THE PLANE TRUTH ABOUT OJAI’S AVIATION HISTORY

The following article first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of “The Ojai Valley Visitors Guide” which was published by the “Ojai Valley News.” It is reprinted here with their permission.

THE PLANE TRUTH ABOUT OJAI’S AVIATION HISTORY

Story by
Perry Van Houten

Along the airfield’s perimeter was a low barbed-wire fence, and a grove of English walnut trees grew on the south and west sides. A few locals remember a restaurant across Highway 33 from the airstrip, The Airport Cafe, in the present location of Ojai Termite & Pest Control. A bar directly across Baldwin Road from the airstrip was known as The Refuge.

“AIRPLANE RIDES $8.00”
The sign was posted on the window of the two-seat Aeronca Champion parked at Henderson Field in Mira Monte. Twelve-year-old Drew Mashburn lived nearby on South Rice Road and might have been on his skateboard in 1964 when he noticed it. He had never flown in an airplane, and he knew this was his chance.

A few days later, Drew and his best buddy, Mark Madsen, 11, spotted the plane’s pilot standing there. They scraped together eight bucks between them, hoping the pilot would let them both cram into the passenger compartment of the plane. But the pilot insisted the price was $8 apiece.

The boys returned the next day, and the day after that, and begged. “I can remember the pilot actually threw his arms up above his head and he says, ‘Alright, I’ll go ahead and I’ll take the $8, and I mean not a penny less,’ ” Mashburn says. Wild blue yonder, here we come, he thought. His whole family gathered at Henderson Field for the occasion.

Henderson Field
Don Henderson built Henderson Field in the 1940’s, on family property near the intersection of Highway 33 and Baldwin Road. He ran a small flying school there, commissioned by the Army Air Corps during World War II. For nearly 30 years, the 2,100-foot runway accommodated up to 20 aircraft per week.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, a popular pastime was flying from local airport to local airport; for instance, from Santa Paula Airport to the Ventura Airpark at Pierpont Beach to Henderson Field in Mira Monte. Well-to-do folks from Los Angeles would fly into Henderson on weekends, including Hollywood stars like Robert Young, Claudette Colbert and Norma Shearer.

“It was the only real, genuine airport I knew of in the Ojai Valley,” says Santa Paula pilot Bruce Dickenson, who had just learned to fly and landed his Piper PA-12 at Henderson Field a few times in the late 1960s. “It was a non-event,” Dickenson recalls, although he remembers there was a big set of power lines pilots had to avoid.

In July 1945, Don Hendeson died in the crash of his small plane near the airfield. He was 37. His son, Don Henderson Jr., was 3-and-a-half when it happened. He says his father had taken off in the fog early one morning for Bakersfield when, for some reason, he decided to return to the airstrip. “He overshot the runway and ended up in the walnut grove, on fire,” says Henderson, now 74. “I often think about how my life would have been different if he hadn’t died that day.”

Henderson Field, which had gone public just six months before the crash, stayed in operation and even opened hangars and a waiting area — with restrooms — in 1949. Pilots landing at night remember being guided down by their wives, who would park at the end of the runway and shine the car lights. The airstrip closed around 1970 and was replaced by the Ojai Villa Mobile Estate, which is still in existence today.

Hardly anything remains of the old airfield, except a portion of the runway sticking through the dirt on the north side along Baldwin Road, and some cream-colored rocks. “Almost directly across the highway from AJ’s Express Chinese Food you will see several boulders. The boulders used to line the entrance to Henerson Field and the hangars,” say Drew Mashburn.

Other Ojai Airstrips
The Ojai Valley’s fondness for flying machines dates back to the earliest days of aviation. A 1929 aerial photograph shows a 1,500-foot airstrip near the “Y” intersection, where Vons is today. “It was removed around the time the Krotona Institute was built because the planes were taking off and landing right over people’s heads,” says Ojai historian David Mason. The Theosophical Society had purchased land south of the runway in 1924 in their move from Hollywood to Ojai.

Mason says a private airstrip on Rancho Cola near Lake Casitas may have been used in the filming of the 1950s TV series, “Sky King.” It was also used as a base for parachute jumpers. A landing strip in Rose Valley at Bodee’s Rancho Grande is shown on the 1991 USGS Lion Canyon quadrangle topographic map.

The Ojai area is also home to a number of heliports, including one that’s still in use at Help of Ojai’s West Campus on Baldwin Road — often referred to as “the old Honor Farm” by locals — plus several scattered throughout the backcountry that are utilized by fire, law enforcement and search and rescue crews. The late actor Larry Hagman had his private Majlar Heliport built on his estate atop Sulphur Mountain.

Crashes and Mishaps
When Ojai’s greatest benefactor, Edward Drummond Libbey, opened a new golf course and clubhouse in 1924, everyone wanted to check it out, including a Navy lieutenant who flew a military plane from San Diego to Ojai to see it for himself. “He circled the clubhouse a few times and then decided he would land on the fairway. But he nosedived into a sand trap and broke the propeller,” Mason says.

The damage to the aircraft took a couple of days to repair, and soon the pilot was airborne and on his way back to base, when again he had trouble. “He managed to take off from the green, and in doing so he hit the high wire running along Ojai Avenue, and it pulled the plane back down and he crashed again on the street, and broke the landing gear.”

Perhaps the most famous aviation mishap in the Ojai Valley was a product of Hollywood. Frank Capra’s 1937 movie, “Lost Horizon,” is based on the novel by James Hilton, who visited the valley in 1934 and exclaimed, “This is Shangri-La!” The plot follows a British diplomat and some civilians who crash land in the Himalayas. Some of the movie was filmed in the valley — although the Ojai footage reportedly ended up on the cutting room floor. However, the valley is still often referred to as Shangri-La.

In 1945, a USAAF pilot crashed his P-51D Mustang fighter plane into Nordhoff Peak, just below the fire lookout tower, while attempting an emergency landing in bad weather. Since the crash, debris from the wreck has been found scattered all over the mountain. In 1980, a U.S. Forest Service controlled burn in the area accidentally ignited unexploded ordnance from one of the aircraft’s high caliber machine guns, leaving the work crew wanting for flak jackets.

An aviation mishap in the Ojai backcountry in December 1949 had a much happier ending. Twenty-six-year-old Glendale pilot Robert Bryant disappeared on a flight from Glendale to San Francisco. He was found a week later, several miles from the wreckage of his small private plane on Topa Topa Peak, in upper Sespe Canyon. A ground party struggled through waist-deep snow to get to Bryant, who survived but suffered from serious injuries and exposure.

First Flight
Back at Henderson Field, Drew Mashburn’s family looked on as he boarded the plane for his first flight. “We started to get in the airplane and the pilot turned around, looked at us and said, ‘Hey, how much do you guys weigh?” Mashburn knew what the pilot was getting at — there had to be a weight limit. “There goes our ride, I thought,” he recalls.

