The following article first appeared in the SPRING 2021 (VOLUME 39 NUMBER 2) issue of “Ojai MAGAZINE” on pages 122-123. The magazine was published by the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS”. It is reprinted here with their permission.
LOOK BACK IN OJAI with Drew Mashburn Contributed on behalf of the Ojai Valley Museum
OJAI VALLEY Memorable Trees
TARZAN had nothin’ on me and my buddies!
In about 1966, Mark Madsen — Viking descent, not raised by apes, but kinda ape-ish — and I decided we’d build a tree fort. Mark’s parents had moved to Modesto, so Mark moved in with me to finish out the school year at Matilija Junior High School.
Read the rest of the story directly from the Ojai Magazine.
The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, December 24, 1969 edition of “The Ojai Valley News” on the front page. It is reprinted here with their permission.
A review of the Sixties — Part 2 How the Ojai valley has changed
(How has Ojai valley changed in the last decade? Reporter Gary Hachadourian scanned the Ojai Valley News front pages — over 1,000 of them — between 1960 and 1970 to come up with some answers. This is the second in a series of eight articles.) by Gary Hachadourian
The urbanization of the Ojai Valley in the Sixties was the result of a combination of forces. True, the City of Ojai took many steps which determined, partially, the direction it wanted urbanization to take. But the community was playing a losing game. Growth was inevitable; growth was occurring.
Urbanization was forced in other ways. The City of Ojai — as most California cities — was living under an economic system that forced it to accept and even welcome development of an admittedly questionable variety in order to raise tax money to meet constantly increasing operating costs. Ojai was forced to develop in order to keep from “going broke.” (This particular “force” will be a subject in a later article.)
The changing makeup of the community was another force. A town is what its people are. A community can be no greater than the men and citizens who control its destiny.
The personality of the valley is kaleidoscopic. Its elemental beauty and peace draws all types. We’ll attempt a description. Nothing specific. Just the spirit of the place, for it simultaneously invited urbanization and helped to determine the direction it would take.
Moon nest here
First, we are a self-conscious community. We are landlocked by mountains on three sides. We are endlessly conscious that we live in a very beautiful place — the “center of the universe.” The Chumash Indians also felt that way, for in their language “Ojai” means that the moon nests here. Many residents feel that the sun does. also.
The news stories of the Sixties are filled with congratulatory quotations which say, in essence: “aren’t we wonderful to deserve all this.” There was something aristocratic in our deference to outsiders.
The community’s intimate relationship with nature produced a stern protectionist attitude. The love felt for the valley’s natural beauty was real, because most Ojaians were recently transplanted from city-like environments. They knew that soul-saving open spaces were fast disappearing and deserved to be preserved. They knew their valley was vulnerable to the insistent demands of developers who think of land as money.
Most Ojaians of the Sixties seemed well aware that the valley, lying close to the industrial and commercial centers of the county, is a natural target for extensive — and intensive — residential development. Thus, the community exhibited on occasion an isolationist sentiment. As one letter to the editor said: “let’s pound stakes across the highway at the Y.”
But the community as a whole was prepared to compromise . . . and channel the growth. (Valleyites are also red-blooded capitalists. What else should they be? In this country that’s how money is made and in many cases that’s how they earned the living that brought them a home and acreage with a view of the mountains.)
But, there was a difference between capitalism of the Philistines and the capitalism of Ojaians. The Philistines wanted property because it developed into money, while Ojaians wanted money in order to support property. That’s why seldom do the people who live here treat their land badly.
All this leads to an inescapable and stifling contradiction. It preys on the mind: How can Ojaians deny rights to outsiders that they grant to themselves? How can they think of themselves as the owners of their particular parcel while at the same time acting as overseers of the rest?
How, though, if land is currency, can you rightfully keep outsiders out of the market? This contradiction, in spite of all the restrictive planning, was not answered in the Sixties.
You can’t blame the oldtimers. They came to the valley by choice, for what it offered them. Those who would come in the future would do so more out of necessity, needing space and bringing their conveniences with them. So, if land is currency, there was no way to keep the newcomers out. Restriction planning was not enough.
The area has another characteristic that could be self-defeating. Because of the delight residents feel in living here, Ojaians tend to view themselves as the vanguard contingent of a new urban civilization, a community charged with the heavy responsibility of setting an example of how to live in the suburbs.
They may be right, too. But overconfidence can be self-defeating. Overconfidence can mean a dropping of one’s guard — and the community did that on occasion in the Sixties. Thus the apathy on many occasions when the troops failed to march in the Battle to Preserve Ojai.
These characteristics had a great bearing on what happened in the valley from 1960 to 1970. In fact, they largely determined it.
(The next article places in perspective the events in the urbanization of Ojai Valley during the past 10 years.)
The following article first appeared inthe April 12, 1972 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on page D6. It is reprinted here with their permission.
Editorial by Fred Volz
Rare conversation with Krishnamurtiabout the Ojai Valley
Last week our long-standing request to interview Jiddu Krishnamurti, world renowned philosopher, was granted. We spent almost two hours taping this interview, mostly about the Ojai Valley. Krishnamurti is now in New York City to give two talks at Carneigie Hall, before returning to England.
