This was a great article recently published in the New York Times
Ojai’s Golden Hour
California’s hippie hideaway is welcoming, mostly, its newcomers.
By PETER HALDEMAN
New York Times
July 11, 2015
OJAI, Calif. — On a recent Sunday morning the sidewalk in front of Porch Gallery Ojai buzzed with shoppers toting organic grocery bags to and from the nearby farmers’ market. Every now and then someone — a surfer dude with a blond topknot, a couple pushing a tricycle stroller — peeled off to snap a picture of “Before I Die,” an interactive installation outside the gallery in which viewers are invited to complete the sentence “Before I die I want to ….” on a large chalkboard mounted under an incense cedar. (One not atypical contribution: “Sound my barbaric yawp.”)
Others joined the crowd mingling over prosecco and sticky buns inside, where a jazz pianist in a gray hoodie riffed on “My Favorite Things.” “We get musicians and chefs and poets,” said Lisa Casoni, one of Porch Gallery’s directors, surveying the crowd with her co-director and wife, Heather Stobo. “It’s a different way of having a gallery, but people respond to it.”
People, particularly people belonging to Generations X or Y, are responding to Ojai as a whole with a collective barbaric yawp. The idyllic valley town, about 90 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles (and picturesque enough to play the role, for a few seconds, of Shangri-La in Frank Capra’s film version of “Lost Horizon”), has long drawn seekers, including the Indian sage Jiddu Krishnamurti and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. But the last few years have seen a sharp uptick in pilgrims who favor Hal Hartley movies and fixed-gear bicycles.
Among the newcomers are millennial movie stars (Emily Blunt, Channing Tatum), offbeat heiresses (Aileen Getty, Anna Getty) and hippie-chic designers (Ramin Shamshiri, Channon Roe). They come from as near as Silver Lake, in Los Angeles, and from as far as Sweden. They are rehabbing crumbling storefronts and repurposing overgrown lots. And they are converging on Ojai because — well, that would depend on whom you ask.
“I think it mainly has to do with the boho craft movement that existed in Ojai and California in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” Mr. Sewell said, keeping an eye on a carpenter mounting a sculpture inside Chief’s Peak, the inn’s bar. “I think there’s a resurgence of that.
Channon and Bianca Roe, an actor/designer and model/actress, respectively, moved here two years ago with their son, Marlon, and recently opened In the Field, a store specializing in handcrafted, locally sourced wares — including tepees. Ms. Roe believes the migration relates to parenting trends. “The schools are phenomenal,” she said, singling out Oak Grove, the vegetarian boarding academy founded by Krishnamurti, where Marlon is in preschool.
The interior designer Paul Fortune and his husband, Chris Brock, a ceramist, who are from Los Angeles, have taken to country life somewhat in the manner of Lisa Douglas adapting to Hooterville in “Green Acres.” (They tool around town in a 1967 Rolls-Royce, painted brown, Mr. Brock said, “to fit in with the valley.”) But the pair fully embrace Ojai’s more ethereal offerings, like qigong classes and chakra cleanses.
Mr. Fortune thinks Ojai’s “electromagnetic vortex,” a supposed force field generated by plate tectonics, may be a part of its popularity. “What if it’s just one of those places that people are literally drawn to?” he said. “Wouldn’t that be kind of great?”
Certainly, the Chumash people, who gave Ojai its name, felt the pull of what they believed were the valley’s healing properties. So did Krishnamurti and his disciples, the Theosophists, who settled here in the 1920s. Edward D. Libbey, a glass manufacturer from Ohio, who in the same decade rebuilt downtown Ojai in the Spanish colonial style, was lured primarily by the mild winters.
A transcendent strain survives in everything from the local “shoppes” proffering crystals and incense to the hushed tones with which residents speak of the valley’s cinematic “pink moment” sunsets against the Topa Topa mountains.
I wouldn’t use the word ‘spiritual,’ but there’s definitely something magical about those mountains,” said Eric Goode, a New York hotel and restaurant mogul. Mr. Goode, whose father taught at the Thacher School in the 1960s, remembers hunting for reptiles in the Topa Topas as a child and visiting the pottery studio of Beatrice Wood, the so-called Mama of Dada and Ojai’s most famous resident artist.
In 1989 Mr. Goode bought his own place, a Spanish-style house in the still-bucolic East End, where he runs the Turtle Conservancy, a sanctuary for rare and endangered chelonians. “One of the lovely things about Ojai is it hasn’t changed a lot,” he said. For decades the city has successfully battled efforts to run a freeway through the valley. There are no billboards, and the only franchise in sight is Jersey Mike’s, the sandwich purveyor, which slipped through the cracks of a chain-store ban Ojai passed in 2007.
Ojai’s Mayberry flavor — its population is just 7,600 — is catnip to big-city tastemakers, who are buying houses by some of California’s most notable architects. Ramin Shamshiri, a founder of the haute-hippie design collective Commune, and his wife, Donna Langley, the chairman of Universal Pictures, live in Mr. Libbey’s old Craftsman-style hunting lodge, built by Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey in 1908. The designer Barbara Barry is restoring the glass-walled home of the Case Study architect Rodney Walker. And Aileen Getty (granddaughter of J. Paul, aunt of Balthazar) recently acquired the Ford estate, a Paul Williams-designed compound so romantic that it might have sprung from the head of Helen Hunt Jackson.
