The Vista Historical Society has a colorful past of its own, especially in the case of its museum – from the struggle to find an original location and opening the first museum, to moving 13 years later and reestablishing itself in a new home. The history museum has been located at Rancho Minerva since 2009, but there is hope for a future downtown museum and to turn the current site into its own house museum reflecting the history of that particular site. Regardless of where the museum is located, the historical society continues in its mission to discover, collect, record, and preserve historical artifacts and to bring those materials to the Vista community. We chat with Vista Historical Society President Carolyn Chiriboga and Director Jack Larimer to learn more.
Q&A with Vista Historical Society President Carolyn Chiriboga and Director Jack Larimer
Can you give us a brief history of the Vista Historical Society and Museum? When was it founded and by whom?
The Vista Historical Society was formed in 1967 as the Vista Ranchos Historical Society under the direction of its first president Cloyd Sorensen, Jr. Its purpose was to support the City of Vista’s acquisition of the Rancho Buena Vista and surrounding areas so that the City could build a City Hall and the historical society could have a museum. The project failed. The historical society then began looking for another home. The search ended when we opened our first museum at 651 East Vista Way. We were in that building, which was leased from the City, from 1994 to 2007 when the City wished to build a fire station at that location. The City acquired Rancho Minerva in 2008 from the Vista Unified School District for us, and we opened our current Vista history museum there in September of 2009.
Please give us a bit of history behind the museum building where you are headquartered.
Nick Huntalas came to this country from Greece in 1902. He settled in Bakersfield working for the railroad as a construction foreman. In about 1911, he and several other Greek railroad workers founded the Greek American Land Co. They bought several hundred acres of land in the Vista area including the site of his ranch. He bought most of the company from the others in 1913.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of ground water in Vista, the area produced crops that needed less water such as barley. In 1916, he decided to go back to Greece to find a wife. Instead he was introduced to a Greek immigrant girl by a cousin in Patterson, NJ. They were married three days later. They remained married for the rest of their lives. They settled on the ranch in 1918, naming it Rancho Minerva. They had three children – Bill, Anne, and Ted. When water came to Vista for irrigation with the formation of the Vista Irrigation District in 1923, and the completion of the infrastructure in 1926, the Huntalases planted citrus and avocado groves. They were very successful. In 1933, they hired Mr. Deardorf to build their house. He had patented a method of building adobe walls and used that method. A new kitchen was added in the early 1950s by Duran and Duran, a local contracting firm. The couple lived there until they died, Nick in 1980, his wife, Bessie, in 1992. The two surviving children decided to subdivide the property, but instead the Vista Unified School District took the site by eminent domain in anticipation of a future middle school. The district rented the house to tenants until construction began in 2005; the school opened in 2007. The City acquired the house in 2008, and the historical society located there in 2009. Since then we have constructed a pergola and a large multi-use building on the site. In October of this year, the building was placed on the State of California Register of Historic Resources.
What is the mission of the Vista Historical Society?
The mission statement of the Vista Historical Society is as follows: “The society is a nonprofit corporation which is concerned with the discovery, recording, collecting, and preservation of historical facts, properties, and other materials regarding the history of Southwestern United States, particularly the settlement and development of this region in San Diego County. Also, preserving and perpetuating for public benefit those artifacts, historical objects, and documents for all to see.”
Vista Historical Society President At-A-Glance
Name: Carolyn J. Chiriboga
Community: Vista since 1952
Education: B.A. degree
Family: Four children, nine grandchildren, four great-grandchildren
Hobbies & Interests: Volunteering, reading, and the theater
Why do you think this organization is an important part of the Vista community?
The Vista Historical Society is the guardian of Vista’s past, present, and future. Hopefully, our children and children’s children will be visiting the museum to explore and learn of Vista’s history. Without the society and museum, the past will be lost to future generations. According to our treasurer, Michele Moxley, “So many people made this town into what it is today, and we need to preserve the history of how this all came about. This is what the historical society strives to do.”
What are the short-term and long-term goals of the Vista Historical Society?
Our short-term goal is two-fold. First, to ensure our financial health in order to maintain and expand our museum to educate the city about our history. Secondly, to expand our programs and displays to interest everyone. Our long-term goal is to fund a new site for a downtown museum and turn our current site into a house museum reflecting the history of the site.
How does the organization stay connected with the Vista community? Does the society host or participate in regularly occurring events?
The society holds several large events on the museum grounds. We annually host an ice cream social, and this year we successfully added vendors to the event. Later in the summer we hold a barbeque, which this year included us using our newly constructed barbeque pit. We also hosted a very successful get-together for the Vista Chamber of Commerce. We hold our Christmas Tea and our annual Hall of Fame meeting at outside venues. The society participates in both tractor shows at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum, the Vista Strawberry Festival, and Oceanside Harbor Days. We also give historical talks for interested groups.
How does the historical society fund its programs and projects?
We fund our museum with memberships, grants, donations, bequests, and by renting our grounds for private events such as weddings, reunions, and birthday parties.
Do you have any upcoming events or fundraisers you’d like to share with 92081 Magazine readers?
On Dec. 11, we will host our annual Christmas Tea at the Gloria McClelland Center. The free event is open to the public. Our 50th anniversary is on Aug. 11 next year, and we will be planning a celebration for that as well. Stay tuned for more information on that!
Does the Vista Historical Society need volunteers? If so, what kinds of volunteering positions are available and how can people sign up and get involved?
Yes, we definitely could use more docents to help at the museum, and volunteers are always needed and welcome at our other annual events. Just call our office at 760-630-0444 to find out what is needed and to volunteer.
Besides volunteering, what other ways can community members get involved with the Vista Historical Society?
By supporting our events, and of course, donations and bequests of any amount are definitely appreciated.
When and where does the historical society meet?
The board of directors meets the second Tuesday of each month except December at the museum. The society membership holds a meeting once a year in May or June.
Vista Historical Society At-A-Glance
President: Carolyn Chiriboga
Address: 2317 Old Foothill Dr.
Mailing: P.O. Box 1032, Vista, CA 92085
Hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.;
first two Saturdays of the month: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Office Hours: Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you could grant one wish for the Vista Historical Society, what would it be?
According to most of the board of directors that wish would be two-fold: that more of the community of Vista would become more involved as docents, volunteers, and donors; and that we could expand our museum to be able to display more of our artifacts.
Are there any fun facts about Vista history that our readers might find interesting or amusing?
According to John Cosh, prominent member of the community, now deceased, when the Security National Bank was first built in 1954, the water table was so high that when they opened, the water vapor had rusted all the safety deposit boxes.
Also, according to Carolyn Chiriboga, née Pope, on Dec. 12, 1967, when the very rare occurrence happened and it snowed in Vista, Mr. Robert Pope, her father and owner of Sports and Photo in downtown Vista was caught without film in his cameras. So, early that morning he ran out of the house in his pajama bottom and slippers, with a coat thrown on and ran down to his store. Someone who was also out of film saw the door open, ran in, and that was the start of a parade of customers for the next six hours! Mr. Pope laughingly apologized for his informal attire.