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.
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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.”
From July 2000 By Erik Torkells
Just look at it, a valley so beautiful Frank Capra used it to represent Shangri-La in his film Lost Horizon. No, forget Lost Horizon: the movie that comes to mind in Ojai today is Pleasantville, in which two kids get sucked into a fifties sitcom. Where else will you find a downtown where the locals actually hang out, an independent department store, fast-food restaurants that don’t advertise on national television?Shops are staffed by well-adjusted youths; cars stop religiously for pedestrians. But in other ways, Ojai’s been updated: there’s a film society, a farmers’ market (fresh fenugreek!), countless cafés offering soy milk, and something called a yogaversity. How’s this for a perfect example of small-town trust?The night before the Fourth of July parade, everyone marks a place with a chair and leaves it there overnight.
Perfection on that level is dull, though, and Ojai (pronounced “oh-high,” by the way) delivers on the quirky front, too. The Ojai Valley, you see, has long drawn people yearning to go deep. “The magnetic center of the earth is here,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1878. “Spirit-minded people come to reach the God centers in themselves.” A partial list of the groups that have called it home: Church of Tzaddi, Life Divine Center, Sufi Order, Vortex Institute, Science of the Mind, Siddha Yoga Dham, ECKANKAR, Church Universal and Triumphant, Sathya Sai Baba. On top of that, you have a layer of hippies and artists; ceramist Beatrice Wood—often called the Mama of Dada—lived in Ojai, where she was a follower of resident Jiddu Krishnamurti, thought by some to be the next messiah. Krishnamurti, with Aldous Huxley and others, founded the Happy Valley School here in 1946 (it’s one of at least 20 private schools in the area). Then there’s a thin layer of celebrity frosting. Anthony Hopkins, Bill Paxton, Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche all have houses here.
When I proposed to the editor of this magazine that I write a story on Ojai she smiled beatifically. She looked away or inside or somewhere but definitely not at me, and whispered, “Ojai.” Then she paused. “I had such a wonderful bike ride there.” Pause. Smile. Pause. I had to know: What is it about this town that blisses people out?
Way back when, the peaceful Chumash Indians ruled the valley; they were conquered by the Spanish, who were conquered by the Americans. By 1923, the town had been conquered by one Edward Libbey, a glass manufacturer from Toledo, Ohio. He first came in search of a winter retreat, and proceeded to commission the post office tower, the arcade of shops, the pergola, the Ojai Valley Inn, the El Roblar Hotel (now the Oaks, a spa), Civic Center Park (now Libbey Park), and several other buildings. “Without Libbey,” says David Mason, florist and unofficial historian, “Ojai would just be another little Western town.”
So why isn’t the town called Libbey?Because it was originally named after Charles Nordhoff, a travel writer who toured California in 1871. His pied-piper prose brought so many tourists that valley residents were inspired to incorporate as Nordhoff. The name lasted until World War I, when Nordhoff sounded too German for comfort and was changed to Ojai, possibly a Chumash word for “the nest” or “moon,” depending on whom you ask.
Local Hero, one of Ojai’s three independent bookstores, becomes my preferred place for coffee breaks. “Be careful,” says a clerk after I tell her my theory that this is heaven on earth. “You might have an accident like I did and end up staying. I came for a month and I’ve been here four years.” I figure her for the town malcontent until she points out that it’s a hard place to live if you’re in your twenties, since 30 percent of the residents are retired.
That could suck. So I wait a full hour before deciding that I’m going to move here. I’ve got it all figured out. I’ll take a year off, soak up the vibe, maybe work at Local Hero, and write a book not unlike John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Berendt stayed on the hardcover best-seller list for four years, and this place is so kooky I won’t even have to fudge the truth the way he did. All I need is a drag queen and a murder.
I head over to the Krotona Institute of Theosophy to do some research. Krotona was founded by Albert Powell Warrington, a Virginia lawyer who thought Ojai was “impregnated with occult and psychic influences.” This leads me to think about Rosemary’s Baby, Mia Farrow, and that Vidal Sassoon haircut that was supposed to be a sign of her madness but instead made her look pretty darn chic. Suddenly, a bird flies into the picture window and stumbles off, dazed. A sign?But of what?
The main spiritual figure in Ojai history is Krishnamurti, who came to town in 1922 and died in 1986. Originally trained by the Theosophists, he never claimed to be a prophet, writing instead that “truth is a pathless land.” If the photo on the wall is any indication, his resemblance to Tyrone Power might have inspired more than one follower.
The librarian, Lakshmi, comes over. I explain my quest to find out why Ojai makes people so happy. “I believe it was the Chumash’s peaceful way of living that has brought us all here,” she says.
“The Indians?” I say, forgetting that it’s not kosher to call Native Americans “Indians,” especially to someone from south Asia. I change the subject. “I’m hoping the weather holds,” I say. “I want to see the pink moment.” The pink moment, when the sun bounces off the mountains at dusk and bathes the valley in pink light, is a matter of intense local pride.
“We will pray,” she says.
I’m staying at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a cush resort on 220 acres. My room is huge, and the grounds are lovely—the place is a popular wedding site, and you can immediately see why. Though I like it, I’m already mentally spending the advance I intend to receive for my book (tentatively titled High Noon in the Happy Valley). Since the money will go only so far, I’m relieved to find that I also dig the less expensive Blue Iguana Inn, just outside town. Although the rooms aren’t as luxurious as those at the Ojai Valley Inn, they’re decorated with works by local artists. Besides, some rooms have kitchens, and the restaurants in Ojai aren’t all they could be. The town is funny that way: it has an effortless sophistication—and easy access to fresh ingredients—but hasn’t made the gourmet leap of, say, Napa Valley.
Before I switch over to the Blue Iguana, I indulge in a trip to the spa, added to the Ojai Valley Inn two years ago. I try the kuyam, the spa’s signature treatment. Joel, the young worker bee, sits me down on a tiled chaise and pours dark, rich, soft mud into my hands. “It’s Hungarian,” he says. “It’s been whipped!” Then he leaves me alone to listen to a meditation tape. I’m about to tune out the voice altogether—”Let your internal organs relax” sent me over the edge—when I realize that underneath it is another voice, at a subliminal volume. I swear I hear it say “Lucy is wrong.” I think of Mia Farrow, Vidal Sassoon, Lakshmi, and the bird that flew into the window. “Lucy is wrong.” What can it mean?My book may be taking a Twin Peaks turn, meaning there will be no answer. A pathless land, indeed.
At my lowest point, I come upon one of the most together people I’ve ever met. His name is Marlow, and he’s an acting director at the Ojai Foundation, which has been helping people get back to nature since 1979. Think eco-spiritual retreats for schools and corporations. As Marlow shows me around the 40-acre compound, our conversation is Socratic. I ask a question; he asks one back.
