The following article first appeared in the FALL 2021 (VOLUME 39 NUMBER 4) issue of “Ojai MAGAZINE”. The magazine was published by the “Ojai Valley News”. With their permission, the article is re-printed here.
LOOK BACK IN OJAI with Drew Mashburn Contributed on behalf of the Ojai Valley Museum
Spelunking and other Vignettes from Drew’s Boyhood Days
Spelunking: There once was a tunnel that ran under the street in downtown Ojai by a creek bed. When I was a young teenager in the mid-1960’s, the tunnel ended behind a pharmacy in the Arcade. What made the tunnel a bit scary was the fact that it doglegs. Why was it scary you ask? Because my buddies and I would gingerly walk through it so as not to stumble over the rocks in the dark until the mid-way point where it bends. Back in those days, the dentist whose practice was next to it didn’t dig us kids using her stairs to get down to the creek. So, we had to be sorta stealth-like. Once we got to the tunnel’s midway point (the dogleg as we called it), light began appearing from the other end. But many times, just before we began to see the light, older teenage boys would be hiding in the darkness. As we approached they’d start screaming and scare the pee-waddin’ outta us! We’d take off runnin’ for the opening behind the Arcade, then scamper up the steep, weed-covered creek bank. Back then, there wasn’t an “Arcade Plaza.” In fact, the back of the Arcade was pretty sucky-looking. We didn’t care though, because we had just survived a cheap thrills adventure.
Read the rest of the article directly from the Ojai Magazine.
The following article was first run in the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of “The OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on the front page. It is reprinted here with their permission.
Rampaging storm damages valley
— Wind, flooding rampant — by Polly Bee
Ojai Valley geared for a possible repeat of the devastating floods of 1969 after a storm roared through Thursday night, dumping nearly nine inches of water in 24 hours and leaving a wake of destruction.
Undersheriff John Gillespie, as Disaster Services Chairman, declared a state of emergency Friday morning, and supervisors called an emergency session for Monday, Feb. 13 to assess damage. If destruction is as severe as it appeared Friday noon, the county could be declared a disaster area to make it eligible for state and federal assistance.
AT PRESS TIME the rampaging Ventura River, San Antonio, Lion, Matilija, and Thacher Creeks still threatened homes and property. The valley’s water supply was cut off near Casitas Springs, electricity was still out to many homes, a gas main, bridge, and sewer lines were endangered on Creek Road.
Witnesses said four homes washed into Matilija Creek in Matilija Canyon and were destroyed, at least four homes in the East End were severely damaged when Thacher Creek jumped its banks, one man died of a heart attack while sandbagging his home in Siete Robles, and eight persons were airlifted from Matilija Canyon.
A BARGE carrying a backhoe was swept over Matilija dam, the barge eventually wedging against a gate at the Los Robles diversion dam causing a build-up of tree limbs and debris. The diversion pond in front of the canal gates completely silted so that water roared unchecked down the river. Crews were taken out Thursday night at the diversion canal because of hazardous conditions.
The Red Cross set up evacuation headquarters at Nordhoff High School to assist persons forced from their houses. At least 20 homes were abandoned in the Riverside and Santa Ana Boulevard area in Oak View after firemen and sheriff’s deputies issued warnings. Trailers in the Arroyo Trailer Park at Casitas Springs — hard hit in 1969 — were pulled away from the river bed, as floodwaters eroded embankments.
Innumerable trees toppled and power lines failed. The Edison Company said that 30,000 customers were out of service in the county Thursday night. Service still had not been restored to 5,000 by Friday noon. Officials said that power outages were greatest in the Ojai Valley because of falling trees.
AT SOULE GOLF Course floodwaters threatened the No. 5 green and took out part of the No. 10 fairway. Crossings teetered dangerously, and numerous small trees crashed. A big oak by the No. 5 green fell, as did several behind the No. 9 tee. On Friday the course was still too wet for crews to thoroughly assess damage.
Schools closed Friday because of flooded grounds and hazardous road conditions. They will remain closed Monday because of the Lincoln birthday holiday.
GRAND AVENUE bridge linking the East End to the city was isolated when San Antonio Creek washed out one approach. Roads throughout the valley were closed at intervals as streams and barrancas rampaged over culverts and bridges.
Highway 150 was closed from Lake Casitas to the county line, and from Gorham Road to Santa Paula at the height of the storm. In Upper Ojai water poured over the Ferndale bridge, which was seriously threatened. Mudslides closed Highway 33 at Wheeler Gorge.
