Bonitafest History

by Steve Schoenherr


The first Bonitafest parade Oct. 19, 1973, featured antique cars, drill teams, bands, horses and children pulling wagons carrying goats, chickens, and dogs.
(Photo from the Bonita Museum)

When she purchased Village Togs in 1971, little did Emily Ritter realize the whirlwind she had set in motion. It took Emily and her partner Beth Marks just weeks to realize that most of the Bonita merchants didn't know each other. Emily was soon canvassing the valley to get merchants to create the Bonita Business and Professional Association. Though the BBPA started strong out of the gate, attendance at meetings soon dropped. Emily suggested that they do something to get noticed like have an Oktoberfest, and Adelle Rockwell suggested they call in "Bonitafest." Within minutes, the group was working on this new special event. The event commenced with music and square dancing in the street on Friday, October 19, 1973. Saturday, October 20, began with a Flag Raising at 8:00 am, and included Indian Guide Dancing and Drum Playing, a wine tasting, and an antique clothing fashion show. The old-time parade featured drill teams, bands, horses and children pulling wagons carrying goats, chickens, and dogs. Many "Old-Timers" also rode antique cars in the parade, including Grand Marshals Commander and Mrs. Allan Olson who had first come to the valley in the 1920s. In the years since 1973, Bonitafest has grown and evolved. In the late 1970s, Bonitafest lasted Friday evening through Sunday. In recent years, it has been shortened to one day. In 1978, Max Branscomb wrote the first melodrama which was performed in a large tent erected on an empty lot, a tradition that continues to this day. In 1979, Pat and Kirk Dolan originated an Orange Crate Derby. For over 30 years, on the last Saturday in September Bonita has put on its best face and celebrated its heritage. The Bonita Museum and Cultural Center started out as an historical photograph exhibit for Bonitafest. Through the generosity of the community, the city of Chula Vista and the county of San Diego, the Museum moved into a new building adjacent to the new Bonita Sunnyside library in 2005. ( Schoenherr, Bonita, 2010. )

Designed by local architect Victor Wulff and inspired by the California Missions, the Brookside Winery Tasting Room was finished in 1965. It was at a meeting at the Tasting Room that the idea of Bonitafest was born. The Tasting Room operated until 1970s when it was remodeled for the North Island Credit Union. It is now the Performance Cyclery. (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1971 - The Bonita Business and Professional Association (BBPA) was conceived in 1971 when a small group of the business owners met to get better acquainted and to work together in developing more customers for their embryo establishments. Emily Ritter was the proprietor of Village Togs, a ladies clothing shop in the brand new shopping center on the southeast side of the intersection of Bonita Road and Allen School Road. Emily decided that it was time to let people know that there were up and coming businesses in the Valley. She started at Berg's Feed Barn on Bonita Road, on the north side of the road, between 805 and Willow, now long gone, and wended her way east, stopping at the newly built winery, now the North Island Credit Union. She enlisted the Anisodens, Claude and Sharon, then went past the intersection of Willow and Bonita Road, where Don Painter's Union 76 station was under construction. The Bonita Store was a real grocery store at that time and across the street was an old service station. The post office was next to the Bonita Store. She went on to the east, stopping at the Standard station that sat amid the eucalyptus trees by the side of the road where the Great American Federal Building now sits. She traveled on by the Big Bear Grocery and enlisted the nucleus of her pioneers in the new shopping center, where her own shop was located. She enlisted Dede Shields, realtor, Tommy Tompkins, Saddlery owner, Dr. Bob Fouchet, dentist, and Gretta Arnold in her Stitching Post. She canvassed the newly completed Chula Vista Golf Course and its restaurant, the Glenn. The shopping center where Vons now sits was an open field, so on to the Sunnyside Store at the east end of town. After several meetings, the group named itself and elected the officers for the first time. Dr. Bob Fouchet was elected the first president. Emily was the vice president, Dede Shields, secretary. ( Chula Vista Historical Society. Family, Friends, and Homes,1991. )

Billy Casper with Lorraine Whittington and Emily Ritter preparing for a golf tournament to benefit the Community Hospital in 1973.
Emily Ritter was president of the hospital auxiliary in Chula Vista and founder of the BBPA in Bonita. (Photo from Community Hospital)

1973 - Emily Ritter and the BBPA decided that the community needed to have an event to publicize the business area and in 1973 Emily suggested that they have an Octoberfest with "dancing in the streets and beer gardens." Adele Rockwell suggested that it be called the Bonitafest which was quickly accepted. Thus started the first of the now famous community celebrations. In October of 1973 a very large parade for such a small community (over 100 entries) started at the corner of Otay Lakes Road and Bonita Road, proceeding down Bonita Road to Willow, past a small but enthusiastic crowd of onlookers. There were lots of horses and bands in the first parade. ( Chula Vista Historical Society. Family, Friends, and Homes, 1991. )

Planning for Bonitafest began in the spring when a group of Old Timers met for their annual luncheon sponsored by the Sweetwater Woman's Club.
A long roll of butcher's paper was taped to a wall and Fred Higgins drew a map of the valley from memory, showing the locations of ranches and homes from the 1890s to 1945.
This photo is a copy of the original map in the collections of the Bonita Museum. Click on picture to enlarge.

