Evelyn Nordhoff is Returned

This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News on February 19, 1999. It is used here with their permission.

Evelyn Nordhoff is Returned

By

David Mason

“The People of The Ojai can best show their appreciation of the generosity of the donors by keeping the fountain free from defacements, and by gradually developing around it village improvements of other kinds.” –The Ojai, Saturday, October 15, 1904

The journey to the town of Nordhoff, now Ojai, was long and tiring.

The dusty road was hardly passable in many places and the fact that the buggies had to ford rivers at least a dozen times didn’t help. The wild berries hanging down from the low tree limbs seemed to cover the trail.

There was a sign of relief when the buggies made it to the small camping area, now Camp Comfort, to take a rest. The stream was always running with cool water and the towering trees provided a shady nook.

When travelers finally reached the small western town of Nordhoff, the first stop was the conveniently placed watering trough and drinking fountain in the center of town.

The fountain was a beautiful addition to the small community which had earlier lacked any architectural charm – it’s design would eventually become known as “Mission Revival” and it was one of the earliest examples.

The Ventura Free Press called it “one of the finest fountains in the state,” and described it in detail.

“On the side facing the middle of main street, we see the drinking place for horses, consisting of a stone trough about twelve feet long, two feet deep and two feet wide, always full of running water supplied from a pipe running out of the lion’s mouth.

“A division, the centerpiece of the fountain, runs lengthwise directly back of the horse trough, and is made prettier by having the stone cut into mouldings at either end. This piece is about fourteen feet long and fully eight feet high in the middle, and is rounding at the top. At each end of this, only a few inches above the ground, the poor thirsty dogs find drinking places.

“The drinking place for humanity is found on the side next to the Ojai Inn, and consists of a large bowl hollowed out of a piece of stone, into which runs a tiny stream of water from a small lion’s mouth.

“The donor has not forgotten the tired traveler, but has built a broad resting place for him on a big slab of stone. The Ojai newspaper refers to as ‘an ornament we should be proud of.'”

Early image of the Nordhoff horse trough, before the pergola was built.
Early image of the Nordhoff drinking fountain, before the pergola was built.
Lion head fountain on the horse trough, before the pergola was built.
Lion head fountain on the horse trough.
Lion head fountain on the street side of the pergola, 2017,
Lion head fountain on the street side of the pergola, 2017.

The fountain, built in memory of Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff in 1904, was indeed an improvement to the downtown block. The community of Nordhoff, the principal settlement in the Ojai Valley, had been established in 1874 and was still in its early stages of development. Evelyn Nordhoff was the daughter of Charles Nordhoff, the well-known author for whom the town was named.

Evelyn Nordhoff’s early life was spent at the family home on the New Jersey palisades, in an area which would eventually become known as “Millionaire’s Row.”

As a young woman, Evelyn enrolled at Smith College, located in west-central Massachusetts and founded in 1871 for the education of women. Her schooling was cut short after one year, with the reason given that “she was needed at home.”

Evelyn learned to etch copper and gained notice by producing decorative, printed calendars. She also created artistically-worked leather pieces.

According to researcher Richard Hoye, “An opportunity opened for Evelyn to visit England when her brother Walter was posted there as a newspaper correspondent.”

In 1888, the first Arts and Crafts exhibition was staged in London, and a co-founder of the exhibition society, Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, presented four lectures on bookbinding. Evelyn’s attendance at these lectures piqued her interest in that line of work.

When she eventually returned to America, the Nordhoff family made a touring visit to California. The Ventura County newspaper reported that the Nordhoffs passed through the seaside town and went directly to the Ojai Valley.

Returning to New York City, Evelyn obtained work with a bindery to pursue her interest in the art of bookbinding. There she learned to sew pages and to mend old books. This was the first level of the craft. Evelyn would learn the business from many teachers before she became proficient in the skill of bookbinding.

Evelyn opened her own workroom in Greenwich Village across from the New York University. Her artistry in the work of bookbinding began to gain attention for the young Evelyn as a woman and an artist. She possessed the Nordhoff sense of independence, and the initiative in pursing against the odds.

Training in a craft from which women had previously been excluded reflects a high degree of personal determination and she was a good example of a confident and talented woman, the first woman in the United States to take up the vocation of artistic bookbinding.

Evelyn Nordhoff spent her summer months in California with her parents, who, by this time, made their home in Coronado. In late summer of 1889, when Evelyn would again have departed from Coronado after a summer’s visit, her parents did not realize that this would be their last parting with their daughter, for in November they received word she had died.

She had suffered an attack of appendicitis, was operated on, and failed to recover.

