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Life in Chula Vista: Exploring the city's diverse history

Posted at 8:57 AM, Oct 07, 2019

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) - Long before Chula Vista became San Diego County's second-largest city, it was rural farmland with citrus groves from San Diego Bay to Otay Mountain.

"It was known as the lemon capital of the world," says Chula Vista history librarian Tanya Carr.

Lemons, oranges, and lots of celery once dominated Chula Vista’s landscape. That began to change in 1911 when Chula Vista was officially incorporated as a California city.

"Those lemon fields were replaced by Third Avenue, and that was our big main street in Chula Vista," adds Carr.

See complete coverage of Life in Chula Vista

Farming established Chula Vista's diverse culture but World War II began the city's rapid rise in population.

"I'm considered what's called the Navy brat," says Harry Orgovan.

Harry Orgovan is the president of the South Bay Historical Society and the Chula Vista Heritage Museum. His family and many other military families like his moved to Chula Vista during the war, tripling the population from 5,000 residents to 16,000 by 1950.

"In a sense, life was simpler back then and more innocent," adds Orgovan.

World War II brought an industrial revolution to Chula Vista. The Rohr Aircraft Corporation opened with as many as 11,000 employees building power units for the B-24 Liberator.

"You hear Rohr and just about every other person you talk to in Chula Vista either worked for Rohr, retired from Rohr, had family that worked for Rohr, and it provided thousands of jobs for the community," says Carr.

TIMELINE: Chula Vista through the years

When men left to fight in the war, women took over in the factories, changing the workforce as we know it. After the war, Chula Vista saw even more growth. It was a melting pot of Caucasians, Japanese, Filipinos, Mexicans, and more.

Shelley Rudd, a Chula Vistan since age two, was also an elementary school teacher and witnessed the diverse culture first hand.

"I love the diversity of Chula Vista,” says Rudd. “I would have from five to seven primary languages in my classroom every year."

As for notables, Chula Vista is home to Rita Hayworth, Mario Lopez, the 2009 Little League World Series Champs, and the Olympic Training Center. The city's best days may be yet to come with the much-anticipated development of the Chula Vista Bayfront.

"It's going to put us on the map as a thriving, culturally diverse, desirable tourist destination," says Carr with a big smile.