BIGGERS THE BEE MAN: What’s Doin’ in Meiners

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, June 5, 1968 edition of “The Ojai Valley News and Oaks Gazette” on Page D-1. That newspaper is now the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission. Effie Skelton is the author.  Photos have been inserted into this article by the “Ojai Valley Museum”.  

BIGGERS THE BEE MAN

What’s Doin’ in Meiners
by
Effie Skelton

Meiners Oaks continued to expand. On February 15, 1961, another subdivision was added by Griffin and Son, Inc., consisting of seventy two lots, on South Rice Road. Soon the homes were built and filled with new residents.

On January 2, 1946, Mr. and Mrs. J. B. (Josh) Smith, 221 South Poli Street, arrived from Wichita, Kansas, to visit their friends, the Edward Sorensens, who had recently move here from Wichita. They prevailed upon the Smiths to make this their home. At that time, there were many homes being built and carpenter work was plentiful. Smith purchased three lots and started his home.

Now, they have a well-cared-for neat home, fenced, with grounds that are attractively landscaped. There is hardly room in which to put a single plant; for they have fruit trees, bouganvilla, hibiscus, fuchsias, bottle brush, palm trees and Monterey pines. Any corner of their garden would make a lovely picture.

Smith helped build many homes in Ojai Valley. He is now retired. Their hobby is keeping their home in excellent condition, and they are an example of what two people may do to improve their home and make it an asset to the community.

Mr. and Mrs. George Biggers moved to 223 South Padre Juan in 1938, a couple that have not only raised their own large family, but helped other children. They have lived in a house by the side of the road and been a friend of man, of bees, of agriculture and of nature. Biggers is also pastor of the friendly Church of Christ on the corner of Padre Juan and El Roblar.

Biggers experiences with bees have been written up in newspapers and magazines, large and small. He is a man who collects experiences in life as many others may collect pretty rocks. He works with millionaires and the poor, the industrialist and the worker, the sick and the well, and as in Kiplings poem “If”, he has not lost the common touch.

Biggers was born in Oakland, his father moved to San Francisco soon afterwards, where they experienced the 1906 earthquake, and lost everything. His father came near being shot for looting when he was carrying his sewing machine up Nob Hill and was saved by having a picture in machine drawer. The family moved to Monrovia where the father was promotion manager for Fleischman Yeast Company. Then — on to Santa Paula, where he operated a bakery and bought a ranch on Santa Paula Creek, where a cloudburst wiped out their home and possessions.

Biggers became interested in bees at the age of eight, when during a school lunch hour the bees swarmed on an oak limb, he contained them in a burlap sack. His teacher, Iris McIntyre, whose father was a beekeeper, gave him books on bees to read. His high school paper was on bees.

Biggers states that “Mankind can learn valuable lessons from these hard workers. They only stop work to sleep. They have a highly organized society. Duties are assigned to various individuals; there are workers who gather the honey, nurse bees who clean and cool the hive, the guard bees who protect. When bees are on long trips the hives are not forgotten by the bees. To keep the wax from melting and the young bees from dying, the nurse bees are stationed near the frames, fanning them with their wings, some lines fanning in one direction and others in the opposite direction, creating refrigeration rotation. In addition to being wise administrators, the bees are excellent architects. The octagonal cells in their combs are so perfect that scientists found they do not vary in construction from generation to generation. A company supplying needs for operation produced artificial wax combs had the bees looking them over. The bees rejected them, chewed them to bits, and rebuilt them. A California scientist unpuzzled it, the little cells were a fraction of a degree off from being perfect. When built perfectly they accepted them.”

Lucky Oak View resident, Mitch Mashburn, owns this old jar of “Biggers Honey”. (Photo by Mitch Mashburn)

Biggers says that insecticides are wiping out whole colonies of bees, which is creating a danger to American agriculture, as bee pollination is used to increase crops. He moves hives all over California and the western part of the United States. He recently moved 1200 hives to Crowley County, Colorado.

 

BIGGERS MADE NAME WITH BEE BEARDS: George S. Biggers, famous for wearing a beard of bees that reached from his ears down to his waist, kept a bee farm of more than 1,000 colonies on South Padre Juan in Meiners Oaks in the 1960s and ’70s. He was featured on the television show “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” three times for his famous bee beard. “He wanted to show people that they don’t need to be afraid of bees,” said his daughter, Esther Livesay, a Mira Monte resident. A photograph of Biggers wearing his famous beard, was used on the label for Biggers Bee Farm honey.