In despair, the boys gave the man their weights. It was too much, but the pilot gave in. “He said, well, that’s a little over, but we’ll make it work.” They climbed in and off they went down the runway. “It’s good we didn’t spring the door in mid-air and fall out,” Mashburn chuckles.

At first, Mashburn thought the little airplane wasn’t going fast enough to get airborne. “It didn’t seem like we were moving very quick. I thought we were going to move a lot quicker. The wheels of this thing were going down into the chuckholes, and that’s probably the reason we couldn’t pick up any speed,” he says.

Bouncing down the narrow strip of oiled dirt, the aircraft passed the Mira Monte Market (now Rite-Aid). In those days, Mirror Lake was down at the far end of the runway, where Woodland Avenue is now. “And that thing kept getting closer and I kept thinking, man, we’re just gonna land in the lake. And at the very last second, up we went, and it was just stupendous. It was like no feeling I’d ever had in my life.”

Creek takes ranger’s home

The following article first appeared on the front page of the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of the “Ventura County Star Free Press.”

Creek takes ranger’s home

‘We just got out of there in time’

By Gregg Zoroya


“I know I’m not afraid of the river now. I was before. Before, it looked like it was something out of the Grand Canyon. It looked like the Colorado River,” said Drew Mashburn, 26, county ranger for the Matilija campground area.


“Before” was the early moments of Friday morning when Mashburn and his 24-year-old wife Gene-Marie were driven from their home alongside the swollen banks of the creek.

As they turned from the home, wet and cold, with belongings that consisted of little more than the clothes they were wearing and escaped to a neighbor’s house, the raging torrent of Matilija Creek broke out and engulfed most of their house at 2088 Matilija Canyon Road.

In the process of destroying the house, the waters swept away the Mashburn car, pickup and cab-over camper.

A weakened roadside on which their remaining vehicle was parked — a county car containing camera equipment and other family valuables — collapsed and dropped the car into the creek later that morning.

“We lost the front porch, we lost the front screened porch, we lost the kitchen, the dining room. We also lost the living room and the beautiful stone fireplace,” said Mashburn.

The house, remains of which sit precariously on the edge of the creek, is county property and was valued at $40,000 said Paul Lamp, county parks superintendent.

Besides the vehicles, the Mashburns lost much of their furniture — including everything from dining and bedroom sets to refrigerator, stove, television and stereo, and an antique victrola.

Mashburn declined to put a dollar estimate on the property that is gone, until his insurance company can estimate the damage. But he anticipates a loss of several thousand dollars.

Much of the furniture is still under payment, said Mashburn.

“It’s like paying for a dead horse.”

With the stream 100 feet from their house and behind a thick five-foot-high earthen dike, the Mashburns tried to get some sleep late Thursday night.

Mashburn planned to keep checking the creek bank through the night.

“It was my opinion, that it would eat away a little at a time, and if I saw it get ready to go through the dike I’d move my car up on the road,” he said.

“We had trouble sleeping because of the sound of the roaring river. It turned out that the reason it was so loud was because it was right against our door.”

The creek had broken the dike several hundred feet upstream, across from the Paul G. Robinson home at 3080 Matilija Canyon Road. This was at 11:30.

Mashburn later guessed that when the creek broke the dike it shifted its course further up the bank with the Mashburn home right in its path.

At about 12:30 a.m. the couple was aroused by the sound of water smashing up against the door facing the river bank.

“I opened the door and a foot of water came right into the house,” he said.

He slammed the door immediately, “and it just flashed through my mind: This can’t be happening to me.”

In the instant the door had been opened he had seen a mass of water up along the side of the house and two of his three vehicles beginning to lean down into the water over a widening river bank. Other pieces of equipment that he knew had been there were already gone.

“As wild as it was,” said Mrs. Mashburn, “we just got out of there in time.”

They gathered what valuables they could, a traveling bag full of clothes, their two cats and their two dogs and waded up to Matilija Canyon Road, about 25 feet above and behind their house. Mashburn managed to drive one car out.

“I fell in the water and he was dragging me through it to get out,” said Mrs. Mashburn. “It was just awful.”

“I figured the first thing we should do is get up on the road. I figured it would be safe there,” Mashburn said.

It was, for the time being. They drove up the road to the home of John Steen, 2346 Matilija Canyon Road, where they spent a nervous, sleepless night.

But the water wasn’t through with them. The next morning, Mashburn drove back toward his home and parked the car on the shoulder in order to walk past two washed-out areas of Matilija Canyon Road. While he was probing the ruins of his home, a friend came running to tell him that the shoulder of road holding his car had given way and that Mashburn had lost the county car as well.

His wife was evacuated out by sheriff’s helicopter Friday afternoon along with other canyon residents.

Mrs. Mashburn recalled returning to the house Saturday morning.

“I didn’t cry until I saw the house that morning.”

“It is very doubtful that we would restore it (the house),” said Parks Superintendent Lamp.

“And if we did it would be another five years before we attempt it.”

Mashburn must find another home.


Daniel Jensen, left, and Jeff Jones, both of Ojai, and Ranger Drew Mashburn, gesturing, stand where Mashburn’s kitchen was before Matilija Creek swept through his home; his wife, Gene-Marie, is in the background
A car belonging to parks ranger Drew Mashburn lies stranded after storm waters that washed it downstream in Matilija Creek.

Recharge Of Ojai Basin By Purchase Of Matilija Water Proposed To District

The following article first appeared on the front page of the Friday, January 19, 1951 edition of “THE OJAI.” That newspaper is now the “Ojai Valley News.” The article is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown. The headline was RECHARGE BASIN SAYS WATER CO.

Recharge Of Ojai Basin by Purchase of Matilija Water Proposed to District

Appearing before a meeting of the San Antonio Water Conservation District, L. J. Alexander, chief engineer of the Southern California Water company brought forth a plan whereby the hopes of the underground water basin of the Ojai Valley may be recharged.

Basically, Alexander proposed that all water users of the Valley cooperate 100 percent in an effort to purchase water from Matilija dam to be put in spreading grounds at the terminus of the second unit of the conduit from the dam, now nearing completion.

He gave a brief history of water in the Valley, stating that in a survey by the division of water resources in 1933-36, it was estimated that the mean annual recharge of the basin in the Ojai area would be 5000 acre feet. At that time approximately 1500 acres were being irrigated in all classes and categories in the Valley.

“Recent studies show,” Alexander continued, “that there are now 1500 acres in citrus alone, with 2700 acres susceptible to cultivation. There are some 3000 acres under irrigation at present. With this great increase, there is not enough water here now for all the developments going on.”

When asked what were the boundaries of the 1500 acres in citrus, Alexander said they lie east of a geologic formation one-half mile west of the junction of highways 150 and 399.

