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Book highlights Chula Vista's shining past Susan Walter | Mon, Aug 29 2011 12:00 PM

Whew! I am so glad that Steve Schoenherr left a little bit of history for me to report on someday!

I've been browsing through my copy of his new book "Chula Vista Centennial 1911-2011," and it really is loaded with lots of neat information. I had met with Steven numerous times and received his emails documenting his experiences during his research, generally accompanied by a fabulous photo. Then finally it reached the publisher, and he lamented all the cuts due to lack of space. Poor man sounded like he was bleeding himself.

So what is there? Oh so much! I'll try to pick out some of the cool bits - and I'm focusing on the pictures - without getting paper cuts myself.

The book begins with a prologue covering Chula Vista prior to 1911 that includes a picture of a toothless walrus fossil; this thing lived here 3.5 million years ago. A nearby verbal entry includes the story of the local Proctor Valley Monster that wandered around at night in Bonita munching animals.

The book then is set up in 10 chapters for the decades, beginning with 1911-19. I guess my favorite photo is of Clarence Austin and his tiny box of a mail wagon; his horse certainly wasn't too fat. One interesting thing about Clarence is that he knew everyone's address; he had to because there were no street signs and no house numbers.

Moving into 1920-29, we see the iconic photograph of the first city fire alarm. It was an iron ring from the wheel of a locomotive, suspended in a framework located on Third Avenue. At the time the photo was taken, the alarm was quiescent, and there is plenty of room for clearance above the head of the man who was sitting in it.

From 1930-39, in the Depression, a proud police force of six tall, handsome, strapping men is charmingly augmented by the presence of the city dog catcher, a diminutive fellow in jodhpurs and bow tie. Among the duties recounted of the police was returning children home who were out past curfew or illegally riding their bicycles on the sidewalk.

During 1940-49, the war years, with Rohr in full swing, included are an exceptional picture of donuts! The cafeteria bar there is covered with them! As it is a black and white photo, flavors are difficult to discern except for the all white ones which must be powdered sugar. Previous to this cafeteria, the Rohr kitchen is reported to have been located in the former Chevrolet salesroom on Third and Center.

The chapter covering 1950-59 mentions - a shoe trophy? Chula Vista High School had a shoe trophy? Well, apparently yes, but it was lost and replaced by a 1940 leather helmet. The helmet is pictured, but that shoe was a prize that the Hilltop Lancers and Chula Vista Spartans vied for. Apparently the old athletic shoe was later bronzed; so if you know where it is, I suppose you should contact Chula Vista High.

Logically, chapter 6 covers 1960-69, when Southwestern College was built. Of course, it was the 1960s and college kids and their teachers were active in those rebellious days. Among other things, they protested the Vietnam war and exhibited a few controversial art projects.

Local weirdness continued into the decade of 1970-79 with that charming cult classic "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." It was such a success that it even had a sequel: "Return of the Killer Tomatoes." Both were inspired by the fabulous flick "Danger at the Farm," all conceived and produced right here in South Bay by our very own homegrown talent!

In 1980-89 what captured mwas that midway through that time "the Excalibur party barge was ... finally beached." It had been built upon four surplus Navy landing craft and provided varying forms of excitement for many people. It had clearly seen better days before this picture was taken. Or, maybe not.

Almost there ... the 1990-99 decade found Soak City constructed and providing bright colored saturation fun for all. I recall a few days of sun-burned pleasure with my own children there.

And that brings us to the centennial decade! For 2000-10, I enjoyed the contrast to Soak City's sunlit aerial view with the umbrellas covering a close up of the pleased faces of those unveiling the Walk of History signs on Third Avenue.

Ah, history! I have purposely picked out some of the odder bits of Chula Vista's history. But also depicted and mentioned by Dr. Schoenherr is truly an astounding compendium including glorious old structures, beauteous babes, handsome hunks, athletes young and old, cutting- and /or squashing-edge technology, the evolution of hair and clothing styles, and a great many eye opening aerial views that show how the area has changed. But let me make it very clear, this massive collection of facts and photos has resulted in so much more research than what you see here in this one volume. Hopefully, more may come.

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