1973 - Though still part of the Fire Department's active fleet, the 1954 Mack Engine #1 was primarily used as a parade vehicle. This engine heads up Bonita Road at the first Bonitafest parade in 1973, with a small crowd on the sidewalk across the street from the new La Bonita Apartments. The Sweetwater Valley Civic Association were leaders in preserving the valley's rural nature and began the tradition of dressing in period costumes for Bonitafest in 1973. From left to right is Zula Pena, Carol Freno, Pat Spies, and Dick Hagen. The judges and guest have preferred seating on the platform in front of Victor Wulff's new Bonita Valley Suites office building on Bonita Road for the 1973 Bonitafest parade. Horsemen in Bonitafest 1973 march by the Sweetwater Realty building that was built in 1955 by Morris Allen whose father was foreman at the construction ofthe original packinghouse barn. Mr. Allen built the copy in an attempt to preserve some of the historical lore of the Bonita area. ( Photos from the Bonitafest 1973 Vertical File, Bonita Museum. )

1973/10/19 - Bonitafest commenced with music and square dancing in the street on Friday, October 19, 1973. Saturday, October 20, began with a Flag Raising at 8:00 a.m., and included Indian Guide Dancing and Drum Playing, a wine tasting, and an antique clothing fashion show. The old-time parade featured drill teams, bands, horses and children pulling wagons carrying goats, chickens, and dogs. Many "Old-Timers" also rode antique cars in the parade, including Grand Marshals Commander and Mrs. Allan Olson who had first come to the valley in the 1920s. In the years since 1973, Bonitafest has grown and evolved. In the late 1970s, Bonitafest lasted Friday evening through Sunday. In recent years, it has been shortened to one day. In 1978, Max Branscomb wrote the first melodrama which was performed in a large tent erected on an empty lot, a tradition that continues to this day. In 1979, Pat and Kirk Dolan originated an Orange Crate Derby. For over 30 years, on the last Saturday in September Bonita has put on its best face and celebrated its heritage. ( Schoenherr, Bonita, 2010 )

First Annual Bonitafest Edition of the Bonita Valley News, Oct. 20th, 1973. (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1974 - In 1974 and again in 1985, Mary Ward was honorary Grand Marshal of the Bonitafest parade. Mary Allen Ward, who had been the oldest living native of Bonita, died March 16, 1992, in the home that she and her first husband, Samuel Sherman, built on Bonita Mesa in 1924. She was approaching her 95th birthday, having been born about one mile away on April 3, 1897, the second daughter and fourth child of Russell Carpenter Allen and Ella Bradford (Copeland) Allen. After National City High School and one year at Bryn Mawr, she graduated from University of California, Berkeley, in 1919 with honors in bacteriology, and continued for a graduate certificate in nursing in 1922. She practiced nursing professionally only briefly, but for many years exercised a lively and practical concern for the health of her neighbors in the Sweetwater Valley. She was a pioneer in the local development of the Visiting Nurses Association. Carrying on the social concerns of her parents, she was president of the Boys and Girls Aid Society for many years, and served on local school boards and the county probation board. She also inherited a great love of language, literature and the arts, and expressed these by tutoring in reading in the Chula Vista schools, and with active involvement in the Opera Board and Symphony Association. Throughout her early adult life, the family business was the Sweetwater Fruit Company, which she served for many years as secretary and bookkeeper. When the labor force became predominantly Mexican during World War II she became the principal counselor and advocate of the braceros, and almost a surrogate mother to many. She was a driving force in the early development of a social life in Bonita being a founding member of the Sweetwater Woman's Club, and continued the family's social ties to San Diego as member and president of the Wednesday Club. After Sherman died in 1933, she formed a second happy union, in 1938, with Butler E. Ward of San Diego. She broke him in to country life, and he carried her off on foreign travel. Their favorite place was Mexico, and they explored most of it. They had many wonderful friends in Bonita, Chula Vista, San Diego and La Jolla. Butler Ward died in 1973. ( Chula Vista Star-News, March 21-22, 1992. )

Special Bonitafest Editions of the Bonita Post, 1974. (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1975/09/04 - Fred Higgins to be Bonitafest Grand Marshal in 1975. The Higgins family built a ranch house in the little valley to the south and north of what is now Corky McMillin's Bonita Willows. Fred's mother was one of the original members of the Sweetwater Woman's Club. Fred's father was on the two-man Board of Education. Fred and Lucille now live on Siembre Street in Sunnyside midst the 15 acres they once planted as a lemon grove. Among Fred's business ventures was The Dungaree that oldtimers remember as the place they bought jeans, shirts and tack. Jim DeBello and Jolene Esparza are Junior hosts for Bonitafest, both are BVHS seniors. Jim is the son of Mrs. John DeBello and the late Mr. DeBello. (Bonita Post, Sept. 4, 1975)

Grand Marshal and Junior Hosts in the Bonita Post, Sept. 4, 1975. (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1975/09/04 - Deedie Shields and Claire Floto of the BBPA organized historical photo exhibit for Bonitafest. ( Bonita Post, vol. 2 )

Parade route in the Bonita Post, Sept. 25, 1975. (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1976 - Josephine B. Loomis was Bonitafest Grand Marshal 1976. She was born in New York state, her father originally came from Ireland. She married Charles Bartell Loomis in 1918 and homesteaded in Colorado. She became one of the first women to cross the US on a motorcycle, from Los Angeles to NY. In 1949 she became Bonita's Postmaster, until 1965. She won a craft prize for her cut-out carved sign for the Sweetwater Woman's Club. She has 3 children including a daughter, Molly Gassaway, living on Orchard Hill Road, where Josephine built her house near her daughter. ( Loomis Family vertical file, Bonita Museum )

1976 - Henry D. Holt was Bonitafest Grand Marshal in 1976. He taught mechanical engineering in Shanghai, China, in 1915, returned to US to fight in WWI, then returned to China 1920, married his 2nd wife, retired from teaching and moved to Chula Vista in 1950, lived in the house he built on Malito Dr., and joined Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, ( Holt vertical file, Bonita Museum )