The Water company official estimated that the Valley needs 5000 acre feet of water per year. “There will be between 3000 and 3500 acre feet available this summer,” he said, “and someone is sure going to go dry. Last year on the fringe areas of the district some growers lost oranges, some lost groves. The revenue based on the citrus crop in the early part of 1950 definitely surveyed less than in other years. The situation brought about a definite economic loss.”

“Rain is what we need,” he remarked. “I don’t know how to make rain. We are here with a common problem.”

As a solution to this problem, Alexander said, “The pipeline (Matilija conduit no. 2) is here, and the problem is to get water into it. If there were 1500 acre feet available in Matilija that could be used in the Valley, that would make up the deficit.”

At an arbitrary cost of $20 per acre foot, Alexander pointed out that the water would cost $30,000.

“Let’s assume the water is there and we can get it,” he told the gathering. “That would mean $30,000 per year for water in this area. Only a few could get benefits from the pipeline by tieing into it directly, but by putting the water into the ground through spreading grounds and letting everyone pump, it would be there for all.”

He likened the Ojai water basin to a big bathtub filled with gravel. “As long as we keep the water here, everyone who has a “straw” in the tub can get it out,” he said. “This is the easiest way to get water to everyone. It doesn’t matter where you put it in the basin, it will recharge all the levels. Wells within a half-mile area (of the dumping area) would feel immediate benefit. The outlying fringe would feel the recharge in time.”

He cited similar plans which have been instituted in Orange county, Claremont and the Central Basin area in south Los Angeles, and which are under successful operation. He continued to stress emphatically the idea that the entire district should give complete cooperation to the problem, and should enter into a contractual agreement to obtain Matilija water.

“I can’t see any reason for Ojai if we don’t have citrus and agriculture,” the engineer said. “The merchants don’t bring money into the area. The basic income is agriculture, and if we destroy it, there is nothing left.”

He told the group that the Water Company is obligated under state law to supply its customers to the “last ditch.” “We’ll do it as long as we can,” Alexander said, “and when the supply runs dry, there’s nothing else we can do. If we have to haul water in here in trucks, you ranchers will all be gone, and there will be few people left in Ojai. The situation has been dog eat dog for the past two years. Not too long ago our wells were flowing. We are looking forward to pumping at 320 feet this year. The water level is lower than it has been since 1927. The reason for this is the tremendous development which has resulted in the 1500 acres in citrus, plus 1500 acres more in other use, with the additional domestic use.”

Returning to the figure of $20 per acre foot for Matilija water, Alexander stated that it would cost the users $8 per acre foot if the cost were shared equally by all users on a percentage basis. He explained that since the Valley requires 5000 acre feet per year, and the cost of importing 1500 acre feet to make up the shortage were $30,000, paying on a basis of benefits received would put the cost in the neighborhood of $8 per acre foot.

The suggestion of meters for pumps was advanced as an advisable solution to the equitable division of cost.

“The situation must be approached completely, honestly and with full cooperation,” Alexander emphasized.

“There might be 3500 acre feet of water available to the Valley this year with some rains, something should be done to develop cooperative means to take action along the lines I have suggested,” he said. “No matter what you do, the Southern California Water company will play ball all along the line.”

Explanation was made that the District could not take such action as was suggested under present law, since the rate is established on an ad valorem basis, but Alexander stated that the state legislature is being asked for an amendment in Orange county, which might be applied to other areas as an enabling law, so that each area could set up on a use basis.

Supervisor R. E. (Sam) Barrett told the gathering that with Matilija dam as a sole basis, he took dim view of any irrigation water being available. He repeatedly stressed the importance of the construction of a second dam, which would greatly increase the safe yield of Matilija.

Mr. Hoit Vicini, vice president of the Southern California Water company explained briefly that his company had only brought forward ideas which they had found in other areas which they felt might be helpful. “We came to go along with what you decided,” he said. “If there is no copious rain, a serious situation will develop. We hope to preserve the fertility of the Valley, and to work out the problem on an economic basis, so no one will get hurt.”

Alexander added that the company would be ready to assume its share of the cost of the proposed project on a percentage basis. He also stressed the point that the company has nothing to sell in the matter, but wishes to bring information to the District that might be of help to all in the solution of the water supply of the Valley.




ENGINEERS’ REPORT IS EXPECTED TO BE FOLLOWED BY CALL FOR BOND ISSUE

The following article first appeared on the front page of the Friday, July 9, 1949 edition of “THE OJAI”. That newspaper is now called the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS”. The article is reprinted here with their permission, The author is unknown. The front-page headline was “OAKS PLANS NEW WATER SYSTEM“.

ENGINEERS’ REPORT IS EXPECTED TO BE FOLLOWED BY CALL FOR BOND ISSUE

A definite and important step in securing a new water system for Meiners Oaks was taken Tuesday night when the Board of Directors of the Meiners Oaks Water District formally adopted the preliminary engineering report of John A. Dron, Ojai civil engineer. The report as presented by Mr. Dron recommended:
(1) The construction of a storage reservoir with a capacity of 870,000 cubic feet or over 6,000,000 gallons of water;

(2) The separation of the domestic or household supply from the irrigation use;

(3) The installation of a complete new piping system, ranging from 16-inches down to a minimum of 4 inches, with 52 6-inch hydrants and 39 four-inch hydrants for fire protection, and

(4) The establishment of a complete metering system.

Meeting July 26

Upon the adoption of Mr. Dron’s report, the Board discussed the proceedings that were necessary to call for a bond issue, and decided to hold a public meeting on the evening of July 26 at the Church of Christ building in Meiners Oaks when the engineering plan and the methods of financing it would be outlined, and further proceedings be determined. After considerable discussion the Board resolved to go into the matter of a bond issue to cover the cost of the new system and to purchase the assets of the present Company, the Rancho Ojai Mutual Water Co., which would then go out of existence.

Bond Election

After the general meeting as scheduled, the Board proposes to call an election for the bond issue, as soon as the necessary legal steps have been taken. William Selby, attorney for the District stated that he believed that the issue contemplated was reasonably within the bonding capacity of the District, and that there should be no difficulty in selling the bonds, which the Board tentatively decided would run for 25 years.

Irrigation vs. Domestic Use

In presenting his report, Mr. Dron emphasized that the difficulty the community has experienced in their water system has arisen largely from the fact that there is no present storage, and the dual use between domestic and irrigation demand has been in conflict. He therefore had designed the new system to completely divorce the irrigation use from the domestic use.

The water stored in the reservoir would be sufficient, under normal circumstances, to supply all householders for nearly a month, and would reach them under a gravity head with enough pressure to give ample volume at all times and for all purposes. The irrigation use would continue to be supplied through existing lines under low pressure and all together independent of the reservoir.

Metering System

He also pointed out that the sole revenue of the district for operating expenses and for retiring the cost of a new system, was the sale of water, and that therefore meterage to all consumers was imperative. His plan provided accordingly, and a complete metering system was included in the new project.

