Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made and, sadly for many this year, deciding to not coordinate Grape Day was one of them for the Escondido History Center. While it was the History Center that took on the responsibility to dust off the major event in 1996, after a nearly fifty-year absence to make it happen again, it finally took its toll on the minimal staff and few dedicated volunteers.
Two years ago, the annual Grape Day Parade along Grand, which required extensive planning and traffic control measures, was discontinued after attendance had declined significantly and a lack of volunteers made it impossible to sustain. In an attempt to reinvigorate the Grape Day Festival, the date was changed at that time to a day in October to overcome a competing event that made vendors difficult to schedule and unbearably high September temperatures in September. Unfortunately, attendance improved only slightly. Still other attempts to expand the event, including a beer garden one year and the failed attempts to include art-oriented vendors last year did not revive the numbers well enough to make the event worth the effort. Earlier this year, with newly appointed director, Robin Fox, taking over the helm of the History Center in the face of other demanding projects, the History Center Board of Directors voted to not host Grape Day.
The very first Grape Day festival was held in 1905 and celebrated as “Bond Burning Day” when the water bonds had been paid off the year before and the farming community wanted to celebrate their financial freedom. The chosen date coincided with California Admission Day, September 9, and the site of the celebration was Lime Street School, located where Grape Day Park stands today. Even then, months of effort went into the event, involving the Chamber of Commerce, church groups, and others. Even adding trains to the existing schedule became a part of the planning. In 1908, the name was changed to “Grape Day” in celebration of Escondido’s bountiful grape harvest. Parades along Grand Avenue grew in size and the first Grape Day Queen was chosen in 1913. The event eventually drew visitors from all over the state and rivalled Pasadena’s Rose Parade. Grape Day managed to survive the depression and World War II but by 1950, the shift away from local agriculture as an industry and the building boom that took over farm land meant the end of the Grape Day celebration. It was briefly revived during the 1970s but returned in 1996 when Norm Syler, then director of the Escondido History Center, brought it back and the History Center became the lead organization ever since.
This is not to say that it’s the end of Grape Day for Escondido. If a significant number of experienced and dedicated volunteers is willing to step forward at this time and begin planning and taking action for next year, the History Center could provide the guidance to carry it forward.
But for now, Grape Day is taking a definite break. According to Fox, “We apologize for disappointing anyone, but hope that the community feels free to stop by our museum complex at Grape Day Park to see all that we continue to offer throughout the year in the County’s second largest History Center.” In addition to school tours, research, and maintaining extensive collections, Fox and a volunteer are working on a book to be published later this year featuring more than 100 photographs that haven’t been shared publicly before. For more information about the Escondido History Center, visit www.escondidohistory.orgor call 760-743-8207.