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
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.
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
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.
In 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
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
Forster 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
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.
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.
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
In 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.
On October 17, 1911, an election was held in Chula Vista to
incorporate and the people voted in its favor. The 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.
Local 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
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
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.