ENJOY THE RURAL SCENE: What’s Doin’ in Meiners

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, July 3, 1968 edition of “The Ojai Valley News and Oaks Gazette” on Page D-1. That newspaper is now the “Ojai Valley News”. The “Ojai Valley News” graciously allowed us to reprint the article here. The author was Effie Skelton.

ENJOY THE RURAL SCENE
What’s Doin’ in Meiners
by
Effie Skelton

Meiners is where one may awaken mornings to the sounds of the woodpeckers rat-rat-tat on the oaks, inhale the sweet country air and be happy in being an integral part of the pastoral scene. The mind recalls the residents of the past who also experienced this pleasure, the Oak Grove and Chumash Indians, the early pioneers, and those that lived in time of stagecoach. For $1 a stagecoach could be taken from Ventura to Matilija Hot Springs, where the vacationists and fishermen could get to the mountains quickly and easily. In this age of speed with cars, trailers and campers arriving by the hundreds on holidays and weekends we realize there are many who also wish to become an integral part, even for a short time, of this peaceful scene.

Many of the village street and avenue names are Spanish, pertaining to that certain section. Others are in honor of famous men of the early 1800’s, such as, Arnaz Avenue in honor of Don Jose Arnaz. He is credited with the first attempt in subdividing in Ventura, by a try at townsite—laying near the Mission in 1846. He advertised the advantages of his subdivision in eastern American papers, but without response. Arnaz lived in Ventura. He was a merchant, trader, rancher and a native of Spain.

Poli Avenue was named for Dr. M. A. R. de Poli, a native of Spain, who in the 1850’s was the first practicing physician of the Ventura area. He combined medicine with cattle raising and visited patients on horseback.

Padre Juan (Father John) Avenue is named for Father John Comopla, who was a priest at the Ventura Mission from 1861 to 1877.

**

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Clifford recently moved from South La Luna Road into 242 Carrizo Avenue, purchasing the property from W. W. Haley,  Carrizo is a short street, formerly consisting of families with children, who are now adolescent, in service or married, leaving the residents on the street missing the laughter and sounds of youth. However, this friendly couple has seven lovely, mannerly and considerate children. Clifford is employed by the Postoffice Department in Ventura. Mrs. Clifford’s hobby is being a good homemaker and working with flowers.

**

A lovely lavender Crepe Myrtle shrub is now in full bloom on the neat lawn of Mr. and Mrs. Archie Horrell, 600 Mesa Drive. They also have many other flowers on their well-kept grounds. Mr. and Mrs. Horrell purchased their ten acre orange grove with its two bedroom home in 1952. He was employed by the Shell Oil for 32 years, retiring in 1956. Mrs. Horrell’s hobby is flowers and Mr. Horrell is supervising his ranch, fishing and spending part of his time in his well-equipped workshop.

**

If there is a watch or clock problem, or a desire to purchase jewelry, why not try the Verkuil Jewelers, 136 El Roblar Drive. Verkuil has many years of experience repairing watches and clocks, beginning at the age of eighteen. He worked for the Bulova Watch Company for thirteen years and downtown Ventura Jeweler for ten years. He maintained his own store in Meiners Oaks from 1947 until 1951. He returned to the village in 1961 to again open a jewelry store. When there are capable people near at hand to serve, there is little need to travel to Timbuctoo to have the same service. Mr. and Mrs. Verkuil have a neat home at 131 South Padre Juan Ave.

**

From the memory store room of Lennie Soper: The Soper family, consisting of the parents, two boys and two girls lived in the original Meiners Ranch house. Soper bought a new piano for the girls. One week after the purchase the ranch house burned, together with all furnishings and the new piano. The Soper’s moved from Meiner’s ranch to the Rice Ranch across the river where Lennie operated a milk and egg route to Matilija Hot Springs. He drove a buckboard pulled by one mule.

NEW RULES FOR KINDERGARTEN ANNOUNCED

The following article was on page 2 of the JULY 16, 1948 edition of THE “OJAI.” It is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News. The author is unknown.

NEW RULES FOR KINDERGARTEN ANNOUNCED

Enrollment in the kindergarten classes of the Nordhoff Union Elementary School district will be subject to regulations set up by the school board—regulations made necessary by the lack of sufficient kindergarten space, the coming school year, it was announced today.

With two sessions in the Oak View kindergarten and two at Nordhoff, there were not sufficient accommodations last September and there will be more on a waiting list this coming year, since the new kindergarten at Meiners Oaks will not be completed before February of 1949.

However, there is a solution which should work for the possible benefit of the children in their school work, members of the school board agree.

It is generally accepted that the school entrance age in California is too low, most states setting a higher age. By the sixth grade the average age is a year greater in proportion, showing that the average child either starts in later or has not been promoted at the end of one of the school years. The state convention of elementary school principals last April went on record as favoring a five-year entrance age to kindergarten.

