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.