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.”


This story is from Walter W. Bristol’s 1946 book, “THE STORY OF THE OJAI VALLEY.” It is assumed Bristol authored this story.

Walter W. Bristol

The fist civic organization in the Ojai Valley so far, at least, as my research went, was known at the Committee of Fifteen. It was organized in October, 1903 as a response to a need for law and order. The Committee was headed by Sherman Thacher and included the well known names of that day. The work of the Committee was that of vigilantes in a mild way. No gallows was erected on which to hang miscreants, but they did have a struggle to stay the illegal sale of liquor in the community. In their rather infrequent meetings the Committee discussed a variety of matters connected with the welfare of the valley.

Sherman Day Thacher
Sherman Day Thacher

The Committee of Fifteen, wishing to change its complexion and enlarge its scope so as to invite the world to share the wonders of the Ojai Valley, appointed a committee on November 21, 1906, to perfect arrangements for the organization of a Board of Trade, and “moved to insert a notice in ‘The Ojai’ calling a meeting of the citizens on November 28th to effect the said organization.” Forty members signed up after paying fifty cents initiation fee and one dollar in advance as dues for the year. The first board of directors was E. S. Thacher, H. Waldo Forster, C. E. Gibson, E. F. Baker, W. C. Hendrickson, Joseph Hobart, F. P. Barrow, Dr. B. L. Saeger, J. J. Burke. The first officers were E. S. Thacher, president, H. W. Forster, vice-president, J. J. Burke, secretary, and E. F. Baker, treasurer. Advertising and Transportation Committees were appointed. Booklets were prepared with which to contact the world and were paid for by the county.


At one of its first meetings the board asked the merchants to write letters to the Southern Pacific Co. asking for better freight and passenger service, and suggested that “the merchants have all their freight come by water, which might be used as a lever to bring the So. Pacific Co. to time.” I wonder how many nights’ sleep the S. P. Co. officials lost over that dire threat.

In 1907 the possibility of getting electricity in the valley was discussed. The artesian wells along Ojai Avenue were deemed a menace to health. Four kerosene street lamps were ordered placed from the railroad station to Ojai Ave. and $25 was voted for this improvement. In 1908 subscriptions were taken to build a bridge across the San Antonio river near the Gally cottages. On April 1st, 1910, the Board of Trade directors favored unanimously the bonding of the county for good roads to the extent of $1,000,000, providing the Ojai Supervisorial District got its share. T. S. Clark was then our supervisor. The subject of building a high school, the minutes read, brought out the statement from Principal W. W. Bristol that a building built in the bungalow style, exclusive of the grounds could be constructed for $15,000. He thought it would be ten years before the school would have 100 pupils. (There were about 70 in 1920; the great fire of 1917 played havoc with any increase in population.) The last minutes of the Board of Trade were on October 11th, 1911.

Howard Bristol
Howard Bristol

In the meantime the new high school was built and opened in the fall of 1911. The struggle over the site of the school was rather strenuous as between the east and the west side of town. When the people expressed their will at the polls the present site was chosen and like good Americans the fight was soon forgotten.


The "new" campus in 1910
The “new” campus in 1910.

One day in the fall of 1912 Mr. Frank Weir called upon the writer and proposed a new organization whose purpose was the welfare and growth of the community. He proposed to call it “The Ojai Valley Civic League” and asked me to undertake the secretaryship. Mr. Weir was a very sick man, but energetic and full of enthusiasm for the Ojai Valley. He had in mind the opening of an office in Los Angeles to contact tourists and direct them this way. We collected from both men and women about $400.00. The matter of the Los Angeles office was out of the question. The money was spent mainly for 12 electric lights and their upkeep so long as the money lasted. Mr. Weir and the organization perished with him.

While we are waiting for another civic organization to spring up I wish to give you a picture of the rather crude conditions of living in the valley in the first decade of the twentieth century.

