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.

Body found in Sespe area probably Manson attorney

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, March 31, 1971 edition of “The OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on the front page. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown. The photo of Ronald Hughes was added to this article by the “Ojai Valley Museum”.

Body found in Sespe area probably Manson attorney

Ventura County sheriff’s deputies traveled to Los Angeles today to pick up dental records which will conclusively tell if the body found Saturday in the Sespe area is that of missing Manson case attorney Ronald Hughes.

Although the body is the right size and a friend has said he is “firmly of the opinion that it is Hughes,” tests conducted so far by the Sheriff’s Department and the county coroner have proved inconclusive. The body was of a large man. Hughes weighed 235 pounds.

Hughes disappeared in the remote area of the Sespe Hot Springs during a sudden storm Thanksgiving weekend. The body, found Saturday by two fishermen, lay in ice cold water about 7 miles south-east of the hot springs, the Sheriff’s Department said. The spot is in the middle of the Condor refuge near Pigeon Flat, close to the west fork of the Sespe Creek and Alder Creek.

Although search and rescue teams and a mystic-led party had combed the general hot springs area, they had not entered the region where the body was found.

“It was not searched before because the area is so rugged and the creek was up so far it was inaccessible,” a sheriff deputy said. “The area is known as the narrows. The creek runs from mountain to mountain.”

Although the fishermen found the body Saturday, it was not reported to the Sheriff’s Department until Sunday night. The body was lifted out by helicopter Monday and taken to Skillin Mortuary in Santa Paula.

Same head form

Ronald Hughes, Manson defense attorney.

The body was naked except for remnants of a shirt around the neck. Although the head was battered beyond recognition apparently from the body being washed downstream, officials said the remains were quite well preserved by the icy water.

Autopsy work began Tuesday and is expected to take another couple of days. There were no outward signs of foul play. Along with dental records, fingerprints will be used to aid in the identification.

Samples of Hughes’ fingerprints were provided by the lawyer’s friend, Paul Fitzgerald, also a defense attorney in the Manson case. Fitzgerald was in Ventura County Tuesday to view the body. He said he was positive it was Hughes’:

“He had a strange shaped head, sort of a majestic configuration,” Fitzgerald said. “The head is the same. Some of the beard is still there.”

The discovery of the body came on the same day that Charles Manson and his three female co-defendants were given the death penalty for committing the Tate-LaBianca murders.


Exiled To Mira Monte

The following article first appeared in the “Ojai Valley Guide” (VOLUME 37 NUMBER 2/SUMMER 2019) on pages 154 and 155. The “Ojai Valley Guide” was published by the “Ojai Valley News.” The article is reprinted here with their permission.

Exiled To Mira Monte
(LOOK BACK IN OJAI)

with
Drew Mashburn


My parents built their dream home in 1963 in Mira Monte on South Rice Road just at the crest of the steep hill. We moved into it that summer. I dug on having my own bedroom for the first time, but we were no longer in downtown Ojai where I had lived my entire life with all my neighborhood buddies. I had just turned 12 years old and was about to begin junior high school and would have to ride a school bus for the first time. I had always enjoyed the freedom of walking and riding my bicycle to school. Dang it! I had to figure out how to entertain myself now that I lived out in the sticks.

Long before any of the custom homes were built in this neighborhood, the area had been covered by really large commercial English walnut orchards. I mean acres and acres and acres of the trees with a big ol’ barn full of processing equipment. So, almost every home out there had English walnut trees. But, there were a lot of acres that had yet to have homes built on them. These undeveloped old orchards made for good fun. I hiked many miles through them. I got a bow with arrows and hunted in them. I got a mini-bike and rode many miles through them. They got even better when I made friends with a few neighborhood kids and we took them in together.

It must have rained fairly decently that year because Mirror Lake filled up. It was a natural pothole that ran sort of north to south next to the Southern Pacific Railroad bed and Highway 33. You’ll find it on old maps of the area. It was that spring or early summer I decided to build a raft. I hauled a bunch of wood, nails, and other raft materials down there and began construction. There was nobody there but me. As I was pounding away, I looked up and noticed two big guys pushing their bicycles on the path towards me. I was rather startled, hoped they were friendly but had a hammer to defend myself. They stopped and watched me for a bit. It was kinda like when dogs sniff each other out upon meeting for the first time. Finally, they asked me what I was doing. I told them. They dug the idea. Come to find out, these two soon-to-be fellow shipmates only lived about a block away from me. They were cousins that lived together with their grandparents, and their grandpa had just built a split-rail fence around the home into which they had very recently moved. Rick Askam and Doug Schmelz would become great friends of mine, especially after they offered up the leftover split-rail fencing of their grandpa’s for our use in raft building.