“Why do you think spiritual people are drawn here?”
“I like that you’re thinking this way. Why do you think that you’re thinking this way?”
It’s both enlightening and maddening, for Marlow rarely finishes a thought before moving to the next one, quoting Rilke on the way. But his intelligence and calm are inspiring.
“Does the geology have something to do with the energy here?”
“Isn’t that a bit woo-woo for your magazine?”
Touché! We pass a blindfolded girl learning to trust, a rickety old phone booth, a yurt with a male menopause book by the bed. “I don’t know why the valley has attracted so many artists,” he says, “but it has. Beatrice Wood, of course, and Malcolm McDowell, Larry Hagman.” I laugh, and then explain that when he said “artist” I didn’t think “Larry Hagman” would come next.
“Larry Hagman,” he replies, “has done a lot of good . . .” followed by something or other about disadvantaged children. Mortified, I stammer that Continental was showing an episode of I Dream of Jeannie on my flight out West and that at the time I thought Hagman was underappreciated. I go back to town, where I obviously belong.
I finally find someone—Suza Francina—who agrees unequivocally with my theory that Ojai is Shangri-La. She’s the mayor, though, so she would. “This is a power spot, a sacred place,” says Francina. “I feel it when I wake up at dawn.”
We meet for tea. I start off by apologizing for my grimacing: I’m still sore from my hike (four hours, 4.3 miles). Francina offers to “stretch me out”; the mayor is also a yoga instructor and the author of The New Yoga for People over 50.
How has Ojai managed to stay the same?”The real secret,” she says, “is we fought the four-lane highway. It’s our argument against development: we can’t support the traffic. If you want to save your town, don’t widen the road.
“I first came to Ojai forty-three years ago,” she continues. “I remember when it wasn’t touristy. We recognize the danger of being too dependent on tourists.” I start to worry that High Noon in the Happy Valley might do to Ojai what Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did to Savannah: bring in busloads of tourists and annoy the locals. “Of course,” says Francina, “a lot of the tourists become citizens.”
The patron saint of Ojai was probably Beatrice Wood, who died in 1998 at the age of 104. (Longtime residents, including Francina, boast of having known “Beato.”) She was friends with Marcel Duchamp and other artists, and eventually became an artist herself. I could take or leave Wood’s pottery, but am charmed by her secret for longevity—a diet of young men and chocolate.
A lot of artists live in Ojai, perhaps because of the vibe or the light, perhaps simply because other artists are here. One of my favorites is Carmen Abelleira-White, who makes artworks in a 1920’s schoolhouse with things she’s found around town. When turned down by Ojai’s official art tour, she started the Art Detour. But even the rebel’s in love with the town.
“Many people quit their jobs and move here,” she says. “Until three months later and they can’t get Indian food at ten P.M. I’ve moved away and come back. I feel nurtured here, at home. If I lived somewhere else, I’d probably still be teaching instead of painting.”
I used to paint.
“Someone recently asked me,” she continues, “‘Is your life what you hoped it would be?’ And I thought, Yes.”
It is perhaps too easy to end this story at sunset, with the pink moment. But here I am at Dennison Grade, where Capra filmed the valley as his idea of Shangri-La, the perfect place.
Ojai isn’t Shangri-La, I know that. Heck, I can tell that from the empty Zima bottle rolling around by my feet. (Dennison Grade, I guess, is where local kids go to be bad.) But it is close to perfect, at least to me. People seem to have their priorities straight here; they live well but modestly, and with poise.
Does the land draw a certain kind of person here?Or does it change the visitor into that certain kind of person?I wouldn’t be surprised if both were true. The Ojai Valley is relentlessly beautiful, with the light shining down through the mountains all day long. Speaking of the light, everything has turned the most delicate shade of pink.
The answer, I suppose, is as I supposed. There is no answer. As Van Morrison sang, “It ain’t why, why, why. It just is.”
Back at local hero, I run my theory by the sweet teenager behind the café counter. “I’m here writing a story for Travel + Leisure,” I say. “I believe this is the perfect town.”
She scoffs, evidently unaware how rare it is for a town of 8,000 people to have three independent bookstores. “I can see why you think that,” she says. “But there are the usual troubles.”
I let it go. When I finish my decaf I make my way back to the counter, suavely stuffing a dollar into the tip jar. “So, um, what did you mean about troubles?”
“The girl?” she says, speaking in questions. “That was murdered?” She lowers her voice. “She went off . . . No one knows . . .”
Ojai A Brief History
Brief History of OjaiChumash Indians were the early inhabitants of the valley. They called it Ojai, which means “Valley of the Moon.” The area became part of the Rancho Ojai Mexican land grant made to Fernando Tico in 1837, and he established a cattle ranch. Tico sold it in 1853 to prospectors searching for oil, without much success. By 1864, the area was settled.
The town was laid out in 1874 by real estate developer R.G. Surdam and named Nordhoff, California, in honor of the writer Charles Nordhoff. Leading up to and during World War I, American sentiment became increasingly anti-German. Across the United States, German and German-sounding place names were changed. As part of this trend, Nordhoff was renamed Ojai in 1917.
The public high school in Ojai is still named “Nordhoff.” The public junior high school, named “Matilija,” formerly served as Nordhoff Union High School and still features large tiles with the initials “NUHS” on the steps of the athletic field.
The main turning point in the development of the city was the coming of Edward Drummond Libbey, early owner of the Libbey Glass Company. He saw the valley and fell in love, thinking up many plans for expansion and beautification of the existing rustic town.
After fire destroyed much of the original western-style Nordhoff/Ojai in 1917, Libbey helped design, finance and build a new downtown more in line with the contemporary taste for Colonial-Revival architecture, including a Spanish-style arcade, a bell-tower reminiscent of the famous campanile in Havana, and a pergola opposite the arcade. These buildings still stand, and have come to serve as symbols of the city and the surrounding valley. To thank Libbey for his gifts to the town, the citizens proposed a celebration to take place on March 2 of each year. Libbey declined their offer to call it “Libbey Day,” and instead suggested “Ojai Day.” The celebration still takes place, each year in October.
Libbey’s pergola was destroyed in 1971, after being damaged in an explosion. It was rebuilt in the early 2000s to complete the architectural continuity of the downtown area. The town completed a new park, Cluff Vista Park, in 2002, which contains several small themed regions of native California vegetation.
1782 – Father Junipero Serra founds Mission San Buenaventura.
1812 – Severe earthquakes damage California missions.
– Great earthquakes struck the California coast in 1812-1813. They began with the tragic destruction of the church at Mission San Juan Capistrano on December 8, 1812. About forty worshipers were in the church at the time, and the tower of the building fell back onto the nave, with much loss of life.
– As things go with great earthquakes, a continuous series of substantial shakes followed the first great jolt. The fearsome prospect of buildings collapsing would have forced people into abandoning their customary housing (much of which was probably damaged).