As soon as the matter has been publicly considered at the general meeting on July 26, the Board proposes to proceed with the necessary legal steps calling for an election on the bonds. If this is carried, then funds should be available about the first of the year for construction contracts.

The Board also directed William Selby to represent the District at an announced meeting of riparian owners of the Ventura river and representatives of the Zone One Water District, when the matter of releasing sufficient water from the Matilija Dam to maintain a constant flow in the river will be taken up.

That was the end of the front page article, but another article concerning the matter was on PAGE THIRTEEN:

HERE ARE PERTINENT PARAGRAPHS FROM THE DRON MEINERS OAKS WATER REPORT

GENERAL.
1. Acreage: The area considered in the report, which has been incorporated as the Meiners Oaks County Water District under the County Water District Act of 1913, as amended, comprises about 960 acres of residential and agricultural land, a part of the Rancho Ojai, lying in and along the east bank of the Ventura river as it debauches from the Santa Ynez range into the westerly extension of the Ojai Valley.

The approximate acreages in each classification are as follows: Residential, 210 acres with about 509 dwellings; Agricultural, 245 acres in citrus and other crops; River bottom, 180 acres of poor land, non-arable, with some housing; Upland or hilly, 325 acres of pasture or brush.

2. Population: Accurate population figures are not available, but estimates based upon the number of water consumers and upon a school census indicate a present population of 2,500. Recently the population, as in general throughout adjoining areas, has rapidly increased, and there is every indication that the increase will continue so long as land and water is available for further development. It must be emphasized that the future growth is dependent upon an adequate water supply, which even now is wholly insufficient during the summer months.

3. Water Sources: The present water supply is derived from a primarily riparian water right to the natural flow of the Ventura river amounting to 231 miners inches (one miners inch equals nine gallons per minute) plus water derived from three wells in the river bottom, two of which were drilled in 1948. The supply from these wells is insufficient to augment the natural flow, which during the present dry cycle of rainfall is greatly below normal

In the future, water may become available from the recently completed Matilija dam on the west fork of the Ventura river, and it may be necessary for the District to contract for a stipulated amount of unappropriated surplus water from the Zone One Water District.

4. History of Water System: In 1928 the Rancho Ojai Mutual Water Company was incorporated and took over the elements of a water supply, as it then existed, from the Ojai Ranch and Development Company, the active subdividers of Meiners Oaks. From about 1931 the system has been operated and gradually extended and improved by the Mutual Company.

Conditions of supply became so serious in the summer of 1948 that improvement became imperative. There being no storage except the water in the intake lines, the dual demand from domestic and irrigation users came into conflict, and it was necessary to schedule the latter use to certain days of the week.

Frequently householders were able to draw water for the most essential domestic use. This condition was aggravated by the impaired condition of the domestic distribution lines which, not alone being undersized to begin with, had become so corroded that their capacity was decreased by 30 per cent. Furthermore, these lines had been placed down alleyways between blocks, which had been abandoned for public entrys and inevitably became so obstructed by fences and outbuildings that the pipelines were inaccessible.

THE ENGINEERING PLAN

1. Water Supply: For the time being nothing can be done about this beyond drilling additional wells . . . but it is suggested that an effort be made to contract with Zone One for additional water from Matilija Dam storage, to supplement the riparian diversion from the river. The District would then be in an advantageously prior position in getting water when necessary, and undoubtedly if the water was not required could sell it to other users until such time as it was needed.

2. Storage: Perhaps the most glaring deficiency in the present system is the lack of any storage capacity. As matters stand the sole water available for emergency or peak demand is that backed-up in the intake line, and when the intake of water is low the pipe had no more water in it than the amount flowing under gravity. There are times when, if a fire should occur there would not be enough water available to supply a hydrant. Once a fire gained headway in the Oaks, under hazardous weather conditions nothing could stop it and the whole community could be wiped out.

From this consideration alone, if no other, the location of a suitable storage site became of prime importance.

A primary survey of the ground discovered a prospective site that upon detailed investigation seemed to fulfill the need admirably. This is located on the NE corner of Lot 3, Section T-4-N, R-23″ S. B. B&M. Water from the intake line could be delivered to the dam at a surface level of Elev. 910 feet above sea level, with a 100-foot lift. A storage capacity of approximately 20 acre feet (871,000 cu. ft. or over 6 million gallons) can readily be obtained at an elevation which will give a house delivery from 50 to 60 lbs. per sq. in. pressure.

3. Distribution System: The present domestic distribution system is so rusted and so small in size that it cannot serve users properly. Furthermore, it is located in the inaccessible center of the occupied blocks. From these considerations it was decided that the whole system might well be abandoned and a completely new distribution system constructed.

The new distribution system would run from the reservoir down the Maricopa road to the intersection of Meiners, Tico and Fairview roads. It would bifurcate at this point, a 12″ main running down the east side of the populated district generally along Lomita Avenue, and an 8″ main running down the west side of the area along Tico Road, with an intermediate grid system on the main streets of 6″ and 4″ across-connected lines.

The size of the outside mains have been determined on the basis of full development of housing in the potential subdivision areas lying east of Lomita avenue and west of Tico Road. The interior system is predicated upon a doubled occupation as there are many vacant lots yet remaining within the community area itself and also to provide adequate fire flow.

4. Conflicting Demands: As has here been stated, a considerable trouble has arised under the present system because of the dual demand for water. The plan advanced here is to divorce the irrigation water supply from the domestic; the irrigation demand to be supplied by the present lines under gravity head.

A great economy can be affected by this, as the irrigation requirements can be met from the free flow in the intake line, independently of the domestic supply, and only the domestic supply need be pumped to the reservoir and stored. It is true that there are certain complications due to the fact that some domestic users in outlying districts will still get their water from irrigation mains which will require chlorination, but it is believed that this will be only a temporary difficulty which can be met as it arises.

5. Water Measurement: Under the Mutual Company, users were entitled to a pro-rata share of available water, for which they were charged on a fixed amount either by acre or by service tap. Undoubtedly this has caused considerable waste, since there was no means of measuring an excessive use of water, or leakages that inevitably occur.

THIS AIRPLANE VIEW OF THE Meiners Oaks County Water District shows the boundaries and the site of the proposed reservoir. The site is at the narrow part of a small canyon or basin with a watershed area of 26 acres. Recorded owners of the site and protective land to be acquired are George Hantgin, M. M. Erro and William J. Fry. —- Fairchild Aerial Photo

War Wagon!

The following article first appeared in the “Ojai Valley Guide” (VOLUME 37 NUMBER 3 | FALL 2019) on pages 136 – 137. The “Ojai Valley Guide” was published by the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission. The photo of the broken egg was added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

LOOK BACK IN OJAI
with Drew Mashburn
Contributed on behalf of the
Ojai Valley Museum

War Wagon!

“WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?!!!??” DAD QUESTIONED ME IN A VERY STERN VOICE.

