Ojai was ‘torn apart and rebuilt’

This article first appeared in the August 26, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is Ed Wenig.

Ojai was ‘torn apart and rebuilt’

(Editor’s note: this is the second in a series of articles by historian Ed Wenig on Civic Center Park and the man responsible for its gift “to the people of the Ojai Valley” — Edward Libbey).

On September 1, 1916, THE OJAI printed an editorial from the Ventura Free Press, written by Editor D. J. Reese, who had attended the Men’s League Banquet in March at the Foothills Hotel:

“Some morning, not far distant, the village of Nordhoff is going to wake up and find itself famous. The work being done in that section just now would make the man who has known Nordhoff of old rub his eyes in astonishment if he was brought into the place suddenly. Great things are in store no doubt. The town has been torn apart and several sections have been removed hither and yon. There has been a general clearing up of everything, and everybody has an expectant look as though wondering what will happen next. The main street has been piled full of terra cotta brick, and no one seems to know what is doing. Old landmarks like the Clark stables and the Ojai Inn have vanished as before a Kansas cyclone. Only the beautiful oaks, and here and there a substantial house like the bank or the clubhouse or the Nordhoff fountain and splendid Ojai atmosphere seem to be left. Something is surely doing. Ask what it is and the Nordhoffite will throw up his hands and mention the name of Libbey. You hear about Libbey every time you ask a question. Everywhere you go you note that somebody is working hard at something or other in digging ditches or burying water pipe or clearing underbrush or building massive and magnificent cobble walls. Why, it is to be another Montecito, you are told . . . “The people there are to be congratulated that they have a Libbey who has taken an interest in their affairs. It is to be hoped they will give him free rein.”

Vast Land Holdings

At an Ojai Valley Men’s League banquet at the Foothills Hotel J. J. Burke, speaking of improvements, told of a well of Mr. Libbey’s which “will pump at least 65 inches, and if Mr. Libbey’s plans materialize he will spend $20,000 in getting the water to his ranch. . . . The old Ojai Inn and all but one of the Berry Villa buildings have been torn down or moved away, making room for more extensive improvements in the future. Through the generosity of Mr. Libbey, Signal Street was cut through and graded to the railroad.”

In the spring of 1916 Libbey was reported to be visiting his friend, H. T. Sinclair and discussing with Mr. Thacher, Colonel Wilson and W. W. Bristol “sundry matters of importance to the community.”

On June 9, 1916 it was announced that E. D. Libbey had bought 200 more acres to add to his previous 300-acre property. “Among the early improvements will be the laying of a water main from his well on the Gally tract to his large holdings. And that is not all, as the entire square upon which once stood the Ojai Inn, is to be improved in a manner that augurs well for the future of Nordhoff, which is good news to the entire community. Mr. H. T. Sinclair has been taken into Mr. Libbey’s confidence and will be the directing head during his absence. Let us be glad, as well as thankful for so generous a promoter as E. D. Libbey.”

On June 16, 1916, we are told that Mr. Libbey has bought the last parcel of privately owned land in what is now the Civic Park. In the local paper, “The plans Mr. Libbey is making to benefit both the town and the Valley has met with the highest approbation of the committee and the cooperation of the League in every way is assured.”

It was reported on June 30 that the Berry Villa, “an historical step-sister of the Ojai Inn, now a demolished antiquity,” had been torn down and the lumber hauled away.

By July 14, fifty men in one crew were working on the Libbey pay roll. Tom Clark destroyed his barn north of his livery stable and constructed a rock wall for a modern garage. This wall can still be seen as part of the Village Drug Store.

Early in November, Architect Requa, of the San Diego architectural firm of Mead and Requa, went to Toledo and got full approval of the plans for the renovation of the main street of Nordhoff. The local newspaper reported, “The post office tower, penetrating the lower heavens 65 feet is to be a reality. There are many features that we shall be delighted to prattle about when fully assured that the architect has removed the censorship.”

In March, 1917, representatives of the Men’s League met with Mr. Libbey. A corporation was formed under the name of THE OJAI CIVIC ASSOCIATION. The incorporators were E. D. Libbey, S. D. Thacher, J. J. Burke, Harrison Wilson, H. T. Sinclair, A. A. Garland, and H. R. Cole. Said the editor of the paper: “The initial purpose of the corporation is to assume title to the valuable property acquired by gift from Mr. Libbey . . . This beautiful park and the tennis courts, covering more than seven acres, is to become the property of the people of Nordhoff and the Ojai Valley.

Concurrent with the changes in the appearance of the town of Nordhoff came a popular move to change the name of the village to Ojai. A petition was circulated under the auspices of Supervisor Tom Clark requesting the name change, and received so many signatures that it was five feet long by the time H. D. Morse, manager of the Foothills Hotel, sent it to Washington D. C. In March, 1917, Senator James D. Phelan sent the following telegram: “You may announce the change of name from Nordhoff to Ojai.”

A Place for Potters

This article was published in the Winter 2018 edition of the Ojai Valley Guide magazine. It is reprinted here with their permission. All photographs are copyrighted to their respective creators, as named and credited. The content is copyright to the author. ©2018 Anca Colbert – All Rights Reserved

 

A Place for Potters

A rekindled interest in pottery activity around the Ojai Valley.

                                     Story by Anca Colbert

In Ojai’s history and reputation of attracting artists and creatives of all kinds we know that potters and ceramic artists have long been drawn to live and work here, in this place, this small town nestled in a heavenly mountain valley.

Naturally, Beatrice Wood’s storied life and career first comes to mind. “Beato” lived here from 1947 (when she built her house and studio in the East End) until her death in 1998, at the ripe age of 105. For many, she put Ojai on the map. She did so for this then-young art lover, freshly arrived from Paris to Los Angeles, who first came to Ojai in 1973 invited to lunch by Beatrice, who at the time was just settling into her new home in the Upper Valley, next to the Happy Valley School. That home and studio, now transformed into The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, welcomes visitors on pilgrimage seeking a glimpse into the famed artist’s inner and outer landscapes.

Beatrice Wood carving figures on a sculptural bowl (1995).  Photo © Cindy Pitou Burton.

From illustrious potters and ceramic artists to modest craftspeople, from devoted amateurs to occasional or accidental hobbyists, Ojai’s story as a home to those who want to work with clay endures. In recent times, that long-established tradition is rejuvenated and invigorated by the arrival of new potters to the area.

Simply defined, pottery is “one of the oldest and most widespread of the decorative arts, consisting of objects made of clay and hardened with heat. The objects made are commonly useful ones, such as vessels for holding liquids, or plates or bowls from which food can be served.” (George Savage, Britannica)

Pottery is both an object of utility and an object of beauty.