Dead of an apparent heart attack from sandbagging his home is Wesley Frazee of 386 Avenue de la Vereda. Frazee died while trying to protect his property from floodwaters pouring off Ojai Avenue, according to reports.
Ojai’s police department was bombarded incessantly with calls reporting power outages, falling trees, flooding conditions, wind, and lightning. Public Works Director Barry Lockton said an estimated 70-100 trees and branches were reported down throughout the city. Extensive debris compounded drainage problems.
At least two Ojai homes were inundated, Lockton said. One was at the corner of Grand and Shady Lane and another in the Golden West tract. Friday roads were thick with slippery mud to make driving extremely hazardous.
ROBERT MCKINNEY, general manager of the Casitas Municipal Water District, issued a press release Friday afternoon to announce a break in the 42-inch water line that serves the entire Ojai Valley. The rupture occurred south of Casitas Springs, and the mainline was shut down Friday morning. Water in storage tanks, however, could serve valley needs for several days while a bypass line is constructed, McKinney said. Valleyites were asked to use water sparingly until full service is restored, however.
At the Grand Avenue bridge in the East End, another CMWD line was also endangered. Plans were underway to bypass it Friday with an additional line, McKinney said.
Only about 50 cubic feet of water was being diverted from the Ventura River through the Los Robles Diversion Canal Friday because of debris piled up against gates. Normally 500 cubic feet would be sent down the canal, McKinney said.
Sheriff’s deputies and firemen were called to the aid of a man in Matilija Canyon Friday night when his home was flooded. Mudslides blocked the canyon road, however, and it was not until Friday morning that the man could be flown out when eight were airlifted.
About 20 other residents elected to stay in their homes in Matilija canyon, although a major mudslide blocks access. How long it will take to remove that block was not known Friday.
The storm dumped 10.36 inches of rain in Ojai, (6.77 inches in a 24 hour period) for a total of 32.15 inches for the season. Some 13.25 inches were recorded at the Summit station for the storm total, bringing the season to date there to 31.42 inches. In Oak View, only 7.55 inches of water fell during the storm, for a season total of 28.81.
The following article first appeared in the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page A-2. It is reprinted here with their permission.
East end houses “just a big mess” by Fred Volz
The East End of the valley took on a familiar look Friday morning. 1969 all over again.
As usual, the disaster area stretched along the infamous Thacher Creek barranca from “the dip” on Grand Avenue (500 yards west of McAndrew Road) all the way to Reeves Road. Thursday night a torrent of water poured out of Horn Canyon and gaining speed on a downhill slope ripped out the walls of the barranca and poured into houses and acreage along the way.
THE R. HARGETT FAMILY at 4370 Grand Avenue had moved into their new house two days ago. Thursday night they moved out. That was just before the barranca broke on its east side and re-routed itself in a torrent of water 5 feet wide on either side of the house leaving it sitting on an island. Hargett, a plumber from Redondo Beach, has been building the home himself for the past year and one-half. The fast-moving water undermined the foundation and part of the house caved in. It appeared that no water reached its inside.
“I’m going to jack her up, fix the framing, and move back in next week,” Hargett said Friday morning while watching the flood roar by. “Soon as the water’s down and I can get a bulldozer in here. This is not going to discourage me.”
TO THE FRED WACHTER family at 4184 Grand Avenue on the other side of the barranca the mess WAS discouraging. A branch of the barranca about 6 feet deep and 40 feet wide had ripped right straight through his home, demolishing his carport, carrying part of the deck away, and running into the house. The bedrooms were a sea of mud and the living room rug soaked. Thousands of dollars of landscaping were on their way to the ocean.
Next door at this writer’s house was a similar scene. This time the flood didn’t reach the inside of the house, coming to within one inch of the front door. The house is about 5 feet off the ground at that point.
Next door at the Russell residence a fire truck full of sandbags stood in what was once the front yard. It was buried up to its door handles. When the barranca broke loose, a wall of water surged around the house and fire personnel standing by ran for high ground. The Russell’s car was buried and their acre of landscaping buried under boulders and mud.
On down the barranca were houses belonging to two other families — the Ditchfields and the Ghormleys. Ditchfields fared well. Although their front yard and driveway are now a 12 foot wide, 10 foot deep channel, no water poured into their home.
Ghormleys have a sadder story to tell. Wall-to-wall mud fills the house and their garage is completely totaled. Thanks to a neighbor, Del Garst, however, much was saved. Garst went into the home before flood waters swept through, piled furniture high and blocked doorways.
Gary Hachadourian took builder Chuck Thomas with him Friday morning to check his East End acreage near Thacher Creek where he planned to start construction next week. No lot existed.