Krishnamurti is a slight, aethetic man with golden skin and large, soft brown eyes. He speaks with an Oxford accent in muted tones, pausing occasionally to collect his words.
He was born in 1895 in Madras, India, the eighth child of a Brahmin family. At 16, with his brother Nityananda, he was brought to England where he was privately educated. He first came here with his brother in the ‘20’s, and we begin our interview with that.
The conversation is almost an exact replica of our tape recording.
Sir, I feel that the people here would appreciate your views about the valley. May I ask you some questions about Ojai?
Volz—You came here many years ago and you’ve stayed here from time to time. What are your personal feelings about the valley?
K—I came here first with my brother in 1922. We lived here. We came from India via Australia and lived in a little cottage. And the contrast was enormous. We came in July. The dryness, the heat, the dust. But we liked it enormously. It was the mountains. I’ve been practically all over those mountains, over all these trails. I’ve been up to Topa Topa, up to Chief. And I stayed here during the war . . . and off and on . . . treating this area as kind of my home. I also go to India, that is also my home. I stay in England—but this is one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve seen. I’ve been to Kashmir, and I’ve been to Switzerland, and parts of Europe . . . Pyrenees and various mountains in India. This has an extraordinary charm that the others do not have. It’s extraordinarily quiet at night. Wild. And I used to see deer up there . . . bear. Once, I walked behind a bobcat for several miles. The wind was blowing from him to me. So he didn’t smell me at all. Several miles . . . he was rubbing himself and enjoying himself. I don’t know whether they exist now.
V—Rare. Only very occasionally do I see one . . . just a flash.
K—And I see raccoons, foxes, and I’ve seen several times big brown bear. Marvelous. And somehow I like this place enormously. But I see it gradually being spoiled. I hear they want to put a highway through here. That’s the end of this valley. And they want to develop parts of it . . . a tourist resort and all that. I suppose this is what is really happening all over the world. When there’s a beautiful spot, they want to destroy it . . . exploit it touristically for economic purposes. I know a place in India, a beautiful place, but it’s spoiled now by overpopulation. Get rich quick. Recently, I stayed as a guest in Malibu and they’re destroying that whole hill. Terrible.
V—Well, you’ve answered the first three questions I have. I was going to say you saw Ojai then . . . and you see what’s happening now. I was also going to ask you what exceptional qualities Ojai had in the twenties and what it does not have now.
K—This East end has still got it. Because I can go up one of those hills and not see anyone. In those days I would go . . . oh . . . miles and miles . . . but now it’s gradually being pushed out. It will be destroyed. Unless you all stand firm.
V—Do you see any change in the way it’s going now. Or is gradually the land being used up?
K—I’m afraid so.
V—You don’t see a change. Is there anything we could do about this?
K—Ah, I suppose . . . I don’t know why the government . . . or people congregate . . . and say this is one place in California that should be kept the way it was. Or it will be completely wiped out.
V—As a result of economic motives?
K—The way we are going now in America . . . and the rest of the world . . . in 70 years through overpopulation man will destroy himself.
V—There have been encouraging things happening here recently. For example, the Meditation Group—the private schools . . . Happy Valley, Ojai Valley, and Villanova. So there has been a move in that direction. People coming here to build schools and have them expand. Do you see anything happening here along those lines?
K—Let me tell you about Happy Valley. We came here in 1922. In 1927, Dr. Besant . . . the Happy Valley Foundation . . . she started it . . . she bought land, mortgages and all that. She bought it for one purpose . . . I don’t want to be personal . . . that the teachings that K was giving would bring around a different group of people. Happy Valley land was to be used for that. And now it’s gone into other people’s hands . . . unfortunately. But schools here, if there are a great many schools here. What would happen? Can they maintain themselves? Private schools.
V—They come here for the very reason you and I come here. A beautiful, quiet, peaceful place . . . conducive to study.
K—I believe private schools are suffering a great deal. You see I used to talk practically every year at the other end (near Krotona Hill at the Oak Grove). Many people came here . . . gathered and had camps and all that. It’s all different since then. I’ve not been here practically since 1965. But I could come every year. Things have changed. Can’t serious people come here and maintain this atmosphere and this kind of beauty?
V—I think a lot of us are asking that question. I’m not so sure it’s good for the economy of the valley to have more houses, more people. The very reasons we all came here will have been destroyed.
K—How can we prevent the others from destroying it?
V—I think we’ll just have to say no. That the government will have to say no. That the valley should stay in orchards. In open space. I thought of one time writing to our congressman and proposing this as a national park . . . like Yosemite, like Yellowstone.
K—Will they allow it?
V—Well, the list of proposed national parks is long now. A very beautiful place north of San Francisco in Marin County is the newest national park . . . a strip of original seashore . . . in native grasses and sand. It has been preserved in the hands of one family ever since the Spaniards were there. This is the newest national park. Pt. Reyes National Park. We had our hand in proposing that. Now . . . in the Napa Valley . . . with its vineyards . . . they have made that into what we call a national monument which prevents any change to that valley. Not a park, but a national monument. Yet, it’s not as beautiful as this.
K—We have a school in England in Hampshire. There’s the start of a building there . . . the K Foundation owns it. You can’t build new houses . . . you can only improve or pull down old houses. You have to build on the same foundation. And you have to get permission to build from the planning committee—anything at all. We were going to build for 40 people. It took six months to get permission. It’s only an hour from London by train, but it’s a beautiful place and they said let’s not go and destroy it.