Originally developed for utilitarian purposes, making simple objects for cooking and use in everyday life, over time pottery became a craft, then a decorative craft, and later on an art. As to the distinction between crafts and art… that’s another (long) story.

The main types of pottery (earthenware, stoneware and porcelain) look distinctly different. Due to the huge combination of choices available to a potter – e.g., the types of clay and their quality, the mixing of various materials and the vast range of techniques used (hand-building or wheel, kiln types, firing temperatures, etc.) – the works produced result in astonishingly different shapes and textures. Some of it by design, some of it by chance.

From its simplest utilitarian manifestations thousands of years ago to the complexity of modern and contemporary sculptural works, pottery is a cultural artifact that traces the evolution and reflects the richness of human history and civilizations around the globe.

At the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, now a mecca for ceramics lovers, one can view Beatrice Wood’s legendary luster glazes and provocative figurative sculptures, and learn about her extra-ordinary life. The Center’s Director, Kevin Wallace, tends to her legacy and opens the doors to visitors by organizing art events, art shows and workshops. The latter are more like retreats, opportunities to learn, surrounded by nature. Valerie Freeman, a painter and sculptor, took one workshop and then started creating her own lustrous glazes. In addition to ceramics, the workshops offer also basketry, fiber, and woodwork; these experiences attract artists and students, private family and corporate retreats. Her spirit is still present in her studio at the foot of the Topas.

Vivika and Otto Heino’s lives played a key role in developing the identity of Ojai as a place for potters. Married for fifty years, the couple produced a significant body of work in their artistic partnership, mostly traditional vessels decorated with delicate glazes of their own.

In 1973, they moved to Ojai after purchasing the McAndrew Road studio of their friend and former student Beatrice Wood, and established their own studio: The Pottery. Former students, collectors and devotees flocked to their studio year after year. After Vivika’s passing in 1995, Otto continued to work, with help from younger potters and assistants. He developed his world famous (secret and much coveted) “yellow” glaze, regaled visitors with colorful stories about his life, tended the kiln, and worked with students and apprentices till his death in 2009 at the golden age of 94.

Otto Heino working at his wheel (2009). Photo © Cindy Pitou Burton

How could we include every gifted potter and ceramicist who came to live and work in Ojai? Impossible in this space. For now, let’s briefly acknowledge only a few whose presence and influence made and continues to make a difference.

Larry Carnes’s studio near the Ojai Lumberyard was for many years a must-stop for pottery lovers. Larry was versed in clay chemistry and its scientific analysis, and had collaborated with Otto Heino. He welcomed students of all levels. After he moved away, his place sold in 2017 and its activities were rekindled as the Firestick Pottery Studio and Gallery.

Potter and sculptor Myra Toth started teaching ceramics at Ventura College in 1976. The influential teacher, now retired and with more time to work on her own art, holds yearly workshops in her Pyramid Studio in Ojai and attracts students from all over the world.

Out of the sixty-eight or so current members of OSA (Ojai Studio Artists) six are artists or sculptors who are creating and innovating primarily with clay: Richard Flores, Richard Franklin, Valerie Freeman, Bruce Tomkinson, Sandra Torres, and Wyatt Amend.

Frank Massarella, the popular potter and teacher, opened his “Firehouse” studio and school in 1982 on Montgomery Street, where the Ojai Vineyard is now located; Frank recently re-opened his studio in Oak View. His influence endures in Ojai.

Following up on Beatrice Wood’s legacy, a few independent potters in the valley work with luster glazes, e.g., Sooz Glazebrook and Nanci Martinez.

 To make pottery you need a studio.

Not every artist can afford to maintain one, so having access to properly equipped studio space with good light is essential. Potters often need to have access or rent space in other potters’ studios. A professional studio usually offers space and use of equipment that includes kilns, potters’ wheels, slab rollers, and more. Walls are usually lined with shelves for works in progress at various stages of completion, and dozens of pots and jars filled with chemicals. A spirit of camaraderie develops among potters as they talk shop and collaborate while sharing work spaces, resources, tools and techniques. And the occasional drink. Pottery is the kind of craft that is best learned from teacher to student, from “master” to apprentice. You learn a lot by seeing how others do it. Same goes for glass artists. And cooks! But to become a “chef,” you must spend years chopping the parsley just right, or cooking the rice to the perfect temperature and consistency for sushi. Attention to detail. Focus. Practice. Patience. All skills and traits a potter must have in order to become good at their craft. A sense of humor is also much-needed on the road to “perfection,” as one must deal with the inevitable failures that are part of the learning experience.

Firestick Pottery Studio on Ojai Avenue offers classes, studio spaces and a gallery.

In June 2017 Robin Nahin bought Larry Carnes’ house and studio. Robin has been throwing pots at Long Beach City College since 1970. She has been coming to Ojai for 37 years and is now bringing renewed energy into the spacious studio and outdoors areas. Local potters Wyn Matthews and Sean Ponder have taken turns there in teaching and tending the five kilns (3 electric, 2 gas) on the premises. The studio has attracted beginners and serious potters, and a couple of established local artists who have expanded their work to include luster glazes (painter and sculptor Valerie Freeman) or paint on ceramic vases (plein air artist Jeff Sojka). A gallery space indoors displays and sells works made on the premises.

Robin Nahin, owner of Firestick Pottery Studio, working at the wheel with new student Robin Flowers.  Photo © 2018 Anca Colbert

Another resource for studio space and learning opportunities is The Ojai Pottery and Clay School on Fox Street, established years ago as “a professional studio for adult students at all levels dedicated to teaching and supporting the creation and promotion of ceramic arts.”

A few artists contribute to the recently revived activity in pottery around town.

In 2006 Sandra Torres moved with her family from Santa Barbara to Ojai. Having recently joined the Ojai Studio Artists, her studio was open to visitors during the October Studio Tour. What a treat to discover her and her masterful artistry!

The character of my current work resides in the exploration of small but significant variations of shape, size and patterns.”

An architect, with an MBA to boot, Sandra first turned to ceramics in 1999 and acquired an international education through apprenticeships and classes in Santa Barbara, in Mexico, China, Hungary, and Belgium – influences visible in her artistic pursuit. The simplicity of her shapes and exquisite quality of her porcelain works stands out by its technical achievement and its delicacy.

Sandra Torres in her studio, December 2016. Photo © Simone Noble

 

Sandra Torres – Sake Set, Slip Cast porcelain. Photo © Sandra Torres

Eight years ago, Scott Chatenever moved his home and studio from Santa Barbara to Ojai. A dedicated ceramic artist, he came to pottery from a scientific background as an engineer; he is driven to research the materials and the process of working with clay. Scott makes his own tools and marks to use on his pottery and ceramics.

