Memories & Reminiscences of Oak View

This article is taken from the Oak View Community website: www.oakviewca.org. Mr. Watkins reminiscences are reproduced essentially verbatim (some spelling corrections) from a copy of an article found in The Sentinel. The Sentinel was an Oak View newspaper, published in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It appeared weekly on Thursday by Chuck and Faye Hill, with advertising by Joe Colville.

THE ROAD TO OJAI, by Percy G. Watkins
The Oak View Sentinel, 1959.

From Rocky Flats (Casitas Springs) north, the Ojai road followed the course of 399 to where it starts to run parallel to the railroad now. Then it crossed the tracks to stay close to it on the west ford of the San Antonio Creek. About where 399 leaves the railroad to go up the San Antonio Creek Valley. The old road then continued about parallel with the railroad on up the Ventura River Valley. A short distance from the ford, it crossed a private road going from the Hollingsworth Ranch House passing by La Crosse Station (near Casitas Springs) to fording the San Antonio Creek. It reached dry ground near where drying equipment was used in the processing of apricots. The apricot orchard was then south of the Hollingsworth home. A man named Meyers (I do not know if he spelled his name that way), rented the ranch from Jack Hollingsworth, father of James Hollingsworth who lives there now. The apricot orchard was later very nearly taken away by floods.

The private road went on over the hill as does the Sulphur Mountain road now. On the left further on, where the road starts up the grade over Sulphur Mountain, was a small house with pens and some farm buildings. Here William (Bill) Foreman lived with his wife and small children. He had horses and wagons and hauled for others–hay, wood, etc. The place was known as “The Sheep Camp.” This private road was also used by a Mr. Jennings, who lived where the Rocky Mountain Drilling Co. has its yards. He owned the land from there to Ranch No. 1 (now the Willet Ranch) in the Arnaz area. Here lie the remains of oil well equipment at the first summit of Sulphur Mountain Road. However, the road at that time went up the canyon instead of over the present grade. About a half mile or less up the canyon, in 1900, a crew was drilling a well for oil with cable tools. The man in charge of this venture was a man named Van Epps, who in later years became well-known in oil well drilling circles. He was killed several years ago in an oil well explosion near Fillmore. The well, of course, did not produce.

THE ARNAZ GRADE

As the road to Nordhoff (Ojai) in 1900 passed La Crosse, (near Casitas Springs), it followed the railroad tracks to pass the home of Ed Goodyear, son of the man who owned part of the Arnaz Ranch at that time. Here the road split. The Nordhoff Road turned to cross the railroad to go up the San Antonio Creek Valley. The other road went straight up the Ventura River Valley. After passing the Goodyear home (built like so many of the houses that were here at that time) the traveler passes a large barn which was across highway 399 from the present Rancho Arnaz Cider Mill. West of it, the road wound up to the top of the hill to the farm land of Ed Goodyear (which now belongs to Henry Olivas). Mr. Goodyear was killed on this grade a few years later after being run over by a wagon loaded with corn. After passing the barn, the road passed some buildings of the Arnaz Ranch. The road then went past the old adobe house to again cross the San Antonio Creek.

The road then proceeded up the Creek past a house which belonged to a many named Amesbury. He was, I think, one of the members of the crew who was drilling the oil well van Epps managed. This house, and the land which belonged to it was sometimes known as the Harmison Ranch. Alfalfa grew on this land. (It’s now known as the Littlefield Ranch). The road again leads to Ranch No. 1, with its No. 1 well flowing sulphur water. Beyond the barn and shop stood the house Tom Bard built to house and feed the men associated with him in drilling California’s first drilled oil well.

Across the Creek was the Arnaz School (Oak View’s first school), which was built in 1883 and is still standing. (It is now occupied by the N. Amescua’s). Not far from this point, the road forked and the Creek Road continued on up the San Antonio Creek Valley. And the other one went up the old grade to what is now the central part of Oak View. At this point was a row of mail boxes which marked the end of the Ventura Star Route. An old-fashioned steel-perforated sign indicated the distance to Ventura and to Nordhoff by both routes. A US Geodetic Survey marker stood at this point.

THE ROAD AS IT REACHED OAK VIEW IN 1900 — LAND $30 ACRE

The Grade Road forded the San Antonio Creek where it immediately passed the house on the Harter ranch. A Mr. Alex Wiltfong lived in this house, which I believe still stands. Mr. Harter, owner of the ranch, lived in a small house nearby. At this point a private road went up the canyon to get to the farm land of the ranch. This land is now owned by Judge David Drapeau, Margaret Bertles, the Mangans and others. I think this included the land on the south of Sunset St. This part of the ranch was planted in plum trees. Leaving the Harter house, the Grade Road climbed steeply and roughly to where Dr. Clow now lives. At practically the same point where the road to the Clow’s house leaves the Old Grade Road, there was a private road leading to the Arellanes Ranch. At the entrance was a barbed-wire gate with a sign on it: “THIS 40 ACRES FOR SALE–$30.00 PER ACRE.” On a hill back of Wood’s Nursery was a small house of typical design.

This house was vacant from 1900 to about 1915. Then a man named Garman repaired it to make it livable. By that time Nidever had bought the ranch and planted an apricot orchard. Garman rented it and farmed on shares. Mr. Garman attempted to get around the expensive practice of pitting the apricots before they were laid out to dry. He built a huge machine to cut the fruit, and women were hired to spread the apricots. He took out patents on his machine and was working on improving it at the time of his death. Hay and barley were also grown on this ranch. We called the ranch, “the Canstancia Ranch.” I think it should have been Cagnacci.

THE MESA

The Mesa, (Oak View Proper) in 1900 was, with its deserted homes, neglected yards, and half-farmed acres, an example of good deal of the earths history. It told of the broken hopes the unfilled dreams, unrewarded ambitions, and labor of people long gone from this region.

Poor crops at times and low prices for abundant crops at other were factors that, coupled with the lack of water, finally drove the sturdy people to the more favorable areas.

North of the Harry Wood Nursery (on Portal St. in Oak View) was a building that people called the Soso or Sosa) house. I remember there were a number of old worn-out ÒWalter A. WoodsÓ mowing machines standing nearby. West of this building, which I think had been a barn converted to a house, was a big cactus thicket which bore large yellow fruit. It was of the semi-thornless variety, introduced by Luther Burbank.

From that point, the road to Ojai climbed further to the entrance of the Staire Ranch. Dr. Staire (a dentist) and his brother were partners in this ranch. W Lee Ferguson, who tended the Staire orchards, lived in a house near what is now Courtney Richards Chicken Farm. South of this point was located a unique stone building built many years before, of lime shale slabs held with plaster. These slabs were fairly abundant along the old grade. The building was used for storage. It was probably occupied by one of the Mexican families before California came into the hands of the Americans.

Mr. Ferguson was the found of the Cider Mill, and was the man who planted the apple orchard on Rancho Arnaz. He married Fannie, the daughter of Mr. Goodyear (Father of Ed Goodyear mentioned earlier in this series ) who had always resided at Rancho Arnaz with her father. Mr. Goodyear deeded most of the property to his children, but Rancho Arnaz was once more restored when Mr. Ferguson bought up the land from these children. Ferguson also acquired the Armsbury Place and a large part of the apple orchards are a remnant of that property. Mr. Goodyear lived a long life, cared for nicely by the Fergusons. Though they had no children, Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson lived long and happily together.