“But, Dad! I’m just gonna drive it down to the corner to show Doug and Rick!” I whined.

“What did I tell you before you bought it?” Dad asked.

“But, but … only to the corner, Dad!”

“I’m not going to lose everything I’ve worked so hard for all these years because you want to risk driving without insurance. You’re a juvenile, so I’m the one who gets sued for all he’s worth!”

Dad was adamant.


My first automobile collected dust while I worked my tail off for about three months accumulating enough dough for insurance. I mowed lawns, filled in ditches, rototilled weeds, baby-sat and whatever to speed me onto the highways and byways!

While I was earning the bucks for the insurance payment, I drove my 1949 Chevrolet pickup forward and backward about 6 feet in the area Dad designated as my parking spot. That old six-cylinder sounded like music to my ears! I painted the rear bumper aluminum and the rims black. I tire-blacked the sides of the old, weather-beaten, cracked tires. She was lookin’ mighty pretty to me, even though she had lots of dents, but had a great coat of dark-red primer. I gave my buddy (“Oakie” as my buds and I called him) $150 for the beauty. Oakie had covered the inside door panels with simulated-wood shelving-liner. He’d put new carpet on the floor and, best yet … installed “Barefoot” pedals on the gas pedal and a floor-mounted headlights-dimmer switch. I tell ya, that girl was chompin’ at the bit to hit the road and so was I!

One of the first places I drove my new wheels was to Nordhoff High School where I was a junior. When my buddies saw the pickup, a few of them posed: “Why did you buy a truck?!!?? You can’t take girls for a date in that ol’ thing!” AHmmmmmmm … they had a point, but I just told them that I’d borrow my folks’ F85 Oldsmobile on date nights. Settled that problem.

Mainly, I bought a pickup because my dad always had pickups. I learned to drive a manual transmission in Dad’s 1961 Chevy.

Pickups were in my blood! Pickups are very commonplace with young people today, but back in the ’60s, not a lot of youngsters cared for them as their primary ride. Yet, when out of school, all my buddies wanted to take my pickup frequently because it was fun. Riding in pickup beds back in those days was allowed, and everybody dug doing it. We took the pickup on camping trips, to the beach, to swimming holes up the Maricopa Highway, to local sporting events, and we cruised Ojai Avenue in it.

I could tell you tons of stories that happened with my ol’ 1949, but I have limited space. Here’s a good one: I’m NOT condoning this type of behavior, but it happened.

In October of 1968, my buddies decided for me that we were going to use my pickup as a “War Wagon” on Halloween to terrorize other pranksters and trick-or-treaters. We bought flats upon flats of eggs. We had serveral hundred egg-grenades. We filled balloons with gallons of water. The projectiles were loaded into my pickup’s bed. Larry Sisk rode shotgun while I piloted the War Wagon. Our buddies were not only in the pickup’s bed, but standing on the side running boards and rear bumper. Off we rolled to downtown Ojai.

None of our lurking enemies were expecting us. As we tanked on down Ojai Avenue, my buds launched eggs and water balloons in all directions. It was like a war zone!

We got the best of the soldiers who were taking cover behind the walls of the Pergola and Arcade. After we made a couple of passes, most of our enemies just hid as they saw us approaching. At some point, we wound up on Grand Avenue where one of our idiot buddies threw an egg at Mr. Hardy’s taxi cab. If I recall correctly, it was Casey Mansfield who did so. Anyway, Mr. Hardy chased us all over the place as I foolheartedly attempted to elude him.

Well, we deservedly got pulled over by the city’s finest on North Montgomery Street next to Ojai Elementary School. One of the two policemen in the black-and-white asked for my driver’s license. He asked me what we were up to. Uhhhh! What was I supposed to say?!!??? I pretty much told him that we were just acting our ages and being Halloween hoodlums. Sisky sat there and smartly remained calm. He was a useless shotgunner!

The policemen spotted all our ammo in the pickup’s bed. Sisky and I wisely remained in the cab. The coppers made the other guys stomp all the eggs and water balloons in the bed of the pickup. The bed was about 2 inches full of broken eggs and water. It was a gooky, slimed mixture that would have made great scrambled eggs, minus the shells. After scolding all of us, the policemen told all my buddies to get back into the pickup, then head home immediately. All the guys resumed their previous seats. WRONG!!! The coppers told all of them to sit in the bottom of the bed in the goop. Do you think a single one of my buds made a break for it!!! Nope! The jokesters all sat as directed and looked like a big ol’ omelet as they whined away. One of the policemen told me to get everybody home right away and to NEVER do what we had done again. Yes, sir!

I wound up selling the ’49 in 1969 during my senior year of high school. I bought a super-clean 1961 Austin Healy “Bug Eye” Sprite. Notice to all of my buddies: That car was a chick magnet. Eat your hearts out!!!




1919 & 1920 Articles about Hotel El Roblar

The following articles were first run in “THE OJAI”. That newspaper is now “THE OJAI VALLEY NEWS”. The articles are reprinted here with their permission. The author(s) are unknown. Dates of editions in which each article was run are provided at the beginning of each article. The articles are about the “Hotel El Roblar” (formerly named “The Ojai Tavern”, “The Ojai Valley Inn”, “The Oaks at Ojai” and others). The 1919 drawing of the “The Ojai Tavern” (now, “Hotel El Roblar”) was added by the “Ojai Valley Museum”.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 1919:

THE OJAI TAVERN

Architect Mead, upon whom rests the honors and responsibility of preparing the plans for The Ojai Tavern, soon to be erected, met Wednesday with the directors of the hotel company and tendered to them the complete plans and specifications for the proposed handsome structure.

The directors have asked a few contractors for estimates of cost of construction, and it is apparent that satisfactory information along that line was gained, as the treasurer was instructed to call for the payment of 40 per cent of the stock subscribed, or so much as the law requires of such corporations prior to proceeding to carry out the enterprise.

J. J. Burke, Boyd E. Gabbert and S. D. Thacher have been named as the building committee and work will proceed without unnecessary delay.

Hur-ray!

FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 1919:

OJAI TAVERN NOW NEARING THE REALITY

On Saturday bids were opened for the construction of the new civic center hotel, soon to be erected, and to be known at the “Ojai Tavern”.

Three bids were submitted, but as yet the hotel company has not made public the figures, the matter of accepting the lowest bid having been taken under advisement.

Before another issue of “The Ojai” goes to press, we have every assurance that all details will be finally settled and the work of construction will begin early in April.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 9, 1920:

“El Roblar” is Name of New Hotel

After some six of eight months “reconnoitering, conflabbing and gestulating”, the directors of the Ojai Valley Hotel Company have finally and definitely decided on a permanent name for the civic center hotel. It is “EL ROBLAR.” the name is of Indian origin and signifies “a cluster of, or among the white oaks.”