– The best housing for an earthquake at the time would have been the traditional structures of the Native American people all along the coast. There would be little likelihood of their collapse in an earthquake; and, even if they did collapse, there wasn’t much weight to them.
– Ocean currents may well have been disturbed by the earthquakes; and there were reports of threatening tidal wave activity, which would have further added to the alarm of the people.
– Another substantial shock came on December 21. This time, Mission La Purisima Concepcion, northwest of Santa Barbara, was destroyed. The primary quake lasted four minutes, and a second shock lasted five minutes. Mission Santa Ines also suffered damage.
– A story handed down from generation to generation in Ventura County told how the population of Mission San Buenaventura withdrew from the immediate coast and moved inland to temporary housing. These houses, constructed in the traditional Chumash way, were called casitas in Spanish; and they were clustered near the Ventura River narrows at the southern entrance to the Ojai Valley.
– The population of the Mission at the time was about one thousand persons. The displaced population, however, was probably not that large; since some of the people already lived regularly at rancherias in the countryside. The number of displaced persons at the narrows, conceivably, exceeded five hundred.
– A large casitas was understood to house about ten persons, but the houses at the narrows were temporary, and so may not have been especially large. The number of houses that would have been required for the displaced population at the narrows may have numbered between fifty and one hundred. They would have made a memorable encampment.
– Earthquakes continued into January 1813, and the displaced community may have been at their temporary location for several months. When Father Senan and the mission population returned to Mission San Buenaventura in March of that year, they discovered that the tower of the church and part of the façade were damaged to such an extent that they would have to be replaced.
– The name casitas remained after the people left. It was applied to the Casitas Narrows and Casitas Springs. It was used to designate the area extending about a mile to the north of the narrows, which became known simply as The Casitas. It was applied to Casitas Dam and Lake Casitas. The pass to the west was named Casitas Pass, and the valley just over the east Casitas Pass has been known as the Little Casitas Valley. by Richard Hoye
1818 – The California coast is threatened by pirates.
-The Pirate Hippolyte Bouchard
– It is a fair question why a mountain community would have any interest at all in a pirate. The ocean is not visible from the valley, except from the top of the surrounding, high ridges. The answer lies in the fact that the valley was a refuge when Hippolyte Bouchard burned and plundered along the coast in 1818.
– The peace of all Hispanic America was unsettled when royal officials were ousted in Argentina and Chile in 1810, and political leaders in those countries aspired to rule independently of Spain. In that same year, an unsuccessful but violent revolt broke out in Mexico under the leadership of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Soon, Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin began a long series of battles to achieve the independence of the nations of South America. Early in 1818, the independence of Chile was proclaimed, and naval operations along the Pacific coast became warlike.
– The captain of an American vessel in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) discovered two ships being fitted out there. Their captain intended to sail to the California coast. The larger of the two ships would become known by Californians as the fragata negra, “the black ship,” and it was captained by Hippolyte Bouchard, a Frenchman by birth. It is believed by some that he was an agent of the independence movement in South America and that he wished to test the residents of Upper California to determine where their loyalties were placed. He was to discover that their loyalties remained with Spain.
– The captain of the American vessel had previously been in California, and he sailed away to Santa Barbara, where he informed Jose de la Guerra, the commander of the presidio, of the threat. Word went out immediately from Santa Barbara, northward to Monterey and southward to San Diego; and Governor Pablo Vicente de Sola at Monterey rapidly issued orders.
– Each of the missions situated in an exposed location along the coast was to withdraw its population inland. Valuables of the missions were to be buried. The missions in the Santa Barbara district were to send armed men to the presidio. Measures were to be taken for the safety of persons, stock and property. The Franciscan missionary, Fr. Jose Senan, at Mission San Buenaventura responded immediately. One hundred archers were sent to Santa Barbara, and the population of the mission was moved to a location northward and inland.
– Hippolyte Bouchard landed at Monterey, where after a few days, he left the town plundered and burning. He then sailed south to Rancho Refugio (in the Goleta area) and there once again plundered and burned ranch buildings. However, Commander de la Guerra at Santa Barbara made an effective military stand, and Bouchard withdrew and disappeared to the south.
– Movement of the population inland from Mission San Buenaventura extended over several months, probably from October to December 1818. Father Senan wrote on January 4, 1819, that “We spent three weeks and three days at the place called La Nueva Purisima.” The “we” here may apply only to himself, as he was probably preceded to the refuge at an earlier date by others.
– Father Senan added, “In our temporary quarters, about three leagues from here, in a valley beyond the mountains, we suffered considerably from the heavy snowfall, which almost every day came to the very doors of our huts.” “Three leagues” would have placed the refugees near the present-day Rancho Arnaz or possibly at a site now occupied by Casitas Dam.
– Some have questioned Father Senan’s ability to judge distances. So much snow suggests that he was in higher altitudes in what today is Los Padres National Forest. This overlooks the fact, however, that within historic times, substantial snowfall has occasionally occurred in the Casitas area (Rancho Arnaz/Casitas Dam). There is no real reason why the Franciscan father’s judgment about the distance must be discounted.
– We do not know specifically where the refugees camped, but it seems safe to conclude that they used the valley as a refuge. Many who have followed have done the same
1830: Lopez Adobe, at the mouth of Matilija Canyon. Originally served as a soldiers’ garrison under the command of Raphael Lopez. The Lopez family lived here for about 90 years. The walls still stand, incorporated into a private dwelling.
1837 – Governor Juan Alvarado grants Rancho Ojai to Fernando Tico.
– Fernando Tico was the person to whom Rancho Ojai was granted by Gov. Juan Bautista Alvarado on April 6, 1837. Tico held possession of the ranch for sixteen years, until he sold it on May 25, 1853. He was prominent in political and social affairs in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
– Two pirate ships appeared offshore at Monterey in November 1818. Military forces were assembled on land to repel the pirates, and the militia was activated. Since Fernando was twenty years old at the time, he more than likely was armed for militia duty.
– The pirate leader, Hippolyte Bouchard, left Monterey after sacking and burning the presidio and other buildings. Military forces on land shifted southward, as the expectation was that Santa Barbara would be the pirates’ next target. It is possible that Fernando first came south to Santa Barbara at that time. A show of military force at Santa Barbara succeeded in dissuading Bouchard from attacking, and he left the area.
– The next we learn of Fernando Tico is his marriage to Maria Margarita Lopez at Mission Santa Barbara in 1821. Three children were subsequently born to this marriage. By 1929, Tico had served for at least one term as alcalde (mayor) of Santa Barbara, and he also served for at least two terms as Justice of the Peace.
– A second tragedy entered Tico’s life in 1834, when his wife died. Tico, however, soon married Maria de Jesus Silvestra Ortega, and twelve children were born of this second marriage.