With an extensive experience of studying and teaching pottery techniques, he generously shares his deep knowledge and passion for the medium and its history. His work is organic, reflecting a keen attentiveness to the natural world with its range of textures and dimensions, from the roughest (tiny, muddy mushrooms carefully carved out) to the smoothest (huge, fish tiles and murals illuminated in lustrous glazes). This consummate craftsman plays masterfully with forms and techniques: “I work obsessively to create new life forms.”

Scott Chatenever demonstrates and embodies the obvious fact that pottery is both an art and a science.

Scott Chatenever “Pod” stamped and tooled porcelain. Photo © Scott Chatenever

 

Scott Chatenever demonstrating how he creates lifelike textures in clay. Photo © 2018 Anca Colbert

Wyatt Amend grew up in Ojai surrounded by a world of opportunities to pursue a creative path. The young artist found his own distinct direction. He combines superb technical skills with sculptural innovation. Treating clay like wood, he is “using the ceramic wheel in a reductive way to carve out his pieces.” For him, the glazing process is particularly important. “Although my glaze is all in the details, sometimes the patterns get lost in the molten half of ceramics. A pristine gridded out application of glaze mixed with the high temperature of my firings can lead to a whole new mandala of colors. The exact patterns are as important as the variation of firing, and are not possible without one another.”

From bold, modernist sculptural forms to meticulously crafted vessels inspired by the golden age of Venetian glass, Wyatt Amend explores his artistic medium in an innovative, adventurous manner.

Wyatt Amend glazing. Photo © 2018 Cindy Pitou Burton

 

Wyatt Amend in his studio. Photo © 2018 Cindy Pitou Burton

Marc Millovich has been hand-building pottery exclusively out of micaceous clay for 18 years.

A California native, he traveled the world. A year ago, he and his family moved from La Madera, New Mexico to Carpinteria. Two months ago, he rented studio space at Firestick Studio on Ojai Avenue to do his work and, maybe, teach classes.

Making pottery with micaceous clay is a method dating back at least 800 years. The clay contains mica (hence the sparkle) the fire pit must be outdoors, and the vessels are good for cooking. They look ancient, simple and spectacular. I believe Marc Millovich is the only potter to practice this technique in this area. Felipe Ortega was his mentor in this craft.

“Playing in the mud is a timeless human pastime. I only make cookware, as this is clay I have to dig for myself. For me to use it for anything else would be a shame as it adds richness to all flavors married in it.”

Marc’s interest in sustainable living and holistic cooking will no doubt enrich Ojai’s like-minded community. “I am as passionate about my pottery and process as I am about cooking in them.”

Evening pottery firing by Marc Millovich. Photo ©Marc Millovich

Beatrice Wood often compared her pottery making to cooking. When asked about the recipes for her famed luster glazes, she would reply: “Oh! Well, just a pinch of this and a pinch of that.”  Like Otto Heino, Beatrice would also talk about her excitement of getting up early in the morning to open the kiln and see what came out of the overnight firing. Yes, more cooking.

A ritual relationship develops between potters and their kiln. It is one of the utmost importance.

What comes out of using your hands to mix clay with water, to shape something out of nothing, to turn the wheel, and to see the result transformed through fire is nothing short of magical. It’s sheer alchemy.

Pottery making is slow, three-dimensional, and tactile. In counterpoint to a fast-moving world and a contemporary culture hooked on two-dimensional, image-based technology and virtual reality, “making” with one’s hands is a form of meditation, a grounding therapy, a creative exercise in slow motion, and a sensual experience. Remember the erotic pottery-making scene in the movie “Ghost?”

The pleasure of touching the clay is powerful. The pleasure of feeling the texture of the various artifacts, of experiencing the way light is absorbed or reflected on their surfaces is seductive. It’s a form of play for all our senses.

Standing in line for tacos at the OSA opening night party mid-October, the woman next to me introduced herself as having just moved to Ojai from San Diego. That’s how I met Lynn Render and her husband. It turns out she is (you guessed!) a potter who would like to set-up a studio here and work again, now that her husband retired.

“I’ve known Frank Massarella for many years as my husband, Ron, and I would come to Ojai for me to attend workshops with Vivika and Otto Heino, stopping to visit with Beatrice Wood. We would always stop by and chat with Frank and Dusti in their “Firehouse Pottery.”

Full circle to our story…

Lynn is fascinated with the variety of expression that comes out of people’s hands. “Those of us with more years in the business might have more technique, but what comes from the heart is amazing!”

Consider the kind of direct, palpable choice that making pottery brings to a person’s life. A child can quickly learn how to do it. A ceramic artist spends a lifetime refining their skills. In both cases, it’s profoundly satisfying to mold clay to be able to enjoy and to share with others the creation resulting from that experience: a physical, sensual, playful, simple and complex experience.

———–

Anca Colbert is an art adviser, curator, writer, and long-time resident of Ojai.

She gratefully acknowledges the courtesy of the various artists and photographers giving her permission to select and use their photographs to illustrate this article.

One of those who made Ojai, Ojai, passes away

The following article first appeared in the April 11, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  The photo of Major Dron was added to this article by the Ojai Valley Museum.  

One of those who made Ojai, Ojai, passes away

(Editor’s note: Major John Anderson Dron of Ojai died April 5. The following memorial was written by his longtime friend, D. Ric Johnson.)

Another part of the old Ojai of 15 plus years ago and much larger bit of my life is gone. Major John Dron has left us.

Ours was an almost instant rapport, but that was pretty average for him. He made friends easily and enemies not so easily. He had many of the former and proportionately few of the latter. You couldn’t be neutral about him, though I’ve never known a person who was more tolerant in everything except for public chicanery and avarice. Crooked politicians, corporate greed, and Babbits were his avowed, unremitting, unrelenting and implacable enemies.

The county Board of Supervisors adjourned early Tuesday
in memory of the
late John Dron, Sr.

He was classic Scot with their passion for learning; an abstract thinker with a great pendulum swing from effervescence to melancholy. When being a dour Scot “sipped his sorrer wi a long spoon,” as he was wont to say.

He opened the door to, or sent me down, many roads whose names end in “ology” — archaeology, anthropology, geology — whetting my already active curiosity in ancient engineering techniques and avenues of the literary arts never before considered. How many times have I arrived at his door with face and spirits dragging 20 feet behind to leave later willing to try again the struggle out of my personal morass.

We adventured together on short jaunts up the mountains in that jeep that was to John as was the yellow horse to D’Artagnan. Long trips — as the one when we misjudged the weather, and his ancient down sleeping bag burst in the night and mine was inadequate. The long dreary hours of the night tolled away by his sepulchral, plaintive voice querying “and what is the hour now?”