Therefore, all children five years of age or older on September 1, 1948, will be admitted to a Nordhoff kindergarten; those from four years and six months to five years, as of September 1, will be placed on a waiting list and after the first day of school those whose ages are greatest will be notified that they may enter, the number allowed to enter depending upon class space still available.

Registration for kindergarteners or other pupils new to the district will be handled in the school office in Ojai beginning August 2. A birth certificate or other official evidence of correct birthdate must be shown to gain enrollment in either kindergarten or first grade. The school office will be open Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 12 noon and 1 to 4 pm beginning with August 2. In general, the school office will be closed during the month of July.

For the convenience of Oak View children, registration there will be conducted on or about September 1 at that school; an announcement will be given later, after Mrs. Ethel Eitens, principal, has returned from her summer school work. Casitas Springs children will enroll the first day of school, September 13.

John Roine and the Acacia Mansion

The following is the text of a talk given by historian and author Craig Walker at the Ojai Valley Museum’s 2018 Annual Meeting at the Acacia Mansion.

The Acacia Mansion was originally named Acacia Lodge. The acacia tree was a symbol of purity, renewal, and immortality. A lodge is a meeting place; it is an organizational term used by Theosophists—as in The Ojai Lodge. This large, two-story home has 10 rooms and is a wonderful blend of both formal and exotic architecture. We are so fortunate the building has retained its integrity of design over nearly 90 years. It is now a Ventura County landmark and eligible for the National register of historic places.

 

Designed in 1927, the Acacia Lodge was one of the first homes built here in Meiners Oaks. If you look at photographs taken from the hill above the Ranch House around 1928 or 29, you see this house standing pretty much by itself.  In 1924, Meiners Oaks was a 1,200 acre working ranch. By 1927 there were only five families living here.

Although the architect, John Roine, isn’t the most famous architect to have worked in the Ojai Valley, the house is a genuine masterpiece of Spanish-Revival architecture… rivaling those designed by more famous architects like Wallace Neff, George Washington Smith, and Mead & Requa.

The Architecture is Spanish-Moorish, with a heavy emphasis on the “Moorish.” All Spanish architecture has Moorish features.

Moorish culture–“North-African Arabic”–influenced all Spanish Architecture because the Moors invaded Spain in 711 a.d. and ruled the Iberian peninsula for over 700 years. Examples of Moorish architecture in Spain include the Alhambra in Granada and La Mezquita in Cordoba.

Some California architects, however, included more Moorish features than others. Richard Requa, the primary architect of Ojai’s downtown buildings, really liked Moorish architecture. He travelled extensively in North Africa making lots of sketches, but his Moorish design elements were much more subtle than Roine’s. The Ojai Arcade is a good example. You can see the Moorish influence, but the emphasis is more on the California Mission style. It should be noted that the Moorish influence on the Arcade was diminished when the two spires on top of the Arcade were removed in the 1940s or 50s.

The Acacia Mansion on the other hand has much more of an exotic, Moorish look.  It more closely resembles the buildings constructed at Krotona when it was located in Hollywood. (More about that later.)

Madeline Baird, the original owner of the Acacia Mansion, spared no expense in creating this beautiful, eclectic work of architecture. Most of the materials and decor were imported from Europe. This included terrazzo tiles, pink marble, mahogany doors, Italian lamps, etc. A particularly American feature, however, are the Ernest Batchelder tile fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom. Batchelder’s tiles, manufactured in Pasadena, were used in many of California’s finest Craftsman-style homes.

Skilled craftsmen were also imported..from Finland.  Some of the descendants of these workers still live in Meiners Oaks. One of these craftsmen was Uno-Pal Kangas, a Finnish sculptor who created a reflecting pool and a fountain for the Mansion.  During the depression, Kangas created many statues for the New Deal “Works Progress Administration.” One of his projects was the Statue of Father Serra in front of the Ventura County Courthouse (now Ventura City Hall). Kangas’ concrete statue was recently replaced with a bronze casting of the original. He lived and worked in M.O. for the rest of his life.

The owners of the house were David and Madeline Baird, who immigrated here from Canada. They commissioned the house in 1927; Mr. Baird died before the home was completed two years later in 1929.  The Bairds made their fortune in the fish industry in Nova Scotia. David was known as “The Sardine King of Canada.”

The Bairds were Theosophists who came here to be part of the new Theosophical Center Annie Besant was creating in the Ojai Valley.  Besant came to Ojai in 1926 to meet with Krishnamurti and begin purchasing property for the new center.