The Ojai is pleased that this matter has finally been settled for we started out calling it “The Ojai Tavern,” then it was changed to “The Ojai Valley Inn,” but this last title did not last long, and was cast aside for the more euphonious title of “El Roblar.”

The last carload of furniture for the new hostelry arrived Wednesday and was hauled to the hotel Thursday and is now being placed in order and the official and formal opening of the hotel will take place within the next ten days or two weeks.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 30, 1920:

El Roblar Hotel Opens Its Doors

Hotel El Roblar, the valley’s new hostelry, opened its doors to the general public informally, Wednesday evening, and although not fully ready Manger Roach took care of the large number of guests that “knocked” for admission, in a very happy and pleasant manner.

The opening has been delayed far beyond calculations and plans, owing to the non-arrival of much of the furnishings, which are still “in transit”, and Mr. Roach has been forced to gather up substitutions here and there as best he could, in order to accommodate his patrons.

The supper menu for the opening evening was:

Soup, Cream of Green Peas, Olives, Celery, Roast Lamb, Fried Chicken Southern Style, Red Currant Jelly, Fruit Salad, Potatoes, Posse Duchesse, Garden Peas, Saute Bananas, Raspberry Jelly Mound, Peach Pie, Coffee, Tea, and Milk.

The date for the formal opening has not yet been set, but it will be in the near future, and will be one big evening in Ojai.

The stationery for the hotel, letterhead, envelopes, menus, etc., printed in four-colors, was executed at The Ojai printing office, and they are what critics say, “about the niftiest ever produced of their kind.”

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 1920:

NEW MANAGER FOR THE EL ROBLAR

W. A. Roach, who leased the new Ojai hostelry, “El Roblar,” before its construction, has relinquished his interests, and Chas. A. Cooke succeeds him as lessee, and has assumed its management.

Mr. Cooke has long been identified with Southern California hotel enterprises, and as directing head has been highly successful, both financially and as a popular host.

For some time he was president of the Hotel Men’s Association, and more recently was manager of El Encanto at Santa Barbara.

He has opened El Roblar under most encouraging conditions, the patronage being excellent, with many reservations listed, among them one-half of the lower floor, the occupying party to arrive soon from Santa Barbara.
———————

Beginning February 5th the following rates will prevail at the Hotel El Roblar:
Breakfast, ……………………………………………………………….$1.00
Luncheon, ……………………………………………………………….$1.50
Dinner, …………………………………………………………………….. $1.50
Special Sunday Dinner, ………………………………………..$2.00
Special Sunday eve. Supper, …………………………….$1.50

Daily and weekly rated on application.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 1920:

The Popular El Roblar Entertaining Many Guests

Among the week-end guests at the Valley’s new and popular hotel, El Roblar, were the following:

Mr. and Mrs. Edward Carrington, Mrs. Steward, William Gammell, from the Ambassador, Santa Barbara; Mr. and Mrs. William Sweet, Boston; Mr. and Mrs. L. W. Ballon, Woonsocket, R. I.; Mr. and Mrs. Harold Chase and boys of Santa Barbara; Mr. and Mrs. Chas. P. Austin of Santa Barbara; Mrs. McCrabb and Miss Norton, Seattle, Wash.; Mr. and Mrs. Francis Farnsworth, W. J. Farnsworth, Santa Barbara; Mr. and Mrs. D. Bryant Turner, Colorado Springs; and Mr. and Mrs. E. D. Wetmore, Santa Barbara; J. J. Bayler and family of Chicago.

The hotel has had a large run of patronage all this week, many of whom have engaged quarters for an indefinite time.

FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 1920:

Ojai Hotel Company Hold Annual Meeting

The first annual meeting of the stockholders of the Ojai Hotel Company, owners of the El Robalr, was held at the office of the secretary of the Company in the Ojai Realty Company’s office, Wednesday forenoon. The report of the past year’s activities and accomplishments was presented and read, and proved quite pleasing.

The men who did most of the real work in organizing the company and in the preliminary work of getting the hotel constructed, were congratulated.

The following officers and directors were elected for the ensuing year:

S. D. Thacher, president; D. A. Smith, vice president; B. E. Gabbert, secretary; E. W. Wiest, treasurer; E. L. Libby, Geo. Holsten, J. J. Burke.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 13, 1920:

El Roblar to Open Tomorrow August 14th

The many friends of the El Roblar Hotel will be pleased to learn that the new lessees, Messrs. Flander and Frank Barrington, will open that popular hostelry to the public on tomorrow noon, August 14th. A cordial invitation is extended the public to dine at the El Roblar whenever opportunity permits.



WORK TO START ON “THE OJAI TAVERN”

The following article first appeared in the FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 1919 edition of “THE OJAI” on the front page. “THE OJAI” is now the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown. “The Ojai Tavern” is now the “El Roblar Hotel” (formerly, “The Oaks at Ojai”).


WORK TO START ON “THE OJAI TAVERN”

A new hotel for Ojai (formerly Nordhoff) and the Ojai Valley.

The Ojai Valley hopes soon to have a hotel. In June 1917, the Foothills Hotel burned when the Ojai was swept by a disastrous fire and sixty dwellings went up in smoke.

The war prevented the rebuilding of the hotel and consideration of the matter was postponed until after the war.

However, Mr. E. D. Libbey of Toledo, Ohio, and a few of the Ojai people subscribed stock, organized the Ojai Hotel Company, and immediately proceeded to develop plans for a popular tourist and business hotel for the town of Ojai.

The architects are the San Diego firm of Mead and Requa, who built the notable “Arcade” and Pergola and Mission Towered postoffice for the town and civic center of Nordhoff, then changed to Ojai, which has just been further beautified by a most charming little Roman Catholic Church in the best Mission style.

The hotel is to be also of Mission or Spanish architecture, a unique piece of work, with low straight lines, tile roof, pergolas, arches, and very interesting and comfortable interior arrangements in the way of lobby, dining room, grill, lounging places, baths connected with every room, etc. There will be about twenty-five bed rooms, each with twin beds. The location is in the town of Ojai, convenient to the stores and business offices, and yet set refreshingly among white oaks, live oaks and sycamores.

The directors wish to have it meet the needs of the community in every way as a home for permanent guests as well as transient business visitors, and also for automobile parties and summer and winter tourists with whom the Ojai Valley has long been a favorite resort.

The directors have specially in mind to make the little hotel—to be known as The Ojai Tavern—a place with a distinctive charm of its own, in keeping with the reputation of the beautiful valley—a place that anyone catching a glimpse of with wish to investigate, and having visited, will be drawn to again and again. They are looking for the right sort of manager to undertake the development of such a unique and alluring hostelry.

The work of building will begin, it is hoped, in a very few weeks.




THE OJAI TAVERN

The following article first appeared in the “PICTORIAL EDITION OF The Ojai” (VOL. XXIX; NO. 29; August 1919). “The Ojai” is now the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown. The Ojai Tavern is now referred to as the Hotel El Roblar (AKA: The Oaks at Ojai).