Never was I happier to see a dawn, and we did as mad a dance as his years and my infirmities would permit, ’til the sun and our little fire thawed us to merriment over our just-passed misery.

The delightful evenings spent in front of the inevitable fireplace, the night raw outside, and John reeling off vastnesses of poetry or reading philosophy, Plutarch, Henry Adams, his own letters to the great personages and their replies.

His pixie look when contemplating the deflation of some over-blown ego. The pipe with one side of the bowl burned away that took at least a box of matches per filling and the finger burned black from tamping it. His depressions, when his voice would trail off into nothingness to be followed with sighs and great groans of Scottish spiritual torment, he brought to us for surcease and went away having received it, as I did so often with him.

He gave to me that which my own father could not. A camaraderie that asked nothing but gave, expected and received all. Oh, how exasperating he could be!

Anecdotes? Our whole 15 year association was one long, loving anecdote.

The valley is less warm and less home now.

****************************************************************************************************************************************

Major Dron was born in Ayr, Scotland, September 13, 1893, coming to Big Oak Flat, California in 1900 and spending his boyhood there. He attended Berkeley High School and classes at the University of California, Berkeley.

During World War I he served as a machine gun officer. In World War II he was a Captain and Major in the Corps of Engineers. During the 1920’s he became a civil engineer, working with the Nevada and California division of highways.

A resident of Ojai since 1929, he pursued a career as engineer and surveyor, serving as ex-officio engineer of the city of Ojai for many years. In 1938 he was WPA administrator for the county of Ventura.

Well known for his many and varied interests, he was active throughout his lifetime in civic affairs, serving as trustee to the Ojai Community Art Center and Ojai Civic Association. He was an expert on architecture of the Parthenon, and was often consulted for his intimate and detailed knowledge of the backcountry of the county. He will be remembered by many as the man who kept the Edison Company from putting giant electric poles across the valley mountains.

“The Major” is survived by his three children: John A. Dron, Jr., Mrs. Robert (Dorothy) Rail, and Boyd S. Dron, all of Ojai; a sister, Miss Gladys Dron of Berkeley; and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be held Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m. at the Ojai Community Art Center on S. Montgomery St. The family has requested that donations in memory be sent to the Art Center.

Major Dron in the Arcade

Judge held court under an oak tree

This article first appeared in the January 7, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  The photo of the elderly Judge McKee was run with the article when it appeared in the 01/07/1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News.  

Judge held court under an oak tree
by
Ed Wenig

It was in the eventful year of 1887 that James McKee, Civil War veteran, one-time school teacher, and Indiana judge, came to the Ojai Valley, expecting to regain his health in idyllic rural surroundings. The solid citizens of the community elected the frail, scholary man to be their Justice of the peace, a post which he continued to hold until his death in 1904.

It was no easy task to be a judge in pioneer days in the Ojai, when everyone knew everybody else.

One particularly knotty problem arose in the nineties when 13 exuberant men and a few boys got into trouble with the law by carrying out the old pioneer custom of surprising a newly-wed couple in the middle of the night with a “shivaree.” This consisted of surrounding the home and shooting blasts from a shotgun in the air, accompanied by unearthly yells and other noise-making. This traditional expression of good will was not appreciated by the newlyweds. In fact, they swore out complaints against all the thirteen, charging them with disturbing the peace and illegal entry.

It ended well

One by one each of the 13 went to Judge McKee and pled “Not Guilty.” It is said that one of the first to arrive was Bob Clark who later became a U. S. Marshal.  John Thompson, at boy at the time, and one of the indicated, recalled being taken to Judge McKee by his father and waiting outside the Judge’s home in fear and trembling, while his father and Judge McKee had a long and friendly talk.

A Ventura lawyer, Judge Shepard, was engaged to defend all the accused. In the meantime, a large group of women in the valley planned a big dinner and social evening in anticipation of the celebration of the acquittal of all. But when the district attorney examined the evidence and circumstances, and refused to prosecute, the ladies cancelled their plans. It all ended happily for the defendants, each paying $1.75 apiece as his portion of the lawyer’s fees.

According to all who remember him, Judge McKee was a very devout and kindly man, always ready to help those who went to him for advice or for assistance in drawing up legal documents. The story is that he once risked his life to ride horseback through the swollen river to Matilija to draw up a will for a dying man.

Most of the time Judge McKee tried cases in his own home, but on warm summer days, he sometimes moved his court into his yard under a big oak tree.

Judge James McKee Photo from the Ojai Valley News

Judge McKee’s daughter, Mrs. Emily Courtney, now lives in Ventura. His granddaughter, Mrs. Catherine Craig, formerly postmaster of Ojai, lives in the Ojai Valley.

Controversy in 1893 over postmaster

The following article was run in the January 28, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News.  It is reprinted here with their permission.  Photo of George W. Mallory courtesy of the Ojai Valley News.  Photo of Mallory – Dennison Store added by the Ojai Valley Museum.  

Controversy in 1893 over postmaster
by
Ed Wenig

As a rule, local politics in a village the size of Ojai are of interest to its residents only. But the year of 1893 proved to be the exception to the rule. In that year an election was held in the Ojai Valley which received national attention.

It came as the result of the election of Grover Cleveland, Democrat, to replace President Benjamin Harrison, Republican, in the White House. According to time-honored custom, this signified a nation-wide shifting of all local postmasterships from the incumbent Republicans to “deserving Democrats.” In Nordhoff it meant that B. F. Spencer, Republican postmaster, would normally expect to relinquish his position to a Democrat nominated by the local Democratic Committee.

But the attitude toward the “Spoils System” was undergoing a change throughout the nation, and, in tune with the times, some citizens of Nordhoff, including several Democrats, decided that this procedure was not in the best interest of the Ojai Valley. They resolved to take positive action to remedy the situation. Accordingly, the Ojai Club, which was made up of prominent citizens of the valley and which was very influential in the affairs of the community, received the following petition:

“TO THE OJAI CLUB: We, the undersigned residents of the Ojai Valley, believing in and desiring to initiate the principle of election of postmasters by the people, request of the Ojai Club—a non-partisan association—to take the proper steps for the holding of a PUBLIC ELECTION IN NORDHOFF; the returns of which would indicate the choice of its people for postmaster…”
(Signed)
James Braken, Democrat
Joseph Hobart, Republican
H. J. Dennison, Populist
W. L. Hall, Republican
John Murray, Jr., Democrat
J. R. Bennett, Independent
K. P. Grant, Republican

After due consideration the Ojai Club complied with the request and arranged for two election boards. One was instructed to handle the ballots for all the men over 18 years of age who were served by the local postoffice. Another was instructed to tally the women’s vote — this in spite of the fact that woman suffrage had not yet been granted. There were no public nominations, each voter merely writing the name of his choice on the ballot. Thus many received only one vote. However, the men generally voted for the incumbent, B. G. Spencer, and the women split their vote between Spencer and G. W. Mallory, the choice of the Democratic Committee.