The three of us spent hours upon hours, poling (pushing the rafts with a long pole extended to the bottom of the pond) around Mirror Lake. Sometimes, the train would stop. It was usually just the engine with a couple of cars and sometimes a caboose. The engineer and his assistant would stand on one of the flatcars, fold back the waxed paper in which their sandwiches were wrapped, then chat with us while they took their lunch break. Man, those were good times!

The railroad is now the Ojai Valley Trail. Mirror Lake got cut in half with the extension of Woodland Avenue from South Rice Road to Highway 33. The larger portion of the lake got filled in and the Ojai Woodlands condominium complex and the Ojai Oaks Village mobile-home park were built on top of the fill.

But, let’s go back to one more story from back in the hood. Pretty much across the street from my parents’ home was the Ventura County Sheriff’s “Honor Farm.” That’s where Help of Ojai is located presently. But, when Doug, Rick, and I were young teenagers the farm for low-risk prisoners was in full operation and a barbed-wire fence ran alongside the farm property next to the road. From the fence down the hill to the agricultural fields in the farm, the hill was kept barren to make prisoner escapes about impossible. We figured out when the deputies were not looking toward that barren hillside, we’d clear that nasty barbed fence, then sprint down the hillside into the cornfield. We’d scatter amongst the tall corn stalks, then have hellacious corn fights.

We’d break off an ear and set it sailing towards one another. You could hear the ear crashing through the stalks as it torpedoed towards you. Let me tell you … when you get clobbered in the noggin by a heavy, green ear of corn, you’ve been clobbered! I got nailed several times. Explains a lot about me, I suppose.

I lived in that same Mira Monte home all the way through high school. I ended up loving the heck out of the neighborhood to which I had been exiled. I became friends, not only with Doug and Rick, but their entire family. All the neighborhood kids called their grandparents “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” Big Joe and Mary Silvestri lived next door to Grandma and Grandpa Schmelz. We played countless football games out front of their home. They treated all of us kids like we were their grandkids.

I could tell you about English walnut wars; running across Henderson Airfield as planes were about to take off; cows grazing where Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Circle K are located now; riding our skateboards and anything else with wheels down the steep South Rice Road hill; playing baseball at Grandma and Grandpa Schmelz’s and knocking the balls over the fence into grumpy Mr. Johnson’s yard (Grandma gave him a piece of her mind a few times); asking my first girlfriend to got steady with me while walking down Woodland Avenue; playing and exploring the Ventura River bed; chasing pigs at the Honor Farm; riding my 1961 Yamaha 80 motorcycle at “Devil’s Gulch”; placing pennies, nickels, and nails on the railroad rails to flatten them; watching Russell Glenn’s 4H Club sheep while he was on vacation and walking it on a leash; rototilling for countless hours at Mr. Peacock’s to make a few bucks, but feeling like I was still shaking for about two days after I was done. I think you get the idea.

Mirror Lake seems so long ago. Yet, in some ways, it was only yesterday. The smell of the warm still water permeating the air, the sound of the rustling cattails as the warm summer breeze gently blew through them, the melodic call of the red-winged blackbirds, the constant clicking of the American coots, the occasional croak of a big ol’ bullfrog, ducks rapidly rising from the water while quacking their hearts away, the train rumbling along the tracks and its occasional whistle blasting — it all lingers sweetly on my mind. I was never really exiled.

Mixin’ it Up AT TOPA TOPA ELEMENTARY

The following article first appeared in the WINTER 2021 (VOLUME 39 NUMBER 1) issue of “Ojai MAGAZINE”. The magazine is published by the Ojai Valley News. The article is reprinted here with their permission. Photo of Drew Mashburn and George Turner together, and photo of Kent Campbell added by the Ojai Valley Museum.



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

————————————————–

Mixin’ it Up
AT TOPA TOPA ELEMENTARY



Mikey Payton broke my spectacles more than once; in all fairness, I busted his several times, too.

1947-1948 Yell leaders Arlou Wells (my Mom) at far left, Marie Ford at far right.