Special Bonitafest Editions of the Bonita Post, 1976. Bonitafest Grand Marshals plant cypress trees donated by Lee and Dick Harvey of the Plant Shack Nursery. The students in the Oct. 7 photo are members of the Airline Service Class from SW College who served as Bonitafest hostesses. (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1976/09/23 - Oldtimers at Bonitafest will ride in antique cars. Mike Brewer, is a 72 yr resident with his sister and borther in law Les Swanson. Mrs. Swanson came here in 1904 and attended old Sunnyside School. Mr. Pleasant Wood has lived here 69 years, is brother-in-law to Mike Brewer. Mrs. Henry Grafton Chapman came here as bride in 1921, moved to her present home in 1922, a house on Allen Road which has been a Valley fixture all these years. Mr. and Mrs. Roland F. deFere, a retired attorney with Mrs. deFere's father, Mr. Lucien Lebreton, a native of France but a resident here for years, proud of his age of 90 years. Mrs. Ruth Haubert moved to Sunnyside as child 1908, was married 1919 at the Sunnyside church. Mrs. Bertha Mathews is longtime valley resident. Dr. James B. Norton came to the valley Dec. 24, 1905, graduated from Bonita Grammar School 1917 and NC high school 1921 and practiced dentistry in NC for 39 yrs and retired 1964. Mr. and Mrs. F. R. Scidmore are longtime residents. Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Skene: he was born 1879 in England, immigrated to Canada 1896 and to US in 1901; she was born 1886 in Oregon. Mr. Thomas S. Turner age 87 came to Bonita in 1935 and worked for the Sweetwater Fruit Company until retired 1958. Miss Mary Gordon Volkmann lived here since 1930. Mrs. Butler Ward was past Grand Marshal 1974 was born in Bonita 1897. Mr. and Mrs. Vincent P. Whelan longtime residents, retired attroney. Mr. and Mrs. Herman Wolfe born in the area and attended Sweetwater HS and later in charge of Sweetwater HS District Transportation for 37 yrs. Mr. and Mrs. S. G. Litchfield, retired realtor, moved into house built in 1907 by the father of Mrs. Ward. ( Bonita Post, vol. 3 )

Special Bonitafest Edition of the Bonita Post, 1977. (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1977/09/29 - Pat Spies is Bonitafest Grand Marshal for 1977. She moved into her house in 1948 in Allen School area. Was a charter member of SVCA. Biggest battles were attempt to defeat the attempted annexation of Bonita-Sunnyside to the Otay Mesa Fire District; blocking the Chula Vista Post Office from consolidating the Bonita area, thus maintaining Bonita's postmark and the areas integrating as a separate settlement; thwarting (at Ieast lor the time being) the controversial Bonita-Miguel project; the battle to prevent Highway 54 from being built right through the middle of the Valley; tying up the proposed National City-May Co. shopping center project which would destroy the Bonita Golf Course area and cause pollution in the Valley. The last of these battles is going strong after 7 years of court appearances, injunctions, appeals, and public hearings. In Feb. of this year, Mrs. Spies and the SVCA sent a letter to the County Board of Supervisors asking the board's help in protecting some 9.8 acres of the area question. Attorney Bill Canon, now in his second year as president of the SVCA and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Sweetwater Planning Group, said, "Pat Spies has done far more than anyone else to help the Valley keep it's rural appeal. She is Bonita's sounding board. She has given tremendous amounts of time and effort, something that very few people have done." ( Bonta Post, Sept. 29, 1977 ) - see article

Bonitafest melodrama "Thin Skins and Hayseeds" was written and produced in 1978 by Max Branscomb and Loren Lindsay Tarantino. In this photo, David Harris played pioneer farmer Alf Lansley, and the Lansley family was played by Lisa Mercier and Cora Powell and unidentified boy. (Photo from Max Branscomb)

1978 - The Bonitafest melodrama "Thin Skins and Hayseeds" written and produced by Max Branscomb with Loren Lindsey Tarantino brought Bonita history to life. It was inspired by the lives of Bonita pioneers Alfred Lansley, Fred Higgins, Mary Allen Ward, and others. In this 1978 photo, David Harris played pioneer farmer Alf Lansley, and the Lansley family was played by Lisa Mercier and Cora Powell, with unidentified boy at right. Richard Pena and Zula Pena ride in the open wagon for the Bonita Museum in the Bonitafest parade. Richard helped Max Branscomb do the research for his melodrama by bringing together a group of Old-Timers who told their stories to Max. The melodrama is the longest-running theater production in San Diego history, performed every year since 1978. Added in 1978, the Bonitafest Wine Tasting with dinner and entertainment was a popular addition. Nan Meyers, holding the microphone, was the host for 1980 dinner. Her husband Ed Meyers is in the black hat and Jan Taipale plays guitar. Local merchants and organizations set up booths along Bonita Road selling arts, crafts, plants and food to the visitors during the 1980 Bonitafest. Many local school and church groups raised money for special events as the Ski Club Bake Sale booth shows. Started by Pat and Kirk Dolan in 1979, the Orange Crate Derby was a very popular addition to Bonitafest. Local boys and girls built their cars under strict rules ofweight and steering, and raced down the hills of Bonita. The participants, with the winners at the front, participant in the 1993 Bonitafest parade. ( Schoenherr, Bonita, 2010. )

Special Bonitafest Edition of the Bonita Post, 1979. (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1979/09/27 - Al Monahan was selected as 1979 Bonitafest Host, has been involved in the planning of all Bonitafests since the first in Sept 1973. He was born in Canada, moved to Idaho when he was 6, after high school moved to Seattle, worked in Boeing factory, was Navy pilot in WWII, married June Erickson in 1945, had met in Idaho. He was one of the Navy's first helicopter pilots, flew evac in Korea and Vietnam, was commander of air group in 1962, retired in 1971 As Captain Al E. Monahan, formed a financial firm called "Private Ledger" that grew to 200 agents. Al's favorite events in Bonitafests have been Old Timers Luncheon and the melodrama. ( Bonita Post, vol. 6 )

1979/09/27 - Emily Ritter slected as 1979 Bonitafest Hostess. She was born in Georgia, was army nurse in WWII, married Marine pilot Lee Ritter, have raised 3 children, when Lee retired from marines Emily bought the Village Togs in 1971, and founded Bonita Bath in 1975 with Betty lou Lewis, but now has sold all stores and works part time as sales rep for Gertrud Davenport wholesaler. She founded the BBPA in 1971 when she felt the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce was not representing Bonita businesses. In 1976 she ran for City Council. ( Bonita Post, vol. 6 )

1979/12/13 - Rick Diaz is local song writer and singer, has cut a new album, includes song "Bonita" recorded during the 1978 Bonitafest. He is an avid horseman who boards two horses at the Sunnyside Stock Farm, and he rides with the well-known "Hole-in-the-Wall Gang." ( Bonita Post, vol. 6 )