George W. Mallory 1859 -1939
George W. Mallory (1859 -1939)

This novel election aroused widespread interest in the communities throughout the nation. The MORNING BULLETIN of Norwich, Connecticut gave a detailed account of the election in an article entitled, “A NORDHOFFIAN METHOD.” Its concluding sentence was, “It has not been announced yet whether Headman Maxwell, within whose jurisdiction the Nordhoff post office is, favored the people or the machine.”

In this case, the “machine” turned out to be the winner, and Mallory, the choice of the Democratic Committee, was duly appointed postmaster. After the election, but before Mallory’s appointment, the local editor commented, “The irregular election last Saturday to ascertain the choice of the people of Ojai for postmaster of Nordhoff was deemed a success by those most interested. It is not, and was not expected that the result of the election will have any immediate influence in Washington. It is designed as a reform measure, to secure a postmaster desired by the people who support the business, and should have a voice in the management of their own affairs. As G. W. Mallory is the choice of the Democratic Committee, he will probably receive the appointment, and he will be generally acceptable to the people.”

Mr. Mallory served as postmaster throughout the four years of the Cleveland administration, and in accordance with custom, was replaced by a Republican postmaster upon the election of the Republican William McKinley to the Presidency. Mallory regained his position in 1914 when the Democrats returned to power with the election of Woodrow Wilson. Thus he served the citizens of Nordhoff well as postmaster for a total of twelve years.

Mallory had come to the valley in 1886, establishing himself in a men’s furnishings store. He immediately began to devote much of his time and talent to the benefit of the community. During his 53 years in the valley he served the Presbyterian Church as elder and superintendent of the Sunday School; the Masonic Lodge as treasurer for nine years; the City Council, both as member and mayor; the Jack Boyd Club as director; and the elementary school district as clerk. His business activities included acting as director of the local bank and of the Ojai Power Company. After his retirement he became deputy assessor for Ventura County.

George W. Mallory standing behind counter on the right. This photo was taken in 1905 of the Mallory - Dennison Store.
George W. Mallory standing behind counter on the right. This photo was taken in 1905 of the Mallory – Dennison Store.

Mr. Mallory’s widow lives in Ojai, and his son, Bill Mallory, is a businessman in Ojai.

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.

 

 

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 4)

The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the March 28, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. Photos have been added by the Ojai Valley Museum. Bald used the same title for many of his articles. So the Ojai Valley Museum added “(No. 4)” to distinguish this particular article. 

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 4)
by
Howard Bald

In 1898 the Santa Barbara National Forest (now Los Padres) was created with the headquarters in Nordhoff. Willis M. Slosson was sent out from the east as supervisor. The boundaries extended from Castaic up into San Luis Obispo county and north into Kern county.

This old residence on S. Signal Street was Ojai's original United States Forest Service headquarters when Ojai was still named Nordhoff. At present, S. Signal ends at the City of Ojai's public works yard. But, before the yard was there, S. Signal Street ran down the hill and connected with Creek Road.
This old residence on S. Signal Street might be Ojai’s original United States Forest Service headquarters when Ojai was still named Nordhoff. At present, S. Signal ends at the City of Ojai’s public works yard. Before the yard was there, S. Signal Street ran down the hill and connected with Creek Road.

Men were recruited from all parts of “back country,” and they were largely homesteaders, cowboys, miners and such. Their pay was $60 per month. They had to own at least two horses and maintain them. Generally the ranger (they were all rangers then) had to provide his own quarters. There were no fringe benefits.

With Nordhoff the national forest headquarters, and since the only means of getting about was via saddle and pack horses, there was a great deal of forestry activity in the valley, that is, mountain men coming and going. A more rugged, hardy, self-sufficient, picturesque group of men would be hard to imagine. Though as a whole they were rather short on formal education, they accomplished a prodigious amount in the way of trail building, and maintaining, investigating mines and homesteads, issuing grazing permits and performing fire suppression.

They were deputy and game commissioners.

Of course there were no telephones at first, no lookout stations, no airplanes or helicopters, or radios, and but few trails. Sometimes a ranger would ride a day or more to get to a fire. The nearest ranger to a fire might recruit a few men – homesteaders, cattlemen or miners, and with just a few simple tools attack the fire.

One wonders now how they accomplished so much with so few men and little equipment, when one hears of the hundreds of men, bombers, fire engines and other sophisticated equipment that is employed to suppress the same fires today -–and at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Among some of the more colorful men of that period was Jacinto Reyes, who to this day is a legend among people in the back country, not only for his fire fighting but also for his horsemanship, endurance, rescue work and ability to settle sometimes violent disputes among homesteaders, cattlemen or miners. Then there were his brother Geraldo Reyes, Fred Ortega (father of ex-Ventura postmaster Melito Ortega) and Fred de la Riva. There were what we called in that day “California Spanish.” They were great horsemen and very capable.

Forest Rangers at a backcountry camp, circa 1906. Far right, Howard Bald; next to him is Jacinto Reyes, then Bob Clark. Others unidentified.
Forest Rangers at a backcountry camp, circa 1906. Far right, Howard Bald; next to him is Jacinto Reyes, then Bob Clark. Others unidentified.

My father, George Bald, became one of them in 1903 and until the mid-twenties was chief ranger of this area. Trever Isenberg, Jerome Larmer, Bob Clark, Bob Miller, Bill Herbert, the Leiber brothers, Tom Dunsmore, Gene Johnson were among others of that day I remember. They were what one might call, at that time, “real westerners.”

George Bald (center).
George Bald, center. Others unidentified.

Sarah McMullen was a nurse who came to take care of Loring Farnum, a semi-invalid who bought our Rinconada ranch (J.D. Reyes and I gave it that name), later the Orchid Ranch, which is now owned by Camp Ramah. She always began the story with: “The worst fright I ever had was being confronted at Mr. Farnum’s front door by three of the awfullest looking men I ever had laid eyes on!” Then there would be a detailed description of the three. “Two were huge, very dark complexioned men with high cheek bones and dark, piercing eyes. The third man was short with a sandy complexion and legs like a pair of ice tongs….”

The refrain would be: “And that was your father….They wore broad brimmed, low crowned hats and red bandanas, and, of course, were unshaven. They curtly asked to see Mr. Farnum. I was trembling so, ” said Sarah, “I could hardly speak when I went back to Mr. Farnum’s room and said there are three of the most terrible men I ever saw who said they want to see you. Mr. Farnum said, “Well, show them in!”