Annie Besant bought 200 acres across Lomita that was to be the valley’s spiritual center. Krishnamurti began holding talks in the Oak Grove in 1928. This area across the street was named Starland after the Order of the Star, Krishnamurti’s religious organization. Besant purchased 500 Acres in the Upper Ojai to be the organization’s educational center, with a Theosophical school and college. Her plan was that she would head the educational center and Krishnamurti would head the spiritual center.

Meiners Oaks was to be a community where Theosophists would live. Siete Robles was also developed as a housing tract for Theosophists. Ojai was advertised around the world for Theosophists to come and purchase lots. John Roine, the architect, advertised his services as architect and builder.  The Bairds were among the first to respond.

John Roine was the architect of the Acacia Mansion.  He, too, was a Theosophist. He immigrated to California from Finland in 1916 at the age of 39. He settled first at Krotona Hollywood, a Theosophical Colony and Educational Center, located in Hollywood. It was nestled in Beachwood Canyon–under the Hollywood Sign. He most likely began working as a construction manager and builder at Krotona Hollywood. He also was also very active in Theosophical affairs, writing articles, speaking at conventions, and serving as a liaison with the Finnish Theosophical Lodge.

As a builder at Krotona Hollywood, Roine worked under some of the most accomplished architects in Southern California. The Theosophists loved fine architecture, and they hired only the best, including.

  • Mead & Requa.
  • Arthur and Albert Heineman.
  • Marie Russak Hotchener.

The style of architecture at Krotona Hollywood was much like that of the Acacia Mansion… Spanish-Revival with a BIG dose of Moorish design elements. The buildings there were very exotic! One of the more beautiful buildings was named Moorcrest. It was designed by Marie Russak Hotchener, a self-educated architect who was a former opera star. Two early residents of Moorcrest were Charlie Chaplin and Mary Astor—both Theosophists working in Hollywood’s film industry.

Roine also worked on the Pilgrimage Theater in Los Angeles. On that project, he worked under the renowned architect Bernard Maybeck. Maybeck designed the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and was Julia Morgan’s mentor. Julia Morgan designed the Pierpont-Ginn House here in Ojai, and Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

So, Roine learned architecture on the job, while working at Krotona Hollywood on all its magnificent, exotic buildings.

In 1922 Krishnamurti came to Ojai and established a home in the east end on McAndrew Road. He was the Theosophist’s spiritual leader at the time, so in 1924, Albert P. Warrington, the head of Krotona, moved the organization to Ojai. Warrington wanted the new Krotona buildings to match Libbey’s downtown, so the Krotona buildings in Ojai were done in a more traditional Spanish style. Robert Stacy-Judd was the architect.

John Roine followed Krotona to Ojai in 1926 and lived here full-time for about 9 years.  By then, he was a skilled architect, with an architectural office located in the Arcade. He designed and built many buildings and homes in Ojai in addition to the Acacia Mansion.

  • In 1926 Roine was hired by Frank Barrington to make major additions to the El Roblar Hotel (Now the Oaks at Ojai). Roine partnered with Carleton Winslow (architect of the Ojai Library & Presbyterian Church) to add the whole west wing to the El Robar. His addition extended the original building 38 feet west and 77 feet north—adding 16 new rooms, each with a private bath.
  • In 1926 Roine made additions to Arya Vihara (Krishnamurti’s guest house on McAndrew Road) in preparation for Annie Besant’s visit in 1926-27. He added a study and meeting room so Dr. Besant could continue her extensive work in religion and politics during her stay here in Ojai.
  • In 1927, Roine was hired to add 4 new arches to the east end of the Ojai Arcade. Both the East end and West end of the Arcade were remodeled that year. Robert Winfield worked on the West end, remodeling the Arcade in front of the old Clark livery; Roine designed and built the 4 arches at the East end.
  • In 1929, Roine designed and built the original Liberal Catholic Church, which still exists as a social hall at the LCC out on Ojai Avenue past Gridley. It was originally built in M.O., but was later moved to the East End site when the church expanded. Roine, by the way, was the first priest ordained in the Ojai Liberal Catholic Church.
  • From 1927 to 1929, Roine worked on The Acacia Lodge, now known at the Acacia Mansion.
  • In 1930, he designed and built The Pleiades, a house out in Siete Robles that is known today as “the Taj Mahal.” Edward Martin and his wife, Rhoda, wanted to build a home that would honor Krishnamurti. Rhoda named the house “The Pleiades” because Krishnamurti’s Astrological name was Alcyone, which is the brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster in the Constellation Taurus, Krishnamurti’s Astrological sign.
  • Roine designed numerous other small, Spanish-style homes around the Ojai Valley: There’s one down the street, one on Aliso across from the Presbyterian Church, one on Thacher Road…and several others. There may be quite a few more in the valley we don’t know about.