South of Oak View, after leaving Rancho Arnaz, the Grade road went north to the Staire Ranch, with its barn & drying equipment visible on the right of the road. Nearby stood a two-vat prune dipper, apricot pitting shed, tracks with fruit cars, permanent smudge houses and a dry ground. These occupied the land on which the home of Mr. Springer is located. There was only a hay field where Courtney Richards, has his chicken ranch, 410 Old Grade Rd. Nearly half of the land of the Staire Ranch was devoted to prunes, about half to apricots, the rest to olives.

North of the drying plant, just about where Walt Shiernbeck lives, (139 E. Oak View Ave.) stood a building used to store dried fruit. This belonged to a Ventura banker named Walker, (I believe he was the father of Harley Walker, who was once the president of the Union National Bank). This ranch was planted to prunes mostly. Hay was grown along the lower end near the railroad tracks, and near the fruit house, east of the road and south of where the Gardens Water Co tanks now stand. This ranch was crossed by the road.

THE OAK VIEW RAILROAD STATION

The Mahoney family house was vacant and run-down in 1900. However, a good fence and shade trees surrounded the house even though the yard had gone into ruin. A cistern south of the house and a galvanized iron tank west of the barn were used to store rain water.

In passing, note that the Walker place to the south (mentioned earlier) was later subdivided and became known as Oak View Gardens No. 1. And the Mahoney Ranch, as it became known, was called Oak View Gardens No. 2. Oak View was the name given to the railroad station and siding as it passed the Mahoney Ranch. These stations were erected about every two miles between Ventura and Nordhoff (Ojai).

Back of the Oak View station was a prune drying plant with a typical two vat dipper. Also behind the station was a reservoir built by Mr. Sherwood. The reservoir was never lined even though he had intended to pump water from a well in the river bottom. A projected public road had been laid out (and partly graded) from the Oak View Station to the Ventura to Nordhoff road along the north line of the ranch. It was thought at the time that this road would be used to transport local products to the railroad station.

In what is now the north section of Oak View, William Collins, an early day Ventura banker, owned the ranch across from the Hemus place. The drive to the Collins house started where Shamrock Inn (near Ojai Drive) now is located. In 1900 the area north of the drive was planted to pears and apples. The trees were old, but a few trees yet remained of an orchard that predated the pears and the apples. South of the drive, the hill had been planted to apricots. A huge pear tree stood north of the drive at the gate; and a few years ago, this tree almost surround the Inn. Much later, the drive was changed to make room for the building now there.

A big red barn stood on the hill east of the drive after it changed to a southward course at the top of the hill. South of the barn was a house owned by a Dr. Miller, a dentist. It was a straight up-and-down board house as usual, but it had what I presume is called a hip roof.

Two brothers by the name of Warren owned the Miller Ranch and, I believe, the Sherwood Ranch at the time. One brother had a home east and south of where the Shamrock Inn stands. The other brother had a house near where Best Tire Shop (on Vent. Ave and Ojai Dr.) is located. Both houses were vacant after the Warrens moved out, but beautiful roses bloomed in the yard each year. Ivy was trained over eastern portions of both homes. Moonflower vines, Boston ivy and a vine called (by old timers), Potato Vine, grew over the Miller house. The house had no shade trees.

In 1900, the only occupied home in Oak View proper was the Staire House on Old Creek Road mentioned previously). Our family moved into the Miller house in 1901. That made two occupied houses in Oak View. At a point a little north of the entrance of Oak Dell Park ( in north Oak View ), the Nordhoff road went up a steep grade and came down on the side about due east of where Dr. John Munger (in Santa Ana Vista) now lives. Standing just south of the entrance to the Oak Dell Park, one can look back over the area traversed by the Old Grade Road. You can see far to the south the land that was owned by Ed Goodyear (which Henry Clivas now owns). This land was known as “The Mesa.” Some of the people called it “Hard Scrabble.” The soil is poor and shallow. Hard pan lies under almost all of it from a depth of a few inches to several feet. It is stony, and, in those days, without water.

The Livingston house was due west of where the Ventura River Municipal Water District buiding now stands. Only a hayfield surrounded the house, no other buildings of garden. It was of the typical up and down board construction of its day, and it was in poor condition. The Feraud Ranch produced hay and had a small vineyard (wine grapes) and an apricot orchard on the part south of Devil’s Gulch. There were a few English walnut trees among the apricots. part of the ranch extended into what is now known as Linda Vista Knolls.

Dr. Staire dug by hand numerous wells in the barranca that passes the post office building. All these attempts were failures. There had been attempts on the Walker Place and the Miller Ranch to dig wells by pick and shovel. Sherwood made several tries. One across the canyon from the school house lacked but a few feet of reaching water. Mr. Mahon afterwards drilled in the old hand dug well to get a fair well. However, in seven years it dried up. Dr. Staire had a good spring near the railroad tracks from which he hauled water. Most people, however, hauled water from Ventura River or San Antonio Creek in barrels or tanks.

Looking south from the north end of the “Mesa” (Oak View proper) Red Mountain appears as a back drop for the southern end. The south end of the mesa (now owned by Henry Olivas) was owned by Ed Goodyear, son of the man who owned the old Arnaz Adobe with a portion of Rancho Arnaz as late as 1900. This ranch stretched (I believe) from the Ventura River on the west to at least the edge of the bluff overlooking San Antonio Creek on the east. And it extended from the north line of land belonging to his brother John (on the south) to land belonging to the Kennedy’s on the north.

J. Logan Kennedy and his wife Netta had this second parcel of land on the Mesa of about thirty acres. This thirty acres was farm land, in addition to pasture land. I think it reached from the edge of the bluff overlooking Ventura River to the San Antonio Creek. Some of their land was east of the creek. North of the Kennedy property, was land owned by a Mr. Harter, an elderly man whom I believe was from Florida. He and his wife lived on this ranch. So much for the area of Oak View proper.

The old grade road north of Oak View ran parallel to the railroad tracks at the Feraud house in what is now Santa Ana Vista. The Feraud house was more modern than most of the houses in this area. It has been improved and additions have been made to it, but the old building is still there. On the Feraud property, there was a small amount of water from shallow wells beside the railroad tracks. Some hay and apricots were grown on this part of the ranch north of Devils Gulch. Mr. Feraud, I believe, tried to get a well in the river bed. He dug by hand, but his efforts failed.

The land owned by Judge Brown, reaching from the San Antonio Creek to the Grade Road, now belongs to Mr. B. E. McCormick, a resident of Ventura. Only a short distance marks its frontage on Highway 399 from where the new pipe line of V.R.M.W.D. crosses the road at Santa Ana Vista by the road that leads to Skyline Estates. Stevens Land Co. of Los Angeles owned the land which now covers part of Mira Monte, Midway Acres, and land to the Krotona Institute property, and part of the Ventura River bottom to Meiners Ranch (now Meiners Oaks). An abandoned home stood across the railroad tracks from the location of the Mira Monte School. The ranch north of the Feraud property (mentioned last week) belonged to a Mrs. Barrett. She had two children. Louie was the older, was married and had two children. Charles attended the Arnaz School with his cousin Naude Jackson who lived with the family.