As I pictured the scene, Jacinto and Gerald Reyes and my dad were returning from a week camping in the mountains. They were tired, dusty and, of course, thirsty, and they knew that Mr. Farnum was always generous with the drinks.

Old postcard showing early United States Forest Service rangers gathered for a barbeque at Matilija Hot Springs which is only a few miles outside of the Ojai Valley in Ventura County, California.
Old postcard showing early United States Forest Service rangers gathered for a barbeque at Matilija Hot Springs which is only a few miles outside of the Ojai Valley in Ventura County, California.

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 2)

The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the December 20, 1972 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. Photos have been added by the Ojai Valley Museum. Bald titled his many articles with the same title. So, this article has “(No. 2)” added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 2)
by
Howard Bald

The Ojai valley in those days was a popular winter resort for wealthy eastern people who would come out for the winter.

Other than playing tennis and cards, about the only entertainment was horseback riding, and for the elder people, a team and surrey with a driver would trot them about the valley, up Matilija canyon (the road ended at Wheeler’s Hot Springs) up through the Upper Ojai valley and onto Sulphur mountain, or over to Shepard’s Inn via Casitas Pass and sometimes onto Santa Barbara. Shepard’s Inn, situated on the line between Santa Barbara and Ventura County was a popular, rustic inn frequented by both Santa Barbara and Ojai tourists.

The Casitas Pass was approached only via what is now Foster Park, and the road followed along the foot of the north side of Red mountain. But the east and west passes were virtually the same as of today. One popular ride was to follow the beach from the Rincon to Ventura when the tide was low. I believe it was sometimes done with a team and wagon. I did it only on a saddle horse.

The livery stable was not only the site of horse trading and training, but also some lively prize fights were held there, sometimes right out on the street and sometimes inside the stable. When held inside buggies would be crammed into a corner to make room for the spectators. Some of the younger fry had their first lessons in boxing there.

I well remember one time when the men had Mavor Smith and me matched together. We were fairly evenly matched and things were going smoothly until Mavor glanced over his shoulder to see how near he was to a horse’s heels in a nearby stall. At that instant I uncorked a left to Mavor’s jaw. Mavor considered that unfair tactics and retaliated with all he had. The riot was quelled by Sam (Mavor’s father) dragging him across the street to their home back of the post office.

Occasionally the village quietness was broken by a local hoodlum riding his horse down the board walk, and if a Chinaman happened to be within reach, wrapping the end of his cue around the pommel of his saddle and galloping to the end of the board walk. (The Chinese all wore a long single braid down their back. I’ll mention them in particular later.)

One smart alec rode into Clyde Stewart’s grocery store and roped a fellow and dragged him over the counter. But that episode is getting into the second decade and I am trying to confine myself to the first decade. And besides, that smart alec (notice I don’t now use the term hoodlum) was myself.

Howard Bald led trips into the back-country.
Howard Bald led trips into the back-country.

One November night the village stillness was suddenly shattered by a series of pistol shots accompanied by unearthly yells. It turned out to be only Johnny Joshlin celebrating the beginning of the fall rains. After emptying two six shooters, he returned to Lagomarsino’s saloon and all was quiet again. Now I wonder how Johnny happened to have two six shooters, for he was not a gunman.

The only law enforcement officer the valley had was constable Andy Van Curren. He was a familiar sight with his flowing gray beard, riding about the valley on an iron gray horse.

His home and the jail (they were separate buildings) occupied the area where the new Security Pacific Bank and Loop’s restaurant now stand.

From left to right: Bank of America, Cattywampus Craft Ojai, Beacon Coffee on the south side of Ojai Avenue in downtown Ojai. Security Pacific Bank was originally housed in the Bank of America building. The building which houses Cattywampus Craft Ojai and Beacon Coffee used to house Loop's Restaurant. These lots used to be where Constable Andy Van Curren's home, and the jail the built, were located.
From left to right: Bank of America, Cattywampus Craft Ojai, Beacon Coffee on the south side of Ojai Avenue in downtown Ojai. Security Pacific Bank was originally housed in the Bank of America building. The building which houses Cattywampus Craft Ojai and Beacon Coffee used to house Loop’s Restaurant. These lots used to be where Constable Andy Van Curren’s home, and the jail he built, were located.

I don’t remember there ever being anything in the jail but spare coffins, for Andy sometimes acted as undertaker. I am sure that on such occasions he substituted the gray saddle horse for a team and spring wagon. (I have recently learned, though, that Mrs. Van Curren would prepare meals, and one of the small daughters would carry them over to the inmates.)

Constable Andy Van Curren's jail, now at Cold Springs Tavern near Santa Barbara. This was the first jail in the Ojai Valley.
Constable Andy Van Curren’s jail, now at Cold Springs Tavern near Santa Barbara. This was the first jail in the Ojai Valley.

There was a story of one of the valley’s most notorious rowdies (I will not mention his name, as it might offend highly respected present day descendents.) His appearances before the justice of the peace McKee were becoming rather frequent, and each time the fine would be a little higher. Finally, the judge fined him $10. The fellow blinked and with characteristic oath said, “Judge, ain’t that pretty steep for a regular customer?”

Another time Constable Van Curren called at his home to make an arrest. His mother met Van Curren at the front door and parlayed with him while the intended arrestee skipped out the kitchen door, saddled and mounted a horse and rode off to the Upper Ojai.

THE SPANISH SETTLERS

The following article is from the book “Portrait of a Community –– Ojai: Yesterdays and Todays” by Ellen Malino James.  It is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher, Ojai Valley News.

THE SPANISH SETTLERS
By Ellen Malino James

For services performed in the Buenaventura Mission, Fernando Tico obtained Rancho Ojay in 1837 as a land grant from the Mexican government which had only a few years before secularized the missions and all the lands held by the church. Tico was born in San Francisco where his father, a native Catalonia, had come as a volunteer soldier for the King of Spain. In 1853, shortly after California was admitted to the Union, Tico sold his entire holdings in Ojai, some 18,000 acres, to speculators for a few thousand dollars.