V—I think that’s what happened initially to our great national parks. Yosemite . . . John Muir in particular . . . said we’re not going to destroy this. This has to be kept. They brought United States officials there. And they agreed.
K—Can’t this be done here?
V—One of the problems — I was just thinking about this — it’s an exceptional day outside. If you live here long enough, you begin to think the whole world is like this. And it’s not. Locals don’t understand . . .
K—Can’t Ojai be maintained, sir. Through influence . . . through the machinery of government?
V—Let me say, I’m much more optimistic now, than I was last year for the Ojai Valley. Finally, the people who are in charge are getting the message from all of us down below, that we don’t want this to change, we don’t want more shopping centers and tract houses. We want to keep what’s left. What do you think that the citizens here can do?
K—Sir, do you know what is happening in the world? The citizens are responsible for destroying the world. Hmm? I used to go to India, except this winter. Every winter I spent 5-6 months . . . now it’s reduced to 3 months. You have no idea how it’s being destroyed. In Bombay, people are sleeping on pavements. Thousands of them. And under the tree they sleep. And the villages are being destroyed . . . 10 million of them. And the death rate is not so great as the birth rate. Citizens . . . human beings are responsible for this. Why can’t they stop it? Here in this valley . . . live all of you . . . for God’s sake you preserve this place. One place that’s not destroyed. Do you think there are serious people here? Serious in the sense . . . not all economically well established . . . but have roots in the valley . . . serious-minded people who say let’s maintain this atmosphere…this quietness, this beauty, this sense of . . . otherness. Do you know what I mean? Not at all the wrangles of the Catholic, Protestant, Communist, Socialist. Do you think there are such people here?
V—Yes, I think so. Many people of every political and religious affiliation feel exactly the way we do. Recently, a Committee to Preserve the Ojai was formed. They have four-five hundred members and they’re seeking to influence the kind of people who get elected. Working to defeat unneeded shopping centers. They’re working in a very practical way. And their numbers are growing. More people feel sympathy for them . . . and give them money. So, it’s happening here . . . but it has to happen fast. It can’t wait. There has to be a change in thinking. We all have to realize that open space out there is valuable. The most valuable thing we have. Of course, I write about this all the time to the people of Ojai. I don’t know how much attention they pay to it. Nothing much seems to happen. But I like you saying that.
K—You know, sir, in India, in Greece, and in other civilizations, when they found a beautiful spot like this they put a temple. Not a Christian temple or a Buddhist temple, but a temple. A thing that was beautiful and remained sacred because of the beauty of the place. I go to a school in south India. I spend three weeks talking to children. As you enter there, on a hill is a temple. And the feeling you have is of a sacred place . . . be quiet, be nice, be gentle, be pleasant to your neighbor, don’t kill, don’t hurt . . . all that atmosphere makes for beauty.
V—Do you think Americans are different from other people?
K—They’re much more energetic. They’re pleasure seekers. They’re fleetingly serious. I never have seen such race as this that want to . . . they can’t sit quietly. Go to the lakes, go off on guided hikes . . . oh . . . they can’t be by themselves. One year I was walking right up there on your mountains. I was standing looking at the beauty of the land . . . I could even see the ocean . . . A man came down on horseback . . . I was standing very still . . . He said, ‘what the hell are you standing so still for?’ . . . I said, ‘isn’t it a beautiful day?’ He looked at me and said, ‘oh, you’re the Christ child.’ (Much laughter here).
V— That was many years ago, wasn’t it?
K—Yes. I wonder, sir, you know Ojai. Can people treat this valley as a sacred place . . . not as a commercial center? A sacred place becomes beautiful . . . I hope you understand. People will come here because it’s quiet, restful, thoughtful, serious.
V—You don’t see any formal change . . . like, people coming here to form a religious center or a spiritual center. In the practical sense of the word.
K—I would . . . you see, sir, in India we have a place like this. A school . . . but people who come there are serious people. Treat it . . . I hate to use the word . . . as a sacred place. Unless you have this spot where people really can be thoughtful and serious you are going to destroy the world. You’ve heard of the river Ganges in India. We have a school on the banks of it, and it is very old. I found a statue by digging in the garden which is 6th century. Before that, I found something from B.C. So there’s a tremendous sense of atmosphere. I was talking the other day to Frank Waters and he was saying the American Indians felt the land was sacred and the sky was sacred. So keep it clean, keep it unpolluted. Here there isn’t that attitude . . . that feeling for the earth.
V—Yes, we’re supposed to conquer nature.
K—That’s it . . .
V—It says so in the Bible.
K—I know. In the East, there is a respect for the earth, respect for animals . . . not kill them. Here, you must always use it, build a factory, tear it to pieces. There’s that enormous vitality. Every time I used to come back to Ojai, before 1950, I say, “what a marvelous place!” But now I don’t come because it’s marvelous.
V—It would seem to me it would help much . . . if you would come here more often.
K—Oh yes. I’m coming . . . I didn’t come because the people I was working with didn’t want me to come here.
V—When you come, will you be staying here for a long time?
K—Oh, yes . . .
V—Well, this place will become what we think it should become. If we think positively about it, if we think this is the way the Ojai Valley should be, it will be that way.