1979 - Bonitafest 1979 Grand Marshals will be Martha Chapman and Roland DeFere. Martha Chapman was born in Rochester NY in 1897, became schoolteacher, moved to Wyoming in the 1910s, met Grafton Chapman, they came to California Sept. 1921 because of a job at the fruit company, and were married by Martha's father, Lutheran minister Rev. Dr. Alpeter. They built their home on Allen School Road in 1922, a classic example of California redwood. Grafton was a major in the army in WWI, and was a AF officer in WWII who commanded the secret base on Mojave Desert where first American jet planes were developed and tested. Martha witnessed the flights of the first three jets, and spent severl years living on the base. Grafton later worked on the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet and then served in Korean War, and died 1970. Son Robert lives in Hawaii with family of 5 children. Martha was member of SVCA. ( Bonita Post, Sept. 27, 1979)

Bonitafest 1973 (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1980/10/12 - Max Branscomb wrote both the music and the script for 'A Matter of Time.' The 25-year-old Paradise Hills resident just completed a journalism degree at San Diego State University and is working on his master's degree in mass communication. He plans to write next year's Bonitafest plays, and, he said, to keep on writing plays until people start throwing tomatoes. Branscomb recently left the Bonita Post where he had been a reporter since age 15, to devote his energies to school. ( Imperial Beach Star-News, Oct. 12, 1980 )

Bonita Post sportswriter Max Branscomb won a County Press Award when he was a senior at Bonita Vista High School. His writing skills and love of Bonita history has contributed to his authorship of the Bonitafest melodrama from 1978 to the present. (Bonita Post, June 6, 1975)

1981 - Bonitafest 1981 - Bonita & Professional Association Community Volunteers Capt. and Mrs. Charles B. Hamilton, founders of the C.B. & Ardell Hamilton Scholarship Fund. Ardell Hamilton is wearing and Bonitafest button. ( Bonita Museum)

Bonitafest 1980 (Photo from the Bonita Museum)

1983/09/18 - Bonitafest '83 got off to something of a slow start this year and veterans of the Sweetwater Valley's annual celebration were getting more than a little nervous. Planning and organization which usually starts in February or March was still dangling as spring flowers were beginningto blossom, and at least a couple Bonitafest aficionados were grimly worried about toe possibility of "Bonitaflop." No one had yet stepped forward to take the weighty position of Bonitafest General Chairman, and the natives were getting restless. Enter Don Glover, a "Johnny Come Lately" to Bonita who had only recently purchased the Jack-in-the-Box franchise on Bonita Road. Without fully understanding what he was getting himself into, he volunteered to lead the stalled Bonitafest '83. "1 guess they figured they could sucker the new kid on the block into the job because he wouldn't know how hard a job it is," Glover joked. "But I've enjoyed every minute I've spent working on the Bonitafest, it's really a lot of fun." Glover's task is to coordinate about two dozen events and the scores of volunteers which form the heart and soul of the Bonitafest. Committee chairmen and volunteers meet every Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. to brief each other on the progress of their respective tasks. At the head of the table sit Glover and advisor Larry LaTour, chairman of last year's Bonitafest, to make suggestions and keep things running smoothly. "I've heard that past Bonitafests were difficult to put on, but this year is falling into place very nicely," Glover said. "Everybody who works on the various activities are bright people who know what they're doing. Sometimes I feel that Bonitafest really just runs Itself." Bonitafest '82 was Glover's first glimse of the Sweetwater Valley's annual celebration, and a hit-and-miss one at that. "I didn't get to see too much of it last year because I was working the rush at Jack-in-the-Box," he explained. " A lot of this will be new to me, even though I'm beginning to feel pretty familiar with some of the events because we spend so much time discussing them and planning them. I'm anxious to see some of these activities for the first time." Glover's inexperience has not handicapped his ability to run Bonitafest '83, co-workers say. "Don has good fundamental management skills which he applies at Jack-in-the-Box and Bonitafest," said volunteer Margaret Frank. "He knows how to run things and how to delegate authority. He lets the people do what they're best at without meddling too much." Glover is something of an oddity in that he does not live in the immediate area. He commutes daily from Rancho Bernardo to his Bonita restaurant and his new store at 4th and C in Chula Vista, and crawls out of bed at 5 a.m. for those "rooster racing" earlier morning Bonitafest meetings. Though the Bonitafest parade and the booths won't flood Bonita Road until Oct. 1, Bonitafest is already ''underway," Glover said. "It's more than a weekend anymore," he explained, "It's actually a month of events and activities. The Fun Run cosponsored by the YMCA already went off smoothly, and the tennis tournament is underway. The golf tournament is coming up and so is the drama production. We already have a full head of steam built up by the time Oct. 1 rolls around. Local merchants need to work more closely together," Glover said, "to unite the community. The Bonitafest and the BBPA (Bonita Business and Professional Association) have made some real progress in bringing the merchants and the community together, but there is still much that hasn't been done," he said. Civic-minded volunteers are another "key" to the Bonitafest, stated Glover. "I'm impressed by the number of people who work on the Bonitafest who do not own businesses in the valley," he said. "These are people who do not profit at all from Bonitafest in a business sense, but who contribute their time and talents to the community. We have a group of private citizens like Mary Jane Pye, Diane Cousino, Kirk and Pat Dolan, Margaret Frank, Betty Poselli and Al Monahan, just to name a few who play indispensable roles in putting this thing together." Large businesses and companies have shown more interst in the Bonitafest recently, Glover said, and have helped provide funding and manpower needed for the expanding list of activities and events. "The smaller stores were carrying the whole Bonitafest on their backs for years," he pointed out. "We need the big guys to pitch in a little if we want to keep improving. I'd like to publicly thank The Star-News for all the help and support they've given to the Bonitafest this year. They've given us a small army of helpers and they've agreed to sponsor the parade." Glover said he "can't wait" to bring his wife, Cathy, 7-year-old son, Jeff, and 4-year-old daughter, Kristin, to see their first Bonitafest. "Jeff's racing in the Orange Crate Derby this year, so I can't miss that," he said with a grin. "In fact, I don't want to miss anything." (The Imperial Beach Star-News, Sept. 18, 1983)