– Tico’s interest now turned to the Ojai Valley, and at some time during the 1830s he constructed a lightly-built house in the upper Ojai Valley. He applied for a land grant, which was approved in 1837. Old maps disclose that he constructed at least three houses on the ranch, one in the upper valley and two in the lower valley. He maintained herds of cattle on the ranch.
– Just prior to the moment when the United States took possession of California in 1846, the California provincial assembly approved a second grant to Tico. This was a 26-acre section of land immediately to the west of the church at Mission San Buenaventura. Tico constructed a house on what would later become the northwest corner of the intersection of Main Street and Ventura Avenue in Ventura. This was the beginning of what at the time was called the “mission village.” He also rented the famous old mission garden and engaged in farming.
– Just prior to his sale of Rancho Ojai, Tico served as Constable (police officer) at the mission village. He also served as Justice of the Peace in Ventura in 1855 and in that same year was elected to the first county board of supervisors for Santa Barbara County. At the time, the area of Ventura County, as we know it today, was part of Santa Barbara County.
– During the final years of his life, Tico sold various plots of land in the western section of Ventura to such persons as Augustino Solari and Juan Camarillo. He died on March 30, 1862; and his body was the last to be buried in the mission cemetery.
– Tico’s son, Fernando Antonio Tico, was also prominent in local social and political affairs and a holder of a series of public offices after his father’s death. by Richard Hoye
1837 – Gov. Alvarado grants Rancho Santa Ana to Crisogono Ayala and Cosme Vanegas.
1837 – Gov. Alvarado grants Rancho Santa Ana to Crisogono Ayala and Cosme Vanegas.
The Rancho Santa Ana Land Grant
– Rancho Ojai is located on the east side of the upper Ventura River. Rancho Santa Ana is located on the west side of the river. The two Mexican land grants were made in the same year.
– Crisogono Ayala submitted a petition to California governor Jose Figueroa for Rancho Santa Ana on May 10, 1834. His address to the governor was splendid, “Mr. Commandant General and Superior Mayor, Citizen Jose Figueroa!” The petition was jointly submitted by Ayala and his father-in-law “Pablo Banegas.” “Pablo” was his familiar name, while his formal name was Cosme. The “B” of his last name reflects the pronunciation at the time of “Vanegas.”
– They explained to the governor that they had “a small number of cattle . . . amounting to nearly three hundred head.” They requested the grant because grazing land in the Santa Barbara area was becoming scarce, and they desired “the larger increase of our said cattle.” They were also interested in cultivation of “seed crops” and the planting of a vineyard. Ayala described his fitness for the grant by explaining that he had “the honor of having served during thirteen years the glorious career of the arms [sic]; and the parents of both applicants praise themselves of having been the first pioneers and settlers of the country. . . .”
– The land requested was awkwardly described as “the place known by the name of Santa Anita [sic], upwards as far as the spot where the two sierras join as they divide the Matilija river.” The governor was provided with a sketched map. The area was understood to be part of the lands of Mission San Buenaventura. Accompanying the petition was a letter from Father Blas Ordas, which stated that the land was “not improved” and “vacant.”
– Ayala’s petition, however, was to end in frustration. Governor Figueroa responded on July 7, 1834, with a statement that Dona Josefa Carrillo de Dana, Don Nicholas Gutierrez and Don Feodoro Areyanes had also requested the same land! As a consequence, “the proceedings on this matter shall be suspended for the present time.”
– Jose Figueroa was the seventh Mexican governor of California, and he served from 1833 to 1835. Three men followed as governors in confusing succession: Jose Castro (1835-36), Nicolas Gutierrez (1836), Mariano Chico (1836), and then Nicolas Gutierrez once again in the second half of 1836.
– This unsettled situation did not end until Juan Bautista Alvarado assumed the office of governor on December 7, 1836, in what was considered by many as a revolt against the “Supreme Government of Mexico.” He remained in “revolt” from 1836 through July 9, 1837, when the central government recognized the legitimacy of his holding the office. He then continued in office through his full term until December 31, 1842. He was only 27 years old when he became governor; and, as things turned out, he was the only Mexican governor of upper California to serve a full term!
– The impression that Alvarado brought order out of chaos is only partially true, for political leaders in Southern California rose up against him militarily, and he was required to assert his authority through force of arms. During the spring of 1837, Alvarado attended to the affairs of his office while residing in Santa Barbara.
– It was at this time that Crisogono Ayala decided to renew his request for Rancho Santa Ana. His second petition was dated February 10, 1837. Governor Alvarado responded on April 14, 1837, stating that “Crisogono Ayala is hereby declared owner and proprietor of the land called Santa Ana.” There seems to have been some mix-up, and Cosme Vanegas (left out of the original order) was added as a co-owner on May 10, 1837. by Richard Hoye
1846 – The United States takes possession of California.
1853 – Fernando Tico (at right) sells Rancho Ojai.
1854 – The earliest known image of the valley was a lithograph made by A. H. Campbell, during surveying for a railroad route from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean.
1861 – Oil and Tourism – George Gilbert extracts and refines oil near Rancho Arnaz.
1867 – Thomas Bard’s California Petroleum Company Oil Well No. 6 gushes.
1868 – Thomas Bard (at right) sells the first subdivided land within Rancho Ojai.
1872 – Charles Nordhoff’s California for Health, Pleasure and Residence is first published.
1873 – William McKee opens Oak Glen Cottages in the east valley.
1873 – Sea captain Richard Robinson begins farming in the upper valley.
-Richard Robinson was an early rancher in the valley, and he first came to the valley after retiring as a ship’s captain. The romantic story of his life at sea is accented by the fact that his wife often accompanied him on his voyages.
– Richard Robinson was born in Thomaston, Maine, in 1817, and he was of Welsh extraction. He began his life at sea at age seventeen. His advancement was rapid, and he captained his first ship at age twenty-three in 1840. For the next fourteen years, he captained ships that bore names such as Mountaineer, Pyramid and Hardet. These were “Yankee Clippers” engaged in ocean-crossing commerce.
– Robinson pooled his resources in 1855 with several other men to commission construction of a 200-foot long clipper ship, christened the Richard Robinson. It was the custom of captains of the clipper ships to race each other, since the winning of a race provided profitable publicity. This was the way that sea captains built their reputations, and “Virtually every passage from one port to another was a race.” Robinson won a race against the formidable Dreadnought and thereby established his ship as “one of America’s fastest ships.”
– Voyages could be lengthy. One of his voyages from New York City to Bombay took eighty-eight days, and that was close to breaking the speed record for the route. Ships’ captains were inclined to take their families with them on such long trips, and such was the case with Richard Robinson. He wed Mary Wentworth in 1840, the very year he first became a ship’s captain. She was a woman fit to match him.
