La Vista Cemetery was founded in 1868. It is located in National City, the second oldest city in San Diego County. Originally called the “Silent City on the Hill,” the La Vista Memorial Park has views of Otay to Point Loma.
La Vista Cemetery has the gravesites of National City and San Diego pioneers including the Kimballs, Copelands, and the Dickinsons. It holds an important place in San Diego history. It is located at 3191 Orange St. National City.
National City is the Second Oldest City in San Diego
The Kimball brothers, Frank, Warren and Levi, founded National City. The brothers, Frank and Warren Kimball, were married to two sisters, Sarah and Flora.
The Kimball brothers purchased El Rancho de la Nación, or National Ranch, for about $30,000 in 1868. The land covered 26,632 acres and made up the modern cities of National City, Chula Vista and Bonita.
The Sweetwater River intersects National City. It provided a reliable source of water for farming with San Diego’s Mediterranean climate.
Eucalyptus Trees Planted by Sarah Kimball in 1877
Sarah Kimball, the wife of Frank Kimball, planted eucalyptus trees in the shape of a grand piano around the top eight acres of the “Silent City on the Hill” and called it Silver Gate Cemetery.
The trees are still there and encircle hundreds of pioneer graves, including Sarah and Flora Kimball and their husbands. The cemetery was renamed La Vista Memorial Park in later years.
Armed Forces Memorial in La Vista Memorial Park
In La Vista Memorial Park, a pool filled with water and turtles contains a monument to the Armed Forces. There is a fountain fed by an onsite well and benches. Every Memorial Day a grand celebration is held at the fountain for the public.
National City–Center for Citrus and Olive Trees
With its proximity to the Sweetwater River, National City was destined to become an agricultural center. The most important crops were oranges, lemons and olives, but many others were grown in the warm climate. Apples, grapes, pears, peaches, apricots, olives and an “endless variety of other fruits, besides gardening, general farming, raisin, wine and grape growing.”
National City was advertised as containing the “Choicest Fruit Lands on the Continent.”Images of America: Early National City
The Kimballs grew olive orchards. Frank Kimball owned the National City Olive Oil Works, which produced Virgin Olive Oill that was shipped all over the country. In 1896, Frank Kimball was awarded the bronze medal from the Columbian Exposition (Chicago) for his olive oil exhibit.
The olive branch, a symbol of peace, was chosen as the symbol of National City and placed on the city seal in 1887.
The first San Diego County Citrus Fair was held in 1880, in National City’s Horticultural Hall. This event eventually expanded to become the San Diego County Fair, which moved to the Del Mar Fairgrounds in 1936.
The Kimballs promoted the new community and established a lumberyard, a wood planing mill, and brick kilns to supply the demand for building materials.
SilkWorms in San Diego?
In the 1870s, the Kimball’s tried to establish a silkworm industry in National City. Thousands of mulberry tree cuttings were planted in Sweetwater Valley. Although they received good care, the venture was not a success. However, silk worms were still found 22 years later on Otay Mesa, feeding on the wild buckwheat.
Frank Kimball Brought the Transcontinental Railroad
Francis “Frank” Augustus Kimball was referred to as “a small man (5 feet, 3 inches) with a large heart and never-ending abundance of energy.” Frank and Sarah Kimball’s home has been preserved and moved to Heritage Row in National City. It is open for tours on Saturday and Sunday.
Frank Kimball played a major role in bringing the railroad and establishing National City as the terminus of a transcontinental line. The Kimball Brothers donated 10,000 acres of land to the railroad syndicate and one half of the unsold lots in National City, compared to San Diego’s contribution of 4,500 acres.
Frank Kimball was also instrumental in selecting the site of the Sweetwater Dam. Constructed in 1888, Sweetwater Dam was the first dam in San Diego and the tallest masonry arch dam in the United States. It solidified the foundation of the agriculture industry.
Frank Kimball became the State Commissioner of Agriculture. Through his citrus discoveries, Chula Vista eventually became the largest lemon-growing center in the world for a time. Chula Vista holds a Lemon Festival each year to honor its past.
Floral Kimball was a Horticulturist, Writer and Champion of Women’s Suffrage
The wife of Warren Kimball, Flora was a community activist, lay horticulturist and writer. Susan B. Anthony, in a eulogy, called Flora Kimball the “most well-known woman in the state” of California.
Remarkable Women of San Diego: Pioneers, Visionaries and Innovators
Flora Kimball wrote with passion and persistence about the pressing concerns of rural women, their changing role within the family, work outside the home and the right to vote.
Flora Kimball began teaching at the age of fifteen, and eventually became principal of a school in New Hampshire. In National City, Warren and Flora built a stately home called Olivewood. Flora surrounded her home with olive, orange, and lemon groves, rare plants, and ever-blooming flowers. Olivewood’s extensive gardens made it a regional showpiece with 1,300 olive trees and 2,000 roses.
Flora Kimball Planted Thousands of Trees and Played Many Horticulturalist Roles
Flora was elected master of National City’s local grange, an agricultural organization. She was the first woman in the United States to be a Grand Grange Master. In 1880, the National City Council authorized her to obtain trees and supervise their planting throughout the city.
Eventually, eight thousand trees were planted along the city’s curb lines, and they became a National City landmark.
In 1889, Flora Kimball became horticulture editor of a column “Home and Family” in the Great Southwest, a monthly agricultural and industrial publication. She was elected to the school board of National City School district, the first woman in California to receive the honor.
Flora Kimball was selected to represent Southern California on the board of managers for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
Flora Kimball was a San Diego Leader for Women’s Suffrage
In 1895, she organized a women’s suffrage lecture in San Diego with Susan B. Anthony and Anna Shaw. She hosted a large reception for their honor at Olivewood with 100 guests. In 1897, Flora Kimball was elected as president of the Woman’s Suffrage Club, a section of the San Diego Woman’s Club.
“Much drudgery is borne by women for no other reason than because she is a woman.” -Flora KimballRemarkable Women of San Diego: Pioneers, Visionaries and Innovators
Flora Kimball passed away in 1898. Warren Kimball built the Arts and Crafts-style Olivewood Club House in honor of Flora Kimball in 1911. It has fallen into disrepair but plans were made to renovate it with a youth building program and make it into a community center.
“Trees, plants, and flowers all stretch their arms toward heaven…and in the wave of every breeze will send their incense from the world she helped to make brighter and happier.” -Pacific Rural Press Obituary
Día de los Muertos
Día de los Muertos is a Mexican religious holiday that is celebrated on All Saint’s Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2.) Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is spent honoring deceased loved ones. Traditions include creating ofrendas, altars of remembrance. Families often visit cemeteries to decorate the graves of loved ones.
The La Vista Memorial Park had an annual Día de los Muertos Festivals prior to COVID. They will not be having a festival in 2023, but check again in the future. Sherman Heights, a San Diego neighborhood, will have their Día de los Muertos Festival this year.
The Kimballs are just a few of the National City and San Diego pioneers who have their gravesites at La Vista. Another important San Diego Cemetery is Mt. Hope. Read more about the final resting place of Horton, Kate Sessions, and Marston in my article: Retro Road Trip: Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Going to Los Angeles? Consider visiting Hollywood Forever Cemetery to see the gravesites of famous celebrities and Los Angeles pioneers, including the controversial founder of Griffith Park. Read about it in: Retro Road Trip: Hollywood Forever Cemetery.