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History of Chula Vista

The Original Chula Vistans
Around 3000 B.C., Yuman-speaking people began moving into the area. Many of the Native Americans in San Diego today are descendants of the Kumeyaay tribe who lived here for hundreds of years.

The Kumeyaay of Chula Vista were nomads who roamed the countryside. Their diet mainly consisted of fish, small game and many types of wild seeds and berries native to the area. The main staple in their diet was the acorn from the thousands of oak trees that existed in the foothills and mountains of San Diego County. Besides being plentiful, acorns could be easily stored to provide food all throughout the year.

The Kumeyaay lived in small groups sometimes referred to as "tribelets," numbering no more than a hundred members at the most. The Kumeyaay lived in harmony with other tribes of California. At times, warriors would avenge the death of a member in the tribelet but there appears to be no history of continual tribal warfare with others in the area.

The Coming of the Spanish
A fleet of three small ships brought the first foreigners to the area in 1542. Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay and claimed the area for Spain. He was the first to explore the Pacific Ocean area north of Mexico, which the Spanish had recently conquered. Cabrillo named the bay San Miguel and met a group of Native Americans on the Point Loma peninsula.

It was sixty years later when a second group of explorers arrived in the area. In 1602, Spanish explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino sailed into the bay and renamed it San Diego. He stayed in the area for 10 days and never returned.

The Missionaries
In the late eighteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church had slowly been establishing a system of 21 missions throughout the Baja California peninsula. Their goal was to extend the Spanish empire and bring Christianity to the Native Americans. In 1769, Father Junipero Serra founded the first of California's missions in San Diego.

The mission system destroyed the Native Americans' traditional way of life. It was based on the European feudal-manor system where a few masters organized and controlled many "serfs." As a result, no longer were the Native Americans free to roam in order to hunt and gather food. They were taught to grow their food in the same manner found in European agriculture. In addition, the Spanish brought many European diseases, such as small pox, against which the Native Americans did not have immunity. Throughout California and the United States, Native Americans died by the thousands because of small pox, leaving the mission system in a state of demise.

cchu 187In 1795, the Chula Vista area became a part of a Spanish land grant known as Rancho del Rey or "The King's Ranch." When Mexico formed its own government in 1831, Rancho del Rey became known as Rancho del la Nation or National Ranch. The ranch encompassed the area now known as National City, Chula Vista, Bonita, Sunnyside and the Sweetwater Valley. Rancho del la Nation was used by the Spanish as grazing land for their cattle and horses until 1845 when it was granted to John Forster, the son-in-law of Mexican governor Pio Pico.

The United States claimed California following the Mexican-American War in 1847. Even though California became a state in 1850, land grants were allowed to continue as private property under American law.

The American Boom
cchu 171Forster continued to operate the ranch for ten years until he sold it to a French developer. The land was then again sold to the Kimball brothers in 1868 for $30,000. Frank, Warren and Levi Kimball intended to develop the land into productive American-style cities and farms. Frank Kimball is also responsible for bringing the Santa Fe Railroad to San Diego, with its first terminus in National City.

Several directors of the Santa Fe Railroad and Colonel W.G. Dickerson, a professional town planner, formed the San Diego Land and Town Company. The company set out to develop lands of the National Ranch for new settlers. They issued promotional material to attract settlers that read: "Upon the best part of this tract, 5,000 acres are being subdivided into five acre lots with avenues and streets 80 feet in width running each way, the steam motor road passing though the center. This tract, known as Chula Vista, lies but a mile from the thriving place of National City." With this announcement, the boom of the 1880s was on.

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These five-acre lots sold for $300 per acre in 1887. The purchaser was required to build a home within six months on the parcel. By 1889, ten houses were under construction and land sales were excellent. And thus, the City of Chula Vista was created.

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A resident, James D. Schulyer, suggested the name Chula Vista for the town and the San Diego Land and Town Company adopted it. Chula Vista can be roughly translated in Spanish as "beautiful view."


The Orchard Period
cchu 030cchu 053In 1888, the Sweetwater Dam was completed to bring water to Chula Vista residents and their farming lands. Frank Kimball became the State Commissioner of Agriculture and discovered citrus trees to be the most successful crop for the area. Chula Vista eventually became the largest lemon-growing center in the world for a period of time.


A railroad was built to connect San Diego, National City, Chula Vista and Otay. This railroad, know as the National City and Otay Railroad, flourished for many years.

cchu 006On October 17, 1911, an election was held in Chula Vista to incorporate and the people voted in its favor. cchu 113The State of California approved this Act of Incorporation in November. The Board of Trustees of Chula Vista held an election at the office of the People's State Bank and E.T. Smith was elected President.

cchu 202Local farmers continued to grow lemons as their primary crop and used over eight packing houses in the city. However, terrible weather came to the area in the following years causing severe damage. Crops suffered from a severe freeze in 1913 and droughts in 1914 and 1915. The Floods of 1916 caused major damage with a break in the Lower Otay Dam causing millions of gallons of water to empty out in two and a half hours. Railroad tracks near Second Ave were swept away, 23 homes were destroyed and more than 20 people were killed.


World War I and the Great Depression
In February 1916, the Hercules Powder Company began the design and construction of a kelp processing plant covering a 30-acre plot of land in Chula Vista. Kelp was an ideal source of materials used in the production of explosives. The plant produced potash and acetone to make cordite, a smokeless powder used extensively by the British armed forces in World War 1. Hercules produced 20,838,000 kilos of cordite for the British government during the war, making it the largest kelp harvesting fleet in the world at the time. The plant was located on what is now known as Gunpowder Point, currently home of the Chula Vista Nature Center.

Although the Great Depression affected Chula Vista significantly, agriculture still provided considerable income for the residents. Mexican and Japanese immigrants provided much of the agricultural labor force in the 1920s. The Japanese immigrants proved to be excellent farmers, particularly in crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and especially, winter celery. The value of celery production was quite successful. In 1931, the lemon orchards produced $1 million dollars in revenue and the celery fields contributed $600,000. By 1940, the heaviest concentration of Japanese farmers in San Diego County was in Chula Vista.

World War II
World War II ushered in changes that would affect the City of Chula Vista forever. The principal reason was the relocation of Rohr Aircraft Corporation to Chula Vista in early 1941, just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Rohr employed 9,000 workers in the area at the height of its wartime production. With the demand for housing, the land never returned to being orchard groves again. The population of Chula Vista tripled from 5,000 residents in 1940 to more than 16,000 in 1950.


Post War Chula Vista
After the war, many of the factory workers and thousands of servicemen stayed in the area resulting in the huge growth in population. During those years, numerous schools, homes, banks, restaurants, gas stations and shopping centers opened to accommodate the growing number of residents. The last of the citrus groves and celery fields disappeared, as Chula Vista became one of the largest communities in San Diego.

During the next decades, Chula Vista continued to expand eastward. Plans called for a variety of housing developments such as EastLake, Rancho del Rey and Otay Ranch neighborhoods. As of 2010, Chula Vista has 243,916 residents and is the second largest city in San Diego County. As the city continues to grow, it strives for a balance of attractive neighborhoods and strong business base but holds fast to maintaining a sense of community and small town values upon which it was founded.


City Of Chula Vista


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