We had a telephone system. It was very intimate service. Central was the clearing house of the whole community and the operators were most patient and gracious in giving information. The time of day, the location of a fire, the time of Jones’ funeral, the time the mail arrives, has Mrs. Scott had her operation? have you seen my dog on the street? and so on. Sometimes we had to wait a good while to get our number, but on the whole it was a good service. There was no electricity in the valley. Kerosene and acetylene gas were used. In 1913 a local electric plant was set up. There were frequent break downs and the service closed at 10 o’clock. All evening affairs were regulated by that arrangement. The water supply was so uncertain that the householders had to have settling tanks to insure a constant supply. Joe Berry, walking up Ojai Ave. to the pump followed by his dog, was a familiar sight. Transportation was by stage and train. The stage came form Ventura via Creek road with no bridges to span the many crossings. In winter the valley was often completely isolated—sometimes for days at a time. The train had a morning leaving time, but there was not certainty as to when it would get back. Main street in Ojai was a mud hole in winter and terribly dusty in summer. There were very few automobiles owned locally. The stores were all wooden and some of them mere shacks. The wooden sidewalks were on different levels.

Waiting for the train to arrive.
Waiting for the train to arrive.

About 1914 Edward Drummond Libbey came on the scene in a magnificent way, but that is another story.

On April 24, 1914, a great meeting of the men of the valley was held at the village hotel— the Ojai Inn. Eighty-seven men were present. Sherman D. Thacher presided, and speaking and music was the order of the evening plus the memorable dinner arranged by Manager Joe Linnell, E. S. Thacher, J. J. Burke, L. R. Orton, Judge Wilson, E. D. Libbey and E. L. Wiest took part. The purpose of the meeting was to formulate some kind of a civic organization in succession to the Board of Trade. Since the Ojai Valley Woman’s Club was very helpful along civic lines, it was thought best not to ask them for support, hence the name Ojai Valley Men’s League came into being. Seventeen directors were elected on that night. The directors in turn elected Sherman D. Thacher, president, and Walter W. Bristol, secretary-treasurer. The directorate changed more or less every year, but the above named executive officers remained the same until 1927 when Mr. Thacher resigned and the writer was elected in his stead. At that time also the name was changed to the O. V. Chamber of Commerce.

To discuss the work of the Men’s League in full would be out of place here. Aside from lighting and cleaning the streets it stood ready to take the lead in every worthy enterprise. I will cite the year 1917. On April 6th of that year the Men’s League planned a day of celebration in honor of Edward D. Libbey, who had done so much to put the Ojai Valley on the map. The plan was to make it an annual affair to be called “Libbey Day.” Mr. Libbey did not accept this suggestion and it was thereafter celebrated, but was designated “Ojai Day.” It took the form of a basket picnic and was held in the Civic Center.

This photo is of the first "Ojai Day". It was held in Civic Center Park (now, Libbey Park) on April 7, 1917.
This photo is of the first “Ojai Day”. It was held in Civic Center Park (now, Libbey Park) on April 7, 1917.

On this particular day in 1917 people came from all over the county. There was band music and community singing. A speaker’s stand was erected near the tennis courts. Mr. Libbey spoke and T. C. Stevens of Los Angeles, a warm friend of Mr. Libbey, was the principal speaker of the day. the climax of the celebration was a procession of about one hundred cars (quite a sight for that time) which, starting from the civic center, wound over the roads of Arbolada.

Edward Drummond Libbey
Edward Drummond Libbey

Just a few days before this celebration, March 30, 1917, the community met in the high school auditorium to honor Charles M. Pratt for the splendid gift to the community of manual training and domestic science buildings at the high school with complete equipment for each. The speakers were County Superintendent J. E. Reynolds, Felton Taylor, president of the student body, Principal Bristol and Sherman Thacher who presided.

The League under the able direction of its president, Sherman Thacher, did a good work in providing for the victims of the Spanish influenza. The Boyd Club was taken over for a hospital. Loring Farnum and Miss Sarah McMillian should be remembered for their services in this strenuous time.