A History of Oak View

A History of Oak View by Patty Fry

Prior to its development, Oak View was just uninhabited land between Ojai and Ventura. Watermelons grew where Dahl’s Market is at 445 Ventura Avenue and apricot orchards covered a great deal of the remaining land. In the late 1930s, people began to build homes there, called the place “Oak View Gardens”.

Among Oak View’s earliest residents was the Hiram Watkins family. Hiram was born in 1866 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. When his parents could not compromise their marital or political differences, Mr. Watkins took his older son, Glyme, to Texas, while his wife, Narcissa, after selling their Missouri home, returned to Kentucky with Hiram.

Hiram married Allie Belle Delp and they set up housekeeping in Summerfield, Kansas, where he grew broom corn and manufactured and sold brooms to support his family which soon included two children, Percy and Florence. Around 1892 they moved to Sterling, Nebraska, opened a rag carpet company and Allie Belle gave birth to four more children, Elva, Ruby (Berry), Clifford and Fern (Munger).

In 1901, the Watkins family moved to California from Nebraska and rented land in Oak View to raise cattle, hogs and hay. This is where Jane and Irene were born. Around 1903, Hiram purchased seventy-five acres of land on a hill east of Highway 33 in what is now Oak View for $2500 and tended an apricot orchard there. When it seemed that automobiles were here to stay, Hiram opened a service station/grocery at the corner of what is now Watkins Way and Ventura Avenue in Oak View. Allie Belle took over some of the responsibility for the orchard. When the bottom dropped out of the apricot market in 1928, Hiram pulled out most of the trees. He went back to making brooms which he sold to merchants in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. When things were slow, he went door-to-door. He, reportedly, made the brooms in a barn near Mirror Lake.

Percy Watkins married Effie Crose, whom he had met when she worked on the family’s apricot ranch in 1917. She was in Oak View helping to care for her brother and signed up for the pitting crew to earn money for college. When the Depression hit, Percy and his Effie moved in with his parents so they could help each other through this period. They remembered eating popcorn from the broom corn for breakfast cereal. They also grew peanuts and often had pan-roasted peanuts for an evening meal. They had plenty of fresh milk, though, and they sold it and wood to buy groceries. One year the $7 a month that came from selling their dairy products was the only income they could count on.

Watkins sometimes got something in trade for their milk or the firewood Percy chopped and delivered to neighbors. According to Effie, “Often is was something we didn’t want and couldn’t use.”

Percy and Effie rented the old Kennedy house for a while. Hiram died in 1942 and Allie Belle in 1951, after which Percy and Effie moved back to the ranch land on the hill where the apricot trees once grew. They brought a trailer onto the property and created a lean-to outside it. In the meantime, Percy, who was working in the oil fields by then, was bringing home lumber and scrap wood from the oil derricks and storing it on the property. When the telephone company took out the square telephone poles between Ventura and Ojai, Percy brought some of those home. Effie’s brother brought them truckloads of rock from a quarry in Northern California where he worked-all of this for their future home.

Effie drew pictures of her dream house and Percy started building it in 1961 using the materials he had been hoarding-the square telephone poles as beams, the stone as flooring and to build the massive fireplace. The house didn’t go up overnight. In fact it would be another ten years before Effie realized her dream as the Watkins didn’t move into their home until 1971.

Percy died at the age of 93 in 1983. Effie was also in her 90s when she died in 1997. [Read Percy’s recollections in The Road to Ojai, posted on this website.]

Mrs. Jessie R. Caldwell opened a gas station and grocery in Oak View Gardens in 1927 where the Shell Station is on Highway 3 and Santa Ana Road. Reverend Craig established a Holiness Church in Oak View in 1928. By 1929, it was necessary to start a school and it opened with sixty-eight pupils. There was no heat in the building, so school started at 10 am to give the building time to warm up before the children arrived.

There is mention of a library in Oak View as early as 1930. At one point it was housed in a garage.

In 1945, the community created a memorial park at Apricot Street and Mahoney Avenue. It was named, Glenn Memorial Park in memory of Captain Glenn A. Loban and others who had lost their lives in the war. Local families of servicemen planted shrubs and roses and labeled them with the names of their sons.


The above is excerpted from Patty Fry’s book The Ojai Valley: An Illustrated History, available from Matilija Press. Click on the book image to purchase.

 

Postcard: Thacher School Administration Building


Thacher School Administration Building. Several original Thacher School structures were destroyed in a 1910 fire. Sherman Thacher asked Arthur B. Benton, who was designing the first Nordhoff High School campus, to design the new Thacher administration building and dormitory. Arthur Benton, best known for Riverside’s Mission Inn, was one of the first proponents of Mission Revival architecture. Completed six years before Libbey’s transformation of downtown Ojai, the Thacher Schoolhouse is probably Ojai’s first Mission Revival building. Among those who once boarded here were author Thornton Wilder and businessman Howard Hughes.


The above is an excerpt from Ojai: A Postcard History, by Richard Hoye, Tom Moore, Craig Walker, and available at Ojai Valley Museum or at Amazon.com.

 

Postcard: Art Sunday in 1970’s Ojai


Art Sunday Parking Lot Display. In 1964 a group of local artists called The Ojai Artists began displaying and selling their paintings every Sunday on the back lawn of the Oaks Hotel. The called it “The Art Sunday Show”.  It soon outgrew its original location and moved to the parking lot of the Security First National Bank (now the Bank of America). On any given Sunday, 12-15 artists would display their work. Among them were such established local artists as Doris Gilbert, Lois Powers, Harry Lauter, and David Borgen.


The above is an excerpt from”Ojai: A Postcard History”, by Richard Hoye, Tom Moore, Craig Walker, and available at Ojai Valley Museum or at Amazon.com.

 

Postcard: Nordhoff High School (1910)



Nordhoff Union High School
. In 1910, Norman F. Marsh designed this bungalow style building (above) to house the new Nordhoff High School. Marsh designed it so that, “every window will extend to the floor and will swing open their entire length. The pupils will in ordinary weather practically work out of doors.” At the time, this was a revolutionary concept in school architecture. Charles M. Pratt, a wealthy Eastern oil tycoon who owned a home in Ojai, hired Marsh to design a separate manual training and domestic arts building at the school. Marsh was a successful Los Angeles architect who also designed Venice Beach, the University of Redlands, and the Parkhurst Building in Santa Monica. The new Nordhoff High School campus opened in October of 1911 with forty students.


The above is an excerpt from Ojai: A Postcard History, by Richard Hoye, Tom Moore, Craig Walker, and available at Ojai Valley Museum or at Amazon.com.