THE OJAI TAVERN

In designing and planning The Ojai Tavern or Hotel for Ojai, the problems to be given special consideration and study were: a building thoroughly modern and up to date and meeting the requirements of the discriminating traveler; a plan and arrangement that would furnish suitable accommodations for the commercial man, the causal visitor and the tourist and also provide a pleasant, restful home for the guest who desires to extend his sojourn over weeks or months; a structure that would be sunny, warm and comfortable during the cool days of winter, airy and restful during the summer; a design conforming and harmonizing with the present civic improvements, of which it forms a part; and providing by means of treillage, pergolas and broad , plain wall surfaces the greatest facility for the growth and development of the vines, plants and shrubs so essential for maintaining the verdant charm and country atmosphere of the village.

A large comfortable, homelike lobby and outdoor sitting room is provided to tempt the guest to prolong his stay. The dining room has been made especially airy and attractive. The two sides of the room facing east and south are practically all glass looking out upon an interesting California garden and commanding a most fortunate view of the post office tower, the park, the pergolas and arcades of the main street and the wooded hills beyond. The entire east side opens, by means of French windows, onto a generous pergola-covered terrace shaded and sheltered by a large spreading live oak. This terrace will make a very popular open air dining room during the warm days of winter as well as summer. Provision, also, being made under the large Oak and Sycamore trees in the east garden to serve meals to auto parties, and other guests, to whom this picnic feature appeals. The kitchen and service department have been planned and will be equipped along the lines of the most up to date California hotels with the latest modern ranges and cooking, serving and dishwashing appliances. A most noteworthy feature is the arrangement of the plumbing fixtures in connection with the guest rooms. Each room is provided with its individual toilet and lavatory and each suite or pair of rooms has its private bath. Another feature deserving special mention is the furnishing of the tavern. No expense will be spared to make the building homelike and attractive, and the whole scheme novel, harmonious and imposing to the guests. At least six different schemes will be used in furnishing the bed rooms, providing a variety in color, furniture and hangings so as to cater the greatest measure possible to the tastes and desires of the patrons.

The building and the enclosing garden walls have been designed in the spirit of the early Spanish Colonial and California Mission architecture to fit into and form a part of the already completed civic improvement scheme. The main features are the plain modeled, plastered wall surfaces, dull vari-colored roofing tiles, quaint, overhanging balconies, interesting window lattices and grills and rustic log covered pergolas all so reminiscent of the earl Spanish inhabitants and fitting so harmoniously into its semitropical environment. A simple, yet imposing Mission arch breaks and relieves the straight lines of the enclosed garden walls and serves as the main entrance to the grounds and the tavern.

The hotel will be conducted by Mr. W. X. Roach, who has stock in and has taken a term lease on the property.

Mr. Roach, who comes directly from the Belvedere of Santa Barbara, has been with the Linnard Company for several years, having been associated with the hotel del Coronado before going to Santa Barbara, and previous to which he was with the Reed-Whipple Hotel Company of Boston.

Mr. Roach has some new, original and unique ideas and features which he will apply in the conduct of the hotel, and which will give to Ojai additional fame and prestige.

All Kinds of Fun

The following article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of the “Ojai Valley Visitors Guide” on pages 158 through 164. That magazine was published by the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission.

All kinds of Fun

Pop Soper steps up to the bag at his training camp in the 1920s. (Photo courtesy of the Ojai Valley Museum)

Ojai’s past is full of unusual amusements that attracted everyone from gangsters to golfers
____________________________
story by Perry Van Houten
____________________________


It was long before the invention of the smartphone and the MP3 player and prior to the proliferation of video game consoles, but folks in the Ojai Valley still found plenty of ways to keep themselves amused and entertained.

Of course, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and tennis were already long-established pastimes for residents and visitors of the Ojai Valley, but as early as the 1930s, entrepreneurs were finding other clever (and, at times, profitable) amusements for the populace.

Pop Soper’s nickelodeons
Prior to World War II, Clarence “Pop” Soper ran a training camp for boxers at the mouth of Matilija Canyon. The most famous boxer to train there was heavyweight Jack Dempsey, in 1927. Another famous visitor was notorious gangster Al Capone.

The camp had a canvas-roofed boxing ring, with benches for spectators, along with entertainment for visitors, such as nickelodeons, including a player piano. Drop five cents into the slot and it would play.

A crowd watches a boxing match at Pop Soper’s Training Camp. (Photo courtesy of the Ojai Valley Museum)

“Around his boxing ring, inside the building, he had all these music players — a self-playing violin, self-playing drums and a big guitar that would play,” explained Dwayne Bower, whose family owned Ojai Van Lines.

“After he died, my dad and I went up there and brought all those to our warehouse in Meiners Oaks, and we stored them there. His brother, Lenny Soper, sold them off one at a time, probably when he needed a little money. I remember delivering one to Hollywood and elsewhere in Los Angeles. They’re very, very, very rare items.”

Bower, an avid car collector, restored Soper’s 1929 Packard, which he purchased in 1957 for $75.

Kiddie land
Tucked into the mountains north of Pop Soper’s was a resort that offered hot mineral springs, indoor and outdoor games and sports. Wheeler Hot Springs changed owners many times, the most notable being radio and TV star Art Linkletter, famous for his program, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

After Linkletter purchased the resort he added a new attraction called Kiddie Land, with rides and other features designed for children. But the idea never really took off and Linkletter reportedly lost a bundle.

Ojai movie theaters
J.J. Burke opened the Ojai Valley’s first movie theater in 1914. The first film screened at the Isis Theater was Jack London’s “Valley of the Moon.” Admission was 20 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. In addition to showing movies, the theater also hosted vaudeville acts, plays and dances.

The theater changed names and ownership numerous times, becoming the Ojai Theatre in 1926. It got some competition in 1964 when a theater at the “Y” opened its doors. Los Robles Theatre at 1207 Maricopa Highway screened movies until 1972 and advertised “acres of free parking.”

The Ojai Theater is depicted in this 1954 postcard. (Image courtesy of the Ojai Valley Museum)

The Ojai Theatre became the Glasgow Playhouse in 1966, then the Ojai Playhouse in the early ’80s when it was purchased by the Al-Awar family. Sadly, the theater was closed in July 2014 due to a water main break under Ojai Avenue in front of the building. A battle continues after more than two years between the owner, the water company and its insurer over who should pay for the repairs.

Golf
Years before the golf courses at Soule Park and the Ojai Valley Inn opened, golfers were teeing off on a course set up in 1893 by Mary Gally, proprietor of the Gally Cottages at Ojai Avenue and Gridley Road. Charles Nordhoff, for whom the town was originally named, stayed at the cottages each time he visited the valley.