Roine moved back to Los Angeles in 1935, but he continued to visit Ojai frequently. It’s possible he came back to Ojai at the end of his life. His last known address was, ironically, the Acacias…the nursing home located across the street from Grey Gables.

 

He got Meiners O. for unpaid debt

The following article first appeared in the December 3, 1969 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The photo of John Meiners is used here by courtesy of the Ojai Valley News. The other photos were added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

He got Meiners O. for unpaid debt
by
Ed Wenig

Meiners Oaks, a community where nearly every home is under a Live Oak tree, takes its name from John Meiners, who owned the large area for many years.

John Meiners (1826 - 1898)
John Meiners (1826 – 1898)

John Meiners, native of Germany, had come to the United States about 1848 and had established a successful brewery business in Milwaukee. He acquired this Ojai ranch in the seventies, sight unseen, as a result of an unpaid debt. When he heard that his friend, Edward D. Holton, a Milwaukee banker, was going to California for a brief trip, Meiners asked him to see the property he had acquired. Mr. Holton’s evaluation was perhaps it was the largest oak grove on level land in Southern California, much of it so dense that the ground was in continuous shade. Furthermore, to his surprise, Meiners discovered that the climate of the valley was good for his asthma.

Hogs grazed there

For a long time the oak grove was fenced, and provided pasture for a large herd of hogs. All traffic from Ojai to Matilija went on a private road through the Meiners property, using a gate which was supposed to be kept closed. So many people went through the gate without closing it that in 1893, the manager of the ranch, P. W. Soper, locked the gate. With the Meiners road closed the only way of getting the mail to Matilija by stagecoach was a roundabout one by Rice Rd. A news item in “The Ojai” related that, as Rice Road had been flooded, “the mail was sent up to Matilija last night on horseback, the rider going across the back hill country. . .” However, Mr. Soper later gave several keys to A. W. Blumberg, operator of Matilija Hot Springs, with the stipulation that they be used only by mail carriers and scheduled stagecoach drivers.

The barn and livestock area on the Meiners Ranch. A fence surrounds the main oak grove seen in the distance.
The barn and livestock area on the Meiners Ranch. A fence surrounds the main oak grove seen in the distance.

In 1896, the big barn, on the Meiners Ranch, located approximately where the Ranch House Restaurant is now, caught fire one evening about midnight. No fire fighting equipment was available. Twenty horses, many tons of hay, harness, and farm implements were completely destroyed. “The Ojai” of February 15, 1896 reported, “Through the flames the horses could be seen plunging and dashing about insanely in the midst of the burning firey furnace; twenty fell victims without a single rescue.” But, the article goes on to state further, “Mr. Meiners built a large temporary barn on Monday, and the work of the great ranch goes on energetically.”

House still stands

The Milwaukee brewer lived on his ranch intermittently from the 1880’s until his death in the valley in 1898. His original big house still stands on the hill above the Ranch House Restaurant and is now used by the Happy Valley School.

John Meiners and his wife can be seen sitting on the raised, covered porch on his hillside home on the Meiners Ranch.
John Meiners and his wife can be seen sitting on the raised, covered porch on his hillside home on the Meiners Ranch.

John Meiners organized his ever-increasing acreage into a very productive ranch. Several hundred acres to the north of the oak grove were planted in oranges, lemons, prunes, apricots and apples. P. W. Soper, father of the late “Pop” Soper, was general manager of the Meiners Ranch, and lessee of 90 acres of Texas red oats, 90 acres of wheat, and 200 acres of barley. A visitor who toured the ranch with Mr. Meiners in 1897 wrote, “At the Meiners Ranch we saw stalks of oats that measured 7 feet 7 inches.”

To visualize the vast area, the ranch can be described as bounded on the south by the hills of the Happy Valley School [Oak Grove School now], on the west by Rice Road, and on the north by the foothills near Cozy Dell Canyon, and on the east by a line running through the junction of Highway 33 and El Roblar St., north and south.

The forebears of several of the present day residents of Ojai Valley came here as a result of John Meiners’ interest in his ranch. The grand-daughters of Edward D. Holton, who made the original favorable report concerning the ranch of Mr. Meiners, and the Ojai Valley, are Miss Alice and Helen Robertson of the East Valley, and his great grand-daughter, Mrs. Anson Thacher. Otto Busch came to the ranch as manager in 1907, and his son, Geo. Busch, now retired, was one of Ojai’s postmasters.