Beatrice Wood

Beatrice Wood By Richard Hoye

Beatrice Wood was a ceramicist, who lived in the Ojai Valley for fifty years. During the First World War, she made what was to be a lifetime acquaintance with Marcel Duchamp. He was a leader of New York Dada, and a pivotal figure in the history of modern art. He was also the painter of Nude Descending a Staircase, which was such a scandalous success at the Armory Show in 1913. Beatrice Wood, at the same time, was an accomplished artist on her own merits, as a ceramicist and author, an actress and dancer, who also drew compelling line drawings.
Beatrice was born in San Francisco on March 3, 1893; but by 1900 was in Paris, attending a convent school, about which she retained pleasant memories. “I learned to read French before I learned to read English,” she recalled. She received an excellent education at the Ely School in New York City and the Shipley School at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She studied drawing at the Julien Academy in Paris and also attended the Finch School in New York City. After all this education, she announced that she wished to live a “bohemian life of an artist and paint in Paris.”
Paris was an exciting place to be. She attended the riotous premiere of the Ballet Russe production of Le sacre du printemps. She then joined the French National Repertory Company in New York City, where she appeared in over sixty parts. It was about this time, in 1916, that she met the composer Edgard Varese, who introduced her to Marcel Duchamp and other members of the New York Dada group.
Duchamp encouraged her to draw, and she produced impressive line drawings. One of the drawings was of a stick figure, thumbing its nose as it strode along. It was used for a poster to advertise a Blindman’s Ball. The jaunty figure followed her till the end of her days.
Beatrice’s life changed in the 1920s when she became a member of the Theosophical Society, which she joined in 1923. It was this interest which first brought her to the Ojai Valley. Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher and teacher, at the time associated with the Theosophical Society, was rapidly gaining worldwide attention; and he selected the Ojai Valley as a location for his teaching in the United States. Beatrice Wood came to the valley to attend his first “Star Camp” meeting in 1928.
Beatrice led folk dances at the Star Camp. She had danced professionally in Europe and received lessons from Ivan Clustine, the choreographer for the great ballet dancer Ana Pavlova. Beatrice’s demonstration of her mastery of the dances taught to her by Clustine was performed in the presence of the renown dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Beatrice was also an acquaintance of the famous dancer Isadora Duncan.
Beatrice developed an interest in ceramics in 1928. She wanted to produce a teapot to match some “luster” plates she had purchased in Holland. “Luster” refers to a metallic finish, simulating silver or gold. The project was more extensive than she thought, and in time she found herself successfully in the profession of a ceramicist. Her works were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as early as 1940.
Her workshop and home, located in the San Fernando Valley, were destroyed by a flood in 1938. Ten years later, she moved to the Ojai Valley, where she settled on March 3, 1948 (her birthday). The nearby Happy Valley School, with a founding board of directors which included Aldous Huxley, Krishnamurti and Annie Besant, attracted her attention. She was associated with the Happy Valley Foundation for the rest of her life.
Her ceramic work then entered what has been described as “a mature expression of her luster glazing technique.” She didn’t think of herself as a chemist, but she was very methodical about testing different chemical formulas for glazes. She also worked with Otto and Vivika Heino, who where themselves noted ceramicists.
Another great change occurred in her life, when she was selected as a “Goodwill Ambassador” to India by the U.S. government in 1961. She visited India, where her works were exhibited in fourteen Indian cities. She also took up the cause of promoting India’s traditional handicrafts. Before long, she took to wearing Indian saris and heavy and abundant Indian necklaces and bracelets. Her appearance was striking, but her explanation was simply that the saris were very comfortable.
During the final three decades of her life, her works were exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. Her book, The Angel Wore Black Tights, was published in 1982. Her autobiography, I Shock Myself, was published in 1985. She received a variety of awards from universities and arts councils. A documentary about her life, Mama of Dada, was shown on public television in 1995.
One of her great achievements was her longevity. Her 90th birthday was celebrated in Los Angeles in 1983 with a Dada Ball. Her 100th birthday was celebrated in 1993; and even through these final years, she was still creatively productive. On March 3, 1998, she celebrated her 105th birthday. She died at her home in the upper Ojai Valley a little over a week later on March 12, 1998.

Krishnamurti and the Ojai Valley

By Ellen Sklarz

“He traveled the world for sixty-five years and spoke to more people than anyone else in modern history. His name was J. Krishnmaurti.”
-From the 1989 documentary film, With a Silent Mind

Jiddu Krishnamurti was born on May 12, 1895, in south India to middle-class Brahmin parents. For more than sixty-five years, until his death at age ninety, he traveled the world speaking to large audiences, not as an authority but as a lover of truth. He engaged in dialogues with religious leaders, scientists, teachers, authors, psychologists, students, celebrities and other interested people.

Many years ago, Krishnamurti told a friend, “If I had nowhere to go in the world, I would come to Ojai. I would sit under an orange tree; it would shade me from the sun, and I could live on the fruit.” He first came to the Ojai Valley in 1922 with his brother Nityananda, who had tuberculosis and needed to live in a warm, dry climate.

The Ojai Valley of the 1920s, 30s and 40s was quite different than it is today. The population was smaller, the roads were unpaved, no doors were locked, and there was no traffic. World War II hardly touched the valley, and its stillness and unspoiled splendor soothed most of the people who came here. Krishnamurti also loved the untouched beauty, the tranquility, and the climate of the valley. Ojai offered him relief from crowds of people who flocked to hear him speak in Europe, India, Australia and throughout the United States.

Krishnamurti’s life in the valley was quiet. Wearing a large Mexican hat to shade him while walking, he mingled and sang songs with the orange pickers working in the East End groves. He walked all through the hills and to the top of the Topa Topa ridge and Chief Peak. He went to the Ojai Theater, if a Disney movie, animal film, or American musical classic such as “Oklahoma,” ” Brigadoon,” or “Annie Get Your Gun” was playing.

Some have said that Krishnamurti indirectly established the intellectual and social climate of the Ojai Valley. From his earliest days here, he attracted people from all over the world who traveled here to interview him and attend his yearly talks in the Oak Grove in Meiners Oaks. Among those were Aldous Huxley and Dr. David Bohm, Jackson Pollack, Christopher Isherwood, and Ann Morrow Lindbergh. Hollywood stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Elsa Lanchester, Greta Garbo, and Charles Laughton also came to the valley to hear him, as his reputation grew worldwide.

Krishnamurti met with everyone – famous or unknown, intellectual or not – listening and asking questions about the deeper issues of life that are relevant to all people. Those thought-provoking discussions and talks were initially recorded as verbatim reports, and in later years on audio and video tapes. But most people have come to know of these teachings through books.

In 1969, Krishnamurti and a group of trustees formed the Krishnamurti Foundation of America (KFA). Today, the KFA is part of a group of Krishnamurti foundations in England, Latin America, Canada, and India, with committees of the foundations located throughout the world. These organizations had, and still have, the unambiguous purpose of preserving, protecting, and disseminating Krishnamurti’s teachings. He asked that this new foundation and the existing foundations do nothing to interpret or explain the teachings. The dialogues hosted by all the foundations offer a process of inquiry into issues of life and living.

Today, the KFA is still thriving, with many people coming to stay at the Krishnamurti Retreat, located in the East End. The turn-of-the-century California ranch house had been Krishnamurti’s home in the Ojai Valley for many years, and has recently been refurbished for visiting guests who come to explore the depth of the teachings or to simply be alone and quiet. Situated among eucalyptus, cypress and cedar trees, the house is next door to the Krishnamurti Archives building and the Krishnamurti Library.

