Sharp & Savvy: Charles Millard Pratt

Sharp & Savvy: Charles Millard Pratt (1855 – 1935)
by David Mason

Mr. Pratt was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 2, 1855. His father, Charles Pratt Sr. was, at the time, the richest man in Brooklyn and was a partner in the Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller.

By 1879, Charles M. Pratt had graduated from Amherst College and had received an honorary M. A. from Yale, before joining his father’s company, Standard Oil as the company secretary. At various times he was also president and a director of the oil company.

In 1884, he married Mary Seymour Morris, the daughter of the Governor of Connecticut Luzon B. Morris. The Pratt’s had five children.

Mr. Pratt was appointed as a trustee of Amherst College, his alma mater and Vassar College, his wife’s alma mater. He became president of the board of trustees for the Pratt Institute  in New York.

He served on the boards of the Long Island Railroad, and the Brooklyn City Railroad. He was a director in the American Express Company, the Mechanics and Metals National Bank and the Union Mortgage Company.

His interests varied as he was also a director in the Pratt and Lambert Paint Company, the Self Winding Clock Company, and the Chelsea Fiber Mills.

Mr. Pratt was the first alumnus to donate a building to Amherst College, the Pratt Gymnasium, erected in 1883.

Discovering Ojai, Mr. and Mrs. Pratt purchased acreage just north of the Foothills Hotel with thoughts of building a winter home here.

Their choice of architects was the popular Greene and Greene bothers. Many glowing articles were being written about the Greenes, and the Pratts decided that they should have them design their new home.

Pratt House

The Greene brothers placed less emphasis on a formal entry and spacious living and dining areas. Instead, the entry door opened directly into the modest living room. Despite the informality, however, all details of the Pratt house design were given the Greenes’ strict attention. Mr. Pratt was a shareholder in the Foothills Hotel and, consequently, they entertained at the hotel rather than at home.

In 1916, with the Nordhoff High School in need of additional classrooms, Mr. Pratt donated the money to build two very important buildings for the school. One was for manual training and the other for domestic science and art. These additions to the school cost Mr. Pratt $25,000. In 1917, when the forest fire swept through the valley, the manual training building was burned and Mr. Pratt had it replaced immediately.*

Charles Millard Pratt became an invalid and bedridden in 1925 and spent the rest of his life at the family estate in Glen Cove, Long Island. His important contributions to the Ojai Valley had come to an end. He died in November of 1935.

The Pratt House is a Ventura County Historical Landmark and a Federal Landmark. For all times this building has been one of the Greene and Greene brothers’ masterpieces.

*As a tribute to Pratt, the 1916 Nordhoff Yearbook included the following poem:

Charles Millard Pratt

To the man from out of the East
Who bears choice gifts
To bless us and those who follow,
Gifts of gold, but also
Gifts of character and the spirit
Of plain democracy,
More enduring,
We dedicate this, our annual.

1916 Nordhoff Topa Topa Annual

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: Abram Lincoln Hobson

Sharp & Savvy: Abram Lincoln Hobson (1861 – 1929)
by David Mason

Abram Hobson was born in the seaside town of Ventura in March of 1861. He obtained his early education in the public schools of the county. At the age of 16, he went to work for his father in the meat packing business and four years later, he bought out his father’s interest and entered into a partnership with one of his brothers. The name of the business was then changed to Hobson Brothers Packing Company and through the leadership of these men, the business became known as one of the most outstanding concerns of its kind in Southern California.

For a number of years, along with the meat packing company, they were also interested in the business of street paving. They became one of the leading paving contractors in the west and undertook large contracts in many western cities, even installing the gravity sewer line in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In all of their business affairs, the Hobson brothers maintained their transactions at the highest level of ethics and always enjoyed a splendid reputation for dependability and honor.

With a desire to take a wife, Abram Hobson married Helen Barnard in 1889. Helen’s father was the first president of the Seattle University and he had come to Ventura to engage in the lumber and real estate business.

Mr. Hobson’s love of fine horses was well-known and his stable included some of the best-known show equines in Southern California. An able rider, he was for years a colorful figure in local parades.

With such an outstanding background it was no wonder that the small town of Nordhoff welcomed this highly successful family to its community.

The Hobson home was built in 1907 in the popular Craftsman style. It was constructed entirely of wood with a peaked roof and wide overhanging eaves.

Upon entering the spacious bungalow, your attention was directed immediately to the striking fireplace, it had its own individual character with beautiful handmade tiles.