Valley Market Owner Can Do Anything

The following article was run in the August 13, 1999 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  The photo in the article was taken by its author.  

Valley Market Owner Can Do Anything
by
Jon Myhre
OVN contributor

When Tony Leckie, owner of the Valley Market in Meiners Oaks, emerged unscathed from a walk across the bed of hot coals during an event conducted by the popular Anthony Robbins, he felt he could do anything.

And that “anything” included giving the people of the Ojai Valley a well-run, independent grocery store.

To do that, Leckie knew he needed a highly motivated team, not just a group of employees putting in time. Therefore, instead of offering just an hourly wage with a few benefits, he made it possible for his workers to share ownership of the business through stock options, and to financially benefit when sales goals were met.

In addition to those motivational factors, and Anthony Robbins-inspired “power hour” for all workers, including Leckie, is held at 3 p.m. every day to get “pumped up” for the peak business hours from 3 to 6 p.m.

During this brief, but energetic, time frame, employees go up front, stand in a line, massage each others shoulders for 30 seconds and “power clap” before going back to work.

Aaron Johnson (left), Carlos Martinez, Laura Leckie, Hal Moore and Tony Leckie are "pumped up" for customers of Valley Market.
Aaron Johnson (left), Carlos Martinez, Laura Leckie, Hal Moore and Tony Leckie are “pumped up” for customers of Valley Market.

Leckie’s team consists of Hal Moore, co-owner and right-hand man; Aaron Johnson, meat manager and owner of Q-Time BBQ Co., which is run within the store; Laura Leckie; and Carlos Martinez, all Ojai Valley natives who graduated from Nordhoff High School.

Their effectiveness is immediately apparent upon entering the market, which has a clean, wholesome atmosphere, as well as friendly service and a wide selection of beautifully displayed merchandise.

An electric train running around the sales area adds a touch of humor and fun.

“Shopping is a tedious task no one likes to do, so we’re trying to make it as much fun as we can while sticking to being a good grocery store,” Leckie said.

Before becoming owner of Valley Market, Leckie accumulated 17 years of food retailing experience as an employee of Dahl’s Market in Oak View and then the Locker Market in Ojai. During those years he developed his business philosophy both through his own experiences, as well as by reading all he could and then putting what he learned to good use.

Presently, Leckie teaches karate and kamikaze kick boxing at Meiners Oaks Elementary School and conducts workouts at a location adjacent to Don’s Gym.

Leckie believes in all type of independent stores, and said, “They all work to make the community around us a better place to live.”

Consequently, he urges the citizens of the valley to shop at the local independents rather than the chain stores who, he said, do not offer lower prices and greater selection, in spite of their advertising.

To prove the point, he welcomes selection and price comparisons and furnishes information on Valley Market specials by telephone at 640-SAVE (7283).

None of the profits of the Valley Market team leave the valley. The market sells scrip to the Meiners Oaks and Mira Monte Elementary Schools; donated ingredients for Lions Club pancake breakfasts; conducted a hot dog and bake sale for Meiners Oaks Elementary School; and has plans for a carnival in the parking lot involving as many community organizations as possible.

Effie Skelton

This story was written by Cricket Twichell.  It is based on a piece she wrote for the Ojai Valley News in the 1980’s.  

Effie Skelton

effiemayskeltonThis lady knew about small beginnings. Born in Oklahoma around the turn of the century, Effie Skelton weighed in at 1 1/2 pounds. Told there was no way this child could survive, the Cherokee Indian auntie assisting at Effie’s birth ignored the doctor’s grim prognosis, wrapped Effie in soft cotton, tucked her into a shoe box which she placed in the warming oven of the wood stove and then every hour fed her a drop or two of blackberry brandy. Effie kicked into high gear and eventually became a driving force in the Ojai.

After graduating from business college, Effie saved her hard-earned money and in 1927 bought a brand new Pontiac. She had an agenda— to immediately head out west—by herself— to California. “I didn’t know how to drive backwards” said Effie” but that didn’t matter. I was only going forward.”

Ending up in Ventura, Effie married a young man who worked for Shell Oil Company. They moved to Ojai where she raised 3 children and became a realtor, specializing in Meiners Oaks properties. Her weekly column in the Ojai Valley News— “What’s Doin’ in Meiners Oaks”—- had a devoted , down-home following.

Over the years Effie became concerned because so many artifacts connected with the pioneer days of the Ojai were leaving the valley. If only we had a museum which would house these papers, tools, and etc of a bygone era! The more she thought about this, the more zealous she became in her determination to stop the hemorrhaging of the Ojai’s historical items.

