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Surviving a flood and the city Susan Walter | Sat, Feb 23 2013 12:00 PM

Two old palm trees mark the driveway to an exquisite Victorian orchard house, located east of Albany on Main Street, north of the Otay River.

The house belonged to Isaac Smith in 1891. It changed ownership several times up to the Depression, when it was bank owned and vacant for about four  years. This is when the Anderson family enters the picture.

Lorenzo Anderson and his wife Florence moved to California, residing in Logan Heights. They had three children: Barbara, William and Jacqueline.  Lorenzo, known as “Bill,” was smart, hardworking, ambitious and determined. One of his goals was to purchase a house.

This was not as simple as it seems because the Anderson family were African-Americans, and there were covenants in place that regulated where “people of color” could live and own land.

With his job with the San Diego County Road Department, he scoped out his options. He didn’t want to live as far away as Dulzura, Poway or Campo, and decided on the old place in Otay.

The shabby dwelling included six acres. The 1916 flood had destroyed the land, washing away soil and leaving rubble and large rocks. It also twisted the house on its foundation and cracked some walls, but the structure had survived the calamity intact.

Blatant bigotry initially kept the Andersons from moving into their new home, as objections were raised about a “colored” family in the neighborhood.

Barbara told me on their first night their mom told them to go to bed right after dinner and stay there “no matter what they heard.”

The frightened children heard cursing, shouting, banging, and they saw the flickering light from a cross burning on their lawn.

But they stayed.

In 1939 they were the only black family owning land in the area.

By then Bill worked two jobs.  Still employed by the road department, his energies were also focused on fixing their home and making their land productive again. Hauling out rubble and improving the soil, he and his family planted more than 250 lemon trees and vegetables.

The Andersons were members of the Otay Baptist Church and the kids attended Otay Elementary School. Both parents were active in the community, participating in numerous political and social groups.

Exempt from the military service, Bill served as an air raid warden. Florence registered voters and worked at the polls.

They warmly welcomed soldiers from the nearby Army base into their home, particularly during holidays.

Hard winters followed WWII, killing the orchards and fields, so the resilient family grew flowers. This was followed, in the 1950s through the 1960s, by a change in land use. The area lost its focus on agriculture and they leased the land to various small businesses.

In 1971, Florence died. Lorenzo married Synthia and the new couple enjoyed traveling. The kids grew up, obtained jobs and moved out of the old place.

But the family continued to treasure their beloved home.  During their tenure they had refinished the woodwork, repaired structural damage and added a turret. Sewer, water, electrical and plumbing lines were upgraded. They replaced the old stove but the original claw foot tub was kept and reporcelained.

Original hinges and doorknobs were repaired. Their home was furnished with family furniture and antique treasures.

Beautiful inside and out, it had been a longtime gathering place for the children’s and the parents’ friends.

Bill died June 11, 1986. On Aug. 26, he was posthumously awarded a proclamation from Mayor Greg Cox and the City Council expressing “deep appreciation for the many unselfish contributions made by Lorenzo ‘Bill’ Anderson.” The family proudly framed it and it is displayed prominently.

Barbara lived in Lake Elsinore, Jacqueline was in San Diego and William resided nearby, maintaining the property, when, during the holidays of 2004 they received a certified letter from the city of Chula Vista.

“Dear Property Owner” it began, a developer “has made an unsolicited proposal to the Redevelopment Agency” for their property.

The three-page letter, dated Nov. 8, written in dry legal terminology, told them that the family needed to come up with a “development proposal and schematic plan generally describing the project you propose and identifying the parcels included within your proposal.”

They had to submit a construction schedule of development, a statement of their “qualifications as a developer,” “an estimate of development costs” and “a description of the proposed method of financing and amounts and sources of equity and capital.”

The family’s reply had to be submitted within 30 days.

Confused, shocked, grieving, the family thought their home was to be taken by eminent domain. Barbara, William and Jacquie held an emotional gathering with their friends to say good bye to their home.

This is when I met the Andersons.

After further communications with officials, the city said the family had misunderstood their letter. The family home would stay with the family.

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