Chaz Abbott, 8, and Kristen Foster, 11, head down Briarwood Road in Bonita during the Bonitafest's Orange Crate Derby yesterday. The race is just one of a host of activities sponsored by the Bonitafest committee. (The Imperial Beach Star-News, Sept. 25, 1983)

1983/10/06 - "Bonita Bonitafest rediscovers its roots in 1983" by Max Branscomb. The kids on the bikes decorated with colorful streamers were holding their palms heavenward and bracing for the worst. The girk in the sequined tights had their jackets draped over their shoulders to fend off the breeze. The thousands lining Bonita Road waiting for the Bonitafest '83 parade to get underway were looking skyward. "Please don't let it rain on our parade," murmured parade chairperson Glcnnalie Coleman at she directed the antique cars carrying the VIPs to their starting places. Coleman seemed to strike a compromise with the threatening skies as she continued her preparations. It did rain on the Bonitafest parade, but not hard enough to wash away the smiles from the faces ot the participants and the viewers. This year's Bonitafest had a strangely nostalgic flavor, which summoned memories of the more homespun celebrations from a time when the Bonita Road parade route began and ended with pastures full of grazing horses. After years of increasing commercialization, Bonitafest rediscovered its roots and its intimate charm. The marching bands from Bonita Vista High and BV Junior High were there, proudly strutting down the center of town with the pomp and drill one would expect to find in a parade. But this was a people's parade, too, with an accessibility and innocence est redisc that was refreshing. A beaming mother pushed her two babies painted with clown's faces in a two-seater stroller. The orange crate derby winners waved from their cars as their dads pushed them along with broomsticks and their trophies acted as hood ornaments. The Cub Scouts grinned toothy grins and gave crisp two-fingered salutes to whoever waved. All of the traditional Bonitafest entries were there, too. The scruffy "Hole in the Wail Gang" pointed rifles skyward and chewed stumps of cigars as their horses trotted by. Grey-haired gentlemen in string ties drove their spotless classic automobiles at a snail's pace, A barbershop quartet hit every harmony gracefully as it passed, and a group of young people played guitar and sang from the back of a flatbed. "Thiswas a marvelous parade," said 89-year-old Grand Marshal Julia Scidmore. "It was really a lot of fun. I've never seen so many people having so much fun." After the parade, the crowds left the curbs and milled around the scores of booths scattered throughout the parking lots of Bonita's shopping centers. Kids bought cotton candy that made their tongues turn blue, while their parents chewed on chili dogs, bagels, and soft pretzels. Craftsmen offered everything from T-shirts and belt buckles to quilts and lace dresses. From the makeshift stages came the sounds of music, dancing, and entertainment of several covers its hues. The Bonita Vista Music Machine gave its premier 1983-84 performance. Sherri Barker led a troupe of celebrity impersonators with her no-holds-barred salute to Liza Minnelli. Ruben Padiila kept an audience of youngsters riveted with his magic act. Elsewhere, Bonita's senior citizens were being honored at the sentimental Old Timers luncheon, an annual meeting of one of the area's most exclusive clubs. As the afternoon marched on, the clouds thinned away and people drifted over to the wine tasting party at the Bonita Professional Center and the pit barbeque at the scenic Bonita Optimist Club. The sun was sliding from the sky and the street vendors were loading their station wagons, but Bonitafest Saturday was far from over. The sun had just gone down as the curtain came up on the final Bonita performance of "Fourth and Goal," the Bonitafest Drama Production. Crew members were scurrying about busily setting up extra chairs for the overflow crowd that had packed Bonita Vista High Schoors music drama building for the final rousmg show. The cast of actors was tired before the show began but caught fire from the enthusiastic crowd. On the other side of the campus, the Bonitafest Youth Dance returned this year after a conspicuous absence. It was somewhat less raucous event this year, as a polished DJ replaced the rock bands of the previous years. Some of the young people who attended said they preferred the five bands, but were glad to settle for music from any source. As Bonitafest continues to grow and add new events, the celebration is spilling into the weeks preceding and following Bonitafest Saturday. This Sunday a 30-mile bicycle tour and 10-mile fun ride will snake through the valley. (The Imperial Beach Star-News, Oct. 6, 1983)

Wild West Bonitafest 1985 plate showing the Bonita-Sunnyside Fire truck of 1954. (Bonita Museum)

1985 - Dozens of talented local actors, singers, and artists received either their start or a boost from Bonitafest Drama Productions. Tim Evans went on to win the prestigious American Community Theater award as Best Actor in a Musical last year for his role as "Fagin" in the Scripps Ranch Community Theatre's production of "Oliver!" After turning professional he starred in the just-concluded run of "No Sex Please, We're British" at the Fiesta Dinner Theater, and has been in an MTV video. Jay Ayers, Susan Houston, Beau Houston, Maxine Holtman, Tricia Dawe, Danee Fowler, Tracy Gibbs, Pete Cooke, Matt Wilson, Cora Powell, Debbie Burger, Donna Martin, Joe Sutton, David Harris, and Wendy Welch are among the Bonitafest alumni who have made a mark on San Diego County drama as performers, designers, or musicians. Bonitafest '85 will feature a revival of "Thinskins and Hayseeds" and a return to the original tent concept of 1978. (All subsequent Bonitafest shows have been performed at the theater at Bonita Vista High School) The new version of the show is a bit longer and has been augmented with even more Sweetwater Valley history. Some of the popular more popular characters from the original have been better developed, and four new songs have been added. An entirely new staging of the show is in the works, the general level of the performing talent is higher. The local color and rustic charm of the original "Thinskins and Hayseeds" remains intact, however, as does the basic conflicts of man versus the elements, and undying love. The show runs October 2-6 in the tent erected near the intersection of Otay Lakes Road and Bonita Road in Bonita.. ( Bonita Style, Oct. 1985 )

Bonitafest crowds in 1980. (Bonita Museum)