Mom (Arlou) moved to the Ojai Valley in 1947 with her mother (Peg Wells). The school year had already begun at Nordhoff High School when Mom enrolled. She wound up being one of the four yell-leaders. She became lifelong friends with one of them, Marie Ford. Marie married George Turner. Their eldest child was George. Mom married Dad (Harold) and I ended up as a result. Georgie is a few weeks older than me. He’s the first kid I ever knew. I’ve always liked him, but he did convince me to get into his toy-box, then he sat on the lid and scared the pee-waddin’ outta me! I shoulda pounded him when I finally got out, but I was raised to respect my elders.

Me and Georgie in September 1951

I was only 9 months old in 1952 when Mom and Dad bought a brand-new home on East Aliso Street in Ojai. Mikey Payton lived two doors over. He became the second kid I ever knew. Because of living so close, Mikey and I hung together a lot. So much so, we oftentimes fought like brothers over stupid stuff. In 1957, I got my first pair of glasses. I was 6 years old. Mikey was already sporting glasses. We mixed it up a number of times. I don’t think either of us ever got physically injured. The guy who won was the guy who broke the other’s specs first. You could tell the loser ’cause he was crying. Mikey and I seemed to oftentimes have big rounds of tape holding the temples onto the frames of our glasses, or holding the nose-bridge together. That really looked bad. But, neither Mikey nor I were the best looking boys, so it didn’t really make us look any worse.

A few years went by, then Mark Kingsbury moved into the home between Mikey and me. The three of us became tight buds. Mark had two older brothers, Dale and Rick. Our three homes backed up to Sarzotti Park. The three of us spent a lot of time at the park. Of course, there were a lot of older boys at the park. Some of them were bullies. I was with Mark a few times when, on occasion, a bully would threaten us. Mark always told the bullies that he had older brothers who would beat them up should they hurt us. The bullies backed off every time. Sometimes, when I was alone at the park, a bully would tell me he was going to kick my tail. So, I’d pull a “Mark.” I’d tell them I had older brothers who would take them out should they do so. It always worked. I could lie with the best of them when it came to self-preservation!

I had a lot of close calls when it came to fistfights, but I was a pretty fast runner and my legs saved my tail many a time over the years, that is, until I was in a special fith/sixth-grade class at Topa Topa Elementary School. There were a bunch of fifth-graders, but only eight of us sixth-graders. Four were boys (me, Tim Murphy, Mike Hagen and Kent Campbell) and four were girls (Shirley Hurt, Claudia Lindley, Patty Cate, and Carole Shelton). The eight of us became pretty tight. But, my three male classmates pulled a good one on me. To this day, I don’t know what they told her, but they riled-up “Tomboy” Carole by telling her I said something terrible about her or something. We left our classroom at the end of the day and were headed out to the front of the school when Carole grabbed ahold of my shirt and began screamin’ at me. I had no friggin’ idea what in tarnation was transpiring. Carole began pushin’, pokin’, punchin’, scratchin’ and maybe even bitin’ me. She was madder than a hornet! I was taught not to hit girls, so she had the upper hand. She threw me to the ground and laid into me while Tim, Mike and Kent were laughin’ their guts out.

They had a great time at my expense. I just wish I had been one of them, and one of them had been me. Ha!!!

I may have been in a few other scuffles, but nothing significant. I can tell you that Mikey Payton and I are still friends after all these years. I had PRK (like Lasik) eye-surgery a few years ago. I no longer wear glasses. Mikey still wears them. When we were kids, Mikey and I were about the same size. He grew to be quite a bit bigger than me. In fact, he turned into a “Lean, Mean Fighting Machine.” I call him Mike now. I can’t imagine Mike and I ever getting so agitated with one another to ever scrap with one another again, but should it happen … I’d immediately go for his spectacles!

Rampaging storm damages valley

The following article was first run in the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of “The OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on the front page. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Grand Avenue after the storm: LOOKING EAST up Grand Avenue Friday across what was once the little “dip” in the road. The flood ravaged homes when the barranca broke its banks. (Seba photo)


Rampaging storm damages valley

— Wind, flooding rampant —
by
Polly Bee


Ojai Valley geared for a possible repeat of the devastating floods of 1969 after a storm roared through Thursday night, dumping nearly nine inches of water in 24 hours and leaving a wake of destruction.

Undersheriff John Gillespie, as Disaster Services Chairman, declared a state of emergency Friday morning, and supervisors called an emergency session for Monday, Feb. 13 to assess damage. If destruction is as severe as it appeared Friday noon, the county could be declared a disaster area to make it eligible for state and federal assistance.

