carnival air that was enjoyed by all.
I have to confess that my most memorable Bonitafests were the ones of about 10 years ago. In those days the Bonita Museum was located in the old fire house (next to the Jack-in-the-Box.) Some of us would arrive early in the morning and prepare the space in front with tent and chairs. A busload of folks from Villa Bonita would arrive, prior to parade time, and settle in to enjoy the parade. They were also served refreshments. We were fortunate as we would get the end of the marching airs from the performing big brass bands, military and schools alike. Great memories.
This year there will be a parade. It will be on the eastern portion of Bonita Road ending at the bridge. As usual one person will be honored with the title of Grand Marshal. This year that honor goes to a long time valley resident, Barbara Scott. She will be the subject in this space in two weeks.