In 1918 the League collected $374.00 for the purpose of a curb to curb pavement through town. About this time the directors of the League began agitation for the incorporation of the village. The boundaries were determined, the election called and incorporation was successfully carried in 1921.

It was the custom from the first for the League to have an annual dinner meeting. As I look back over the years these meetings stand out not only as one of the most important and enjoyable events of the year, but as a means of promoting a sense of unity and good feeling. The Chamber of Commerce still exists and should be a constantly greater agency for community betterment.

This sign is posted facing East Aliso Street even though the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce is located at 206 N. Signal St., #P in downtown Ojai, California. That's because it's in a complex that houses several business offices.
This sign is posted facing East Aliso Street even though the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce is located at 206 N. Signal St., #P in downtown Ojai, California. That’s because it’s in a complex that houses several business offices.

We today cherish the memory of the men and women who in days past established in the Ojai Valley a tradition of culture and local pride. This tradition must be carried on if this community is not to lose its distinctive qualities. Eternal vigilance is the price of such an achievement. “Where there is no vision the people perish.”

The Duke Comes to Ojai

The Duke Comes to Ojai

Written and compiled from various sources by Tony Thacher.

Sherman Day Thacher and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku at The Thacher School in 1922.
Sherman Day Thacher and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku at The Thacher School in 1922.

On a dry and dusty afternoon in late October of 1922 this unlikely pair were captured on film standing near the top of the alluvial fan emanating from Horn Canyon in the northeast corner of the Ojai Valley. Sherman Day Thacher, as headmaster of the school he founded 33 years before, is shown flanked by Olympic swimming gold medalist Duke Paoa Kahanamoku of Honolulu, Hawaii. Duke had been invited to come up from Los Angeles to give a demonstration and instruction in swimming to the assembled student body in the Thacher School’s pool. In reality this crude concrete structure was a rather murky irrigation and fire reservoir full of biota from the creek that filled it.

Duke’s swimming skills, superb physique and good looks had already made him a star both in and out of the water. And his gold medals and promotion of board surfing had made his reputation as the “Father of Modern Surfing” and the “Ambassador of Aloha.” From almost the moment of his birth on August 24, 1890 in Honolulu, Kahanamoku’s life revolved around the warm Pacific waters surrounding Oahu.  While that on its own might not have been a particularly unusual accomplishment for an Hawaiian Islander of the time, what was unusual was his speed through the water. In the first officially sanctioned Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) swim meet in Hawaii in August of 1911, Duke knocked over 4 seconds off the world record for the 100-yard open water event, causing stateside AAU officials to declare there must have been an error and refusing to sanction the time.

Although not used to swimming in a pool, Duke continued his winning ways in the water stateside. At the Olympic games of 1912 held in Stockholm, there was no mistaking Duke’s incredible speed and power, and he won the 100-meter freestyle, again breaking the world record and easily taking the Gold medal. Over the next few years, Kahanamoku’s reputation grew to new heights as he continued shattering world aquatic records in various competitions around the globe. Duke Kahanamoku continued swimming for the rest of his life, winning his last Olympic medal at the age of forty-two. His remarkable twenty-one year career as an Olympic champion remains today a record achievement.

Duke Kahanamoku (holding hat at left) at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
Duke Kahanamoku (holding hat at left) at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

At the same time, he was credited for popularizing the sport of surfing. In a series of widely attended demonstrations around the world, Duke would ride the waves on his handmade long board to the delight of onlookers, and thus the ancient sport was revitalized along the coasts all over the world.

Duke Kahanamoku surfing with Diamond Head at left in the background on Oahu Island in the Hawaiian Islands.
Duke Kahanamoku surfing with Diamond Head at left in the background on Oahu Island in the Hawaiian Islands.