1986/10 - The Grand Marshal of the Bonitafest Parade, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a person in the community by the Bonitafest committee, goes this year to the Wilson family - Richard and Marian Wilson and their two sons, David F. ("Bud") and Don. A third son, Dick, lives in Yuma, Arizona. Richard, or "Pop" to family members, was born in Alpena, Michigan, in 1913, and has lived in Bonita-Chula Vista since 1928. He met his wife, Marian, after spotting her in a Sweetwater High School play, on a blind date arranged by his brother Bob, who later became the area congressman. Marian was the first female Associated Student Body president of Sweetwater High School, and has lived in Bonita since 1920. Dick and Marian built their first home in 1939, on an acre behind what is now Vons supermarket, growing vegetables where Vons now sits. Dick and Marian have owned several businesses, including Wilson's Ice Cream at 3rd and Davidson in Chula Vista, which moved to F Street west of 3rd Avenue in 1946 and became the "in" place for young people in the forties. They sold it in 1950 and went into the insurance business in 1951. Wilson and Cox Insurance is now run by son "Bud" Wilson, 47, who serves on the Chula Vista Community Hospital Board, the Board of Directors of Independent Insurance Agents of America. He has served on the Advisory Board of the Salvation Army with his wife, Sandra, and was president of the Jaycees and a member of the Rotary Club. Don, 46, is construction coordinator for Home Federal Savings and Loan and oversees new construction and remodeling of branch offices, including the Bonita branch. Archery, hunting, and salt-water fishing occupy his free time. (Bonita Style Sept. 1986) Bud Wilson - was born and raised in Bonita, has business interests in Chula Vista, and was recently recognized for his involvement in the community when honored as Bonitafest Grand Marshal. Well known in state and national insurance circles, WlIson, of Wilson and Cox Insurance in Chula Vista, is on the national board of Independent Insurance Agents of America and is past-president of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Association of California. On the local level he serves on the Chula Vista Community Hospital Board, and has served on the Advisory Board of the Salvation Army with his wife Sandra, and was president of the Jaycees and a member of the Rotary Club. As a young man with an uncle who was a Congressman (former Rep. Bob Wilson), Bud Wilson's interest in politics eventuaIIy led him to try for office himself, when he ran against Tom Hamilton, and lost, for Mayor of Chula Vista. WlIson's roots run deep in the Bonita-Chula Vista area and he is likely to continue to be an influence in its ' development. (Bonita Style, Oct. 1986)

Bonitafest crowds in 1984. (Bonita Museum)

1987 - The Bonita Historical Museum had its start in September of 1987. This was just prior to the community celebration of Bonitafest of that year. Captain Richard Yokley of the Bonita-Sunnyside Fire Department and the then-president of the Bonita Business and Professional Association, Carol Hammond, were collecting memorabilia for the historical display at a local bank, something which had been done in each year past. When told that the bank space was not available, they looked around for a substitute location. They were rescued by Phil Berdeski, of the Berdeski Investment Corporation, who provided them with a store front in the Bonita Village Shopping Center. The original intent was to remain open only during the duration of the two days of Bonitafest. Yokley and Hammond had been joined in the opening by John Rojas of the Chula Vista Historical Society and more material, particularly photographs, were exhibited, much to the delight of those visiting the space. Due to its popularity and to the generosity of Berdeski Investments, who continued to donate the space, the museum remained open after Bonitafest. The name was changed from the Bonitafest Museum to the Bonita Museum and volunteers were recruited to act as helpers and docents. Richard and Zula Pena took over the directorship of the museum and with the able help of devoted volunteer have staged different themes over the years, have opened its doors twice a week, and have hosted large groups of people at receptions and open houses. The museum committee has operated under the direct auspices of the Bonita Business and Professional Association, its chief sponsor. It also receives some financial aid from the San Diego County Community Enhancement Funds and from it own fund raising. Many individuals have contributed material as well as modest financial reurns for the betterment of the museum. The museum has proven itself to be a good source of education, a center for research, and has also provided some entenainment. Because of its approval by the community, those closest to it are dedicated to its continuation and bellerment. ( Chula Vista Historical Society. Family, Friends, and Homes, 1991. )

Richard Pena and Zula Pena ride in the 1997 Bonitafest parade. (Bonita Museum)

1995/06/21 - The oft-threatened Bonitafest has been rescued again, this time for good, promised the sponsoring Bonita Business and Professional Association. The latest rescue came in the form of $2,500 which several companies have pledged to help cover the estimated $7,500 cost of the Sept. 30 event, said real estate developer Jeff Phair. More good news for a revised Bonitafest came this week with the word that owners of the Vons shopping center at Bonita Road and Otay Lakes Road had reversed their previous decision to deny use of their parking lot for the 22-year-old festival. Center owners had opted out of the festival this year after being named in a lawsuit filed by a performer injured in the 1993 Bonitafest. The suit cost the Bonita Business and Professional Association $5,000 as their share of settling it and prompted the association in May to cancel the 1995 event. A groundswell of public support, including backing from Mayor Shirley Horton, prompted the association to resurrect the 1995 festival. Horton lives in Bonita and is a graduate of Bonita Vista High School. More money will be raised at a July 8 Wild West Hoedown at the Bonita-Sunnyside Fire Station at 4900 Bonita Road, Hamilton said. ( San Diego Union-Tribune, June 21, 1995 )

Winchester Widows ride by the La Bonita condos in the 1997 Bonitafest parade. (Photo from Max Branscomb)

Emily Ritter waves at the 1997 Bonitafest parade. (Photo from Max Branscomb)

Diane Cousino rides in red Grand Marshal car in the 1997 Bonitafest parade. (Photo from Max Branscomb)

1998/09/18 BONITAFEST MELODRAMA - Bonita playwright Max Branscomb and his cast of 60 will take on the unpopular tollway in the musical "The Return of the Proctor Valley Monster," in the 21st Annual Bonitafest Melodrama. The show will run September 23-26 and October 2-3 at the Bonita Vista High School Theater. All shows begin at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $5 and are reserved by calling 421-9438. Veteran performers Tim Evans, Carl Fogg, Jr., Dean Sipe and Melody Gonzalez lead a talented cast. The "Return of the Proctor Valley Monster" will open September 23 with a special Picnic On The Green party at Bonita Vista High School. A dinner catered by the Jalapeņo Grill will be served at 6 p.m. Tickets for dinner and show are only $12.50. (La Prensa, September 18, 1998)