In the dining room, a traditional arts and crafts feature was the built-in sideboard with its long serving surface and china cabinet. The house had a welcome feeling that greeted visitors.

The Hobson daughter, Grace, loved living in the Ojai Valley. The Nordhoff Union High School, which started in 1909, was the center of her life and she would be the valedictorian of the first graduating class in 1912.

With the transformation of the town of Nordhoff by Edward Drummond Libbey, Ojai’s greatest benefactor, to a Spanish-style city during the years of 1916 and 1917, it was only natural that the Hobson family would want their home to match the new design that was being built all over the valley. Architect Richard Requa, who was doing so many of the Spanish buildings, agreed to help the Hobson’s to change their Craftsman-style bungalow into a striking Spanish-style home.

As each room was being transformed, the family vacated that room until it was finished. Most of the work was to the exterior of the building. The interior remained generally the same.

A smaller house, also in Spanish design, was constructed a short distance from the main house, and the walkway between the two buildings was shaded by a wisteria covered pergola.

Completed in 1925, the estate with its two houses, tennis court, miniature golf course and formal gardens, was definitely a beautiful Ojai showplace.

When Abram Hobson died in 1929, daughter Grace and her husband Fred Smith moved into the smaller house to be near her mother, Helen Hobson, for the rest of her life. Grace continued her father’s charitable work in the valley, and throughout the county of Ventura.

After the death of Grace Hobson Smith, her husband presented the estate to the city of Ojai as a gift from the Hobson-Smith family. In 1976, the historic Hobson home became City Hall for the community and today it is one of the most attractive and unique government buildings in the state of California.

The generosity and support of the Hobson and Smith families continues through the present day, under the auspices of the Smith Hobson Foundation, directed by Gregory and Jeffrey Smith, the great-grandsons of Abram Lincoln Hobson. Beneficiaries include Ojai Valley Museum, Ojai Valley School, Ventura County Museum, Claremont Colleges, Ventura County Symphony, New West Symphony among many other worthwhile recipients.

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: Abram Blumberg

Sharp & Savvy: Abram Blumberg (1836 – 1898)
by David Mason

The Blumberg Hotel

Mr. Abram Blumberg was a very successful business man, town promoter and builder. His wife, who was quite sickly, had spent a considerable amount of time reading about California in the books written by the notable author; Charles Nordhoff, and encouraged her husband to give up his business affairs and leave Iowa to seek a better climate in the west.

They traveled first to the town of Los Angeles in 1872, but still Mrs. Blumberg’s health did not improve. After traveling around California, looking for a place where the weather might help her, they happened to read of a new town being promoted by a Mr. R.G. Surdam, in the Ojai Valley.

The Blumberg’s arrival in the valley did much to help settle Mr. Surdam’s town. They arrived in 1873 and almost instantly, Mrs. Blumberg began to recover from her illness. Deciding to stay, Mr. Surdam offered Abram Blumberg 20 acres in the center of town on which to build a small hotel, it was completed in 1874 and called the Ojai Inn, however most of the valley habitants referred to it as the Blumberg’s Hotel.
The Ventura newspaper printed glowing reports on the progress in the valley; “No time should be lost by the Ojai people in making their little valley as attractive as possible. It can be made a most delightful resort.” January 1874.

However, the town did not have a name, some were favoring the name “Topa Topa”, but Mrs. Blumberg felt that because of the wonderful books written by Charles Nordhoff, which was responsible for so many of the valley’s first settlers, they should name the town Nordhoff in his honor.

Meanwhile, in the hotel, the first child was born in the new town of Nordhoff. Irene May Blumberg on September 29, 1874.

Abram Blumberg was killed on the streets of Los Angeles while bicycle riding with his wife, hit by a Trolley Car in 1898.

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Postcard: Ojai State Bank, 1910

Ojai State Bank. This remarkable building, with its classical columns, was constructed in 1910 and retained that name until it was purchased by the Bank of Italy in 1927 (subsequently, the Bank of America). Even while the businesses of the town of Nordhoff had the appearance of any frontier western town, with wooden false fronts, this elegant building stood facing them across the street. It was razed in 1960.

The Ojai State Bank was designed by Silas R. Burns, a partner of Sumner Hunt. Together they designed the Glen Tavern Inn in Santa Paula, the Southwest Museum in Pasadena, and the Automobile Club in Los Angeles.

In 1916 the bank was robbed by a local man. He wore a mask, but the teller recognized his boots. It’s hard to get away with anything in a small town like Ojai!