The cultural opportunities are keeping pace with the influx. Just down the street from Porch Gallery Ojai, the two-year-old galerie102 shows conceptual work by emerging artists. Both galleries host community events ranging from performances to yoga classes. The Roes installed hay bales behind In the Field to accommodate movie screenings, and the same vibey spirit prevails at three recently opened “mindfully curated” boutiques: Modern Folk Living, Summer Camp and Tipple and Ramble.
Yet Mr. Sewell’s Rancho Inn is the epicenter of the youthquake. With its shuffleboard court and rooms decorated with tie-dyed curtains and ceramic pendants, the Rancho would seem to be targeting an Ace Hotel-ish demographic, but Mr. Sewell demurred.
“The Ace is a place where people go to sit by the pool and party,” he said. “Instead of having a D.J. cranking out the xx, we have something called Folk Steady, with musicians coming in and doing, like, Neil Young covers, and families on blankets with their plate of cheese and glass of rosé.”
The 92-year-old Ojai Valley Inn and Spa is still the place to go for golf and a detox body wrap. But there are less corporate options for visitors who are not on a budget. In the lush East End (a vintage-fruit-crate label come to life), an Iraqi-born single father named Calvin Zara has conjured Thacher House, a ranch house and cottages set amid olive groves and lavender fields roamed by goats and chickens. He rents the cottages out to groups eager to “reconnect with the universe” through activities like sheep milking and olive-oil pressing.
Curiously, given its farms and its locavores, Ojai’s restaurant options lag behind its retail offerings. The Farmer and the Cook may be the signature New Ojai eatery, serving up organic Mexican fare to throngs happy to wait half an hour or more for Swiss chard enchiladas or cabbage leaf tacos. There is also the artisan bakery Knead Baking Company and the Hip Vegan Café, with its funky sun-dappled back patio.
“Ojai in general is difficult for us,” said Warner Ebbink, a restaurateur from Los Angeles who hopes to open an outpost of his bistro Little Dom’s here, as well as another dining spot and country mart in an old massage school. “They don’t allow you to increase traffic coming in or out of town. Not by one car. That’s how they keep it small.”
If the city has not made it easy for fledgling businesses, neither have Ojai’s old-timers uniformly embraced the latecomers. The pushback ranges from anonymous Facebook complaints about “the Hollywood crowd” to more public grousing. “People will walk in the door, check out the store, give you their feedback and leave,” Ms. Roe said. Something along the lines of “damn hipsters”? “Pretty much,” she said.
Dave Del Negro, who has lived here over 50 years and has spent much of that time working as a chef at the Ranch House, Ojai’s first farm-to-table restaurant (he made a chocolate cake for Beatrice Wood’s 100th birthday), believes the tensions will work themselves out. “There’s the old guard who doesn’t want any change,” he said. “But Ojai has a long tradition of keeping itself itself. The people who don’t fit in will leave.”
Like the veterans, those who choose to put down roots seem to like the place pretty much the way it is. Yes, there’s a historic drought — Lake Casitas, the city’s primary water source, is just over half full — but Ojaians, however long they’ve been around, are keeping faith with the California dream.
At Edward Libbey’s old estate in the Arbolada, an oak-studded neighborhood near downtown, Mr. Shamshiri has fashioned a bohemian idyll for himself, his wife and their two young sons, Paulo and Adelo. While the house has been given the full Commune treatment (goatskin rugs, Native American textiles, handcrafted furniture), the five acres surrounding it function as a kind of New Age playground for the boys. A “city for kids” designed by Christopher Haskins incorporates a play mound, a mud pit and a treehouse with a zip line. There is also a tepee.
Across town, in the East End, Mr. Goode is living out a childhood fantasy of his own. “I’m a secret turtle lover, or herpetophile, I guess they call us,” he said, explaining how he came to share his succulent gardens with the speckled padloper, the Roti Island snake-necked turtle and 30 other threatened species. Mr. Goode, whose 1928 hacienda is decorated with tortoiseshells and mounted butterflies, recently started putting up guests in the several cottages scattered around his property, but he only takes in fellow herpetophiles.
Farther up the valley, on Sulphur Mountain, Mr. Brock and Mr. Fortune share a bungalow with two trailers out back. One of the vehicles accommodates visiting friends, and in the other one Mr. Brock pursues that definitive Ojai pastime: throwing pots. “You’re driven inward here,” he said, discussing his new, unhurried lifestyle. “You have to be inclined toward such a journey.”
While both men indulge in the sort of gauzy interior excursions that Ojai encourages, they’’ve come to appreciate the town’s down-home diversions just as much. “There’s a cute little Fourth of July parade, with Mexican boys on horses doing their lassoes,” Mr. Fortune said. “It’s just sweet. Not ironic sweet. There’s nobody trying to twist it and turn it into something else. Not yet.”
