The entire border region on the American side between San Diego County and Tijuana once was full of diary farmers. The Tijuana River Valley was also home to famous horses, such as Trigger and Seabiscuit. The area attracted many celebrities as well. Today, not much of these “heyday days” remains. Dairy Mart Road pays homage to the TRV’s lost history.
Dairy Mart Farms had a long history in the South Bay as a cooperative dairy that bought and processed and distributed the milk of many local dairies. It started in 1888 with Mathew Douthett who owned a farm in the Otay Valley near the railroad that shipped his milk to San Diego and to the Hotel del Coronado.
Douthett sold his dairy business to August Schnell whose son, Henry Schnell, organized Schnell’s Sanitary Dairy in 1899 and was the first local dairyman to sell milk in bottles rather than cans. The Schnell dairy grew into the largest dairy south of Los Angeles, and in 1913 merged with other producers to create the Producers Mutual Dairy Association. It was known as the PM Dairy and was one of the early milk cooperatives in San Diego county.
Schnell sold the PM Dairy to Arden Farms in 1928, and then sold Arden Farms to Harold Grey in 1933. Schnell continued to improve and expand his family’s Schnell Model Dairy Farm on San Ysidro Boulevard from Nestor to San Ysidro, advertising its “Protected Milk” that he produced in his new creamery plant.
In 1937, Schnell and Harold Grey formed Dairy Mart Farms that was established on the Schnell farm, producing milk with the modern machinery that Henry Schnell had installed. Grey changed the name of Arden Way to Dairy Mart Road and won contracts to deliver milk to the Navy during the war. A new emphasis of Dairy Mart Farms was distribution, including a fleet of trucks and drive-in stores throughout San Diego county.
Henry Schnell died 1957 and his wife Phyllis Schnell took over the management of Dairy Farms. At that time the cooperative employed 90, processed 10,000 gallons of milk daily from 11 South Bay farms and sold through 75 distributors. Members of the Dairy Mart cooperative included some of the largest dairy farmers in the South Bay, including Walter Burch, Robert Egger, Julius Hofer, Robert Reider, Otto Rollin, Henry Schaffner, George Schurig, Leo and Manuel Zumstein.
It was the most efficient dairy of the 122 dairies in the county and won a lawsuit in 1963 against the state of California that claimed the company’s prices were too low and illegal.
In 1966 it expanded into Orange County and San Bernardino, delivering milk to the El Toro Marine Base and the Morton Air Force Base. It replaced its entire fleet of 17 trucks with 9 new aluminum-body refrigerated trucks.
By the 1970s dairies began to go out of business due to overproduction and rising land prices. Dairy Mart went out of business in 1975, leaving the Egger farm at Leon and 19th Street as the only dairy in the South Bay.
About the Author: Steve Schoenherr is Professor Emeritus of SDSU and Co-Founder of the South Bay Historical Society. His is author and co-author of several books, including Bonita and Chula Vista Centennial.