Other community leaders jumped on Effie’s band wagon. Bob Browne, a local anthropologist, history buff and handyman, shared her enthusiasm for creating a museum and historical society in the Ojai. He had bought a house in the highlands above Miramonte and to his delight discovered it had been the site of a Chumash Indian village. After UCLA conducted a full-blown archaeological dig on his property, Bob wanted to house the relics which had surfaced in a place where they could be enjoyed and appreciated by.the community at large. He and Effie joined forces; and soon Lynn Rains, Arthur Waite, Bill Bowie, Lois Powers and Elizabeth Thacher hopped on board.

The founding members of the museum began working the room, asking members of Ojai pioneer families to donate articles to their worthy cause. The Forest Service offered space to store the memorabilia which came pouring in. When they needed more room, Walter Gamulski offered storage space where the American Legion Hall is today if the museum group would pay the taxes and the insurance. You betcha’!

Effie and her friends put donation cans in banks, stores, motels and public buildings. She wrote articles in the Ojai Valley News to keep the community appraised of the progress of her venture and to remind readers to donate antiques etc to add to the ever-growing collections.

In 1966, 50 years ago, the Museum opened up for business in the Arcade where the realtors office is today. At the opening reception punch was served in attractive bowls the early Chinese settlers had used for washing their hair. That day Effie got to raise two flags over the new Museum, one which had flown over the capitol in Sacramento and one which had flown over the White House in Washington. Ojai had itself a bona fide Museum!

As the collections continued to grow, in 1979 a new home was found for the fledgling Museum— on Montgomery Street at the former firehouse which had been built in 1937 with WPA funds. Bud Bower donated the services of Ojai Van Lines to transport the possessions to the new location; Bob Browne and his crew built dioramas depicting animals in the Sespe back country; eye-catching displays were concocted. People came. In one year Effie, who manned the guest book every day for over 20 years, counted 7,000 visitors from 31 countries.

What started as an idea in Effie’s noggin, grew into an institution which is thriving today. Like her old Pontiac, the Museum only goes forward!

Star Camp Congress 1928

Star Camp. Note the original Meiners Oaks Ranch House; the Ranch House Restaurant started here.

The Ojai Star Camp (1928) by Joseph Ross

The Ojai Valley has been the scene of many interesting and notable events, but it is doubtful anything has taken place as unique and distinctive as the Star Camp Congress on the meadow near Meiners Oaks in 1928.

Not often, in this comfort-loving age, do we see such a gathering–a thousand people living in tents for a week or so, whose sole object was to get away from the pressure of domestic and business life, to be quiet and to listen to the teaching of a modest young man who offered to show them how to end sorrow and suffering, and to be happy.

Quietly, and without brass bands or parades of any kind, this great party of campers settled into its city of tents.

Little did the small body of theosophists at Krotona in old Hollywood, members of the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, realize that when their secretary, A. P Warrington, was guided to visit his friends, the Rev. Robert Walton and Mary Gray in Ojai, and that when, with their help, he found the Kerfoot Ranch in Meiners Oaks, little did they or Dr. Annie Besant guess that in moving Krotona to Ojai in 1924, they would be preparing the way for these surprising gatherings that would take place during the 1920s.

Besant, president of the Theosophical Society, was accustomed to such inner guidance, as in the purchases of Starland, what Oak Grove is today, and the Happy Valley (Upper Ojai property) for a cradle to nurture a new race of human beings.

Besant attended the American Theosophical Society Convention in Chicago in 1926. However, her special work was really in Ojai, where her intuition led her to start a new colony and school for the children of the “sixth sub-race” and where Krishnamurti, who referred to himself as “K,” would one day start his school at the west end of the valley.

George and Grace Hall moved from Hollywood to live at Krotona in August, 1926, when he became the general manager for Krotona. He planned a subdivision at the east end of the village, to be called Siete Robles, in which he expected to interest most of the would-be Krotona settlers.

Krishnamurti and Annie Besant in 1926.

Besant and “K,” with their entourage, arrived in Los Angeles in September 1926 and were met at the train station by many of their fellow workers. Her first visit here confirmed that the Ojai Valley would be the future world center for the teachings of J. Krishnamurti.

Oct. 1, 1926, in honor of Besant’s 80th birthday, afternoon tea was served at Krotona to 150 to 200 friends. Standing on the veranda of the Krotona Library, Dr. Besant shared her first impressions of the Ojai Valley.

“I find that your valley has an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and spirituality that is most reminiscent of India in these respects than any other part of the globe that I have visited.”

Referring to the small group of theosophists coming to Ojai, and the work they would do, she emphasized that they came to live in friendliness and brotherhood.