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


Neutra Brought a New Style of Architecture

Architect Richard Neutra by David Mason, Ojai Valley News, May 5, 2000

“I shall never live with fewer worries, never have time to develop ideas. I wish I could get out of Europe and get to an idyllic tropical island where one does not have to fear the winter, where one does not have to slave, but finds time to think and more importantly, to be a free spirit.”
— Richard Neutra December 8, 1919

Richard Neutra would not only surprise America with his exciting designs in architecture, but he would find himself being the talk of a small town in Southern California.
Commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. James Moore to design their unique Ojai home, Neutra realized that the structure would indeed become one of the most famous of all his private dwellings.
This, however, was not the first house Neutra designed in Ojai. In 1943 Howard Bald had used the talented architect for his home in the East End of the valley. Bald had arrived in Ojai in the spring of 1900. He was 8 years old and ill from tuberculosis. The doctors had recommended that Bald be brought to Southern California for the mild climate. Bald would spend many years working for the Forest Service in the backcountry of Ventura County.
Far from the valley, Neutra was born in Vienna in 1892; and, before coming to America, he had attended the Technische Hochschule in Vienna and the University of Zurich. In 1923, he won an international award for an architectural drawing he had done, and the prize enabled him to travel to the United States. Upon his arrival in America, Neutra spent a short time working with the famous Frank Lloyd Wright.
Neutra was well-influenced by Wright, with his ideas that the concept for each house be of the open plan and extend beyond the boundaries of the house itself and into the surrounding landscape. This plan would eventually be the important element that made Neutra famous.
In 1925, Neutra and his wife Dione settled in the golden state of California. The state became much more dazzling as the striking homes designed by Neutra began to appear on the lush hillsides.
Neutra’s reputation did not become fully established until the first Lovell house in Griffith Park was completed in 1929. As the first steel-framed house built in the International Style in the United States, the Lovell house is of unparalleled historical significance. It’s also known as “Health House,” derived from the fact that Neutra’s client, Dr. Philip M. Lovell, who was a fitness expert, wanted to build a house that would symbolize physical well-being. To this end, he invited those interested in the project to visit him as soon as the house was completed; and Neutra conducted the tours, which resulted in more than 15,000 people being able to see and admire it personally.
Before World War II, very few commissions for buildings had been awarded to architects of the Modern Movement, although the Modernist aesthetics had been deemed acceptable for functional buildings, such as factories. After the war this changed, and one of the reasons was the psychological desire to leave the past behind and go on to things that were new. The people were beginning to respond to the modern designs, having become tired of buildings that appeared to be old-fashioned in style. By the 1950s, all of America was wanting to look to the future.
Neutra’s designs became less heroic and more serene than some other Modernists of the period.
The Bald house was basically rectangular in shape, single-story with a flat roof. To take advantage of its sweeping view of the whole valley, the west side of the house was built primarily of floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
For the highly-acclaimed Moore house, Neutra integrated the building within the landscape. The scale of the windows in which it was sheathed meant that during the daytime the landscape became an integral living component of the interiors; and at night, throwing out its light, the house acted like a beacon on the mountainside. Taking full advantage of the serene beauty of the landscape in which it is situated.
The low-lying building did not attempt to compete with the visual power of the mountains but to exert a quiet aura and potency of its own. In this house, Neutra adopted an idea that he had successfully exploited earlier—frame-less, mitered, glass joints in the corners of rooms—to allow the maximum amount of light to enter the house, and to provide a completely uninterrupted view of the surrounding mountains. The distinction between the interior and the exterior has been all but abolished by the use of glass walls.
Neutra’s buildings received considerable attention and media exposure during the 1950s, both in America and abroad; and, in the field of domestic architecture, he was clearly the most celebrated and influential figure of that time.
Today, these two outstanding examples of Richard Neutra’s architectural designs are an important part of the Ojai Valley. Neutra is but one of the many contemporary architects who worked their magic in the valley. The design period of the 1940s and ’50s warrants closer attention and deserves greater respect.

Note: Richard Neutra had some connections with another Ojai resident, Krishnamurti. Neutra’s early patron, Kees Van Der Leeuw, had helped organize Krishnamurti’s talks in Ommen, Holland. The Moore’s, whose house Neutra designed in Ojai, moved to Ojai because of Krishnamurti.  Neutra’s son, Raymond, attended Krishnamurti’s first school in Ojai–the Happy Valley School. Neutra once gave a talk at Happy Valley School on the psychology of modern architecture; his wife played cello in the background.

Memories & Reminiscences of Oak View

This article is taken from the Oak View Community website: 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.


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 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, (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 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


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


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