AT PRESS TIME the rampaging Ventura River, San Antonio, Lion, Matilija, and Thacher Creeks still threatened homes and property. The valley’s water supply was cut off near Casitas Springs, electricity was still out to many homes, a gas main, bridge, and sewer lines were endangered on Creek Road.

Witnesses said four homes washed into Matilija Creek in Matilija Canyon and were destroyed, at least four homes in the East End were severely damaged when Thacher Creek jumped its banks, one man died of a heart attack while sandbagging his home in Siete Robles, and eight persons were airlifted from Matilija Canyon.

MATILIJA DAM on Thursday afternoon. The “notch” in the dam was cut as a safety measure some years ago. Four homes were lost up the canyon. (Horner photo)


A BARGE carrying a backhoe was swept over Matilija dam, the barge eventually wedging against a gate at the Los Robles diversion dam causing a build-up of tree limbs and debris. The diversion pond in front of the canal gates completely silted so that water roared unchecked down the river. Crews were taken out Thursday night at the diversion canal because of hazardous conditions.

The Red Cross set up evacuation headquarters at Nordhoff High School to assist persons forced from their houses. At least 20 homes were abandoned in the Riverside and Santa Ana Boulevard area in Oak View after firemen and sheriff’s deputies issued warnings. Trailers in the Arroyo Trailer Park at Casitas Springs — hard hit in 1969 — were pulled away from the river bed, as floodwaters eroded embankments.

Innumerable trees toppled and power lines failed. The Edison Company said that 30,000 customers were out of service in the county Thursday night. Service still had not been restored to 5,000 by Friday noon. Officials said that power outages were greatest in the Ojai Valley because of falling trees.

AT SOULE GOLF Course floodwaters threatened the No. 5 green and took out part of the No. 10 fairway. Crossings teetered dangerously, and numerous small trees crashed. A big oak by the No. 5 green fell, as did several behind the No. 9 tee. On Friday the course was still too wet for crews to thoroughly assess damage.

Schools closed Friday because of flooded grounds and hazardous road conditions. They will remain closed Monday because of the Lincoln birthday holiday.

GRAND AVENUE bridge linking the East End to the city was isolated when San Antonio Creek washed out one approach. Roads throughout the valley were closed at intervals as streams and barrancas rampaged over culverts and bridges.

Highway 150 was closed from Lake Casitas to the county line, and from Gorham Road to Santa Paula at the height of the storm. In Upper Ojai water poured over the Ferndale bridge, which was seriously threatened. Mudslides closed Highway 33 at Wheeler Gorge.

Dead of an apparent heart attack from sandbagging his home is Wesley Frazee of 386 Avenue de la Vereda. Frazee died while trying to protect his property from floodwaters pouring off Ojai Avenue, according to reports.

Ojai’s police department was bombarded incessantly with calls reporting power outages, falling trees, flooding conditions, wind, and lightning. Public Works Director Barry Lockton said an estimated 70-100 trees and branches were reported down throughout the city. Extensive debris compounded drainage problems.

At least two Ojai homes were inundated, Lockton said. One was at the corner of Grand and Shady Lane and another in the Golden West tract. Friday roads were thick with slippery mud to make driving extremely hazardous.

ROBERT MCKINNEY, general manager of the Casitas Municipal Water District, issued a press release Friday afternoon to announce a break in the 42-inch water line that serves the entire Ojai Valley. The rupture occurred south of Casitas Springs, and the mainline was shut down Friday morning. Water in storage tanks, however, could serve valley needs for several days while a bypass line is constructed, McKinney said. Valleyites were asked to use water sparingly until full service is restored, however.

At the Grand Avenue bridge in the East End, another CMWD line was also endangered. Plans were underway to bypass it Friday with an additional line, McKinney said.

Only about 50 cubic feet of water was being diverted from the Ventura River through the Los Robles Diversion Canal Friday because of debris piled up against gates. Normally 500 cubic feet would be sent down the canal, McKinney said.

Sheriff’s deputies and firemen were called to the aid of a man in Matilija Canyon Friday night when his home was flooded. Mudslides blocked the canyon road, however, and it was not until Friday morning that the man could be flown out when eight were airlifted.

About 20 other residents elected to stay in their homes in Matilija canyon, although a major mudslide blocks access. How long it will take to remove that block was not known Friday.