Proctor Valley monster illustration (Chula Vista Star-News)

1998/09/18 - Blossoming singer/songwriter Jessica Lerner has played a star for years at the San Diego Old Globe Theater and San Diego Repertory Theater. Lerner sang "The Star Spangled Banner" as an 8 year old at Qualcomm Stadium and has performed at Padre's games ever since. She began piano lessons at 8 at Southwestern College and studied voice with Joni Wilson. That same year she debuted in her first musical, "The Return of the Proctor Valley Monster," a Bonitafest Melodrama that opposed the construction of the 125 Tollway. She was a featured soloist in the show that included many of the region's best musical theatre performers. (Southwestern College Sun, Dec. 12, 2011)

Bonitafest crowds in 1993. (Bonita Museum)

2003/08/24 - Local playwright and Southwestern College journalism instructor Max Branscomb has most publicly resurrected the legend with his musical comedy "The Return of the Proctor Valley Monster," which has been performed as part of Bonitafest, a celebration of history and community. Occasionally, people still go seeking the monster, just as they look for ghosts in Old Town or munchkin houses in La Jolla. Sometimes, it's a car full of teenagers looking to scare themselves. Other times, it's a band of sexagenarians such as Harmon Harris and his buddies. They are geocachers ­ folks who use GPS devices to find caches hidden by fellow hobbyists ­ and they recently went to Proctor Valley with flashlights and active imaginations. These caches are everywhere. The Proctor Valley expedition had nothing special to commend it, but when you're pursuing a second childhood, a good monster story helps stir the adventure. Even Bud Wilson, a longtime local and insurance businessman who downplays the myth, likes to play the game. "First of all, it's not true that I am the Proctor Valley Monster," Wilson cracked when asked about the legend. He remembers the valley as the place he paid a nickel to ride calves rodeo-style. But a monster out there? Not that he remembers. "It is true that there was a monster who lived under the Bonita Bridge," Wilson said. But that's another monster. And that's another story. (The San Diego Union-Tribune, August 24, 2003 )

Bonitafest hayride in 1997. (Bonita Museum)

2005 - The Bonita Museum and Cultural Center started out as an historical photograph exhibit for Bonitafest. Through the generosity of the community, the city of Chula Vista and the county of San Diego, the Museum moved into a new building adjacent to the new Bonita Sunnyside library in 2005. The Bonita Museum opened in 2006 in a new building that was a joint project of the County of San Diego, City of Chula Vista, and the Museum with $500,000 in donations from the local community. ( Schoenherr, Bonita, 2010, )

The dinosaurs of Jerry Gauss still reside along Bonita Road.

2008/05/10 - "Dinosaurs rule over South Bay," by Michelle Ganon. Scientists say dinosaurs are extinct, but Bonita residents know better. Their Mesozoic Era reptile population will increase to three on May 26, when Glen Abbey Memorial Park & Mortuary officially celebrates the installation of Dinosaurous in an area of the park known as The Land of Nod. The 9-foot-tall, 22-foot-long creature made by local artist Kelly Tracy from donated steel tubing, stucco mesh, rebar, polyurethane foam and rubber will reside just a half-mile from Bonita's other resident dinosaurs, Rumbi and Rangui. The story of the three sculptures intertwines, although the two artists who shaped them never met. Nearly 50 years ago, Jerry Gauss, a 15-year-old student at Hilltop High School, created Rumbi and Rangui as a surprise anniversary gift for his parents. He called them glarfs, for dwarf dinosaurs. Rumbi and Rangui's visibility in the family's yard at the corner of Sweetwater and Valley roads led some residents to call the spot Dinosaur Hill. Although he planned to create more, Gauss died from injuries sustained in a car accident at age 19. "It was a real tragedy," Tracy said. "Jerry had a wonderful style and great ideas. He could have done so much more." Time passed. The glarfs disappeared from Bonita in 1969 when the Gauss family relocated to Chula Vista. They were rediscovered 28 years later when Chula Vista police Lt. Tom Everett, a Bonita native, spotted them at the Gauss' new home during an early-morning patrol. Everett arranged to move the glarfs back to a prominent Bonita location, this time at the entrance of the Bonita Village Shopping Center. Only Rumbi survived the trip, but the story inspired Max Branscomb, a professor of journalism at Southwestern College, to write "When Dinosaurs Roamed the Valley," a musical that has been performed several times at the annual Bonitafest community celebration. Then, in 2004, Rumbi's head fell off. Tracy saw a television news story about the damaged dinosaur and knew he had to help. "The glarfs are part of Bonita's history. Everyone loves them," he said. "I volunteered to fix Rumbi, the yellow glarf, and then was asked to reproduce Rangui, the blue one. The new Rangui is not identical to the old, but it is a fairly close match." Tracy's work on the glarfs led to the Dinosaurous commission. Vanessa Chicca, Glen Abbey's community service counselor, who has written a children's book about the glarfs, saw Tracy working on Rangui and realized that a dinosaur sculpture might enhance the area of the memorial park for infants and children. Daniel Galligan, general manager, said, "We wanted an appropriate feature element to honor the spirit of children. The bereavement process is a journey, and we're supporting that, in this case, through the artist's vision." Tracy began work on his sculpture eight months ago. Although he planned to make Dinosaurous 5 feet tall by 9 feet long, nature intervened. A storm caused a large pepper tree in Tracy's front yard to fall and destroy part of a chain-link fence so he recycled the damaged top rail. It now gives Dinosaurous its shape, from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. "I like to use reclaimed and recycled materials when I can," Tracy said. Nancy Gauss Williams, the original artist's younger sister, who lives in Northern California, was happy to hear about Tracy's project for Glen Abbey. "My brother had started a third glarf, a flying bird, that he never finished," she said. "It's nice that Kelly fixed Rumbi and Rangui, and that he has made another dinosaur." Tracy feels that Gauss has helped him find new purpose with his art. "Working with the glarfs and seeing how much the community appreciated my efforts restoring and re-creating Jerry's work has changed me," he said. As Branscomb said, "Kelly and Jerry would have been good friends. With Dinosaurous, Kelly is honoring Jerry in a wonderful way." (San Diego Union-Tribune, May 10, 2008)