Don Fernando Tico circa 1840, a decade after he settled in Ojai. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriguez Callendar, who is a direct descendant of the Tico family, and OVM)
Don Fernando Tico circa 1840, a decade after he settled in Ojai. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriguez Callendar, who is a direct descendant of the Tico family, and OVM)

 

One of Don Fernando Tico's sons, Edward. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriguez Callendar and OVM)
One of Don Fernando Tico’s sons, Edward. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriguez Callendar and OVM)

 

One of Don Fernando Tico's sons, Fernando. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriguez Callendar and OVM)
One of Don Fernando Tico’s sons, Fernando. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriguez Callendar and OVM)

 

Eldefrida Tico married William Elwell of Ventura. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriguez Callendar and OVM)
Eldefrida Tico married William Elwell of Ventura. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriguez Callendar and OVM)

 

Jose Ignacio Rodriguez, grandson of Don Fernando Tico. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriquez Callendar and OVM)
Jose Ignacio Rodriguez, grandson of Don Fernando Tico. (photo courtesy of Juanita Rodriquez Callendar and OVM)

The Spanish, who first came to this coast in the sixteenth century, discovered in Alta California a climate much like that of the Mediterranean, the land heavy with the grapevine and other fruit, flowers, and honey. Even after Mexico established a separate republic from Spain in the 1820s, the Spanish at Ventura continued to identify with the Californio, not the Mexico, experience. With Tico’s arrival in Ojai, this valley became a Spanish town, part of the California regional expression of rancho life. When the United States acquired California by war with Mexico in 1848, the Spanish character of the region remained unchanged until several years after the American Civil War in the 1860s when the first Anglo-Americans began to arrive in the territory in search of oil, land and other riches. Only then did the peoples who lived here for centuries before, find themselves cast as a minority.

Rancho Ojay took its name from a Chumash village which, if it can be translated into English at all, probably means month or lunar cycle, according to Ojai Art Center Director Cary Sterling who has studied Indian lore. Berkeley scholar James D. Hart, in A Companion to California (1978) accepts the view of virtually all experts that Ojai to the Chumash meant “moon.” Arthur E. Woolman in The Ojai Valley: Gateway to Health and Happiness (1956) calls Ojai the “Valley of the Moon,” but then suggests that Ojai means “nest.” Travel writers, boosters, and the town’s newspaper continued to use the words “moon” and “nest” interchangeably but, as time went on, preferred the metaphor of the nest. Commenting on this controversy, which never fails to arouse the interest of old-timers, departing school superintendent Albert Marley and his wife Jacque said recently: “Regardless of what the historians and other scholars may say about the meaning of the word ‘Ojai,’ we still like the notion that it means ‘Nest.’ We feel safe in ‘the nest’.”

Spanish settlers reported a pink glow lighting the surrounding mountains to the east. This “pink moment” is a reflection of the setting sun and remains one of the valley’s prime attractions.

The Reyes family circa 1897. (Howard Bald collection, courtesy of OVM). Jacinto Damien Reyes, (third row, second from left) retired in Ojai in the 1930s after three decades as a forest ranger, explorer, and trail-maker in the Sespe wilderness. Reyes Peak, rising 8400 feet in the Cuyama, is named fro him. A hero in the great Matilija-Wheeler Canyon fire of 1917, Reyes also did much to redeem the reputation of the "badlands" along the old Maricopa road from the legendary bandido gangs. The son of Don Rafael Reyes and Dona Maria Ortega (pictured here, second row) Jacinto Reyes grew up on a ranch in Cuyama, now part of the Los Padres National Forest. Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt visited the Reyes Ranch in 1901 and 1905. The family is descended from Francisco Reyes, original holder of the San Fernando Valley land grant in the 1780s, and the equally illustrious Ortegas of Ventura County.
The Reyes family circa 1897. (Howard Bald collection, courtesy of OVM). Jacinto Damien Reyes, (third row, second from left) retired in Ojai in the 1930s after three decades as a forest ranger, explorer, and trail-maker in the Sespe wilderness. Reyes Peak, rising 8400 feet in the Cuyama, is named for him. A hero in the great Matilija-Wheeler Canyon fire of 1917, Reyes also did much to redeem the reputation of the “badlands” along the old Maricopa road from the legendary bandido gangs. The son of Don Rafael Reyes and Dona Maria Ortega (pictured here, second row) Jacinto Reyes grew up on a ranch in Cuyama, now part of the Los Padres National Forest. Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt visited the Reyes Ranch in 1901 and 1905. The family is descended from Francisco Reyes, original holder of the San Fernando Valley land grant in the 1780s, and the equally illustrious Ortegas of Ventura County.

 

Jose Jesus (Chino) Lopez and Ramona Esquivel Lopez, 1890s. (photo courtesy of OVM) The Lopez family owned land stretching from Foothill Road to Matilija Canyon Road. The old adobe at the mouth of Matilija Canyon was once part of the original Ayala land grant from the King of Spain to Francisco Lopez. The son of Chino and Ramona, Francisco, and his wife Matilda raised a family in Ojai. Many Lopez descendants still live here.
Jose Jesus (Chino) Lopez and Ramona Esquivel Lopez, 1890s.  The Lopez family owned land stretching from Foothill Road to Matilija Canyon Road. The old adobe at the mouth of Matilija Canyon was once part of the original Ayala land grant from the King of Spain to Francisco Lopez. The son of Chino and Ramona, Francisco and his wife Matilda raised a family in Ojai. Many Lopez descendants still live here. (photo courtesy of OVM)

 

Orchid Town was an attraction in the ’40s and ’50s

This article was written for an appeared in the Ojai Valley News on June 11, 1999.  It is reprinted here with their permission.

Orchid Town was an attraction in the ’40s and ’50s

by David Mason

“Gardening is one of the best things in the world to make you forget your troubles, so as you go along, take a little time out and relax in your garden amongst the flowers.”
                — Louis Boyle, Out West, 1952

The lavish two-story hotel with its sweeping veranda would have no overnight guests. The post office has not postmaster, the Orchid Café couldn’t serve a decent cup of coffee and there were no children learning their ABC’s at the Deer Little School.

The blacksmith shop was silent and no hymns were heard coming from the Community Church. The Last Chance Saloon never served liquor; the jail never held a prisoner; and the justice of the peace? Well, he never married a single couple.

This may sound like a very dull town, but on the contrary, it was probably one of the most exciting old beautiful towns in all of Southern California.

El Rancho Rinconada, Orchid Town, was the dream of a wealthy man.

Overview of Orchid Town on the El Rancho Rinconada.
Overview of Orchid Town on the El Rancho Rinconada.

When Louis Boyle purchased the 77-acre ranch in the Ojai Valley in March of 1939, it consisted of a small house, garage and barn. Within a year, the land would start to spring forth with an array of exotic plants, for Mr. Boyle’s dream was to develop his ranch into a paradise of flowers.

Mr. Boyle was not raised in the flower business. His father had come to California with his family in the 1890s and had obtained employment in the iron and steel business, which he did quite successfully. His company manufactured barrels, canteens, camp stoves, tin cans and garbage cans.

The elder Boyle eventually took over the Pacific Stove Company, which made heaters and stoves; one popular line of heaters sold for 90 cents each.