The storm dumped 10.36 inches of rain in Ojai, (6.77 inches in a 24 hour period) for a total of 32.15 inches for the season. Some 13.25 inches were recorded at the Summit station for the storm total, bringing the season to date there to 31.42 inches. In Oak View, only 7.55 inches of water fell during the storm, for a season total of 28.81.

Bike lanes on Hwy. 33 presages future

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.


Fred Volz — Publisher and editor of the Ojai Valley News from 1962 to 1987. (Courtesy of Ojai Valley News)

For Tony Thacher, ranching exhibit is the real deal

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 edition of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on page B1. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Original organizers of Ojai Pixie Growers Association (from left): Bob Davis, Tony Thacher, Mike Shore and Jim Churchill. (Photo courtesy of Thacher Family Archive)
“Historic Ranching Families of the Ojai Valley” at the Ojai Valley Museum exhibits heirloom furnishing, family photos, ranch equipment and more. (Photo by Roger Conrad)


For Tony Thacher, ranching exhibit is the real deal
by
Leticia Grimes
OVN contributor

The Ojai Valley Museum is continuing its popular exhibit, “Historic Ranching Families of the Ojai Valley,” for an additional two weeks. The groundbreaking exhibit will now be open through Jan. 12, giving visitors a rare look at six of the pioneering ranching families who created the iconic landscape of the Ojai Valley.

This exhibit began, appropriately with a member of one of Ojai’s oldest ranching families, Tony Thacher, who is on the museum board. Like a true farmer, he started with a seed of an idea for the exhibit and grew it carefully. Planted in the rich soil of the Ojai Valley Museum’s resources, it flourished under the curating expertise of Ojai Valley Museum Director Michele Ellis Pracy.

During visits to each ranch, she selected heirloom furnishings, family photographs and historic ranch equipment for the exhibition. In the museum, she designed a space for each family, where these treasures could speak in visual language about the realities of ranch life.

Growing beyond the museum walls, the exhibit branched out into sold-out events at the ranches, involving the community in a celebration of Ojai’s agricultural heritage.

Thacher brought the idea for the events to the museum, and with the individual ranch owners, organized picnics, barbecues, wine tasting, as well as a 100-year anniversary party at the Haley Ranch. Finally, thanks to Thacher’s suggestion and to the pro bono work of local videographer Chris Ritke, there is now a feature-length documentary of interviews with the ranching families playing in the gallery for visitors.

Taking a break before unloading a truck at his ranch, Thacher sat down in the library of the Ojai Valley Musuem and talked about how the exhibit came into being.

With a heritage from a family that defined Ojai’s unique combination of education and ranching, Thacher is well qualified both to speak about the past and the dynamic changes of the present.

Edward Thacher, his great-uncle, came to Ojai in 1887 and worked as a manager for the Topa Topa Ranch. Sherman Day Thacher, his grandfather, followed soon after and eventually founded Thacher School. His wife, Anne, is the daughter of another pioneering Ojai family, and with husband Tony, rebuilt the family citrus business after the disastrous flood of 1969.

Tony and Anne Thacher and family members at Friends Packing House on Maricopa Highway. (Photo courtesy of Thacher Family Archive)
Oliver Ayala and grandfather, Tony Thacher, at the Pixie Growers Picnic in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Thacher Family Archive)

Leticia Grimes: How did you get the idea for the exhibit?

Tony Thacher: I think the reason I wanted to have a rancher exhibit was that, as a member of the Chamber of Commerce, I’ve tried to instill in them that it’s not all just about tourism, and that there are really three main industrial engines in this valley, the oldest being agriculture. Tourism was started way back in the 1870s, 1880s, when people came out here for their health; and the other leg of the three-legged stool is education. Those three industries make Ojai what I think it is. So I wanted to emphasize agriculture, coming from an agricultural background, both my wife’s family and my own.

I want people to realize how tough it is to be in this business. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. We do hope it rains someday, so we can take a day off — although what we usually do is fix things indoors when it rains. I wanted to emphasize to the valley the value, the history. It’s not a static thing; it’s changed during my lifetime. This is a multimillion dollar business. If I had to guess, counting the cattle guys, it’s probably in the range of 10 to 15 million. This money comes in from actual manufacturing of something, so the money really does come into the valley.