As someone identified with the Hawaiian Islands it is easy to forget that Duke Kahanamoku ever spent significant time anywhere else, yet he was a regular presence in Southern California throughout the 1910’s and 1920’s. The Southland was equally charmed with Duke making many friends and becoming a particular favorite of the movie colony. And, of course, his worldwide fame and good looks didn’t go unnoticed by the studios. In 1925, Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount) offered Duke a film contract. However, his promising film career was hobbled by an ironic twist – he couldn’t appear on-screen doing what the world best knew him for – swimming. AAU rules strictly prohibited Duke from accepting money for swimming. And Duke had no intention of giving up his amateur standing in athletics just for Hollywood film making, which he considered nothing more than a fun lark. So the studios found themselves with a non-swimming swimming star and were forced to come up with creative ways to use him in non-aquatic roles. They tried their best and over the next few years, Duke made appearances in a number of films. Without being able to be seen as the aquatic champion, his career in movies in the ‘20’s quickly fizzled. However, in later years, Duke would return to the screen on several notable occasions. In 1948 he played a native chieftain opposite another famous “Duke,” John Wayne, in The Wake of the Red Witch, and in 1955 he again played a native chief in the John Ford-directed Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda and James Cagney.
Kahanamoku left a legacy in his native Hawaii, where he became its most revered citizen and goodwill ambassador. For more than twenty years he served as Sheriff of Honolulu and after Hawaii became the 50th State in 1959, he was made the State’s official “Ambassador of Aloha.” Kahanamoku died at the age of seventy-seven, just three weeks after greeting Hawaii’s one-millionth visitor.

TWO DUKES: John "The Duke" Wayne and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
TWO DUKES: John “The Duke” Wayne and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.

Today, there are many memorials and monuments to Duke Kahanamoku on the Hawaiian Islands, outside Sydney Harbor and elsewhere, but all too few stateside. However, in Ojai, it’s Sherman Thacher’s unheated and untreated irrigation reservoir that can still be linked to the legendary swimmer and surf rider, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.

Sherman Day Thacher at The Thacher School swimming pool which was really a reservoir.
Sherman Day Thacher at The Thacher School swimming pool which was really a reservoir.

Library was the Focus of Community 100 Years Ago

This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News on April 9, 1999. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Library was the focus of the community 100 years ago
by David Mason

“Ventura house-mover John Brahey is busy moving the Nordhoff Library onto the library (owned) lot south of the present location.”
— Ventura Signal, October 1908

Between 1897 and 1917 philanthropist Andrew Carnegie endowed more than 1,400 public libraries.

He could very well have been inspired by the Ojai Valley’s Library, for by the time Carnegie’s lengthy series of endowments got underway, the town of Nordhoff, now Ojai, had been enjoying a public library for five years.

The library in Nordhoff may not have been a Carnegie library, and Carnegie probably never knew it existed, but the Ojai Valley’s residents were proud of what they had, for they had worked hard to establish this bit of culture in their community.

When the library committee first met in October 1892, it was to discuss plans to raise money to start a library in the town. The people of the valley were so excited about the idea of having a local library that they volunteered many hours to bring it to a reality.

By March 1893 Sherman D. Thacher, founder of The Thacher School, announced that the Thacher family and some friends were willing to donate $500 toward the purchase of books if the people of the little valley could come up with the money for the building and its maintenance. This kind and generous gesture would be the inspiration for an all-out campaign to raise the rest of the needed funds.

After many lawn parties, ice cream socials and teas, the money was raised in a very short time. Construction of the library started in July 1893 and was completed in August, nearly 30 days later.

In 1937 Zaidee Soule, longtime local librarian writing on the history of the library for the community’s newspaper, The Ojai, wrote, “The building was constructed 100 feet south of Ojai Avenue and just east of (Stewart) creek on the Barrow property.”

The building, a single room, was only 16 feet by 24 feet, with a porch running along the east side.

The library was named The George Thacher Memorial Free Library. The name came from one of the Thacher boys who had died at an early age and the people of the valley were proud to honor this boy who had touched the hearts of so many.

Nordhoff LibraryCOP 2016.163

The first librarian was Mrs. J.K. Newton and the library was open from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The library was a success from the first day as the people of the valley were anxious to gain new knowledge.