The Nordhoff fountain was given to the community of Nordhoff by sisters Olivia and Caroline Stokes in Evelyn’s memory. The Stokes sisters had inherited wealth from banking, real estate and other interests in the New York City area. They were lifetime companions, never married, especially devout and well-known philanthropists. Their gifts were numerous and worldwide.

The Stokes sisters visited the Ojai Valley in 1903, staying at the Hughes home on Thacher Road, and were probably influenced by Sherman Thacher, founder of a nearby boys’ school, to build the fountain as a lasting memorial to this talented young lady.

Richard Hoye suggests that, “There may also have been a temperance motive. The banning of liquor was strongly supported in the community and by the Stokes sisters. A drinking fountain closely located to a horse trough would remove an excuse that stage drivers and their passengers might have had to resort to alcohol to slacken their thirst after a dusty trip from Ventura to the mountain town.”

In 1917, when Edward D. Libbey, Ojai’s greatest benefactor, began his transformation of the small town, he had the fountain moved back four feet to widen the roadway.

Libbey removed the Ojai Inn and built a beautiful, wisteria-covered, arched and walled pergola. With the fountain as the center focal point, an attractive entrance was created into the Civic Center Park, now Libbey Park.

The pergola with fountain in snow, January 1949.
The pergola with fountain in snow, January 1949.
Colorized post card of the pergola with fountain.
Colorized post card of the pergola with fountain.

In the 1960s, the whole structure began to shown signs of age and suffered major damage from vandalism. In the turmoil of this period, the entrance arch was damaged by explosives and by 1971 the pergola and fountain were removed.

The pergola was bombed in 1969 and later removed.
The pergola was bombed in 1969 and later removed.

The bronze plaque on the fountain that was inscribed, “In memory of Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff, this fountain is given to the people of Nordhoff, 1904” was returned to members of the Nordhoff family.

With the restoration of this landmark – the pergola and the Nordhoff fountain – the bronze plaque has been returned to the people of the Ojai Valley. The plaque will once again be placed on this beautiful fountain which will be rebuilt in memory of Evelyn’s aspirations and accomplishments – a spirit which has prevailed in the history of the Ojai Valley, in its schools and its artistic culture.

Celebration of the newly rebuilt pergola with fountain, July 4, 1999 .
Celebration of the newly rebuilt pergola with fountain, July 4, 1999 .
Florist and historian David Mason getting flowers ready for the pergola restoration celebration. He was the driving force behind the project to rebuilt the pergola.
Florist and historian David Mason getting flowers ready for the pergola restoration celebration. He was the driving force behind the project to rebuild the pergola.

 

 

Wini’s love prompted meat loaf generosity

This article first appeared in the March 15, 1989 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Wini’s Love Prompted Meat Loaf Generosity
by
Bob Bryan

Walking down Main Street in Ventura, whom should I run into but Joe Mellein, of the justly famous Mellein family of Ojai.

Now when we Ojailoonlans get beyond the Casitas Pass we tend to get a little nervous, being so far from home. What better way to overcome homesickness than to share a malted milk with a long-time friend. I invited Joe to join me at the Busy Bee Café.

“I’m a milk shake man myself,” Joe said and I told him that was no problem.

The Busy Bee Café in Ventura (much like the Soda Bar and Grill in Ojai) is just the place for milk shakes and malts and nostalgia, all in equally generous portions. With its juke box and its songs of the ’50s (Johnny Mathis was singing “Johnny Angel” as we walked in), and its mini-skirted girls in red, the Busy Bee is just the place for anyone who wishes the ’50s had never stopped.

“How’s the family, Joe?” I ask. “Which ones?” Joe asks and informs me that at the last get-together in Sarzotti Park there were some 90 Mellein family members having at beans and tortillas and steaks and pies, all made in the old-fashioned way. There were about 30 Mellein kids in the 10-year-old bracket which made for a fine frenzy of baseball and volleyball.

Joe and I, perhaps because of the music (now they were playing Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Good”) began to talk about what it was like growing up in Ojai in the ’50s. Joe, one of 15 brothers and sisters, did the whole bit: altar boy, Boy Scout (Troop 504 with camping at Lion’s Camp and Rose Valley) and education at St. Thomas and later on at Bonaventure High.

Once, during those days of growing up in the ’50s, Joe and his father and mother (“She’s a beautiful lady and we all love her a lot”) planted a potted liquidamber tree in front of the family home at 506 Fulton St. Now it towers three stories high in all of its glory.

“Hey, remember the Topa Topa Café on Ojai Avenue?” one of us asks.

Topa Topa Restaurant, and Ojai landmark since 1958. This postcard was done by Ana Nimiti and is in the Ojai Valley Museum's collection.
Topa Topa Restaurant, and Ojai landmark since 1958. This postcard was done by Ana Nimiti and is in the Ojai Valley Museum’s collection.

