The Star-News


Book puts Chula Vista in shining spotlight

Sat, Aug 20 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Pena

I would suppose that by now there is many a coffee table in the Chula Vista area sporting the brand new book written by local historian Steven Schoenherr.

Titled "Chula Vista Centennial" it is a concise history of the city and the outlying area on the occasion of the city's founding in that long ago year of 1911.

A city should write its history every 25 years. Chula Vista does. This is the proper way, for those of one generation, to hand down those positive deeds and, yes, those misdeeds, to those who come after; a guide, so to speak, to map the deeds of those future generations.

Schoenherr's book is, it is true, a handsome tome. It, however, is more than that. It is a volume that must be read, must be researched and its contents must be retained for anyone interested in the history of the southland. The rich and incomparable history of the city, and other parts of the South County, are there for the benefit of the historian and those who wish to know a bit of their homeland

The founding of the city was in 1911 which really makes Chula Vista one of those Johnnie-come-lately municipalities. There are many cities in the county that came along much sooner.

The date of its founding is Oct. 17, 1911, but it was around long before then. At its founding streets had already been laid out, mansions had been built and the countrysides were masses of lemon orchards and other agriculture offerings.

The heart of the new city was what is now Third Avenue. The avenue boasted a general store, a paint store, a cigar store and the post office. And for recreation on the street they also had a pool hall.

The book is laid out in decades, each one giving the reader an insight into the developments of that particular 10- year period, along with a summary of those who governed and those who contributed greatly, or in part, to the development of the town. It is liberally festooned with photographs, many of buildings and houses, some still around but most long gone.

There is one photograph that I have seen before and it is one that thoroughly fascinates me. It is the image of the old grammar school, complete with playing children in the yard and the building sporting its bell tower, no doubt used to summon the youngsters to classes.

That first decade has its drawbacks as it was the time of natural calamities. The author gives a creditable account of the flood of 1916 and the events leading up to it. I have always been fascinated with the story of Charlie Hatfield, the rainmaker, and the sheer havoc that was wreaked on the entire area. Schoenherr gives some credit to Hatfield for the rain but then tells us that a rain storm was also in the offing.

There are many interesting anecdotes and stories offered by Schoenherr, in fact, too many to mention in this space. I did come across one that I knew about before but it has always been a great story.

This was in the 1950s. City Hall was having its problems. There was a group that had launched a recall of the mayor and some of the city councilmen. The general consensus among some was that Rohr, the largest industry in the city, was trying to run everything. It isn't stated but someone or some group had probably said, "Who needs Rohr."

"Fred Rohr responded in a most unusual way," wrote Schoenherr. "On Friday, Dec. 10, 1954, he paid his workers with bags of silver dollars." The idea, of course, was to make the city aware, particularly those in City Hall, of the importance of Rohr to the local economy. And Rohr got his point across. The mass of silver dollars, tons of them, rained down on the retail establishments of the town, the grocer, the butcher, the gas and electric company and all the others who supplied services to the community. They talked of this event for years afterward.

This "Chula Vista Centennial" may be obtained in the Centennial Office in City Hall. The office is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. It is a worthwhile addition to any home library.


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