Fillmore Citrus Packinghouses
Fillmore Citrus Fruit Association, 1906
Agriculture was what built Fillmore and the surrounding communities. First it was dry land farming such as barley and lima beans. Then came orchards, especially apricot and walnuts. Soon some settlers started planting citrus trees, especially oranges. In 1889, C. C. Elkins planted the first commercial orange grove in the Fillmore area. With the growth of citrus in the valley, packinghouses were soon needed.
The Fillmore Citrus Association was formed in 1897 with David Felsenthal as president. In 1899, the Association bought property for $50 at Sespe Avenue and A Street and built its packinghouse on the site for $1,500.
Workers at the Fillmore Citrus Association Lemon House
Soon more packinghouses followed. Some were locally owned like the Fremlin-Walker Packinghouse off Santa Clara Street.
Others were owned by companies from elsewhere. One of the earliest of these was the Sparr Packinghouse. Sparr was a Riverside, California, company which opened a packinghouse in Fillmore in the first decade of the 20th century. The packinghouse was on the southwest corner of Main and Central. The first packinghouse burned in 1913 and was rebuilt. The later building burned in 1970.
By 1930, Mutual Orange Distributors, which had started in Redlands in 1910, had a packinghouse in Fillmore on Old Telegraph Road.
Sparr Packinghouse which burned in 1913.
In 1913, Frank Erskine, who had been with a citrus association in Whittier, was hired as the manager of the Fillmore Citrus Association. Besides overseeing the construction of a new orange packinghouse in 1918 and a new lemon packinghouse in 1924, he also organized two bands made up of employees, the Fillmore Citrus Association American Band and the Fillmore Citrus Association Mexican Band. According to the business card of the bands, “Music for any occasion at reasonable rates. Either band separately or the two bands consolidated. Proper instrumentation in any number of men from sixteen to fifty.” The bands performed throughout the region as well as on the radio. Erskine left the Fillmore Citrus Association in 1929 to join the newly formed Ramona Savings and Loan.
As the citrus industry expanded in the area, more workers were needed. Jobs included not just picking the oranges, but loading field boxes weighing as much as ninety (90) pounds onto wagons and later trucks. Once the fruit was at the packinghouse it had to be unloaded and then washed. In 1916, mechanical washing machines were installed at the Fillmore Citrus Association orange packinghouse. The fruit had to be graded for size and quality, then packed into boxes by local women workers. The boxes again had to be loaded into trucks or train cars. Mechanics to work on the machinery of the packinghouse and truck drivers were needed.
Building fruit boxes, Sparr Packinghouse
To ease the labor shortage for pickers, in 1941 the Fillmore Citrus Association built a labor camp in Fillmore. In 1942, they contracted with the Villasenor family, who owned a local restaurant, to provide meals for those living at the camp. This evolved into the Villasenors managing the camp and, in 1979, buying the camp.
MOD Packinghouse, 19302
Finally, in 1946, the Fillmore Citrus Association built a second orange packinghouse. This building now houses Nova Storage which recognizes the building’s history with murals of citrus crate labels on the building.
Only one citrus packinghouse continues to operate in Fillmore, the Villa Park Orchards Association packinghouse at the former MOD location. The other buildings have been repurposed to avocado packinghouses, artist studios, and storage facilities. Whatever their use, they are a reminder of why Fillmore came to be.
Fillmore Citrus Association Lemon Packinghouse, 1930s