One employee was an ambitious man by the name of Parkie O’ Keefe, the plant superintendent and salesman, who would sell stoves, write up the orders, come back to the plant, change clothes and work to make the stoves.

In 1913, Bob Merritt came to work for the Pacific Stove Company. After a few years, Mr. Merritt, longing to go into business for himself, convinced Mr. O’ Keefe to join him. The elder Boyle sold the stove manufacturing end of his business to them and retained a financial interest in their business, which came to be known as O’ Keefe and Merritt.

The Boyle manufacturing company was sold to the United States Steel Company in 1939 and it was then that Louis Boyle came to the Ojai Valley and bought El Rancho Rinconada.

He was not the first man to see the possibilities in this secluded ranch in the little valley. The previous owner, Loring Farnum, had attended Thacher School from 1898 until 1900 and was so impressed with the Ojai Valley that in 1908 he purchased the ranch and named it El Ranch Rinconada. He built a white farm house, planted a prune orchard and raised horses.

The original Farnum house was one of the 60 buildings in the valley that was lost in the great 1917 fire. Mr. Farnum was on the Boyd Club Board of Trustees and he was the first person to introduce radio to the Ojai Valley citizens.

Louis Boyle was enthusiastic about creating a sprawling ranch of orchids and other unique plans. He had attended the 1938 Pasadena Flower Show, where a large display of cymbidium orchids had caught his eye.

The Orchid Ranch would have to be unique, the land encircled by the mountains was too magnificent to construct just ordinary rows of lath and greenhouses.

The idea of creating a western town as a front for the flower beds was decided upon as an attractive way to conceal the lath house structures. Mr. Boyle and his helpers spent months going through junk yards, picking up old doors, windows and lumber.

The first building was the hotel. The imposing structure would stand out from the rest of the town. The windows were actually shadow boxes that held a variety of treasures. Each window box told a different story of the history of the Old West. They included old guns, powder horns, lamps and spectacles. Some contained wooden tools, music boxes, branding irons and straight razors.

 La Casa de Las Orquideas (the old Hotel) and wishing-well.
La Casa de Las Orquideas (the old Hotel) and wishing-well.

 

Shadow box of antiques.
Shadow box of antiques.

 

Upon entering the front door of the hotel, your first view was of hundreds of orchid plants growing in attractive gardens –- a spectacular sight.

Inside of a Lath House.
Inside of a Lath House.

The rear side of the false front was also a treasure trove. Hung on the walls were old western pictures and newspapers. Out front stood a wishing well.

Further down the street, other false fronts continued to be built on both sides, until the town had almost all of the conveniences one would expect in a small town.

There was the drug store, church, hardware and general store. Then they had the little school, assayer’s office, the town hall and bank, the opera house and Last Chance Saloon –- and the largest building, Kate’s House, was named for one of the ladies of early San Francisco.

There was also the Chinese Laundry, King’s Harness Shop, Wells Fargo, Pony Express and The Picture Gallery.

The Picture Gallery was extraordinary. The walls were covered with beautiful pictures of orchids, the handiwork of many artists, who years ago contributed in their greatest ways to symbolizing the beautiful flowers.

The gallery consisted of more than 1,000 prints of orchids, offset in their placement on the walls to make room for the collection of museum quality antiques that were also neatly arranged in the gallery.

An office building and library were built on a low rise at the base of the mountains, so as to afford a panoramic view of the ranch. The atmosphere of the office was more like a home instead of a place of business. The library contained a large collection of rare botanical books, collected from around the world.

Over the years, the Orchid Ranch would become one of the main sources of elaborate displays at flower shows, winning many awards.

Lath House which shaded plants at Orchid Town.
Lath House which shaded plants at Orchid Town.

The various displays that Mr. Boyle entered in the shows were replicas of his greenhouses that were showplaces within themselves, adorned with exquisite garden statuary that added charm to the meandering rock-lined walks that encircled the beautiful beds of graceful orchids.

The camellia plants would add another source of color and beauty to the ranch. Planted throughout the property were more than 7,000 camellia bushes, consisting of 150 different varieties. Many of them were rare and unusual.

The 1948 forest fire would take its toll on the Orchid Ranch, as well as the entire Ojai Valley. At El Rancho Rinconada, lath houses burned to the ground, destroying the precious plants and flowers that the lath had been protecting. The camellias that were planted along the outskirts of the ranch, closer to the surrounding hills, were lost when the fire swept into the little valley.

The ranch was repaired of all fire damage and, in short time, was back in full operation. As though to add insult to injury, the next year it snowed on the little town. To protect the orchids, which were only covered by lath, smudge pots had to be moved in.

By 1952 there were more than 50,000 cymbidium plants growing on the ranch. Mr. Boyle learned all he could about the flowers, mostly through trial and error. His passion for cymbidiums was a major contributor to the flower’s popularity.

During the years that the ranch was in operation, the cymbidium orchid became the most popular flower for stylish corsages. Florists from around the world were supplied with the blooms shipped from El Rancho Rinconada.

There was no lovelier orchid than the cymbidium and there was no finer selection in the United States than those grown at Orchid Town, El Rancho Rinconada. Many different varieties of cymbidiums were propagated there in the many specially designed greenhouses built for the young seedlings.

The names of the cymbidiums read like a list from “Who’s Who,” including: Anne Boleyn, Bach, Mozart, Beau Brummel, Cleopatra, Godiva, Goldilocks, Hiawatha, Pocahontas, Paul Revere, Joan of Arc and Marco Polo. The royal family was not forgotten; plants were named for Queen Elizatbeth I, Queen Mary, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles and Windsor Castle. President Lincoln and President Wilson were also included in the list.

Many other unusual flowers filled the ranch greenhouses, among them the waxy red Hawaiian anthuriums and the cypripedium orchids, also known as the Slipper Orchid.

The ranch would continue to delight people from around the world, whether it be those fortunate enough to have been invited to the many private parties and official affairs that were held there, down to the excitement felt by the smallest florists across the country who received their shipments of the exquisite flowers from the ranch.

Orchid Town's main entrance.
Orchid Town’s main entrance.

When Mr. Boyle died in August of 1954 the glory of El Rancho Rinconada began to fade, but not to the memories. I’m sure the many hours I spent as a child, admiring the quaint place and the beautiful creations of God, had a lot to do with influencing my life.

The property was eventually sold to Camp Ramah and there aren’t many of the original structures left. The office and library, the main house and guest house remain. The western town is gone and the one sign of an earlier day is the wishing well.

Camp Ramah has maintained the land with spacious lawns, tree and flowers, and the serene atmosphere remains. Today, the former El Rancho Rinconada is used for the health and enrichment of young people’s lives, not unlike what it did for the flowers many years ago.