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Fred Rohr and His Drop Hammer Removed From Memorial Park

RohrDropHammer2By Memorial Park along Third Avenue a behemoth Drop Hammer existed–until last week. The Chula Vista Heritage Museum and the Rohr Drop Hammer were removed to give way to more park area along the historic “Main Street” of the city.

Third Avenue is starting to boom with restaurants such as 277 Cocina Artisanal and breweries like Third Avenue Alehouse (with more to come soon). With the facelift taking place, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to say goodbye to this historic Drop Hammer at this location. (It’s been moved to Bay Boulevard Park.) A few local historians once put up three placards to describe the importance of this drop hammer.

According to the placards, the historic item was made possible by the generosity of Goodrich Aerostructures Group and by County Supervisor Greg Cox.

As a tribute, I’ll post what those placards said verbatim and include pictures I took a few weeks ago while it was still there:

The Importance of Rohr Aircraft and Goodrich Aerostructures To Chula Vista

In 1940 Chula Vista was predominantly an agricultural community of 5,000 people.

In the summer of 1941, just six months before Pearl Harbor Rohr Aircraft moved from their small initial factory in San Diego to the bayfront of Chula Vista. The company had about 800 employees. A few years later, at the height of World War II, the company had more than 9,000 employees. Their principal product was the nacelles, the engine coverings, for the B-24 bombers and PBY Catalina flying boats being made in San Diego.

Chula Vista would never be the same.

Following World War II, Rohr Aircraft continued to be a principal supplier of nacelles and other components to American and European aircraft manufacturers. Since 1997, Goodrich Aerostructures Group has continued that business successfully.

Since 1941 Rohr/Goodrich has been and continues to be the largest private employer in Chula Vista. Over the past 65 years, Rohr/Goodrich has been the economic backbone of thousands of Chula Vista families as well as our community in general.

Fred Rohr

Fred Rohr was born the son of a sheet metal worker, and decided that would be his vocation as well. After moving to San Diego, he eventually got involved in the aircraft industry. His most notable achievement was making the fuel tanks and sheet metal nose cowling for Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, which was flown across the Atlantic in 1927. Thus Fred Rohr’s craftsmanship is forever displayed in the Smithsonian.

In the 1930’s the outer skins of airplanes were increasingly made of aluminum instead of fabric. Rohr designed the first drop hammer used in the aircraft industry that could form aluminum pieces.

He made drop hammers for other firms as well as for the firm he worked for, Ryan Aircraft. In 1940 he formed his own company in San Diego, but moved to Chula Vista in the summer of 1941 — six months before Pearl Harbor. He had about 800 employees.

Rohr’s core product was nacelle systems, the aerodynamic structures which surround airplane engines, including the attendant equipment.

By the height of World War II, Rohr was employing some 9,800 employees, making nacelles primarily for the B-24 bombers and PBY flying boats being made in San Diego.

Today, goodrich Aerostructures Group has succeeded Rohr Aircraft, but their core product is still nacelles, now for commercial airliners. They are still using Fred Rohr’s drop hammers.

Rohr Drop Hammer in Chula Vista

Railroad track from Third Avenue

In 1888, the developer of Rancho de la Nation (now National City, Bonita, and Chula Vista) built a railroad line from National City, south down Third Avenue in Chula Vista, and eventually to the border. At first small steam engines pulled the cars, most passenger cars. In 1907, the line was electrified and trolleys were used, as can be seen in the 1913 photo on the left, at Third Avenue at F Street.

The passenger service stopped in 1925, but the line continued to be used by the San Diego & Arizona Eastern RR (a subsidiary of Southern Pacific) to haul lemons from the several lemon packing plants in Chula Vista, and the continued using it to haul lemons until the last packing plant closed in 1960.

The photo on the upper right shows one of the last trains of “reefer cars” carrying lemons north from the packing plants at Third and K streets, having just crossed G Street. This ended with the closing of the packing Plants in 1960, and the tracks were then paved over.

During the “Streetscape” work on Third Avenue in 2012, these tracks were unearthed and scrapped. This segment was saved for display — the train in the photo pulling the lemon reefers is running on this piece of track.

 RohrDropHammer

For some, the removal of the historic commemoration is the end of an era. For others, it’s the beginning of exciting new times on Third Avenue. On Monday, May 2, 2016, Councilmember Pat Aguilar posted the following for community members:

If you stroll down Third Avenue in downtown Chula Vista, you will notice something is different at Memorial Park. The Heritage Museum building and the Rohr drop hammer are both gone. The old building has been demolished, but the museum has reopened in its new home at the Civic Center Library … you can check it out anytime the library is open.

The Rohr drop hammer has been relocated to Bay Boulevard Park at Bay Boulevard and F Street. Bay Boulevard Park is a small but lovely city park at the western terminus of F Street. One day F Street will become an important pedestrian and bicycle promenade connecting Third Avenue to the bay, so Bay Boulevard Park is an auspicious location.

And because the old museum building is gone and the drop hammer has been moved, a visual barrier blocking Third Avenue from Memorial Park has been eliminated. So, in addition to checking out the new location of the museum, also check out how Memorial Park and Third Avenue have been joined together, and how handsome the drop hammer sculpture looks with the bay and the old Rohr buildings in the background.

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