In 1973, Krishnamurti articulated plans to open a school in Ojai similar to those he founded in India and England. He asked R.E. Mark Lee, the former principal of the Rishi Valley Junior School in south India, to come here with his wife, Asha, and their daughters. Lee would be the founding director of the new school and develop it on the 175 acres of virgin land on Lomita Avenue in Meiners Oaks.

In 1975, the Oak Grove School opened with three students and two teachers in Arya Vihara, the rambling ranch house on McAndrew Drive that had been Krishnamurti’s home from the 1920s. The school moved to the Meiners Oaks property in 1977. A warm family atmosphere prevailed, with everyone helping with the maintenance of the house and property. Asha Lee organized the kitchen and garden, and looked after the many guests who came from all over the world. Later, Alan Hooker of the Ranch House joined her. Michael Krohnen was trained as the school and foundation chef, later writing the renowned Kitchen Chronicles: 1001 Lunches with J. Krishnamurti.

Krishnamurti talked with the staff about the ancient gurukul educational concept in India in which students came to the home of a teacher to learn and participate in all activities of living. Currently present at Oak Grove School is this holistic learning concept, balancing high academic achievement with a nurturing atmosphere that helps children mature and flourish with affection and intelligence. A family setting still exists at the school, with students and parents working closely together to create one environment for children.

Today there are nine schools founded by Krishnamurti – seven throughout India, one in Brockwood Park, England, and the Oak Grove School in Ojai. In establishing these many schools, Krishnamurti envisioned that education should emphasize the integral cultivation of the mind and the heart, not mere academic intelligence. For those decades that he engaged in dialogues with teachers and students, he intended to bring home the understanding that it is only in the freedom from conditioning that true learning can take place.

In the last twenty years of Krishnamurti’s life, he would spend three or four months a year in the Ojai Valley as a respite from India, where he had a full schedule of talk and travels. He spent his days walking, gardening, resting, seeing friends, and conducting just a few interviews before the annual May talks in the Oak Grove. He was very involved with the KFA and Oak Grove School, and would often meet with staff and parents to discuss and explore those issues at the heart of the school’s work.

Ultimately, Jiddu Krishnamurti’s affection for the Ojai Valley was expressed in his wish at Madras in January of 1986, when his health was failing. Asking to get back to Ojai as quickly as possible, he arrived tired and weakened after traveling via Singapore and Tokyo to Los Angeles. Krishnamurti died at the age of ninety on February 17, 1986.

Nordhoff’s Rangers Symbolized the Wild West

The Nordhoff Rangers By Ed Wenig, published in the Ojai Valley News on June 10, 1970

The term “Nordhoff Rangers” today evokes thoughts of high school football teams and athletic events in the minds of Ojai residents. But in the early days of the valley, the original Nordhoff Rangers were an integral part of the adult life of the community, ringing security and, at the same time, a sort of excitement to the lives of the townsfolk. To visiting easterners at the turn of the century the Nordhoff Rangers seemed the last remaining vestige of the Old West.

It was necessary for a Ranger to have two horses in order to carry on his work. One was for riding, while the other carried provisions and fire-fighting gear. In those days shovels, machetes, and barley sacks for beating out the flames in grass fires were standard equipment.

Days or weeks later the horses and their mounts would return, dead tired, for a brief respite from their duties. On occasion the one-block-long main street of the village would be filled with Rangers and their horses preparing to leave for the vast area north of the Ojai, or coming home from the forest.

A report to the government by Ranger James Larmer describes a somewhat typical event in a forest ranger’s life thus: “April 7, 1899. Went to Wheeler’s Hot Springs in the north fork of Matilija Canyon. While there received a message from Supervisor Slosson that fire was burning in Cozy Dell Canyon. Went there with four men. Put out fire by 8 a.m. on 8th. Worked all night. Rode 40 miles.”

Among the more famous of Nordhoff’s forest rangers was Jacinto Reyes, who was with the forest service for 31 years. As forest policeman Jacinto Reyes conscripted homesteaders to pout out forest fires, settled quarrels between cattle and sheep men, and packed out bodies of men who had perished in the mountains.

Sol Sheridan, Ventura County historian, wrote, “Jacinto Reyes is known as one of the most efficient Rangers in the service, a man whose fame has traveled far-fearlessly shirking no responsibility and stopping at nothing to protect the farmer of the valley by his intelligent devotion to the conservation of the forest growth of the mountains.”

In 1901 Jacinto Reyes was honored by being part of the escort for President McKinley’s carriage in Ventura. However, “J.D.”, as Jacinto was affectionately called, received his biggest thrill in 1905 in Santa Barbara, when President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to ride on the right side of his carriage.

(Shortly after Nordhoff High School opened in 1909, the students adopted the Nordhoff Ranger as their school mascot.)

Ethel Andrus: How One Woman Changed America

Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus a talk given to the Ojai Valley Museum by Craig Walker on May 1, 2011
Ethel Percy Andrus founded Grey Gables of Ojai, the National Retired Teachers Association, and the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP).

Perhaps you’ve seen the new AARP television commercial. It’s hard to miss if you watch CNN. The commercial opens with an interior shot of a dimly-lit farm structure; the narrator speaks:

“A chicken coop; the unlikely birthplace of a fundamental idea. It’s where Ethel Percy Andrus found a retired teacher living because she could afford nothing else. Ethel couldn’t ignore the clear need for health and financial security…and it inspired her to found AARP.”

Ethel Andrus founded AARP on the simple premise that no one should have to live in a chicken coop, that all Americans-including the elderly–should live independent, productive, and dignified lives.

What the commercial doesn’t mention is that Ethel Percy Andrus founded AARP while living here in Ojai. For several years, she ran AARP from her offices at Grey Gables–another one of her innovative ideas. Grey Gables of Ojai, established by Andrus in 1954, was one of America’s first retirement communities.

Ethel Percy Andrus believed strongly in the power of numbers. All of her organizational efforts were guided by three principles: collective purpose, collective voice, and collective purchasing power. By the time she died in 1967, AARP had grown to 1.2 million members. Today, AARP (now headquartered in Washington DC) has over 40 million members; it is the second largest membership organization in America after the Catholic Church. AARP magazine (which Ethel created, and edited for many years) has three times the circulation of any other American magazine-with over 35 million readers! Because of these numbers, AARP has become one of the most powerful research, advocacy, and consumer organizations in America!

But Ethel Andrus did so much more than just create an organization! Through her tireless efforts, she changed the lives of America’s senior citizens and, more importantly, she changed the way society views retirement and aging. If your life has not already benefited from the work of Ethel Percy Andrus…it will!