Bonitafest crowds in 1984. (Bonita Museum)

2014/05/27 - After more than 40 years, the Wild West Bonitafest is now history. The Bonita Business and Professional Association has voted to disband, by a vote of just 15 of its 50 members, U-T San Diego reports. The Association indicates the vote was uncontested, raising questions over what the apparently absent majority of members think about the decision to permanently cancel Bonitafest and other community events sponsored by the group. Carri Long-Fernandez, president of the association, said it was a financial decision but did not divulge details. Memorabilia from the event, along with remaining reserves, will be donated to the Bonita Museum and Cultural Center. The event, founded in 1973, featured a parade, melodrama, entertainers, crafts, games, exhibit booths, refreshments, kids' zone and freestyle motocross show. The melodrama's director has said he plans to continue writing scripts in hopes of someday staging more shows. This message was posted on the Bonita Business and Professional Association's Facebook page: "Dissolving the BBPA was a heart wrenching decision to make and was necessitated by a change in demographics, manpower, membership, and financial support. We had to face the stark reality that we were no longer able to continue with business as usual. "We will update the BBPA and Bonitafest pages as we have more information on what's to come. In the meantime, the Board will continue to work with legal counsel to ensure that all obligations are met and that we're able to leave a lasting legacy for the Bonita community." The disbanded organization also organized other community events, including a holiday tree-lighting and chili cook-off each year, plus awarded scholarships to local deserving students. The organization's Facebook page had not been updated in weeks prior to the cancellation notice. It is unclear why the group voted to disband, like the San Diego Opera, without notifying media of its financial woes in order to make a concerted effort to alert the public that help was needed to save the organization. (East County Magazine, May 27, 2014)

Bonitafest soap box derby 1993. (Bonita Museum)

2014/07/12 - "Bonitafest will go on," by Robert Moreno. The biggest community event in Bonita will get smaller. Southwestern College professor Max Branscomb, who spearheaded a community effort to salvage Bonitafest, said the 42nd annual Bonitafest will happen this year. "Bonitafest is a go," he said. Unlike previous years where Bonitafest was an all-day affair, the 2014 Bonitafest will be spread out over five days and on a much smaller financial scale. Bonitafest kicks off Aug. 30 and will partner with the Chula Vista Live Steamers in providing train rides to children from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Day two of Bonitafest takes place Sept. 12, with the Bonita Twilight Trail at the Chula Vista Municipal Golf Course. Branscomb said the parade will feature children on horses and bicycles, and also people carrying glow sticks to light up the night. "That's the way we are going to do our parade," Branscomb said. "Everybody can participate, that is the beauty of it." Bonitafest's street fair and entertainment will follow on Sept. 12 at Bonita Vista High School from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Show choirs from the Sweetwater Union High School District will be performing. The last stage of Bonitafest is Branscomb's Bonitafest Melodrama, which will play at 7:30 p.m. from Sept. 24 through 27 at Sweetwater Community Church, 5305 Sweetwater Road. Branscomb said he had originally planned to produce the melodrama, even if Bonitafest was cancelled. Branscomb said he anticipates this year's Bonitafest to cost about $7,500 to produce, a drastic cut from the $19,500 in 2013. As of Monday, $2,200 had been raised. "We need $7,500 to do everything that we want to do," he said. "That's the cheapest we can do everything." The money covers marketing, banners, logistics, and a performance stage. Branscomb said he is still seeking financial contributions from community members and businesses. UCSD Health and The Phair Company, owners of a real estate and development company in Chula Vista, are two of the main donors thus far, Branscomb said. "Our family has been in Bonita for over four generations, so we feel that it is important to help our community," said Kirk Phair. "We are lifelong Bonita Vistans and proud to help bring back Bonitafest." Phair said his family has been part of Bonitafest for many years. Branscomb said the Chula Vista Police Department won't be needed for security, which saves money. He said he is waiting to hear back from the Sweetwater district to see what kind of security measures will be needed for the event at Bonita Vista High School. Bonita Business and Professional Association, the title sponsor of the event, announced May 20 that it was cancelling the decades old event as the group was also disbanding. But on Monday the former president of the association said she supported the efforts to bring back Bonitafest. "We're really excited about the community rallying in response to the continuation of the Bonitafest and he (Branscomb) has 100 percent of our support," said Carri Long-Fernandez, ex-president of BBPA. She also said she plans to attend this year's festivities. Branscomb said organizers are working in bringing in food vendors. While Bonitafest was saved in 2014, there are bigger plans for 2015. "We're going to do 2015 and we're going to try to rebuild it next year," Branscomb said. "This year we're just trying to keep it alive, have some fun and keep our capacity together to have a bigger one next year." A community meeting updating the progress on Bonitafest is to be held Aug. 7 at Sweetwater Community Church, 5305 Sweetwater Road, Bonita. (Chula Vista Star-News, July 12, 2014)

  • Bonita Museum & Cultural Center, 4355 Bonita Road, Bonita CA.
  • Bonita Stories, Vol. 1. Bonita Museum & Cultural Center, 2008.
  • Chula Vista Historical Society. Family, Friends, and Homes. San Diego CA: Tecolote Publications, 1991.
  • Interviews: Max Branscomb, Al Monahan, Muriel Watson.
  • Newspapers: Bonita Post, Bonita Style, Bonita Valley News, Chula Vista Star-News, Imperial Beach Star-News, San Diego Union-Tribune.
  • Schoenherr, Steven and Mary E. Oswell. Bonita (Images of America). Charlston SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009.

This web page was created Sept. 1 1, 2015, and revised Mar. 26, 2018, by Steve Schoenherr for the South Bay Historical Society | Copyright © 2015