The Cottage course featured putting greens made of sand and a fairway pocked with tree stumps and squirrel holes. Mary Gally’s son, Howard, remembered as a child being held by his ankles, upside-down, and lowered into a hole to retrieve a golf ball lost by a player. An entire day of golf at the six-hole course would set you back a whole 25 cents; a week’s play only a buck. The links were watered by artesian wells on the 40-acre property and the grass cut by a flock of sheep, according to Ojai historian David Mason.

Miniature Golf
In the 1960’s, the Townsend family opened the miniature golf course on East Ojai Avenue at the current location of Ventura County Fire Department Station 21. The course presented players with the usual challenges, such as the hole placed at the apex of a cylindrical cone. “I loved it except for the volcano,” said one golfer. “I hated that hole.”

A miniature golf course once stood at the current site of Fire Station 21 in Ojai’s East End. (The Susan Sawyer Roland Collection)

A woman who played the course told of a natural obstacle she encountered. “I remember seeing a snake on one of the holes. It scared me to death,” she said.

After the mini-golf course closed and was torn down, some locals turned it into a BMX track for a short time before they built the fire station.

Bowling
The popularity of bowling exploded in the U.S. in the 1950s, and folks in Ojai soon caught the fever. The valley’s first bowling alley was a single lane affair on Ojai Avenue, across from the Arcade. A second bowling alley, Topa Lanes, opened in 1960 at Ojai and Golden West Avenues.

The 16-lane facility also featured arcade games, birthday bowling parties and organized league play. “We actually had our senior all-night party there, and that was a big, big deal,” recalled Bower. “The lanes were brand new, so we stayed there all night and partied.”

A girl who had her eighth birthday party at the lanes remembered a mishap involving a relative. “My grandma broke her shoulder ’cause she decided not to wear her bowling shoes and flew down the lane head-first,” she said.

Ojai resident Drew Mashburn bowled at the former bowling alley, played the pinball machines and ate at the restaurant there. “My buddies and I probably drove all the restaurant patrons crazy by playing ‘Loco-motion’ over and over again on the jukebox.”

John Sawyer of Ojai bowled a perfect 300 game at Topa Lanes in January 1963, the first ever at the facility. He was 21 at the time. He later appeared on a Los Angeles TV bowling show to talk about his game.

The lanes, last known as Ojai Valley Bowl, closed in the late 1990’s and the building sat vacant for many years. In 2016, a new owner of the property unveiled plans to build a craft brewery, pub and eventually a boutique hotel on the site.

The bowling lanes inside the Ojai Valley Bowl advertise that winter leagues were forming. (Photo courtesy of the Ojai Valley Museum)

A Downtown Carnival

Carnival workers drive stakes for a carnival tent in downtown Ojai.
Curious boys try to sneak a peek at a snake exhibit at one of the carnivals that frequented the Ojai Valley.

In the 1950s, when a carnival came to town, it would set up at the present location of the Westridge Midtown Market on Ojai Avenue. Mashburn remembers riding an attraction called “The Octopus” when he was 6.

“What in tarnation was I thinking?” Mashburn asked. “Each bucket of The Octopus was on the end of a long arm. The whole apparatus went in a circle and each arm went up and down. To make matters worse, each bucket rapidly spun in a circle. I felt like I was in a food blender. I got down on the floor on all fours and prayed for the monster machine to stop. Mom yelled at the operator to stop it each time it passed him. I think he must have thought Mom was yelling, ‘Speed it up!’ I’ve never been on one since.”

One year, Mashburn’s mother, Arlou, ran a booth where carnival-goers lobbed darts at balloons. “Mom was up near the balloons and bent down with her back to the dart-throwers. Yep, a dart hit her squarely in the butt! She said she thought the person did it on purpose.”

Ya think?

FORMER OAK VIEW BROOM MAKER LOOKS BACK FONDLY TO OLD DAYS

The following article was first run in the Thursday, November 9, 1961 edition of “THE OJAI VALLEY NEWS” (“ALL THE NEWS AND VIEWS of Oak View”) in the “B” section. It is reprinted here with their permission.

FORMER OAK VIEW BROOM MAKER LOOKS BACK FONDLY TO OLD DAYS
By
HANK PEARSON

With the influx of families in the Ojai valley increasing each year and with subdivisions sprouting up like mushrooms after a heavy rain, it’s a little difficult for many people to realize that it wasn’t too long ago that the valley was composed mainly of large fruit orchards and a comparatively small number of homes.

One person who can remember vividly what Ojai valley was like back at the turn of the century is Percy Watkins of Oak View. When he moved there with his parents in 1901 from Nebraska, and the existing home was erected on a level plateau east of the present business district, the only other place of any consequence in the area was a cider mill.

Watkins is frank, too, in drawing a comparison of that era with today.

“Frankly,” he says, “I prefer the old days when land sold for $125 per acre and there wasn’t the hustle and bustle there is today. My place today, “he added, ” is completely surrounded by subdivisions. This has more or less forced me to do the same thing with the land I have.”

BROOM FACTORY

Watkins admits however, that things weren’t exactly easy the first decade or so of the family’s existence in Oak View. His father, H. L. Watkins, established a broom factory in a barn on the property in an effort to bring in enough money to keep things on an even keel.

The broom factory was then one of the few on the Pacific coast and consisted of a press manufactured in an Ojai machine shop, a treadle and a few other appurtenances necessary to turn out a finished product. Broom corn, raised on the Watkins property, furnished the bristles for the brooms, but the wood for the handles had to be shipped in. The whole Watkins family, including two boys and six girls, pitched in to aid in the manufacture of the brooms.

Watkins recalls today how he set for hours on a box twisting and pulling on broom corn — an operation necessary to get the bristles in proper alignment for fastening to the handles.

It was also necessary to use stout string to bind the broom bristles together and in the early days this was accomplished by hand-sewing — a task Watkins says was extremely difficult on the hands even though a metal guard was used. A large homemade hand-press was used to crush the broom straw into a flattened aspect prior to sewing.

CALL ON HOMES

When enough brooms were manufactured, the next and most important step was to sell them. This was done in the early days by use of a horse and wagon and calling on homes. Watkins recalls that many days were spent from early dawn until dusk calling on homes as far away as Santa Barbara — a long distance in these days of slow transportation.

Brooms then sold for fifty cents each or if the customer wished a bargain, three for $1.25. “We didn’t get rich at it,” Watkins said, “but we managed to make a living.”

That business venture lasted until the early 1940s and then folded forever, with the death of Watkins’ father. Modern machine methods employed in factories and the emergence of grocery stores within easy driving distance of homes saw to that.

At one end of Watkin’s yard today mementos of days gone by are pretty well in evidence. Old model cars, trucks and outdated machinery items give mute testimony to the early days of the Ojai valley. Outside the yard in the large field where the subdivision will no doubt come into being one of these days, two sleek horses roam rather abjectly. Their days no doubt are numbered.

PERCY WATKINS operates a hand-made press he used in the manufacture of brooms at Oak View a half-century ago.