So in talking with Michele, I said that since ranching is family-based, we have to pick some historic families. She said that we could have only six, maximum, because of the limitations of space. So I thought about that, and gathered some ranchers together, which isn’t easy to do, because they rarely agree on anything except water and citrus prices. We came up with a list of about 40 who’ve been around for more than a generation, then narrowed it down to six: the Clark family, who’ve been here forever countywide; the Haley/Hoffman family, they’re also an old Ventura County family; the Lucking family — sadly, Bill Lucking passed away, but his daughter, Carly Ford, is running that ranch; Bob Davis I grew up with, so it was easy for me to twist his arm; another one that’s near and dear to my heart is Dewayne Boccali; then there’s the Munzig/Anderson family — their ranch is where my grandfather first arrived in 1887.

LG: What are some of the challenges of ranching here?

TT: Farmers are scrambling to figure out what they can grow with the high prices of inputs in Ojai. Land’s ridiculous; we couldn’t possibly expand. The cost of water has accelerated so much that, as a part of your budget, it’s getting desperate. People have adapted. If you watch the video, you can see that Roger Haley has tried a dozen different kinds of domestic livestock to make a living. He also makes saddles. We could grow raspberries, but they need hoop houses like they have in Camarillo and Oxnard, I think people would be very upset. People do understand — we are their viewshed; we are what they see.

LG: Would you say that ranching here is in jeopardy or just passing through another challenge?

TT: You know, farmers are great complainers — it’s not raining, it’s raining too much! There’s a reason for that. We have almost no control over our inputs, like water, and very little control over what we can sell our products for. I worry for my kids and grandkids. When they came back from college, both our daughter and our son wanted to continue the tradition, so we’ll keep fighting. But you do worry about Ojai turning into San Fernando.

After the interview, Thacher returned to his seven-day-a-week job, with no day off in sight yet because of the long dry spell. But despite all the challenges and hardships, he and the six ranching families gathered a rich harvest this fall for the community, opening their histories, their homes and their hearts, giving us nourishment to last a lifetime.

The exhibit has been made possible by a grant received from the Heritage Fund through the Ventura County Community Foundation, as well as general donations and income from the companion special events.

The Ojai Valley Museum, established in 1967, is supported in part by museum members, private donors, business sponsors and underwriters, the Smith-Hobson Foundation, Wood-Claeyssens Foundation, the city of Ojai, Ojai Community Bank, Rotary Club of Ojai and Ojai Civic Association.

The museum is at 130 W. Ojai Ave. Admission is free for current 2013 members; non-member adults are $5, children 6 to 18 are admitted for $1 and children 5 and under are admitted free. Gallery hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are available by appointment. Free parking is available off Blanche Street at the back of the museum.

For more information, call 640-1390, ext. 203, visit www.ojaivalleymuseum.org or e-mail ojaimuseum@sbcglobal.net. The museum also has a Facebook page.

East end houses “just a big mess”

The following article first appeared in the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page A-2. It is reprinted here with their permission.

East end houses “just a big mess”
by
Fred Volz


The East End of the valley took on a familiar look Friday morning. 1969 all over again.

As usual, the disaster area stretched along the infamous Thacher Creek barranca from “the dip” on Grand Avenue (500 yards west of McAndrew Road) all the way to Reeves Road. Thursday night a torrent of water poured out of Horn Canyon and gaining speed on a downhill slope ripped out the walls of the barranca and poured into houses and acreage along the way.

THE R. HARGETT FAMILY at 4370 Grand Avenue had moved into their new house two days ago. Thursday night they moved out. That was just before the barranca broke on its east side and re-routed itself in a torrent of water 5 feet wide on either side of the house leaving it sitting on an island. Hargett, a plumber from Redondo Beach, has been building the home himself for the past year and one-half. The fast-moving water undermined the foundation and part of the house caved in. It appeared that no water reached its inside.

“I’m going to jack her up, fix the framing, and move back in next week,” Hargett said Friday morning while watching the flood roar by. “Soon as the water’s down and I can get a bulldozer in here. This is not going to discourage me.”

TO THE FRED WACHTER family at 4184 Grand Avenue on the other side of the barranca the mess WAS discouraging. A branch of the barranca about 6 feet deep and 40 feet wide had ripped right straight through his home, demolishing his carport, carrying part of the deck away, and running into the house. The bedrooms were a sea of mud and the living room rug soaked. Thousands of dollars of landscaping were on their way to the ocean.