The success of the library became even more evident in 1904. Since the library did not own the land on which it sat, the library board of directors purchased the lot next door, further south on Montgomery Street, and had the building moved onto their own property and added another room.

In January 1916 the library officially became a branch of the Ventura County Library system, the first in the county. The operating expenses, maintenance and upkeep became the responsibility of the county.

After many years, it was apparent that the library was going to outgrow its building and changes would have to be considered. A number of buildings were being built on the south side of the main street, hiding the library from view, so the library board felt that the location would also have to be changed.

The town was growing rapidly, and with Ojai’s greatest benefactor Mr. E.D. Libbey changing the appearance of the downtown, it was only natural that a new library, designed with the same flair as the rest of the town, would be in keeping with the general plan.

The new library committee was headed by Sherman D. Thacher, who had also been instrumental in the founding of the original library in 1893, and it fell to the Ojai Civic Center Association in 1920 to find a buyer for the existing library property.

After some time, part of the library lot was sold to the Ventura County Fire Department for a new fire station, now [the Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room], and a new group in town called The Ojai Community Players, now the Ojai Art Center, took an option on the remaining portion of the land.

The city had come in possession of a lot on the corner of Aliso and Lion streets through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Smith. The city agreed to pay the Smiths $312.50 for the lot because the city had installed new sewers and widened the streets and had ruined the lot for building a house.

However, Mrs. Smith deemed it in the town’s best interest to accept only a $10 gold piece for the property, an amount she said would “make it legal.” The little old library building was then moved onto the small city-owned lot.

With the pending sale of the library property, the committee put the fundraising efforts into full force and the first person to donate was Mr. Libbey who donated $10,000 worth of stock to the fund. Many others joined Libbey with donations in various amounts. Finally, when enough money was raised, definite plans were started. By the time the committee had raised all the needed funds, Mr. Libbey had passed away and his estate owned the land that the library committee had decided upon for their new building. It was a beautiful corner lot at South Ventura Street and Ojai Avenue. The library committee contacted the Libbey estate to ask if the lot could be purchased for the new library. The answer came back from the trustees of the estate saying, “It had always been Mr. Libbey’s dream to have a library at that site, so they wished to present the lot, worth $10,000, as a free gift to the Ojai Community.”

The architect selected by the library committee was the famous Carleton Winslow. Winslow was 42 and well-respected in the state of California. He had first studied architecture at the Chicago Art Institute, and for more advanced training, he spent time at the Beaux Arts Academy of Paris.

Upon graduating, Winslow found employment with the architectural firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson in New York City. The company became responsible for the construction of the buildings for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and sent Winslow to supervise the job.

After the exposition, Winslow remained in California and opened an architectural office in Los Angeles and later in Santa Barbara. He was one of the most influential figures in the realization of the Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean styles of architecture in the state of California.

It was only natural that the Ojai Library Committee would select such a man to design a building that would not only match the downtown architectural style, but would complement and add uniformity to the town center.

Samuel J. Hudiburg was the building contractor. Hudiburg was born in Santa Paula and received his schooling in Ojai. In 1906, he learned the carpenter’s trade from J.C. Leslie, a pioneer contractor in Ojai, and Hudiburg worked for Leslie until 1919, when he went into contracting for himself. During Hudiburg’s years as a contractor, he built many of the finest residences and commercial buildings in the valley.

On Dec. 1, 1927, the plans for the new library were approved and construction started. The building was to include a reading room, 23 feet by 62 feet, and additional small rooms for magazines, a work room, etc.  An 8-foot porch was planned for the front of the building.

On April 15, 1928, the new library was officially opened. Many books being published that year undoubtedly helped to fill the shelves – among them were “West-Running Brook” by Robert Frost, “The Man Who Knew Coolidge” by Sinclair Lewis, “Good Morning America” by Carl Sandburg and “Boston” by Upton Sinclair.