K—That’s right. You know, Ojai Valley, is known all over the world. Because of the K Foundation. There’s a K foundation in England, in South America, and in India. People want to come here. That’s why that Happy Valley was bought. By Theosophist, by a group of people of whom I was the head. It was for that. Now it is . . .
V—It’s still there, the land, isn’t it?
K—But they’re different . . . and not interested.
V—I’m pleased to hear that you will be back.
V—Do you plan to give up your place in Switzerland?
K—No, sir. There will be a gathering there. For about 3 weeks from all over Europe. And we’ll go on with that. And we’ll go on with Ojai, on with India. I used to go to Paris, Amsterdam, to various towns, but I’ll be glad to give this up.
V—Sounds like you’re more active than ever.
K—Let me tell you a true story, sir. In India, one time I was doing Yoga exercise and I see a shadow in the window. There is a big black wild monkey. I come quite close and it stretches out its hand. And I hold its hand. And its hand was rough and he wants to come inside. I said, ‘I don’t have time today . . . but come and see me sometime.’
V—Well, I understand you rarely grant interviews . . . on behalf of myself and the people of the Ojai Valley, I thank you for your time.
The following article was first run in THE OJAI newspaper on PAGE TWELVE in the November 19, 1948 edition. “THE OJAI” is now the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown. Photos added by the “Ojai Valley Museum”.
Arlou Wells and Harold Mashburn Married at Santa Barbara Church ______
Mr. and Mrs. Warren E. Wells this week announced the marriage of their daughter, Arlou, to Harold C. Mashburn of Meiners Oaks. The couple exchanged their vows Sunday in the Little Chapel of Santa Barbara.
The altar was banked with white gladioli and yellow chrysanthemums. White tapers surrounded the altar. The double-ring ceremony was read by the Rev. Paul H. Gammons of El Montecito Presbyterian church. The bride was given away by her father. She was attired in a period style white slipper satin gown with a yoke of Valencia lace, tight fitted bodice, and a full skirt, shirred twice at the hemline, revealing a ruffled lace petticoat. The full satin skirt swept into a chapel train.
The deep yoke and sleeves were outlined with imported lace ruffling. Her finger-tip veil fell in tiers from a coronet of seed pearls and a single strand of pearls adorned the high neckline of her gown. She carried an arrangement of bouvardia blossoms over a white Bible, belonging to her mother, which carried out the “something old, something new” theme and carried a sixpence in her shoe.
Maid of honor was Barbara Campbell of Los Angeles, who wore a rose taffeta gown. Her head dress was a bandeau of rose ribbon and seed pearls. She carried a colonial nosegay of pink and white flowers.
Tom Bennett of Meiners Oaks served as best man and Jack Cruickshank of Ventura as usher. A program of nuptial organ music was played before the ceremony. Mrs. Wells, mother of the bride, chose a charcoal gray faille dress with turquoise accessories and a corsage of yellow rosebuds. Mrs. Mashburn, mother of the bridegroom, wore a hunter’s green crepe dress with cocoa brown accessories and a Talisman rose corsage.
Following the ceremony, Mr. and Mrs. Wells entertained with a reception at the Fremont room, adjoining the chapel. The bride’s table was laid with a linen cloth and centered with a three-tiered wedding cake, topped with miniature silver wedding bells, surrounded at the base with white gladioli and yellow chrysanthemums.
Assisting at the bride’s table was Joan Mulligan. Betty Jean Mashburn, sister of the bridegroom, was in charge of the guest book.
Following the reception, the couple left for a wedding trip through the Northwest. For travel, the bride wore a blue wool dressmaker’s suit and brown accessories. Upon their return they will be at home at 555 1/2 South Ventura street, Ojai. The bride is a graduate of Nordhoff Union high school, 1948 class. The bridegroom was graduated from Nordhoff in 1943 and served for three and a half years in the U. S. navy. He is employed by the Shell Oil company, Ventura.
The following article appeared in VOLUME 38 NUMBER 1/SPRING 2020 issue of “Ojai Valley Guide” on page 159. This magazine was published by the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission.
LOOK BACK IN OJAI with Drew Mashburn Contributed on behalf of the Ojai Valley Museum
ROUTE 66 WAS A COOL OLD HIGHWAY. MY PARENTS TOOK THREE OF US KIDS ON 66 IN 1965 TO VISIT DAD’S SIDE OF THE FAMILY IN MISSOURI AND MOM’S SIDE OF THE FAMILY IN INDIANA. WE WERE ON THIS VACATION FOR ABOUT A MONTH.
For a vacation like that, you have to have some reliable wheels. I accompanied my dad to the auto dealership in Ojai to bring home the 1961 Chevrolet Apache half-ton pickup with a 283-cubic-inch engine and three-on-the-three manual transmission he had ordered. I was only 9 years old, but remember the experience like it was only yesterday.
Read the rest of the article in the Ojai Magazine.
This article was contributed by longtime Ojai Valley resident Susan Roland. Roland recently discovered this article in the belongings she inherited from her mother. The “Ojai Valley Museum” has added the photos to the article.
Oaks history — never dull
[Much of the following history of the Oaks hotel was taken from a series of articles for the Ojai Valley News by the late Helen Davenport, in 1962 society editor of the OVN.]