Ethel Andrus also believed in the power of years. She believed the elderly are uniquely qualified by their longevity and their retirement to bring meaningful change to society. She exemplified this through her own life. Ethel founded the National Retired Teachers Association when she was 63; she moved to Ojai and founded Grey Gables when she was 70;…and she founded AARP when she was 74! After that, she went on numerous speaking tours, wrote countless editorials, met with presidents, and lobbied Congress and state legislatures. All of this…came after retiring from a distinguished 40-year career in education! …In 1993 Ethel Andrus was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame–alongside her mentor, Jane Addams, and many other important American women like Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Certainly, Ethel Percy Andrus qualifies as one of Ojai’s most accomplished, influential, and famous residents! She was a social reformer and civil rights leader of national importance, who did much of her significant work here in Ojai. And yet, her name is seldom mentioned in listings of important Ojai residents. Nor is it widely known that Ojai is the birthplace of AARP–an organization that has improved the lives of so many Americans. This talk is an attempt to correct these oversights-and to pay tribute to a truly remarkable woman!
Ethel Percy Andrus was born in San Francisco in 1884, but grew up in Chicago. She decided at an early age to dedicate her life to serving others. She credits her father for that decision; he taught her that everyone should do good somewhere in the world, and that the greatest rewards in life come when one serves others. Ethel’s personal motto was “To Serve, Not to Be Served,” which is still the motto of AARP.

In 1903, at the age of 18, she earned her bachelors degree from the University of Chicago and began teaching English at the Lewis Institute.

During Ethel’s years teaching in Chicago–from 1903 to 1910-she volunteered at Hull House, a “settlement house” founded by Jane Addams to help low-income European immigrants living on Chicago’s east side. In a settlement house, social workers live in the community, learning first hand the needs of the residents while providing them with educational, medical, and counseling services. Ethel’s work with Jane Addams at Hull House would lay the foundation for her future work as a high school principal, and her later work improving the lives of America’s senior citizens.

In 1910, Ethel and her family moved back to California because of her father’s poor health. Ethel’s first teaching job in California was at Santa Paula High School. In 1916 she was offered an assistant principal position at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles. When the principal quit the following year, Ethel was given the job. This made Ethel Percy Andrus the first woman principal of a large, urban high school in California! She would serve in that position for the next 28 years.

At the time, East Los Angeles High School was a large school with one of the highest dropout and juvenile delinquency rates in the country. Like Hull House, it was located in an area populated by poor immigrants, representing a range of races and ethnicities. Ethel took on the challenge–not just of teaching subjects–but of transforming lives.

As an English teacher, Ethel Andrus knew the power of words, and so she used words to instill dignity and hope into her students and their families. She built a gateway into the school, with a single word written in large, wrought iron letters overhead: “Opportunity”. Every student, as they entered the school, was reminded that education was an opportunity for them to better their lives and the lives of others.

“In an age of hard-nosed, gruff male principals,” reported the Los Angeles Times, “[Ethel Andrus] might have passed for Marian the Librarian. She was a red-haired, bespectacled, soft-spoken educator… whose success came from building close relationships with both teachers and students. A former teacher once said of her: ‘When you spent time with Ethel, you felt you’d had a drink of strong, heady wine.’ Single and childless, Ethel served as a mother figure to many of her students and a friend to others. She once said, ‘I never met a child who couldn’t embrace me.’ She treated pupils with firmness and affection that produced extraordinary results.” One unruly student reported years later, “Somehow…you found yourself acting the way she wanted you to!” (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 14, 2003)

Another former student, the actor Robert Preston, recalled: “The big iron scroll on the Abraham Lincoln High School gate through which we passed read: ‘Opportunity’. Isn’t it amazing that we didn’t know until we walked out: Opportunity had red hair!”

Ethel Andrus taught her students to take pride in their family heritage. Her goal was [quote] “to bring each student a sense of his own worth by treating him with dignity and respect, by honoring his racial background not as a picturesque oddity, but as a valued contribution in the tapestry of American life.” She instituted school activities that built leadership skills while breaking down cultural barriers. She established a program of community service that instilled self-esteem and confidence through service to others. As a result, the school’s delinquency and drop-out rates fell dramatically. The Los Angeles County Juvenile Court awarded Andrus and her school a special award for success in youth crime prevention. In 1940, the National Education Association published her programs as a model for other schools to follow in reducing delinquency and racial/ethnic conflict.

Andrus’ efforts to improve the lives of her students didn’t stop at the school gate; she worked to improve the community as well. Ethel was responsible for renaming the neighborhood “Lincoln Heights” and its park, “Lincoln Park”. Working with business leaders, she established Lincoln High School as a community center that reached out to immigrant families through their children. She started an Opportunity School for Adults, which raised the educational level and English skills of parents and other adults living in the neighborhood.

To set an example, Ethel went back to school herself, furthering her own knowledge as an educator. In 1930 she received her doctorate from the University of Southern California–one of the first women to do so. She then taught education classes at UCLA, USC, and Stanford during summer vacations-inspiring a whole generation of future teachers. Not only was she the first woman high school principal in California, she helped found the California Association of Secondary School Administrators and served as its first woman president.

In 1944-after 40 years in education with 28 years as principal of Lincoln High School-Ethel Andrus retired to care for her ill mother. She was 60 years old. Had she done nothing further in life, she would still be remembered as a noted educator and humanitarian. But Ethel’s mother inspired her to take up the cause of others in her retirement. “You thought your work was done when you gave up youngsters,” her mother told her, “but it’s only the beginning.” How true that would turn out to be!

Ethel volunteered with the Southern Section of the California Retired Teachers Association. She was given the position of Director of Welfare, which monitored the living conditions of retired teachers. Ethel took an interest in this because, when she retired as a principal, she discovered her pension was only $60 a month! Although she had money of her own, she found it hard to believe that a retired teacher could survive on just $60 a month!

One day she was talking with a local grocer near Los Angeles. He asked if she would check on an old woman he hadn’t seen for several days; he gave Ethel the woman’s address. The people who lived there didn’t recognize the name, but then said, “Oh, you must mean the old woman living out back.” That’s when Ethel found a former teacher living in a chicken coop. The woman was gravely ill, but had no money to visit a doctor. It was a moment that would change the life of Ethel Percy Andrus–and the lives of America’s elderly. Ethel was known for rarely expressing anger, but whenever she told that story-even years later–she could barely control herself. It angered her that society would allow retired teachers to live like that…and she decided to do something about it

The first thing she did was to organize retired teachers on a national level. In 1947 she founded the National Retired Teachers Association, with the goal of [in her words] “putting dignity back into the life of the penniless former teacher.” Ethel Andrus’ vision for retired teachers was captured in three words: independence, dignity, and purpose. One of her first projects as NRTA President was to find an insurance company that would offer medical insurance to NRTA members. In 1947 most jobs had a mandatory retirement age of 65, and it was virtually impossible for retirees to purchase health coverage; Medicare would not be established for another 18 years. Ethel hoped that with a large, national organization, she could secure a group policy. Yet, even with 20,000 members (and growing), she was turned down by over 40 insurance companies. The elderly, she was told, were uninsurable. As an alternative, Andrus decided to create a chain of 15 NRTA-sponsored retirement communities that would include medical and nursing home care. She began raising funds and started searching for a location to establish the first one–which would serve as the prototype for the others.

In 1953 she was on a speaking tour of California schools; after her talk she would ask each faculty member to contribute $2 toward the retirement home fund. One stop was Nordhoff High School here in Ojai. The morning after her presentation she spied a large, three-story house for sale on the corner of Montgomery and Grand; already named “Grey Gables”, it had several small apartments, common living areas, a library, and a large music hall. It even boasted Ojai’s first elevator! The former owner had designed it as a cultural center and a boarding house for working teachers.

