Friday, December 28, 2012

Oranges Oranges Oranges: Citrus Barons of Yesteryear

Old Orange Grove Inc
Not long ago I was Googling on Oranges for a recipe utilizing oranges , onions and carrots and stumbled across some old historical archive photos of the Citrus Industry right there in the home town where I grew up in El Cajon California. When I grew up the Citrus Industry had already been in decline as newer and newer post WWII Housing boom gobbled up prime land which was valued as more of a money maker than those old orange groves. I had never before given a thought to all the family owned and run companies that once harvested and ran their citrus businesses with pride. Growing up there were all manner of former Mansions owned by the local Citrus Barons and they actually still exist. Most of these butt up against the foothills of Rattlesnake Mountain along Pepper Drive, though they are not as pronounced in all their glory as they once were when they were the center piece of the Farm Estate's former majesty. Though I never really knew the names of the farmers or the product line label, never the less they and the packing houses did exist. Some of the most beautiful commercial artwork I think are those old family farm crate labels which no longer exist. There are websites dedicated to displaying some of the most famous well known brands and the art which was illustrative of glory of the old agricultural empires which dominated most of Southern California almost a century ago. But below I found some labels which were endemic to El Cajon, California. Who knew ?

Old Orange Grove Inc

Old Orange Grove Inc

El Cajon Orange Association
Back in the 1980s, there was an explosion of sorts in the building boom industry that was gobbling up as much farmland as possible  in just about every corner of western Riverside County in California. Incredibly, there were literally tons of older styled homes, Barns and other agricultural outbuildings which were simply bulldozed. What blew me away during that time period was the fact that there was so much of the building material that was still good and I managed to make deals with some developers for salvaging some buildings. Later I built structures on my own property from those same materials and even sold some of the materials as salvage, but that's another story. But when rummaging through some of the things to be cleared out before dismantling the structures, I often ran across some of these same commercial Produce Crate Labels in unopened or partially opened boxes. 

One such experience was of a former family owned farm southwest of Indio CA and directly east of La Quinta CA. I stumbled across it by accident as I noticed several cares and trucks whose drivers were out disassembling Farm equipment for themselves. No one had any permission what so ever. Typical! I found the Farm's office building where business records and other personal artifacts were stored. Stuff was strewn all over the place. The Farmer had specifically specialized in growing Tomatoes and their decorative dark blue background artwork label was Louie Tomatoes. There were many old family photos mixed in with the labels from the 1950s and 60s. They were apparently a Filipino-American family who immigrated and started farming. As I looked of the family photos of happier times, I kept on reflecting the whole time I was walking around the abandoned Farm just how hard working they must have been and the pride of produced they farmed. Of course that is the way things were back then. What I remember most about Farm Families back then was their hard working ethic and desire to produce the best quality. Producing the best which had their family name stamped on the box was their whole reputation. This doesn't seem to be  the case anymore with this world's obsession with artificial synthetic biology run be an Industrial Agricultural Society.

MotorCoach Country Club - La Quinta CA
 The former family farm is now a giant of a Country Club which caters to the expensive top of the line Recreational Vehicles, the costs for which run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The place is now called  Motorcoach Country Club . They just don't let anybody in these places, you got to actually be a *cough-cough* real life Somebody! Most of the former farms went this way as selling the land was more lucrative than the hard work and sweat to keep the farm alive and pay the ever increasing taxes. Sadly I wondered about the kids that the Louie family raised and why they didn't want to keep up the legacy. Oh well, maybe they moved on to more professional careers. Still much of the old Agricultural era of Southern California is long since dead, with the exception of the industrial farms in the desert where most people have no wish to  ever to visit and young people who grow up there want nothing more than to move away from it all. Still, the discovery of those older El Cajon Farm produce crate labels brought back some fond memories of a quieter time of family oriented lifestyle in an area I grew up in, something newer generations will never ever again experience or be able to imagine and ponder about, because our times have degenerated so far away from those ideals. Now a child's closest family member and/or friend is nothing more than some expensive electronic gadgetry.  

After WW II, the land was more valuable for bedroom districts and other commercial urban sprawl. Many of the War Veterans & other Military Servicemen (my Dad included) didn't want to go back to Iowa where harsh winters and other sorry hard working conditions were in stark contrast to an area where beautiful temperatures averaging between 70 & 80 Fahrenheit are year round. So all the agriculture had to go. There were a few holdouts, but by 1980 they were all pretty much gone as another building boom took over with the election of another economy friendly President and wiped out what was left of quieter days. Now there are only reminders of those days through iconic packing labels found at consignment antique sheds. Maybe some are in Museums. Some of these must even be real collectibles by now. Well anyway, it was nice to finally see what was once the area where I grew up. Never heard of those citrus families or the Coop Packing Houses of Bostonia in El Cajon, CA. Maybe one day things will be different, but under the present system of things, don't count on it. Just for fun and interest, here is a website below which contains all manner of original Agricultural crate label artwork and other prints of memorabilia for looking and sale. Enjoy!

art credit Karen Winters

Springtime Citrus Groves along Hwy 126 
in Ventura County CA.

Exhibited at the Santa Paula Museum of 

Art in Santa Paula, California

Art Credit: Brian Mark Taylor

A rural scene of the Central California 
Farming Community

A SLICE IN TIME: "Beautiful Historic Art from a Bygone Era"

Other Reading References 

‘Farm-to-School’ initiative puts fresh produce in classes


  1. Those are great labels and graphics! Though I was only a short-timer San Diegan, one of my fondest memories was driving from where co-workers and I lived in Rancho Bernardo, up through the citrus groves (mostly oranges) between there, the Wild Animal Park, and Ramona. Those were all unfenced when I moved in 1991, but all fenced in with security measures by 1997.

    I wonder if you return to that area, if it would be sadder with so much changed and gone, than when you left? I hear the same about Florida, and I'm witnessing it here for some different reasons, where few get where they are or care.

  2. Nothing ever stays the same. I hate to be one of those who "like it was in the good old days" , those times had their own unique set of problems.

    I do like the artwork though. Not only is it descriptive of the life back then, but many of the idyllic allow you a measure of escape from the present. Even if it's a bit imaginary.

  3. It is kind of sad to hear about how all these farms were taken over. I am hoping the farm bill will help save some farms of today. We need them. I love the labels and graphics for the Orange Grove.


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