Staring as a quiet little country inn, the hotel opened around 1920 after many false starts and much talk. The ground was originally owned by P.K. Miller and he built a house on the site where he raised his family, according to Jennie Miller Griffin, his daughter.
The house burned down in the big fire of 1917.
A number of Ojai residents took an option on the property and became stockholders. These stockholders sold out at 50 cents on the dollar to Frank Barrington of Santa Barbara.
THE STORY GOES that the Barrington’s worked for a wealthy woman in Montecito, he as a butler and she as an upstairs maid. It is thought by others that she was a trained nurse. Both, it is true, were Irish and friendly. The wealthy woman ultimately died and left the couple $25,000 to run a hotel. Ojai was their destination.
Soon the hotel opened for business under the name of El Roblar.
Mr. Barrington in front of the El Roblar on March 4, 1929.
Following the death of Mr. Barrington, his wife continued to operate the hotel for many years. She brought many of her relatives over from the old country to visit and work in the establishment. Local residents held parties there, because the Ojai Valley Inn at this time was a private club.
Mrs. Barrington in front of the El Roblar in March 1929.
Mrs. Barrington was neat and orderly and well-liked. She saw to it that flowers were in the rooms and on the tables. As was the custom of the time in many homes, she had doilies and tidies strewn around for the homey touch. She took flowers to the Presbyterian church for many years.
Frank Barrington is remembered as a man of graceful charm. The New Years’ Eve parties are well remembered when he served his famous eggnogs to carollers returning to the hotel at midnight — a touch of alcohol in them for adults, unspiked for the youngsters.
Chauffeur-driven cars drove around the orange trees to the front door, letting out passengers who returned many times to the year-round hotel.
FROM A QUIET little country inn — the Oaks hotel became an internationally known hostelry. Changes in ownership followed in rapid succession, some tragic, some happy.
Mrs. Barrington sold the hotel to Canfield Enterprises of Santa Barbara. Mr. and Mrs. Canfield took over with many plans for changes and expansion. But these were put to a tragic end with the unhappy suicide of Mr. Canfield.
This was followed by the ownership of the Oaks going to the Cromwells of San Francisco and once more the doors were open with eager anticipation of a great future. Plans had been completed for the Matilija dam and hopes were high for an expanded hotel to take care of the expected influx of engineers, visitors and fishermen. Once again these dreams were shattered by the suicide of Mr. Cromwell.
Mrs. Barrington again took over the hotel. She soon leased it to Richard Paige (presently living on McAndrew road). This time some of the dreams became a reality. Paige and Morgan Baker, his associate, built the first bar in the hotel. A small intimate room it soon became a sought-after meeting place for cocktails and after-party and theater gatherings. It was noted for its “rump rail” an innovation which allowed the weary drinker to slouch in an orderly fashion with elbows and derriere well supported.
During the management of Paige and Baker, the present swimming pool was added to the Oaks attractions. Swim parties were frequent and the hotel became better-known than ever. The unhappiness of the previous years was completely forgotten behind the happy shouts from the bar and pool.
MANY STILL SPEAK of Martinez the bartender, who is said to have mixed a martini so memorable that people spoke of them in hushed and awed voices. They were, it is said, refused to those who were not regarded as worthy of such a mixture by the noble Martinez.
The management of Paige and Baker, as all things must, came to an end as these gentlemen became occupied elsewhere, and the Oaks — still owned by the Barrington estate — again sought ownership and management.
In 1952 the hotel was bought by Frank Keenan and the hotel entered into an era of splendor and activity it had not known before. Keenan was a former county assessor for Cook County, Ill., which is largely taken up by the city of Chicago, and he had glamorous plans for the hotel which he promptly began to carry out.
The present cottages around the pool were built and were soon filled with some of the most glamorous names of Hollywood and New York and less desirable places. Gangster Bugsy Siegal was a visitor. The dining room was remodeled and the bar enlarged. Keenan brought his genial brother Jim to act as host.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel
THE DINING ROOM was named the Chicago room and was greatly sought-after as a meeting place for important groups and glittering with social affairs. The opening with Bud Abbott as M.C. was rumored to cost $10,000. Guests arrived from all over the country and local residents who were lucky enough to be included talked endlessly about the gala affair.
It was during the Keenan ownership that the Oaks took on its present shape and form (that was 1962). The Keenan brothers wide acquaintance brought distinguished guests — and some who had glamour. Nevertheless, it was noted for its quiet dignity, fine cuisine and genuine hospitality.
It was said that Keenan wanted to make the Oaks into a casino a la Las Vegas. City officials who requested their names be withheld remember being approached with propositions and requests for “protection”. These officials let it be known that no gambling would be allowed in Ojai and this particular project was dropped.
The future of the Oaks was suddenly thrown into doubt when after four years of gaiety the Keenan brothers were indicted for income tax evasion back in Illinois. They were convicted and sent to prison.
The genial Jim Keenan died in prison; Frank Keenan completed his term and many hoped he would again resume ownership of the Oaks.
ONCE AGAIN the hotel closed and the halls were hushed. They remained quiet for over a year.
