The Star-News


The sweet taste of Lemon Festival

Fri, Aug 06 2010 04:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampite

Don't forget to pucker up this Sunday. The 14th annual Lemon Festival is here again, returning with all kinds of fun activities for South Bay residents. The free event celebrates Chula Vista's heritage as the lemon capital of the world.

Greg Mattson, executive director for Third Avenue Village Association, has worked the festival for the past two years. He said it has evolved into a huge community event.

"We are the largest street fair held in August," Mattson said. Attendance is expected to bring between 35,000 and 40,000 people on Sunday.

Peter Watry, a longtime Chula Vista resident, is on the Chula Vista Heritage Museum board and has been a festival volunteer since 2000.

"Most people don't have the faintest idea why it's called the lemon festival ... and think that lemons are from Lemon Grove," Watry said.

According to Watry, National City, Bonita and Chula Vista used to be one big Mexican rancho.

The land was inherited by Don Juan Forester, an English trader in 1845. He sold the national ranch for $30,000 to entrepreneur and agricultural expert Frank Kimball in 1868 and named it El Rancho de la Nacion, or the Rancho of the Nation.

Kimball initially used the land for grazing and later developed it into a modern American farm, establishing the town of National City.

According to the Journal of San Diego History, the first San Diego County Fair was held in National City in 1882. Later the city held a citrus fair in the spring and the harvest festival in the fall.

After the completion of the National City & Otay Railroad in 1888, there were excursions that took people up to the dam and also to see the orchards on the banks of Sweetwater Valley. The railroad carried crowds down the valley through the new town of Chula Vista and other communities in the South Bay area.

As a farmer, Kimball noticed that Chula Vista had the best weather to produce lemons. By 1910 lemons were grown across 5,000 acres, which is when Chula Vista got its nickname "the lemon capital of the world."

The South Bay was mostly an agriculture-based economy until the 1940s, when Fred Rohr came to the Chula Vista waterfront to build a factory that would produce aerospace products, six months before Pearl Harbor.

The Lemon Festival is sponsored by the Third Avenue Village Association and the city of Chula Vista. The festival began specifically for Chula Vista residents and expanded because of its popularity, Mattson said.

"Many people from the north county are coming to the event now," he said.

The festivities will take place on Third Avenue between E and G streets from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

This year's event includes entertainment from local dance groups, the SD Elite Cheer Group, Afro Cuban Drumming and several local bands.

Other events include art displays, a lemon pie-eating contests, stilt walkers, dunk tanks and a classic car show.

More than 25 vendors providing a variety of food will be there. In addition, a Kids Fun Zone will provide carnival rides, inflatable jumpers, bungee flying, a rock climbing wall and pony rides.

Former executive director Jack Blakely likes to see the event bring the community together, adding that it also provides an economic benefit for the city.

"More civic groups have become involved and I believe it makes money without city assistance," he said.

 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect spelling of Fred Rohr's last name.

 


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