Besant shared her plan to purchase land in Ojai with close associates, and Frank Gerard, a devotee of “K” since 1915, and Fritz Kunz, a dedicated and highly paced member of the Theosophical Society, were the sweat and blood behind what would become the Upper Ojai Valley site.

On Sunday morning, Jan. 3, 1927, Besant called her co-workers together to share her vision and thoughts on buying a piece of land in Ojai, among them George Hall, an active realtor and Krotona manager who was pushing for a tract of land adjacent to Krotona, a tract of live oaks that would one day become a sacred spot (the Oak Grove).

About 10 a.m., they left “K’s” home at Arya Vihara to see the land on the west side of the Krotona property, since Hall and others thought this piece of land would be the right place for what Besant had in mind. When they came to a high open place on the property, Outlook Point, they all gathered around Besant and expressed their ideas about the site.

However, she did not say much, nor did she or “K” seem impressed or much interested in the location, although some 160 acres were bought, later to become the Oak Grove center in Starland, from which “K” would give his dialogues until his death in 1986.

Meanwhile, “K” persuaded Besant and the group to look at the Upper Ojai region where there was also a larger tract of land for sale. They liked it very much and got in touch with the owners, and the negotiations began for about 465 acres, plus the oil rights.

Before Dr. Besant and “K”, with their entourage, left for Europe in April, 1927 (Besant never to return), she appointed George Hall her representative in all matters in Ojai. She appointed the Board of Trustees for the Happy Valley land, all Esoteric Section members, to manage the property according to her wishes and instructions. In May, 1930, Happy Valley was incorporated as the Happy Valley Foundation.

April 15, 1928, “K” arrived back in Los Angeles in the company of Baron van Pallandt, a Dutch nobleman of Ommen, Holland, Mr. Tristram and Mr. Prasad, professors of physics at the University of Madras.

Among those greeting them were Mr. and Mrs. D. Rajagopal, chief organizer, Order of the Star; Dr. and Mrs. John A. Ingelman, national organizer for the United States; Marie Russak Hotchener, editor of The Star magazine; Louis Zalk, Ojai camp manager; James Montgomery Flagg, the illustrator, also Bishop John Tettemer of the Liberal Catholic Church, and many others who were especially devoted to K’s teachings.

New additions to the garage building were now under construction at Krotona Institute to make storage for seven cars. Also being installed was a private 280-gallon gasoline station with pump for the residents’ use.

Since members were coming from all over the world to attend the Star Congress, they wanted to stay at Krotona, but the accommodations at Krotona were still very limited. As for the village of Ojai, it would cost no less than $8 per day, with or without meals, and these also were limited.

Bath House

Starland camp, west of today’s Taormina property, progressing under Hall’s direct supervision, with the guidance of Zalk, construction began immediately with three bath houses and a cafeteria to make a success of the planned International Star Camp in May, 1928.

The gathering included about 1,200 people (11 nationalities besides American were represented). Ojai had thrown open its doors to the world.

A building boom was soon on in the Ojai Valley. Meiner’s Oaks help a special interest for most of the followers, who were all buying lots within a short walk of Starland.

The opening meeting of the Star Camp 1928 Congress, the Campfire, was held on Outlook Point, overlooking the surrounding countryside. After introductory music, “K” stepped forward and touched the torch to the campfire, chanting an ancient Sanskrit hymn as the flames leaped skyward.

Outdoor dining at Star Camp.

Zalk, general director of the camp, then extended a warm greeting to the many assembled for the first congress. Jinarajadasa of India followed, delighting his listeners with a talk. Next, Warrington spoke poetically of the dream of a dreamer saying, “The first Star Congress of Ojai was the realization of a long-cherished vision held by one man, J. Krishnamurti, for many years.”

On August 3, 1929, at the Ommen Star Camp in Holland, in the presence of Annie Besant, “K” officially dissolved the Order of the Star and the Star Camps around the world were opened for public use.

The management of the Ojai camp made an announcement that the property was to be made available for the use of other organizations all over the nation who might desire such a location and such equipment for convention purposes, except for the time when “K” would occupy the Oak Grove each May for his dialogues.

Around 1975, the Oak Grove School was started adjacent to the Oak Grove.

From the Ojai Valley News, July 28, 2000.

Postcard: Forest Rangers at Matilija Hot Springs

This is the annual gathering of the U.S. Forest Rangers, Santa Barbara Forest Reserve, at Matilija Hot Springs.  Most of the rangers had districts in remote areas.  Supervisor Willis M. Slosson held these gatherings once/year so that they could get together and exchange ideas.

—-Patricia Clark Doerner