Through Keenan’s attorney, the hotel came into the hands of Heiress Lolita Armour (of Chicago packing house fame) and her new young husband Charles Madrin. It was thought that the hotel was being used as a tax write-off. A deal was made to trade the Armour estate in Lake Forest, Ill. for the Oaks hotel and once again the closed sign was removed.
On Jan. 1, 1958, a new regime started — one of toil and trouble — and a series of managers followed. There were seven in a two-year period before closing early in 1962.
Civic organizations held meetings at the hotel, lunches and dinners set by local residents, dinner dances were held, and the Wednesday style show around the pool were attractions. One manager installed electric heat lamps to be used on the terrace when the sun failed. A key-holders club was formed to make residents use the pool and bar and Richard Blalock’s orchestra played in the large dining room. Honeymooners loved the quiet of the mid-week and Hollywood celebrities dropped in for a rest in the country. Conventions were booked, but accommodations were such that only small crowds could be handled. The hotel was also the hub of the town. Genial Gino Giamari held sway as head bartender.
On the debit side, the various managers made many mistakes. One called an employees meeting once each month, however it was soon seen that those who got up to talk were soon fired. Another imbibed too much, another hated music and called the bartender when the lounge was filled with local people listening to a $ 150-a-week pianist. The bartender was sent home and the patrons left.
The thing the employees hated most was the Las Vegas mirror installed above the bar. Some thought this was not only to check on the bartender but on the low-cut gowns of the ladies. Along with the mirror a complete intercom system was put in, one that could be reversed so that employees’ every whispered word could be checked.
IN FEBRUARY OF 1962 the American Association of Retired Persons (Grey Gables) took a 90-day option on the Oaks, planning to sell units to its members. The price was around $500,000. However, the deal never closed because of the high expense of fireproofing and bringing the aging structure up to the building codes.
The Oaks remained closed for a while in 1962-63 until it was taken over by a well-remembered Ojai valley figure — Santa Barbaran Vernon Johnson. A big, bluff, bearded extrovert, who worked as a telephone company lineman-foreman and still does. Johnson had come into an inheritance and “had always wanted to run a hotel”. Several years prior to this, he had gained a measure of fame when he toured ’round the world (including through Siberia) in a converted Greyhound bus with his wife and 9 children. He bought the mortgage from Lolita Armour for $295,000 — making a $50,000 cash payment.
JOHNSON PLAYED a genial host at these parties, circulating from table to table with stories and goodwill. “He” became, in essence, the Oaks hotel and his face appeared on the menus, on the paper napkins, matchbook covers and even the tiny bar soap wrappers.
Localites were impressed with Johnson who went to Los Angeles one day and bought a $3,000 rare Macaw bird and installed it in the lounge.
Johnson lasted a year before filing for bankruptcy. Henry Coulson, a federal bankruptcy referee living in Ventura, then had the unhappy task of keeping the Oaks open and alive, which he did without the benefit of hotel experience until the Oaks was bought by a local group, headed by Rodney Walker and Jerald Peterson, at an auction in Nov. of 1966 for $230,000.
The following article first appeared in the August 23, 1989 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on the Editorial page. The article is reprinted here with the permission of the “Ojai Valley News.” The author is unknown.
Let’s keep the Sespe wild
Rep. Robert Lagomarsino is on the right track in his efforts to protect Sespe Creek under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, but the California Republican’s plan doesn’t go far enough.
The Sespe is a treasure and its entire 55-mile length should be protected from development.
There is some question whether the full length of the Sespe is eligible for federal protection — some sources say the first eight miles is not — but every avenue that might lead to total preservation should be explored.
The Keep the Sespe Wild Committee is doing just this, and the group is to be commended.
Opponents of full protection and backers of Largomarsino’s bill — H.R. 1473 — contend that Sespe water will eventually be needed to support a growing Ventura County population. This, of course, would eventually require the construction of dams. Some even suggest that dams be in place by the end of the next decade.
We disagree with the water-for-growth issue and support the growing number of people and businesses that back the Keep the Sespe Wild proposal.
The cost of water provided by dams — as much as $1,000 an acre-foot — would be prohibitive and damming the Sespe would be detrimental to area Pacific Ocean beaches since the Sespe is an important environmental link in replenishing the sand.
Some argue that Sespe dams would help ease the problem of declining groundwater and the intrusion of seawater into aquifers, but there are better solutions to these problems.
And, if serious water problems develop years down the road, Congress could change the Sespe designation to allow it to be used as a water source in an emergency.
Again, we believe Keep the Sespe Wild has the best idea.
There are three classifications under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act — wild, which would allow no roads and no development; scenic, which provides for some roads and some privately-owned land; and recreational, with a lot of private lands, campgrounds or development.
The environmental group proposes that the 5.5 miles from the headwaters to Highway 33 at Adobe Creek to Trout Creek be designated scenic, that the 28.5 miles from Trout Creek to Devil’s Gate be wild and the four miles from Devil’s Gate to the Sespe’s confluence with the Santa Clara River be recreational.
This covers the entire length of the Sespe and is a far better plan than the one in the Congress that would protect only 27.5 miles of this Southern California treasure.
The following article first appeared on the front page of the Friday, January 12, 1951 edition of “THE OJAI.” That newspaper is now the “Ojai Valley News.” The article appears here with their permission. The author is unknown.
PARKING METERS FOR OJAI . . . ?