– Mary Wentworth Robinson was the first woman to receive the degree of Doctor of Education from Harvard University. She was descended from an aristocratic English line, which included Sir Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Stafford. She accompanied her husband on over thirty voyages. Three sons were born to the marriage: William, Richard and Charles. Two daughters died in infancy.
– Robinson retired from the sea in 1872 and moved to Santa Barbara. In the following year, he purchased land in the upper Ojai Valley and began to farm. By 1875, he joined Judge Eugene Fawcett, Jr., and a wealthy eastern man, H.C. Dean, in the purchase of land from Jose Arnaz (land which now is largely covered by the northern half of Lake Casitas). They subdivided the land and started the development of ranches in the Santa Ana Valley.
– Richard Robinson signed the voters registration roll for Ventura County in 1884 along with his sons Richard Owen Robinson and Charles Wentworth Robinson. All three stated that their birthplaces had been in Maine.
– Robinson’s approach to farming was diversification. He planted many different varieties of trees and vegetables on his upper Ojai Valley ranch. By doing this, he introduced new agricultural products to the valley, and his farm was judged by his contemporaries as especially interesting for its variety.
– He also tried his hand at breeding race horses. He was photographed in 1896 with a race horse and sulky. In his final years, he lived in Ventura, where he died on February 6, 1896.
1874 – First jail. Build by town constable Andy Van Curen in his back yard.
1874 – Royce Surdam (at right) establishes the village of Nordhoff (now the City of Ojai).
1874 – Abram Wheeler Blumberg’s hotel opens with a grand ball.
1874 – Lafayette Herbert opens Nordhoff’s first general store.
– The first general store in Ojai Valley was opened by Mr. and Mrs. L.R. Herbert in 1874 on the north side of Ojai Avenue across from the present Civic Center Park [now, Libbey Park]. Ojai pioneers recall it as a small one-story building with one room that carried everything the early settlers needed.
– Hattie Waite Cota, in an article on Ojai Valley’s first store, described the amazing variety of goods it displayed. She said: “The shelves were divided into sections in which goods were placed, each item in its respective department. There was a drug, a dry goods, a boot and shoe counter, and near the entrance a small glass showcase that contained, among other things, several varieties of candy, such as peppermint, horehound, gum drops, stick candy and licorice strips, very strong and very black.”
– A cherished memory of Mrs. Cota: “Some time later a millinery section was added, stocked only with children’s hats. My choice was a broad-brimmed, plain-black straw [hat] with band and streamers of corn-colored ribbon.”
– Mrs. Thad Timms read a paper before the Pioneer section of the Ojai Valley Woman’s Club in 1938 and is here quoted: “Prior to the year 1874, all incoming and outgoing mail was carried by some one of the residents of the valley who happened to be riding or driving to Ventura to the post office. On March 11, 1874, the Postmaster General in Washington, D.C. appointed LaFayette R. Herbert as the first postmaster of Nordhoff [now Ojai]—an office was established.”
– The Nordhoff store, as with most general stores, had a little section in the front for the distribution of mail. This addition, of course, drew many into the store who, in winter especially, lingered around the wood-burning stove in the middle of the room. Here the cracker-barrel philosophers settled the problems of the world, lent their ears for local news and gossip.
– Early settlers remember the blending aroma of cheese, coffee, spices, sausages and new leather. Of course, nothing was packaged, and the storekeeper measured the amount wanted from barrels, sacks and other volume containers.
– Farmers, with their wagons hauling hams, chickens in small coops or with legs tied, cases or boxes of eggs, tied their horses to hitching racks or trees and proceeded to trade their produce for coal oil, flour, sugar, harness and other needs.
– Barter between the farmer and the storekeeper was the general rule. This put an extra load on the Nordhoff storekeeper, who had to take all the farm produce to Ventura and bring back goods for sale. With dusty roads in summer and deep mud in winter, this was quite a burden for heavy-laden wagons.
– Through the years the little store was sold to A.A. Garland and son. Later, Thomas Gilbert bought it. Finding that he needed help in the store, he sent for his bride-to-be from Michigan and announced publicly that he was going to be married. He invited all the residents of the valley to the wedding, which was held on the hotel grounds [at the front of what is now Libbey Park] with music furnished by the Ventura band. Some years later, the Thomas Gilbert family moved to Santa Barbara.
– A Mr. Brown and his wife then took over the store for a brief period, but Frank P. Barrows bought it and changed it to a hardware store. Finally, Mr. G.H. Hickey and two brothers bought it and rebuilt it. The Rains Department Store, now operating on the same site, is a successor to Hickey Brothers and is operated by Alan Rains, grandson of Mr. G.H. Hickey. By Ed Wenig
1874 – First Ojai Hotel by Blumberg
1875 – First brick schoolhouse. John Montgomery donated land for the first school in the lower Ojai. The Nordhoff Grammar School stood on land now occupied by the Lavender Inn (a bed & breakfast).
1875 – The first Ojai Valley Grange organizes.
1876 – John Meiners gets a ranch northwest of the village of Nordhoff for an unpaid debt.
– Meiners Oaks, a community where nearly every home is under a Live Oak tree, takes its name from John Meiners, who owned the large area for many years.
– John Meiners, native of Germany, had come to the United States about 1848 and had established a successful brewery business in Milwaukee. He acquired his Ojai ranch in the seventies, sight unseen, as a result of an unpaid debt. When he heard that his friend, Edward D. Holton, a Milwaukee banker, was going to California for a brief trip, Meiners asked him to see the property he had acquired. Mr. Holton’s evaluation was, “It is the most beautiful valley I have ever seen.”
– Upon investigating his new property, John Meiners found that he owned what was perhaps the largest oak grove on level land in Southern California, much of it so dense that the ground was in continuous shade. Furthermore, to his surprise, Meiners discovered that the climate of the valley was good for his asthma.
– For a long time, the oak grove was fenced and provided a pasture for a large herd of hogs. All traffic from Ojai to Matilija went on a private road through the Meiners property, using a gate which was supposed to be kept closed. So many people went through the gate without closing it that in 1893, the manager of the ranch, P.W. Soper, locked the gate. With the Meiners road closed, the only way of getting the mail to Matilija by stagecoach was a roundabout one by Rice Road.
– A news item in “The Ojai” related that, as Rice Road has been flooded, “the mail was sent up to Matilija last night on horseback, the rider going across the back hill country . . .” However, Mr. Soper later gave several keys to A.W. Blumberg, operator of Matilija Hot Springs, with the stipulation that they were to be used only by mail carriers and scheduled stage coach drivers.
– In 1896, the big barn on the Meiners ranch, located approximately where the Ranch House Restaurant is now, caught fire one evening about midnight. No fire-fighting equipment was available. Twenty horses, many tons of hay, harness, and farm implements were completely destroyed. “The Ojai” of February 15, 1896 reported . . . “Mr. Meiners built a large temporary barn on Monday, and the work of the great ranch goes on energetically.” The Milwaukee brewer lived on his ranch intermittently from the 1880s until his death in the valley in 1898. His original big house still stands on the hill above the Ranch House Restaurant and is now used by the Happy Valley School.