Next door at this writer’s house was a similar scene. This time the flood didn’t reach the inside of the house, coming to within one inch of the front door. The house is about 5 feet off the ground at that point.

Next door at the Russell residence a fire truck full of sandbags stood in what was once the front yard. It was buried up to its door handles. When the barranca broke loose, a wall of water surged around the house and fire personnel standing by ran for high ground. The Russell’s car was buried and their acre of landscaping buried under boulders and mud.

On down the barranca were houses belonging to two other families — the Ditchfields and the Ghormleys. Ditchfields fared well. Although their front yard and driveway are now a 12 foot wide, 10 foot deep channel, no water poured into their home.

Ghormleys have a sadder story to tell. Wall-to-wall mud fills the house and their garage is completely totaled. Thanks to a neighbor, Del Garst, however, much was saved. Garst went into the home before flood waters swept through, piled furniture high and blocked doorways.

Gary Hachadourian took builder Chuck Thomas with him Friday morning to check his East End acreage near Thacher Creek where he planned to start construction next week. No lot existed.







Feds doing council’s job

The following article first appeared in the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on Page 4. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Feds doing council’s job
by
John E. Nelson, M.D.

___________________
Our
environment
___________________


“Clean Air — Or No Growth, City Told,” a recent OVN headline proclaimed.

Thanks for the choice. But we’ll take both.

Here’s the situation as it now stands. Because Ojai’s City Council and the county board of supervisors have proved themselves shamefully unwilling to halt rampant growth and air pollution in our valley, the big-brother federal bureaucracy is going to do it for us.

The means they’ll use is through our outmoded sewage treatment plant which has long been fouling the Ventura River in violation of federal health standards. If the plant is not upgraded soon, we could be fined $15,000 a day. In order to get the job done, a large federal grant must be approved.

BUT THE FEDS seem to be more concerned about the quality of our air than our own elected officials have been. They know that an upgraded sewer plant opens the gates to new development and overpopulation with inevitably increased air pollution.

Because we have failed to meet the standards set forth in the federal Clean Air Act, our valley has been designated as a “non-attainment area” — bureaucratic jargon which means that our air is unsafe to breathe during 98% of summer days. So the federal government is saying that it’s not about to give us money to make our air even more unhealthy.

Their hand so forced, the Ojai city council responded by postponing the final decision on the all-important general plan which will set the limits of future growth. They had hoped to push through their version of the plan before March 7 when the people will have a chance to elect a more environmentally aware council. This change again underscores the importance of this crucial election in determining the future of the entire valley.

MEANWHILE, the city planning commission and the county Air Pollution Control District are pointing their fingers at each other in a pointless dispute over where the air pollution comes from. APCD officials, who live outside the valley, say we make our own. Commissioners, who live inside the valley, say it blows in from elsewhere. Both sides seem to be clouding the issue and protecting their own interests.

The APCD, which is responsible for controlling air pollution on a countywide basis, has inexplicably been playing a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t game with Petrochem’s nitrogen oxide emissions. One wonders about their motivations for so compromising the health of the citizenry it is enjoined to protect. Perhaps they are covering the incredible mistakes of the board of supervisors in allowing Petrochem and oil drilling to exist in the first place.

The city planning commission, which now faces a mandate to halt new sources of air pollution within the valley, prefers to believe that there are no polluting industries here (ignoring the oil-drilling industry), and that “all we have is traffic and homes” (as if traffic were not the single major source of smog).

The truth is that there is too much pollution coming from both inside and outside the valley. Each side in the dispute seems to be engineering a monumental cop-out designed to relieve themselves from responsibility in dealing with the problem. Such thinking hardly seems worthy of the great challenge created by our ever-mounting smog hazard.

The solution to this problem lies in a vigorous effort from both agencies not just to keep our air from getting worse, but to clean up the already unacceptable levels of disease-producing smog. This column calls upon the APCD to increase its monitoring of Petrochem and oil-drilling sites, and to publish weekly reports on its activities. The Ojai Planning Commission must likewise do their part by halting all population growth now. The recent public outcry which resulted in the denial of an ill-conceived tract development clearly indicates that this is the will of the people.

FORTUNATELY, the voters of the City of Ojai will on March 7 have an opportunity to seat a majority of environmentally committed councilpersons who will do more than wait for Washington to tell them how to preserve our valley. The candidates have been crystallizing their stands, and our choices are becoming clear. Look for an update on this crucial election in a future column.



DR. JOHN NELSON