Who among us could possibly forget the Topa Topa Café, that renowned eatery, now an equally renowned bootery, or its meat loaf, served on Thursday, or was it Friday? Or Wini, that somewhat elderly waitress, who either loved your or did not love you. If Wini loved you, your portions of meat loaf were generous and promptly served; if she didn’t love you, you waited and stood a chance of getting a skimpy plate slung in your general direction.

We used to wait for our meat loaf plate at the Topa Topa like betters at the racetrack waiting for the results of a race to be posted. Except we knew that when the results came they were sure to be good: What a notable melange of succulent entrée, garden green string beans, and mashed potatoes swimming in homemade gravy. A vision of delight and a culinary masterpiece at $1.25 per plate.

Topa Topa was a hiring hall as well as an eatery. Many young men, in for breakfast, left with a day’s work as a tree trimmer or gardener before them. Philosophical discussions of the sort that still proliferate in Ojai abounded during these morning hours.

“What’s the meaning of it all?” someone might ask over coffee.

“Damned if I know” someone else might reply.

Back at the Busy Bee Café Joe and I decide, since our moo-cow blood content was still at manageable levels, to have at it once again. “Let me get this round,” Joe states and we split one of those giant vanilla shakes between the two of us.

“Got to go,” Joe says after the final gulp. “I’m having supper at my sister Andrea’s.”

“Is she a good cook?” I ask.

What a question! The Mellein women are not only good cooks, but in many cases, have become mothers of fine boys and girls who in turn become accomplished men and women. Owners of companies, therapists, future Air Force pilots, artists and writers of checks that don’t bounce are all part of the Mellien family. And, of course, pretty girls who know what kissing is about. “The jukebox is now playing Mel Carter’s immortal classic, “Kiss Me and When You Do I Know You’ll Miss Me.”)

“See you later, alligator,” one of us shouts to the other as we head on out the door down the street. Joe to a fine dinner of roast beef at his sister’s, and I back home to the Ojai Valley.

This photo is of the Marche Gourmet Delicatessen located a 133 Ojai Avenue (AKA: Highway 150) in downtown Ojai, California. Years ago, this building housed the Topa Topa Cafe, then dress shops for a number of years.
This photo is of the Marche Gourmet Delicatessen located a 133 Ojai Avenue (AKA: Highway 150) in downtown Ojai, California. Years ago, this building housed the Topa Topa Cafe, then dress shops for a number of years.

WHAT’S NEW DOWNTOWN?

The following story was printed in the book “Portrait of a Community (Ojai – Yesterdays and Todays)” by Ellen Malino James in 1984. It is reprinted here with the permission of  publisher Ojai Valley News.

WHAT’S NEW DOWNTOWN [in 1984]?
By Ellen Malino James

When Edward Drummond Libbey started the Arcade in 1917, he agreed to share the cost of upgrading the front footage with Ojai merchants. Nobody considered the rear of the Arcade. While the street fronts of the Ojai Avenue stores were united by the Mission style of architects Mead and Requa’s original plan, the back doors stood for fifty years in a haphazard jumble of old wood shacks, some dating back to the original 1870’s town of Nordhoff. The front arches continued to grace the picture postcards, the Arcade having become a kind of façade, like a Hollywood set. Behind it, lay a deteriorating shambles of old Western clapboard buildings.

In January, 1954, Mayor Ken Praire, City Engineer Major John Dron, and another official watch workers fix the parking lot drainage behind the Arcade. (Bill Klamser, Jr,, photo, OVN)
In January, 1954, Mayor Ken Praire, City Engineer Major John Dron, and another official watch workers fix the parking lot drainage behind the Arcade. (Bill Klamser, Jr. photo, OVN)

Architect Zelma Wilson and others foresaw that, with imagination and planning, the rear of the Arcade could become a “focal point of community life” – a village where residents and tourists alike could shop and socialize. The original plans of the Downtown Business Committee in 1971 called for plazas, fountains, covered walkways, and new shops and offices, all blending into a relaxed village atmosphere spanning the block from Signal to Montgomery Street behind the Arcade. Now, a decade later [1984], the Arcade Plaza is a local project, paid for without state or federal money. An ingenious application of the state law allowed for increased tax revenues within the redevelopment area to go exclusively for the benefit of this project.

When John Johnston came to Ojai as city manager in 1971, he recalls, “my great concern at that time was to prevent Ojai from turning into another San Fernando Valley.” Johnston, then in his late twenties, had just completed a term as City Manager of Artesia and Cerritos, where uncontrolled growth had transformed dairy farms into what was then the world’s largest indoor shopping mall.