– John Meiners organized his ever-increasing acreage into a very productive ranch. Several hundred acres to the north of the oak grove were planted in oranges, lemons, prunes, apricots and apples. P.W. Soper, father of the late “Pop” Soper, was general manager of the Meiners Ranch and lessee of 90 acres of Texas red oats, 90 acres of wheat and 200 acres of barley. A visitor who toured the ranch with Mr. Meiners in 1897 wrote, “At the Meiners Ranch we saw stalks of oats that measured 7 feet 7 inches.”
– To visualize the vast area, the ranch can be described as bounded on the south by the hills of the Happy Valley School, on the west by Rice Road, on the north by the foothills near Cozy Dell Canyon and on the east by a line running through the junction of Highway 33 and El Roblar Street, north and south.
– The forebears of several of the present-day residents of the Ojai Valley came here as a result of John Meiners’ interest in his ranch. The granddaughters of Edward D. Holton, who made the original favorable report concerning the ranch of Mr. Meiners and the Ojai Valley, are Misses Alice and Helen Robertson of the east valley, and his granddaughter, Mrs. Anson Thacher. Otto Busch came to the ranch as manager in 1907, and his son George Busch, now retired, was one of Ojai’s postmasters. By Ed Wenig
1877 – The Presbyterian Church organizes (the first church in the valley).
1878 – The Casitas Pass stagecoach road is opened.
– The Casitas Pass Stagecoach Road A stagecoach road was constructed over Casitas Pass in 1878. Prior to the construction of the road, the pathway across the pass between the Ojai Valley and Carpinteria consisted of little more than a trail. It was an historic trail, being part of El Camino Real; but it needed to be widened to accommodate stage coaches. It was in use as a stagecoach road for only a short while, until the arrival of rail service between Ventura and Santa Barbara in 1887.
– Interest in a stagecoach road over Casitas Pass was prompted by the difficult passage between Ventura and Carpinteria along the coast. Steep cliffs reached right to the breakers, and passage was commonly possible only at low tide. One of the major concerns of the Santa Barbara County board of supervisors when it met for its very first session in 1856 was how to get a road built between Ventura and Santa Barbara. The Casitas Pass stagecoach road was the first practical solution.
– In the middle of the 1870s, land in the Ojai and Santa Ana Valleys was subdivided. Real estate sales were promoted, and travelers’ accommodations improved. Persons interested in getting a stagecoach road constructed met in June 1875 to discuss ways and means, and representatives at the meeting were from both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
– Funding, of course, is the usual first consideration for such projects; and apparently, at the time, it was necessary for counties to obtain state approval to float bonds. That approval came with An Act to Provide for the Construction of the Casitas Pass Road, in County of Ventura, passed by the state legislature on January 12, 1878. No money was provided by the state. The county was authorized to go into debt.
– A contract for construction of the road was awarded to William S. McKee early in May 1874. William McKee was the owner of Oak Glen Cottages in the Ojai Valley. He had opened his cottages for travelers and health-seekers only the year before. His interest in stimulating travel between the Ojai Valley and Santa Barbara is evident, and he apparently had the skills and resources to manage construction of the road.
– The road itself was only the width of a stagecoach, quite narrow by current standards; but it did require real construction effort. The grade needed to be gradual enough so that horses could manage to pull heavy stagecoaches up and over both the east and west passes. McKee met the target for completion of the road, and it was accepted by the Ventura County board of supervisors in August 1878.
– The opening of the new road, of course, deserved a celebration. A picnic was staged on September 10, 1878, on the banks of the Rincon Creek, which runs along the Ventura County and Santa Barbara County line. Celebrants enjoyed the pleasant canyon setting, within view of what they called the “Twin Elephant Rocks.”
– The stagecoach road did not follow the current route of the grade which rises today from Lake Casitas to the east Casitas Pass. The current route is on the north side of the canyon. The stagecoach road climbed the grade on the south side of the canyon, and a dirt road is still visible on that side of the canyon.
– Fresh teams of horses were placed on the stagecoaches at both ends of the pass. In the Santa Ana Valley, at the base of the east-end grade, there was a large barn. It was sufficiently large to permit a stagecoach and team to drive into the barn, and the changing of the team was done inside the barn. That barn was located near the current Casitas Dam and stood there until 1923.
– At the western end of the pass, at Rincon Creek and the Santa Barbara County line, James and Belle Shepard opened Mountain View Inn in 1876 (a couple of years before construction of the stagecoach road). They were very successful in welcoming persons who were traveling to and from the Ojai Valley and Santa Barbara, and their Inn became a half-way house, enjoyed by all.
– The name of Mountain View Inn was changed to Shepard’s Inn in 1896, and it seemed to gain ever-greater renown (even though by that time the stagecoaches no longer ran over the pass). The quality of the food, the excellence of the service, and the scenic setting were great; and the Inn hosted famous persons, such as Theda Bara, Mary Pickford, Enrico Caruso and even President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905.
– The need for the stagecoach road suddenly ended when rail service was established between Ventura and Santa Barbara in 1887. Stagecoaches were still in use for a while, but only to destinations not directly served by the railroad.
– In later days, the Ventura Bicycle Club staged an Independence Day ride between Ventura and Santa Barbara in 1891. Their route passed over the old stagecoach road across Casitas Pass. Automobiles were not to appear for another decade. A mission bell was placed at the summit of the west Casitas Pass in 1907 to mark the way as El Camino Real. A report that year appearing in The Ojai newspaper stated that the pass was “perfectly safe for motors, always provided the chauffeur knows how to handle his machine.”
– Completion of construction of the Rincon highway in 1912 directed most through traffic along the coastal route, and the route of the old stagecoach road retired to the status of one of California’s favorite backcountry roads. by Richard Hoye
1881 – Charles Nordhoff makes his first visit to the valley, escorted by William Hollister.
– The City of Ojai was first established as a village in 1874 and given the name Nordhoff. The village retained this name for 43 years, until it was changed to Ojai in 1917. Its original name was derived from the author, editor and journalist Charles Nordhoff, who lived from 1830 to 1901.
– His name is still retained in the name of the high school, Nordhoff High School, and the name of the highest point on the ridge which forms the northern wall of the Ojai Valley, Nordhoff Peak. There is also a fountain at the center of the city which commemorates his daughter, Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff.
– Charles Nordhoff is frequently confused with his grandson Charles Bernard Nordhoff, co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty; but they are of different generations. Charles Nordhoff was a well-established author in his own right. He wrote about a dozen books. His first books were about his early life as a seaman, and his Man-of-War Life (1855) was used at Annapolis as a standard reference for naval cadets. His most famous book was California for Health, Pleasure and Residence, published in June 1872. He was a deeply religious man, and one of his books was titled, God and the Future Life (1883). His Politics for Young Americans (1875) was used in public schools as a civics text.