Ethel Andrus applied to buy Grey Gables, which would serve both as a model retirement community and the NRTA’s headquarters. The Ojai city council at first refused to approve her “retirement home”. (We can only guess what images arose in their minds when they heard the words “retirement home”.) But Ethel Andrus, with her natural charisma and her soft-spoken but firm manner, persuaded the Council, and they reluctantly approved the project. Like the unruly boys at Lincoln High School, “somehow”…they found themselves acting the way she wanted them to!

At first, Grey Gables was just the large, three-story house along Montgomery Street north of Grand. In 1954, she purchased Sycamore Lodge, a motel next to Grey Gables that fronted Grand Avenue; later, several apartments were added on the back and west side of the property. The Acacias nursing home was built in 1959. Early residents of Grey Gables were attracted by Ethel’s vision of an active life of service, and so the Gables soon became an important asset to the community. Its residents served on local boards, tutored in the schools, taught classes at the Art Center, and volunteered throughout the valley. In 1959 the Ojai city council-which had originally balked at the project-awarded Ethel Andrus and her Grey Gables residents a city proclamation honoring their many contributions to the community

At the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the NRTA exhibit featured a large, 3-dimensional model of Grey Gables; it was promoted as the future of retirement living in America. With its attractive buildings, lush gardens, swimming pool, travel programs, on-site medical facilities, and volunteer opportunities within the local community, Grey Gables became a model for future retirement homes across America.

A small house next to Grey Gables served as the headquarters for the NRTA. Ethel Andrus asked several former colleagues to move to Ojai to serve on the NRTA Board and help run the organization. One such person was Ed Wenig, who had been the drama teacher at Lincoln High School. Ed became one of Ojai’s first historians, and was instrumental in stopping the freeway into the valley.

In 1956, two years after founding Grey Gables, Ethel Andrus finally located an insurance broker who would write health policies for NRTA members. That man was Leonard Davis, a small-time insurance broker from Poughkeepsie, New York. Just as Ethel predicted, membership in NRTA multiplied as retired teachers, desperate for health insurance, joined the NRTA. The new NRTA Health Plan was a huge success!

It wasn’t long, however, before Ethel began hearing from other retirees, begging her to create a plan for them.
In 1958, Ethel met with Leonard Davis and her Ojai attorney-Jack Fay-at the Ojai Valley Inn. Over dinner they outlined a new organization that would represent-and insure-any retiree 65 years of age or over. Later that year, Jack Fay filed incorporation papers for the American Association of Retired Persons. At 74, Ethel was now president of two national organizations–and Director of Grey Gables. In addition, she started a magazine for AARP-Modern Maturity-which she both published and edited; her spirited editorials soon became the voice of America’s seniors. With a small staff, she ran both national organizations from her offices at Grey Gables in Ojai.
In 1963, when AARP and NRTA reached a combined membership of over 400,000 members, Ethel moved their administrative offices to Long Beach, but kept the membership operations in Ojai. From 1963 until 1967, she divided her time between Ojai and Long Beach. Of course, much of her work involved traveling to Washington DC and various state capitals to advocate for the elderly. For all this she took no pay.

Her partner, Leonard Davis, formed his own insurance company, Colonial Penn, which offered low-cost health insurance to all AARP members. Needless to say, his association with AARP turned into a goldmine. After paying AARP a royalty for each policy sold, Leonard Davis and Colonial Penn reaped huge profits. At one point Davis appeared in Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. But, Ethel Percy Andrus’ spirit of selfless service and giving must have affected him, too, for he became one of America’s great philanthropists. One of his projects was to expand Ethel’s work in researching the needs and capabilities of the elderly. In 1973 he established the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Research Center at USC. Today, it is the oldest and largest gerontology research center in America.

While Ethel Andrus was AARP president, the organization began offering many other important benefits to its members: She set up a mail-order discount prescription drug service; she pioneered the concept of senior group travel; she negotiated discounts for AARP members at restaurants, hotels, and car rental businesses. (So popular were these discounts that now most businesses offer senior discounts regardless of AARP membership!) In 1963 she founded the Institute for Lifelong Learning to provide classes and seminars focused on the interests and needs of retired persons. She also turned AARP into a nationwide volunteer organization…today, over 168,000 AARP volunteers assist seniors with tax preparation, teach computer skills, instruct driving refresher courses, and much more.

Although AARP is non-partisan, and doesn’t support political campaigns, it has a powerful presence in Washington DC and the state capitals. It lobbies on issues that are important to older Americans–and is supported in its lobbying efforts by its large membership base; nearly one in five voters are AARP members! During her years as leader and spokesperson for AARP, Ethel Andrus scored many important legislative victories. She helped pass Medicare and Medicaid; she also improved Social Security, secured tax benefits for seniors, instituted cost-of-living increases for pensions, outlawed mandatory retirement, and ended discrimination against the elderly. These are all things we take for granted today, but they were not easy victories at the time.

For all of her success in building two national organizations, Ethel Percy Andrus’ most important achievement was in changing America’s image of retirement.

“As it is,” Ethel observed in 1958, “when you leave a job, they often just give you a gold watch, and all you can do is look at it and count the hours until you die. Yet think of all the grand things we can do that youth can’t. Think of all the things we already have done. Someday, the retired citizens of this country will have the dignity they deserve.”

In numerous editorials and speeches Ethel Andrus promoted retirement as the beginning of one’s creative life–not the end of it. “Creative energy is ageless,” she would say; it is focusing on ourselves and our own problems that defeats us. Retirement is an opportunity to move beyond ourselves by serving the needs of others and, in so doing, be fulfilled as human beings. She urged seniors, “Retire, not from–but to service!

Through her dedicated efforts, Ethel Andrus brought millions of retirees out of their isolation and back into the mainstream of American life. She encouraged these retirees to find part-time jobs, go back to school, travel, get involved, and most of all to volunteer in their communities. She built a gateway over the entrance to retirement and framed it with a single word: “Opportunity”.

When Ethel Percy Andrus died in 1967, she was interred in a small garden at Ivy Lawn Cemetery in Ventura; one of many eulogies was written by the President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson:

“The life of each citizen who seeks relentlessly to serve the national good is a most precious asset to this land. And the loss of such a citizen is a loss shared by every American. In Ethel Percy Andrus, humanity had a trusted and untiring friend. She has left us all poorer by her death. But by her enduring accomplishments, she has enriched not only us, but all succeeding generations of Americans.”

Those of us who grew up in Ojai during the 50s and 60s probably rode our bikes by Grey Gables several times a week. Little did we know that inside a team of elderly retirees, led by an 80 year-old dynamo, was quietly revolutionizing retirement in America. Little did we know that their accomplishments would give us the opportunity to live the independent, productive, and dignified retirement Ethel Percy Andrus envisioned over 60 years ago. Little did we know… “Opportunity had red hair!”

For a more detailed history of Dr. Andrus and AARP, read “The Age of Reformation: Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus and the Founding of AARP” on this site.

Ojai Village Pharmacy: 120 Years of Unbroken Business

When Vickie Robertson, long-time employee of Ojai Village Pharmacy, discovered that she had been working in the oldest pharmacy in Ventura County, she became a historical sleuth. “Wow,” she said, “I wonder how many people know this,” and began her investigations.