“In Ojai,” says Johnston, “I ran into a city council that stopped this sort of development on its heels.” With Councilman Hal Mitrany and others, Johnston met with Ojai’s downtown merchants to explore ways to redevelop a “shambles” of old structures. In the back alley behind the Arcade, buildings were collapsing, Johnston recalls, “but what could we do? The city was too poor to do it on their own.”

AS A FIRST step, Johnston urged the city to form a parking and improvement district. The merchants then went to Architect Zelma Wilson, A.I.A. to design an expanded Arcade. Johnston then, in early 1972, asked Robert Hill of the California Department of Housing and Community Development to visit Ojai and to outline for the city council how the state redevelopment law could be applied specifically to Ojai’s needs.

Plans were laid for upgrading the downtown core and putting in public improvements with money from tax increments. Each time a property owner increased the value of his land and buildings within the 135-acre boundary of the agency, local tax money flowed into the coffers of the new redevelopment agency.

“So the project came out as originally hoped for,” said Johnston. “It just took a lot longer.” Ten years, in fact, from the original conception in 1972 to the dedication in April, 1982.

OJAI REMAINS one of the few towns to apply the state law on redevelopment in this novel and constructive way to its downtown area. The amount of money available to the redevelopment agency proved to be more than originally hoped for, because property values increased during the past decade beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. Yet with Proposition 13 and the inevitable decline in real estate values, the redevelopment agency idea is not as desirable as a tool as it once was.

Crucial to the redevelopment plan was the timing and local leadership in Ojai. “It is unlikely that the project would have taken place,” says Johnston, “if the interest and support were not there.”

Johnston particularly recalls the role of Clifford Hey and James Loebl: “When things got tough, they didn’t back down.” But there were many others. “Hundreds of people from all walks of life made this happen.” Just one example: Alan Rains invested in sidewalks outside his store long before the plans for the surrounding area took shape. What the redevelopment agency did was to create confidence in the community.

 

Behind the Arcade:  Before

Walk-through at Matilija Street Plaza in 1938, Floodwaters running through the street. (photo courtesy of the late Lois Heaton)
Walk-through at Matilija Street Plaza in 1938, Floodwaters running through the street. (Photo courtesy of the late Lois Heaton)

 

Back door of Ojai Realty, to the left of The Hub, on this same site since 1917 when the front of the Arcade was begun. Previously, the Ojai State Bank stood here. (photo, circa 1950s, courtesy of Alan Rains)
Back door of Ojai Realty [Love Heals in 2017, at 260 E. Ojai Ave], to the left of The Hub, on this same site since 1917 when the front of the Arcade was begun. Previously, the Ojai State Bank stood here. (Photo, circa 1950s, courtesy of Alan Rains)
When David Mason, owner of the Village Florist, opened his store more than a decade ago, he remembered how he used to play on that spot as a toddler. The Village Florist stands on the site of Doug Jordan's next to Ed Benton's. The mural on the wall of the Village Florist dates from the 1950s when David Mason would accompany his mother, Maxine Miller Mason, to work in the store.
When David Mason, owner of the Village Florist, opened his store more than a decade ago, he remembered how he used to play on that spot as a toddler. The Village Florist stands on the site of Doug Jordan’s next to Ed Benton’s. The mural on the wall of the Village Florist dates from the 1950s when David Mason would accompany his mother, Maxine Miller Mason, to work in the store. [The Village Florist was located at 242 E. Ojai Ave; in 2017 it is Osteria Monte Grappa.]
Rear view of Ojai Gift store with outhouse as it looked in the 1950s. (photo courtesy of Alan Rains)
Rear view of Ojai Gift store with outhouse as it looked in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Alan Rains)

Behind the Arcade:  After

Merchant Alan Rains recalls:  “Our concern was that we did not want to see Ojai follow the same route as the San Fernando Valley with shops starting at Woodland Hills and running fifteen miles to wherever.  Ojai had not been growing in a healthy pattern for several years and it was felt something needed to be done to revitalize the original shopping area.”

The plaza looking east with new lanterns and landscaping. (OVN staff photo)
The plaza looking east with new lanterns and landscaping. (OVN staff photo)

 

Attractive benches, flowers, and places to rest, much in the tradition of a European town square. (OVN staff photo)
Attractive benches, flowers, and places to rest, much in the tradition of a European town square. (OVN staff photo)

 

The area behind the Arcade is no longer an eyesore, but an attractive showplace. (OVN staff photo)
The area behind the Arcade is no longer an eyesore, but an attractive showplace. (OVN staff photo) [This fountain was removed in the late 1990s.]
No more false fronts, no more shambles at the rear.