It started with 40 acres of neglected orange and lemon trees on a granite boulder-covered hillside east of La Mesa.
The year was 1903, and William Gross, a vacationing theatrical producer from Philadelphia PA , was visiting a new acquaintance, Ed Fletcher, in Lemon Grove, and asking about investments. Mr Fletcher knew of an intriguing possibility–The Villa Caro Ranch, on the picturesque hill overlooking the El Cajon Valley. The land, complete with home, was in foreclosure and the bank wanted $11,500; Gross wrote a check for $5750 and financed the rest through a San Diego banker.
Even though Fletcher was a produce salesman and inexperienced in real estate, Gross put him in charge of the management aspect. Fletcher appreciated the sweeping views, the fertile soil ripe for citrus and avocado growing, the closeness to the cities, both La Mesa and San Diego, the absence of taxes, and the similarity to Beverly Hills and Hollywood Hills. Fletcher could see the long term potential, and suggested to his partner Gross that he subdivide the land.
After 10 years of ridicule from onlookers and the press, who nicknamed the development “Fletcher’s Folly”, the first narrow road was completed in 1913. This first street was named El Granito Avenue and house lots there sold for a shocking price of $2500 per acre, far more than the critics could ever have imagined. But even before the road was finished, friends of Gross were building along the path and moving in to what was now beginning to be known as the Grossmont Artists Colony. Owen Wister, author of the famous western novel “The Virginian”, lived here, and a later, a few streets here were named after him and the characters in his book. Well known musicians, songwriters and opera stars, singers and poets also built homes in this charming new subdivision.
It would be a few decades later that the towering cross would be erected on the top of Mt Helix. Fletcher and Gross had planted the seeds for the growth of one of the most well-loved, scenic locations in San Diego County. Today, the Grossmont/Mt Helix neighborhood spans from Avocado Blvd on the east, to the 8 freeway on the north, to the 125 on the west and Campo Road on the south. It’s truly a community where neighbors take the time to get to know each others, and the community stays united with a calendar of yearlong events which appeal to all ages.