Robertson traced a lineage of pharmacists in Ojai who have owned the business since 1891. As she searched through books, talked to historians, and waded through reels of microfiche at the Ojai Library, she discovered that the store’s line of pharmacists had been unbroken since Dr. Benjamin Levan Saegar first established the Ojai Drug Store in Nordhoff (Ojai’s original name).

In the first issue of The Ojai newspaper (partly owned by Dr. Saegar), dated October 27, 1891, the Ojai Drug Store advertised, “Constantly on hand – a full stock of fresh drugs, cinnamon from Ceylon, ginger from Borneo, perfumes, fancy chocolates and toilet articles, stationery, cigars, tobacco, etc. Physicians prescriptions a specialty and promptly attended to day and night.” The population of the town was 300 people.

As Dr. Saegar was the first person in town to have a telephone and a drug store with soda fountain, his store became a hub of the village. People came to make phone calls for a few pennies, meet their friends, have an ice cream float, and exchange news of the day.

According to historian David Mason, “The Ojai Drug Store also doubled as the newspaper office, and Dr. Saegar was the paper’s first editor. People could drop off articles, ads, and pay for subscriptions while filling their prescriptions.”

In 1911 Dr. Saegar sold the store to W.V. Skillman who owned it only briefly although he did find the time to refurbish the soda fountain. The following year Skillman sold it to S. D. Nill who owned the business until April 1916 when he sold it to entrepreneur and pharmacist John Flanagan.

The Ojai reported, “He (Flanagan) is a thorough business man, and knows the needs of the trade, and that he must be able to deliver the goods at the right prices, to hold the trade, as communities are loyal to home interests if the ‘home interests’ are loyal to the community. Drop around and get acquainted. Mr. Flanagan is a live wire and thrice welcome.” In early 1917 Flanagan expanded his business to a larger space at 202 Ojai Ave at the site of Thomas Clark’s old horse livery.

During this same period, Thomas S. Clark owned the property along Ojai Ave between Signal and Matilija streets to the boundaries of the present Rains Department Store. Clark was also the County Supervisor for Ventura from 1904 to 1936. In 1895 he opened a horse stable and livery on the corner of Ojai Ave and Signal St. In 1910, when automobiles became available, Clark expanded his livery business into an auto livery. He enlarged the building to110 Signal Street, part of his property behind the former horse livery. Clark had the first auto showrooms in the Ojai valley.

In 1917 Clark sold his auto livery to E.A. Runkle who consolidated the “auto, livery and stage coach” business to the Signal St location enabling Flanagan to move his pharmacy to the corner location on Ojai Ave the following year.

In 1917 while World War I raged in Europe, two major fires descended upon Ojai, one in June and one in September. The June blaze took five lives and destroyed 70 homes, a church and part of the high school. Tom Clark’s home on Matilija and Signal was saved by a bucket brigade. “The second fire (in September) was caused from a gasoline stove explosion in the lunch room of Miss Elvie Presley at 11 o’clock and spread quickly in all directions,” reported The Ojai.

This second fire destroyed much of the downtown area including all the buildings along Ojai Ave up to the present Tottenham Court. Although townspeople and merchants helped move the drug store’s medicines and bottles away from the flames, Flanagan’s loss was considerable. He had over $3 – 3.4K in damages from broken bottles, exploded packages, and melted candy’s, soaps, chocolates and perfumes. Until Ventura County took over the fire department in the late 1920’s, local volunteers and US. Forest Service rangers fought the fires. Ojai was provided with it’s first fire truck in 1918 thanks to the generosity of E. D. Libbey.

Due to the damage and loss all businesses experienced, “The Ojai” urged “all the people of the Ojai to buy their goods more generously than ever before, of our local dealers, who have suffered so seriously and not to permit reduction in prices for slight damage by water, fire or smoke.”

Town benefactor E. D. Libbey built the Arcade and Tom Clark replaced the wooden frame building with massive stones that form the Signal Street walls today. John Flanagan celebrated the opening of his new store on June 27, 1918 with music and dancing. “The residents of the Ojai enjoyed a royal good time,” the Ojai reported. “Ice Cream and sodas were served free to all who cared to indulge and there were plenty of good smokes for the smokers.”

In 1919 George and Ida Crampton took over the Ojai Drug Store from Flanagan. Flanagan left the pharmacy for the automobile business and started the new Dodge car agency in Ventura. After the purchase Crampton invited the town “to an open house to come to his store for a good time. The products of his soda fountain will be dispensed free during the evening,” The Ojai reported. The population of Ojai was 500 people.

In 1924, the Cramptons sold the pharmacy business to R. J. Boardman, who ran it as Boardman’s Drug Store until 1947 when he sold it to Dr. E. K. Roberts and pharmacist Tom E. Clark who named it The Village Drug. (Dr. Roberts was Tom Clark’s brother-in-law).

Roberts and Clark owned the business until the early 1955 when they sold it to Mr. Ripley. However, within four years, Ripley sold it to pharmacist Alex Golbuff.

Golbuff ran the business from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM six days a week and 9 AM to 5 PM on Sundays for twelve years. One day in 1968, as the legend goes, Leonard Badt walked into the pharmacy and said, “I would like to buy this business.” Golbuff, fed up with working so many hours for so many years, said, “Take it!” And Badt did just that.

When Badt purchased the pharmacy business, he also had his eye on owning the land and building as well. He then approached Tom S. Clark’s daughters and asked to buy the property. They promised to sell it to him.

Thomas S. Clark and his first wife Ella Bakeman had nine children. After she died at the age of 55 in 1924, he remarried. When Clark died in 1940, he had willed the buildings on the corner of Ojai Ave and Signal St to his second wife Ida Brambel Clark.

Ojai resident Tom Clark Conrad, whose mother Margaret was one of T.S. Clark’s daughters, said, “My mother and her three sisters bought the property from Ida Clark and then sold it to two other sisters Dortha Clark Roberts and Elizabeth Clark. When Roberts and Clark died, the estate honored the promise made earlier to Leonard Badt and sold him the property. Badt’s two sons still own the building.”

In 1967, Stan Lazarus purchased the “other” drug store, Ojai Pharmacy, then located at 328 E. Ojai Avenue and the current location of Bonnie Lu’s. He bought the business from the Carsner family. A very popular man about town, James E. “Jack” France managed the store. After the tragic death of Leonard Badt in 1982, Lazarus purchased the “Ojai Drug Store” business from Leonard Badt’s estate and merged the two stores renaming it Ojai Village Pharmacy. June Conrad, Tom’s wife, said, “My friend Doris de Groot Mayfield had her first date with her future husband at the soda fountain in that pharmacy in 1942.” This year Ojai Village Pharmacy celebrates 120 years of unbroken pharmacy business in Ojai.

Many thanks to those who made this story possible: David Mason, Patricia Frye, Tom and June Conrad, the Ojai Valley Library, the Ojai Valley Museum, and most of all – Stan Lazarus and Vickie Robertson. Mason said, “It’s a nice thing that she (Robertson) has done and worked it through so long. It’s good for the historic preservation aspect of the valley. The Ojai Museum should have a copy of her findings, and I would encourage her to do other projects.”