Living in Ojai By Trent Jones as seen on www.discoverojai.com
As little towns go Ojai is a great place to hang out and live.
So why would you want to move to Ojai and make this magical place your home? Here are some of my top reasons for loving the Ojai Valley and calling it my home.
I find that the Ojai Valley is full of friendly, creative, community minded people. Ojai is a safe and supportive community to raise children with excellent public and private schools. It is a community of organic farmers and people dedicated to healthy ways of living. It is a community where people gather to raise money for and provide support for the land conservancy, Ojai Valley youth, the arts and to promote local theatre and music and film festivals. In the Valley there are more than 250 clubs and organizations that provide a wide-range of cultural, fraternal, and social opportunities. There is always something going on here and if you want to get involved and participate, you will never be bored or lonely.
Here I can enjoy small town living at its’ very best yet I am only 30 to 60 minutes away from a number of large cities such as Ventura or Santa Barbara.
Ojai is a community that cares about the environment. One example of this is the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. This organization is a gathering of residents and friends of the Ojai Valley actively working together to create an environmentally sustainable community. “The mission of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition is to advance a green, sustainable, and resilient Ojai Valley.” Another example of a community that cares is the Ojai Land Conservancy. The Conservancy is a community-based, nonprofit group of more than 1,200 private citizens and landowners working for the common goal of protecting and restoring open space in the Ojai Valley for your benefit and the benefit of future generations. The Ojai Land Conservancy recognizes that the Ojai Valley is blessed with ideal living conditions and its stunning beauty inspires comparison to the mythical land of Shangri-la. They understand that without responsible stewardship of the land, the valley will not endure encroaching development. Because Ojai is a small valley surrounded by mountains with limited water resources, the need to preserve the remaining open space is acute. Still another example of a community that cares is the Ojai Raptor Center. Ojai Raptor Center (ORC) is dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of injured, orphaned and displaced birds of prey in Ventura County. They are a nonprofit corporation, licensed by California State Fish & Game and Federal Fish & Wildlife. Relying on contributions the ORC is operated by volunteers thoroughly dedicated and trained in the care and handling of raptors. They take in and assess over 350 birds each year for injuries or illnesses, rehabilitate them, and when ready, release them back into nature.
The great outdoors, sports and recreation are a central theme in the Ojai Valley. The Ojai Valley is surrounded by the Los Padres National Park which consist of nearly two million acres of beautiful mountains and wide open spaces with numerous hiking trails. Beautiful Lake Casitas is located just outside the city of Ojai has 32 miles of shoreline and 6,200 acres of oak trees and rolling hills. The lake is filled with trout, bass, catfish, crappie and sunfish with “world class” fish catches frequently recorded. Facilities include two boat launching ramps, large fishing docks, electrical and water hookup camping sites and picnic areas.
The Ojai Valley has some of Ventura Counties best equestrian centers. Horse lovers can find many places to board and train horses. There are horse trails through out the surrounding mountain and valley areas. The Ojai Valley School is one of the few schools in the country that has an equestrian program for their students. Their equestrian program gives students in grades 4-12 the opportunity to ride horses as their sport and compete as members of a school team.
Ojai prides itself in its private and public school systems. Villanova School, Besant Hill School, Monica Ros School, Montessori School, Oak Grove School, Ojai Valley School and the Thacher’s school are some of the well know 13 private schools in the Ojai Valley. Our public schools are the best with a high school that offers amazing academic, sports, music and theatre programs.
When it comes to good health Ojai has one of the best Athletic facilities in all of Ventura county. Over 42% of the people that live in Ojai are members of this amazing health fitness center. The Ojai Valley Athletic club offers a state of the art fitness facility, two large heated pools, group exercise studios, spinning studio, child care, kid’s game room, plus ten lighted tennis courts and four clay courts. The club also offers a lighted basketball court and sand volleyball court. The club welcomes families, singles, and seniors alike to their unique facility.
The Ojai Valley is the center of ongoing self help and self improvement. The Ojai Educational foundation, the Byron Katie learning center, the Ojai Foundation, the Krishnamurti Foundation, The Healing Arts Council of Ojai are just a few of the organizations dedicated to improving the human experience. If you are an artist, the creative writer or the actor you will find Ojai alive with activities. The Ojai Art Center, Ojai Play writers, Ojai Valley Music Festival, Ojai Valley Film Festival and Ojai Shakespeare Festival are just a few of the events you can experience.
Ojai has all the community services that you would expect. We have an amazing Hospital, a library, a trolly system and an active Chamber of Commerce. It is reported that the Ojai library is the most used and active library in all of Ventura County.
The Ojai Valley is made of many small neighborhoods and communities. The City of Ojai, the Arbolada, the Ojai East End, Upper Ojai, Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte, Saddle Mountain Estates and Oak View are the main neighborhoods and communities that you will find here. Each is unique, but all join together to form one community we call the Ojai Valley. Whether you are looking for a quiet home in a well defined residential area or a country home with acreage you can find what you are looking for here in the Ojai Valley.