Some of our city fathers let drop a broad hint after their meeting Monday night that they would like to make a present of some parking meters to the city. This is rather a contrast to the propaganda put forward by council members some months ago to the effect that the issue of parking meters was not a serious one, but was introduced more or less to take people’s attention away from the proposal of a city sales tax, since passed.
They have not come out flatly in favor of the meters, but they have repeatedly brought the idea forward as a solution to what they term “Ojai’s parking problem.”
What parking problem? How can a town which has the greater percentage of its merchants concentrated in one block on one side of the street possibly have a parking problem? If the definition is such that the problem consists in not being able to park exactly in front of the establishment in which the driver wishes to shop, then, there is a parking problem. However, there is a large parking lot east of the city hall, and with the exception of a few unusual occasions, there has always been ample room to accommodate a large amount of cars, and without any overtime parking penalties. If shoppers still insist on parking on Ojai avenue, they are always able to find spaces within at least two blocks of the Arcade, which should not constitute a great burden, since many of these same shoppers are willing to beat their way down to Ventura or Santa Barbara and walk many blocks to do their shopping.
Nuts to the parking problem! If the city dads feel that our present rate of growth will demand more parking space in the future, let them make provisions for off-street parking while there is vacant land in the downtown area.
There is the parking lot adjacent to the city hall, already mentioned. There is land behind the Arcade, between Ojai avenue and Matilija street. There are various locations in the downtown section still unoccupied that will serve for parking if the council members fee that space is needed.
As to the financial picture, the meter company estimates that in Ojai, meters will bring in $4 per meter per month. With 110 meters installed, this would amount to approximately $5280 yearly revenue. Of this, the meter company takes half until the meters are paid for, which would take roughly two and one-half years. In the meantime the city would in all probability have to take on an extra employee to service the meters and make collections, since it has been the understanding, under the present city set-up that our city officials and employees are being worked up to and beyond their capacity. The additional employee would reduce the revenue from the meters, since it is a strange practice of people nowadays not to work for nothing.
It looks as though we are getting a little too large for our Levis. A city sales tax—yes. Off-street parking—perhaps, but KEEP PARKING METERS OUT OF OJAI.
This article was originally printed on pages 42 – 46 in the December 1951 issue of “FORD TIMES” magazine which the “Ojai Valley Museum” has in their collection. The magazine was gifted to the museum by the Ojai Branch of the Ventura County Library System. My Favorite Town —
by Lael Tucker
paintings by Brice Mack
We were looking for a temporary home town. We gave it that designation because, in the middle of a long trip, we had to find a town where we could spend six consecutive weeks writing. It had to be a very special kind of town—one to belong in—in a hurry.
We were rediscovering our own country after four years in Europe. Our own house was leased, our children in transition between languages and schools, our belongings scattered. So we started out to see our country again. Seventeen states and six thousand miles later, we were in Ojai, California.
Nobody told us about Ojai. We were still looking for that temporary home town. This day, we were merely on our way to relax in some hot sulphur springs up a small valley fifty miles north of Los Angeles. The narrow road from the Pacific Coast curled upward like lazy smoke. The gentle mountains on either side reminded us of the Pyrenees.
We came to a road sign that pointed to Ojai. We abandoned the hot springs idea simply because we like the name Ojai (O-hi), and because we felt happy. Six weeks later we still did. We hated to leave.
Ojai’s Main Streeet shops are sheltered in a long, homogeneous block under a continuous, graceful arcade. The post office has a Spanish bell tower, the park has picnic tables under the oaks and the best free tennis courts we ever saw.
The side streets are oak-shaded, and the Valley Outpost Motor Hotel is built on the edge of town under the mountains. Each housekeeping cabin is tree-shaded and private, and flowers bloom in each yard. The sun shines in a painter’s blue sky. Nights are cool in the brown, hot summer, and the winters are green and mild.
Ojai’s citizens come from everywhere, believe all kinds of things, dress as they like, and like what they please, from classical music to bowling at the local all-night short order joint. All kinds of school children go to all kinds of schools. The whole population—old settlers, winter residents, and visitors—have two things in common. They came to Ojai because they wanted to, and are there because they love it.
After so long in Europe, where everyone does everything for you, I had to learn to keep house all over again. In Ojai, everybody helped me do things for myself. Bewildered by the impersonal superabundance of food in the big markets, I went down the street to Mr. Cox’s family grocery. He helped me plan my menus and select the ingredients, while his chic, pretty wife told me how to cook what I bought. He also took me home in the store truck when I was walking, coaxed my daughter into drinking milk, and brought us orange crates for my son to convert to furniture. The Cox’s came from Oklahoma.
Since public laundering was rather an expensive business, Mrs. McNett, the manager of the motor hotel, loaned me her washing machine, taught me how to use it, and managed to do a big batch for me while showing me how. The McNetts are from Arkansas.
A lady from Maine initiated me into the art of making starch, and a neighbor from Louisiana said it was a pity not to darn good wool socks, and fixed up my husband’s while she demonstrated.
My husband wanted to write his book unmolested, do some walking in the country, hear some music and get a sunburn. Ojai obliged on all counts. Unlike the rest of California, Ojai expects you park your car now and then and take a walk for fun. It also understands a writer’s preoccupied, antisocial behavior. And there were six weeks of bright, browning sun—and a music festival!