– Charles Nordhoff was a “correspondent” in Washington, D.C., for the New York Herald newspaper from 1874 until his retirement in 1890. The New York Herald was the foremost newspaper in the nation, comparable to the New York Times today. This was at a time when there was no Internet, no television and no radio. Newspapers were the principal method of mass communication. As a “correspondent” (we might say reporter/commentator) at the nation’s capital for the nation’s foremost newspaper, he was at the top of his profession and was well-known nationwide.
– The following statement was included in an obituary written just after his death, which occurred in San Francisco on July 14, 1901: “The town of Nordhoff was named for Charles Nordhoff, in appreciation of the good words spoken of the Ojai Valley as a health resort, both as a writer and in personal talks with friends.”
– This is the common understanding as to how the village came to be named for the author, and it is an explanation that has been repeated many times over. Nonetheless, it is incorrect.
– “Persons seeking to learn what Charles Nordhoff wrote about the Ojai Valley pick up his California for Health, Pleasure and Residence from a local library and search the book intensively only to discover that there is nothing in the work about the valley! This leads to perplexity and confusion! The book was published in 1872, and the village was named Nordhoff in 1874. . . . but, he had not written about it.”
– The key to understanding what actually occurred rests in the fact that there was a subsequent edition of the work, published in 1882. The title page of the second edition stated that it was a “New Edition, Thoroughly Revised.” It is in the 1882 edition that information about the Ojai Valley is to be found. Unfortunately, it is also an edition that is less commonly shelved in public libraries.
– Charles Nordhoff wrote about the Ojai Valley eight years after the village was given his name. So, it wasn’t his writing about the Valley that led to the use of his name. The suggestion for naming the village is attributed to Catherine Blumberg, wife of the man who constructed the first hotel in the center of the hamlet. She thought the use of Nordhoff’s name would be a good idea (better than the Topa Topa first considered). Nordhoff’s famous book about California had been published a couple of years earlier, and tourists were carrying it about as a reliable guide to the state.
– A two-volume biography of Thomas Bard was written by the author W.H. Hutchinson (Oil, Land and Politics: The California Career of Thomas Robert Bard) and published in 1965. Bard was the Valley’s first real estate agent; and he later became a member of the U.S. Senate, representing the State of California. Hutchinson included the following statement in his book:
– “Without visiting the Ojai, he [Charles Nordhoff] penned some glowing prose about its salubrious climate and other advantages, and it is believed that he gleaned his material from Bard and Roys Surdam. His other periodical press articles and a book about his travels first gave national publicity to the southern coast and especially to Santa Barbara.” (p. 1:246)
– If complete information had been available to Hutchinson, he would have reached a different conclusion.
– Charles Nordhoff first visited the Ojai Valley for a quick, weekend turnaround on October 22-23, 1881. Here is part of a report from a Santa Barbara newspaper:
– The Ventura “Signal” says: “For the first time, on last Saturday, in company with D.W. Thompson and wife of Col. Hollister, of Santa Barbara. Charles Nordhoff, the celebrated newspaper correspondent, and the man to whom more than anyone else Southern California owes the greater portion of her population, visited Nordhoff and the Ojai Valley. Of course, he went into ecstacies over the beautiful valley. ” Santa Barbara, The Daily Press, Oct. 31, 1881, p. 2:1.
– Charles Nordhoff doesn’t seem to have been a man who would have been lost to “ecstacies”, even though the Valley does have this effect upon some. The visit was a momentous event. Here was William Hollister, owner of the Arlington Hotel in Santa Barbara, and Dixie Thompson, manager of the hotel, escorting Charles Nordhoff on his first visit to the valley. Hollister was a man of considerable wealth, after whom the town of Hollister was named in northern California. So, both Hollister and Nordhoff had towns named after them.
– “Dixie Thompson was owner of a Ventura ranch which in time would be described as the largest lima-bean ranch in the world. His name is found today in Thompson Boulevard in Ventura. The news account omits the fact that Mrs. Charles Nordhoff was also a member of the party.”
– We see, then, that Charles Nordhoff first visited the Ojai Valley in October 1881. The second edition of his book on California, and the edition with information about the Ojai Valley, was published in 1882. He saw the valley before he wrote about it, and Hutchinson was wrong in this particular.
– Charles Nordhoff’s interest in the valley was friendly and supportive. He visited again in 1889 and 1894. He was a member of the building committee for his community church in Alpine, New Jersey; and when a decision was made to construct that church in stone rather than wood, the architectural design for the wooden church was sent to the Ojai Valley and used for the design and construction of the Valley’s Presbyterian church (which still stands). He (a Methodist) donated money for construction of the Presbyterian church and provided books for its “Sabbath School” (we would say Sunday School).
– Charles Nordhoff also established an enduring friendship with Sherman Thacher, founder of the Thacher School in the Ojai Valley.
– Thacher hosted a reception in the Valley for Nordhoff in 1894. There is a record that Thacher later visited Nordhoff at Coronado, California, where Nordhoff had retired.
– Thacher was also among the last persons outside the immediate family who visited with Nordhoff in San Francisco shortly before Nordhoff’s death.
-Sherman Thacher by Richard Hoye
1887 – Railroad services begin between Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
1889 – First Church. American Colonial Revival structure built by Presbyterians. In this photo, a new bell is hoisted to the belfry.
1889 – Sherman Thacher begins taking students for college preparation tutoring.
1891 – The Ojai newspaper is first published (now the Ojai Valley News).
1893 – The George Thacher Memorial Library opens (now the Ojai Public Library).
1893 – Postmaster controversy
1893 – Mary Gally takes over management of Oak Glen Cottages (Gally Cottages).
1894 – Charles Nordhoff makes his third visit to the valley with his wife and three daughters.
1895 – The Casa de Piedra Ranch School (Thacher School) is destroyed by fire.
1895 – The grammar school moves to a new two-story school house.
1895 – William Thacher organizes the Athletic Club and the Tennis Club.
1898 – The village stages a “Jubilation” to celebrate opening of its new railroad line.
1897 – Ojai succumbs to its own gold rush
1899 – The first Ojai Tennis Tournament is staged with 500 players.
1899 – Golf is first played in the valley, sponsored by Mary Gally at her cottages.
1899 – The King’s Daughters are organized (Ojai Valley Woman’s Club).
1900 – The Ojai Improvement Company is formed to construct a luxury hotel.
1900 – Dr. Saeger is a faithful family physician.
1900 – Ojai Avenue. These buildings were replaced by the Ojai Arcade, completed in 1917
1903 – The first Foothills Hotel is constructed (designed by Samuel M. Ilsley).