Ojai LibraryCOP 1978.028

By 1979 the need for an additional room to the library was brought to the attention of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and J.K. “Ken” MacDonald, supervisor from Ojai, would spend the next few years working diligently to accomplish the goal of a new wing.

With the cooperation of John Van Dyke, who owned the vacant lot between his travel agency and the library, the land was secured at a reasonable price.

MacDonald was able to persuade the Board of Supervisors to finance a portion of the project and Friends of the Library, with assistance from librarian Ellen Harmon, were able to secure the needed funds for completion.

The addition was completed in May 1981 and, by a resolution from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the new wing was named the “J.K. ‘Ken’ MacDonald Annex.”


The original 1893 library building became the clubhouse for the Boy Scouts and they used it for their meetings until 1949, when it was deeded to the Girl Scouts for their use.

In 1989 the Girl Scouts were forced to abandon the building as it was found to be unsafe and would have required a lot of changes to bring it up to health and safety codes.

The majority of the building is still in its original condition, and today, more than 100 years later, the building is preserved and maintained in a fashion worthy of its dignity.

Norman Marsh Designed Nordhoff High School (1910)








Nordhoff High School (1911)








Norman F. Marsh Designed Nordhoff High School in 1910 by Craig Walker

When Nordhoff High School first opened in 1909, classes were held upstairs in the old two-story grammar school, located where the OUSD offices are today. The driving force behind the school was Sherman Day Thacher, founder of Ojai’s Thacher School. Mr. Thacher was also responsible for hiring the high school’s first principal, Walter Bristol. In 1909 Nordhoff High School had twenty-four students and two faculty members, including Mr. Bristol.

In the school’s second year, Mr. Bristol and the trustees initiated plans to create a new campus for the high school facing Ojai Avenue at Country Club Drive. They selected Los Angeles architect Norman Foote Marsh to design the school in the California Bungalow style, popular in the Ojai Valley in the early 1900s. The Boyd Club, Thacher School, the Pierpont Cottages, and several expensive homes along Foothill Road were all done in the California Bungalow style. This style is easily recognized with its sloping roofs, gables, exposed rafters, expansive porches, shingled siding, and integration with the earth using river rock or planting. Nordhoff High School would be one of the first public high schools built in the California Bungalow style.

Norman Marsh’s Parkhurst Building in Santa Monica.

Norman Marsh was a well-known Southern California architect who was proficient in several architectural styles. He designed Santa Monica’s Parkhurst Building in Spanish-Colonial style, the University of Redlands in neo-Classical style, and Abbot Kinney’s Venice Beach development as a replica of the famous Italian Renaissance city. Marsh’s firm designed many schools, libraries, and churches, throughout Southern California.

Mr. Marsh designed the new Nordhoff High School so that, in his words, “every window will extend to the floor and will swing open their entire length. The pupils will in ordinary weather practically work out of doors.” This was a revolutionary concept in school architecture at the time, but it has since been used extensively in schools throughout America.

The new Nordhoff High School campus opened in the fall of 1911 with 40 students. In 1916 wealthy oil tycoon Charles Pratt, who owned a large Greene & Greene Bungalow home on Foothill Road, donated the funds to add a manual arts building and a domestic science building to the campus. Walter Bristol hired Norman Marsh to design these buildings also. The great Ojai fire of 1917 destroyed one of them, but Mr. Pratt donated the funds to have it quickly rebuilt.

In 1917, the name of the town was changed from Nordhoff to Ojai. Over the years there have been several attempts to change the name of the school from Nordhoff High School to Ojai High School, but all have failed. Perhaps the traditional name is too deeply ingrained, or perhaps the phrase “Ojai High” is just a bit too quirky!

In 1929 Santa Paula architect Roy Wilson designed the school’s Mission-Revival buildings along El Paseo Road, with the school auditorium added in 1936. Yet, the aging Bungalow-style building pictured at the top of the page continued to be used as classrooms until 1966 when the high school and junior high school swapped campuses. At that time it was torn down and replaced by the nondescript classroom buildings that face Ojai Avenue today.