El Rancho Ojai was a grant of land, full of streams, bears, wildcats and coyotes, all of which have since diminished. It was the press that really discovered Ojai’s dependable and lavish virtues. Charles Nordhoff, roving correspondent for the New York Herald, dropped up in 1872 and wrote so glowingly of climate and beauty that a lot of people named Dennison, Gray, Sinclair, Van Curen, Pirie, Montgomery, Munger, Waite, Todd, Pinkerton and Jones came out to visit and stayed to winter, founding a sunny, Spanish-style New England village in the western valley. In gratitude, they called it Nordhoff as well as Ojai for twenty-five years.
Its history is a fine mixture of New England and Wild West. A classical Latin scholar from Vermont named Buckman taught school in Ojai. One Colonel Wiggins opened the first hotel with a grand ball for three hundred and closed it again when his guests objected to being treated like company privates at New York prices. Four highly equipped professors, one specialist in Oriental languages, opened a Seminary for Young Ladies, but no young ladies dared the valley. The Thacher School for Boys, established in 1889, flourished, and later graduated author Thornton Wilder and Charles Nordhoff’s grandson, Charles, the writer.
Ojai town was incorporated in 1921 and has grown since from a population of 750 to 2,600. The constant sun, which is its blessing and its reason-to-be, has nearly destroyed it three times by making tinder of its surrounding forests.
But nothing has touched its spirit, its community spirit. Before you have been there a week, you find yourself partisan and citizen of Ojai. You speak of yourself in Ojai as “we.” It’s hard to define what makes it like that.
It’s a town of schools, day schools, boarding schools, progressive schools and prep schools, public schools and two where children take care of their own horses.
It’s a town of religions. Besides the usual denominations of an American community, there are Mormons, Missionary Baptists, and Four Squares. Mrs. Annie Besant tried producing the “new human type” in Ojai. Jiddu Krishnamurti made Ojai his retreat and many gentle people live there in order to listen to him.
It’s a town of the arts. It’s not its artists and writers, its Beatrice Wood, the ceramist, Guy Ignon, the painter, its Chekhov players or its music festival, that make it so. It’s everybody.
The millionaire’s wife will stand next to the talented plumber at the art exhibition. The wintering lady form Maine partners the Mexican ranch worker at the dance. The man who grows acres of oranges for fun or the one who drives in from Ojai to tend a business in Los Angeles may keep score for the school kids at the bowling alley. Whatever squabbles there are, are personal. You’re welcome. Not as a Howdy Stranger, but as Hello Citizen. They only want to keep Ojai the way it is: a place where you’d rather cut off your finger than cut down an oak tree and where you can belong at once, and for as long as you like.
The following article was first run in the Wednesday, February 15, 1978 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page B-16. It is reprinted here with their permission.Photo inserted by the “Ojai Valley Museum”.
Bike lanes on Hwy. 33 presages future
Editorial by Fred Volz
The fact that the shoulders of Highway 33 are torn up right now between Villanova Road and Tico Road in Mira Monte is good news. That’s because CALTRANS, of all people, is building bike lanes on both sides of the road, as was announced in this newspaper last month.
California’s highway bureaucracy has finally become aware and is doing something about the 75 million or so of us in America who use bicycles as an alternate means of transportation. In 1975, over 7.5 million foreign and domestic bicycles were sold in this country — twice as many as were sold 10 years ago.
THIS TREND is increasing, as is evident to people-watchers in Ojai Valley. As our area becomes increasingly congested with automobiles, and the benefits — to the rider and to the environment — become more and more evident, we expect bike-riding locally to outstrip by far the national trend.
The long-time baby of this writer, in gestation for a decade, is about to be born. Last week, supervisor Ken MacDonald reported that he is confident the county will be able to acquire the abandoned Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way, whether or not supervisors re-allocate the $300,000 currently earmarked for the project. That’s because the state is pushing the project.
Valleyites must be concerned that this marvelous strip of land which links the three major communities in the valley becomes “multiple use”: hiking, biking, riding. We’ve heard bureaucrats say that the three aren’t compatible. “You can’t have a horse trotting on an asphalt bike path,” has been cited. That’s true; so you pave one side for the bikers and roll dirt on the other half for the riders.
At least, this was the way it was done by the state and City of Sacramento in its marvelous hiking, biking, riding pathway we visited last year in the state capitol. The “trail” stretches along the American River from the suburbs to downtown along a spur line railroad right-of-way that’s still in daily use by freight cars. The pathway was built along the railroad right-of-way to one side of the tracks, which for the most miles run along an elevated embankment. Works fine.
THE MULTI-USE pathway has a 6-foot strip of asphalt down one side with a white center line divider down the middle to mark the opposing directions. Alongside is graded an ample dirt strip for horses.
One Sunday we trotted along the asphalt for 5-6 miles on our usual morning jaunt. Along the way we met other runners and were passed in both directions by hordes of bikers. Horses followed other paths along the river embankment. We all had a fine time waving and greeting each other. The morning proved sunny and clear; the air off the river and the fields was fresh and cool; the experience was such that we remember it vividly.
So, let’s get on with our own pathway on the abandoned railroad, so that someday we may experience the joy of riding/hiking/biking through our beautiful valley.