1904 – The Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff Memorial Fountain is constructed.
1905 – Boxing matches are staged inside and outside of Tom Clark’s livery stable.
1905 – Agnes Duncan Brown is recognized for her music.
1908 – Edward Thacher is among leaders establishing the Ojai Orange Association.
1908 – The entrance towers at Foster Park are dedicated.
1909 – Nordhoff High School opens.
1909 – The Charles Pratt house is constructed (designed by Greene & Greene).
1910 – Free-ranging chickens roost along Main Street (Ojai Avenue).
1910 – The Ojai Orange Association Packing House is constructed.
The Great Transformation 1911 – The Edward Libbey house is constructed (designed by Myron Hunt & Elmer Grey).
1911 – Nick Peirano supplies his Ventura store with fruit from his Santa Ana Valley ranch.
1912 – Sales begin for Wonderland Park
1912 –Mary Day French casts her first vote in a presidential election at age 84.
1914 – Candelaria Valenzuela tells of her Chumash people and culture.
1915 – Donald Crisp directs filming of Ramona at Casitas Springs.
1915 – Earl Stanley Gardner defends a “confirmed outlaw.”
1916 – The arcade, post office and pergola are constructed (designed by Richard Requa).
1917 – The first Ojai Day is celebrated (a day after the United States enters WWI).
1917 – The village name is changed from Nordhoff to Ojai.
1917 – Fire rages out of Matilija Canyon and devastates the residential portion of town.
Edward Drummond Libby (1854-1925) is the father of the glass industry in Toledo,Ohio, where he opened the Libby Glass Company in 1888.
The main turning point in the development of the city was the coming of Edward Drummond Libby. He saw the valley and fell in love, thinking up many plans for expansion and beautification of the existing rustic town. After fire destroyed much of the original western-style Ojai/Nordhoff in 1917, Libby helped design, finance, and build a new downtown more in line with the contemporary taste for Colonial-Revival architecture, including a Spanish-style arcade, a bell-tower reminiscent of the famous campanile in Havana, and a pergola opposite the arcade. These buildings still stand, and have come to serve as symbols of the city and the surrounding valley. To thank Libby for his gifts to the town, the citizens proposed a celebration to take place on March 2nd of each year. Libby declined their offer to call it “Libby Day,” and instead suggested “Ojai Day.” The celebration still takes place, each year in October.
Today, Ojai is an active, though small, community. Libby’s pergola was destroyed in 1971 after being damaged in an explosion, and was recently rebuilt to complete the architectural continuity of the downtown area. The town completed a new park, Cluff Vista Park, in 2002, which contains several small, themed regions of native California vegetation
1917 – A second fire burns out the businesses at the west end of the arcade.
1918 – The second Foothills Hotel is constructed (designed by Mead & Requa).
1920 – Hotel El Roblar is constructed (now the Oaks at Ojai, designed by Richard Requa).
1922 – Jiddu Krishnamurti first visits the valley.
1923 – The 1st building of the Ojai Valley School is constructed (designed by Wallace Neff).
1923 – The clubhouse at the Ojai Valley Country Club is constructed (now Ojai Valley Inn).
1924 – The library and music room at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy are constructed.
1924 – The Villanova Preparatory School for Boys opens.
1926 – Annie Besant, International President of the Theosophical Society, visits.
1926 – Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Frank Frost sponsor a music festival.
1926 – The Ojai Valley Garden Club is founded.
1928 – Crystal Pennant wins the richest race in the world.
1928 – Ojai responds to the St. Francis Dam disaster.
1928 – The Foster Bowl at Foster Park is constructed (designed by Roy Wilson).
1929 – The William Ford house is constructed (designed by Paul Williams).
1929 – Nordhoff Union High School moves into its new buildings.
1932 – Adolfo Camarillo hosts a barbecue at the Wren’s Nest.
1933 – Construction of the Maricopa Highway is completed.
1933 – Civil Conservation Corps workers first arrive in the valley.
1939 – Dr. Charles Butler leads in founding the Ojai Community Art Center.
1942 – The 134th Infantry takes over the country club as a combat training camp.
1942 – The Monica Ros School and California Preparatory School open.
1943 – The 17th Infantry from New Jersey replaces the 134th Infantry (from Nebraska).
1944 – The Seabees Acorn Assembly & Training Detachment replaces the 17th Infantry.
1945 – Bob Hope and Bing Crosby are here to raise funds for the Navy Relief Welfare Fund.
1946 – Aldus Huxley is among the directors of the new Happy Valley School.
1946 – The Chekhov Players open the High Valley Theater.
1946 – The Clarence Wylie house is constructed (designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris).
1947 – The country club reopens after the war with a new name: Ojai Valley Inn.
1947 – The first concerts of the Ojai Music Festival are performed.
1948 – Beatrice Wood establishes her pottery studio in the east valley.
1951 – The first “spill over” occurs at the Matilija Dam.
1952 – The James Moore house is constructed designed by Richard Neutra.
1952 – Pat and Mike is filmed at the Inn with Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracey.
1955 – Igor Stravinsky conducts at the Ojai Music Festival.
1955 – Camp Ramah opens at the site of the former California Preparatory School.
1955 – The last train runs on the Ventura-Ojai rail line.
1956 – Avatar Meher Baba visits Meher Mount atop Sulphur Mountain.
1957 – Aaron Copeland conducts at the Ojai Music Festival.
1958 – The Casitas Dam and reservoir are constructed (Lake Casitas).
1967 – Pierre Boulez and Michael Tilson Thomas
1968 – Florence Garrigue leads in establishing Meditation Mount.
1969 – The Krishnamurti Foundation opens the Oak Grove School.
1971 – The pergola and memorial fountain are removed.
1978 – The first “spill over” occurs at the Casitas Dam (Lake Casitas).
1979 – Ravi Shankar first performs at the Ojai Music Festival.
1979 – The Ojai Foundation is established in the upper valley.
1983 – An International Regatta is staged at Lake Casitas.
1984 – Olympic canoe, kayak and scull races are conducted at Lake Casitas.
1993 – The Ojai Institute opens (now the Ojai Retreat.)
1998 – Beatrice Wood dies a week after celebrating her 105th birthday.
1999 – The pergola and memorial fountain are reconstructed.
2000 – The 100th anniversary of the Ojai Tennis Tournament is celebrated.
2001 – Ojai holds a memorial at Libbey Park for victims of the “9/11” disaster in New York City.
2002 – The new Cluff Park is dedicated.
2004 – The first Lemire Grand Prix introduces professional bicycling races to Ojai.
2005 – The new Rotary Community Park is dedicated.
2006 – The Oaks at Ojai (originally El Roblar Hotel) undergoes major renovation.
2009 – Nordhoff High School celebrates its 100th year.
2015 – Life is good in Ojai