Garden Club Founded in ’26

The following story is from the “Ojai Valley New’s” OJAI GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY — 1921 to 1971 celebratory booklet. The story is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News.

Garden Club Founded in ’26
The Fight to Preserve the Giant Native Oaks
by
Elizabeth Thacher

Every year the front inside page of the Garden Club yearbook has this line—“Founded in 1926 by Mrs. Frank Osgood.” The small group of women who started the Ojai Valley Garden Club were first of all gardeners. They wanted to know how to grow things in the Ojai and especially how to preserve the natives.

At the early meetings the members brought specimens to show each other and to discuss how best to cultivate them. They had speakers expert in their fields. One of the early speakers was Lockwood deForest, a landscape architect from Santa Barbara, who gave a series of lectures on what plants to grow in which part of the valley.

These pioneer members were the ecologists of their day, eager to preserve the beauty not only of Ojai Valley but also of all Ventura County. The Ojai Valley Garden Club was an outgrowth of a county wide garden club started in 1923. The original eleven members from Ojai have gone, except two—Mrs. Austen Pierpont and Mrs. Alfred Reimer.

Trees

The earliest minutes speak of preserving the oaks, sycamores and other trees native to Ojai—of the fights with county and city to prevent ruthless destruction of native growth to widen roads and highways.

One of the Club’s first projects was the planting of live oaks along West Ojai Avenue on both sides. These Memorial Trees honored first the unknown soldier killed during World War I, and then various Ojai persons whom we wished to honor. Club members did the planting, replanting when trees died, watering and battling those who craved their destruction to widen Ojai Avenue. Many of the trees still survive.

Memorial Oaks planted on both sides of West Ojai Avenue by the Ojai Valley Garden Club.
Memorial Oaks planted on both sides of West Ojai Avenue by the Ojai Valley Garden Club.

Creek Road winding among oaks and sycamores from Ojai to Arnaz Ranch has been preserved so far due to the Ojai Garden Club. The Club has a statement in writing from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors stating that no tree may be cut down along Creek Road without first contacting the Ojai Garden Club.

Memorial

Memorial Rock near the Bank of America [at the east end of the pergola in front of Libbey Park] was first suggested at a meeting in 1946. In 1947 the Ojai Lions Club set up the rock and asked the Garden Club to landscape around it. It did. A plaque bearing the names of the men who went from Ojai to fight in World War II was placed on the rock. In 1951 Austen Pierpont presented a plan for improving the memorial which the Garden Club accepted. It cashed its war bonds to put in a wall around the area and put in plants contributed by the members with their planting supervised by a Garden Club Committee.

Triangle

Where Highway 33 (then called 399) crossed route 150 at what is now the “Y”, there was a triangular piece of ground bare and unsightly. The Garden Club obtained permission to take over this property and plant on it trees, native shrubs and flowers. At first the county watered it. Later the Club took over this job, dragging hoses about then putting in a sprinkler system. It was hard work to keep things growing due to the adobe soil. When the roads were widened, the Y shopping center went in and a 3-way traffic signal established, the triangle became a victim of “progress”.

Post Office
Bulletin Board

In 1926 Mr. and Mrs. Austen Pierpont constructed and put up this board. Each month a Garden Club member is responsible for putting flowers in the three vases and notices of interest to gardeners and conservationists on the board. This project survives today [but in another form. Today it is a rectangle vase.]

Civic Plantings

One of the first plantings done by the then young Garden Club was to put in Matilija poppies and California poppies along Grand Avenue and in the crevices of the Japanese Fountain, which was built on the corner of Grand and McNeil Roads. Bulldozing to widen and straighten Grand destroyed forever both poppies and fountain.

JAPANESE FOUNTAIN --- built by two Japanese workmen under the direction of Sherman E. Thacher (at his expense) at the northeast corner of Grand and McNell in 1906 -- 1907. The Thacher School had been having a problem with foundered horses, the school boys cooling off their mounts too quickly after riding to town and back. Thacher felt the problem would be solved if the boys watered their horses some distance from the school. There were three basins: the top basin was for horses with buggies, and the two lower, for saddle horses. In the back was a place for people to drink. The Ojai Garden Club put plantings in the crevices of the rock structure. The fountain was demolished (with no warning) by county crews when they straightened the road.
JAPANESE FOUNTAIN — built by two Japanese workmen under the direction of Sherman E. Thacher (at his expense) at the northeast corner of Grand and McNell in 1906 — 1907. The Thacher School had been having a problem with foundered horses, the school boys cooling off their mounts too quickly after riding to town and back. Thacher felt the problem would be solved if the boys watered their horses some distance from the school. There were three basins: the top basin was for horses with buggies, and the two lower, for saddle horses. In the back was a place for people to drink. The Ojai Garden Club put plantings in the crevices of the rock structure. The fountain was demolished (with no warning) by county crews when they straightened the road.

A community Christmas tree was planted in Civic Center (now called Libbey Park). Trees, shrubs and plants were put around the tennis court area and in other parts of the park. The Garden Club is responsible for the planting in the patio constructed by Austen Pierpont. For many years the Garden Club paid the summer water bill of the Civic Center.

Shrubs, trees and flowers have been planted on the grounds of every public school in the valley by the Club—more than once. The Boyd Center, Soule Park and the Y have plants or trees supplied by the Ojai Garden Club. The latest project is the patio on the grounds of the Ojai Library—the interior wall, benches and plants all done by the Club.

Zoning

The Ojai Garden Club was one of the first to promote zoning and worked closely with the county and city zoning boards.

Signs

The redwood signs along the arcade were promoted by the Garden Club, which also prevented signs being put on top of the arcade—all but one, a rooster which flew up to his present perch where no one has been able to shoot him down. [No longer on top of the arcade, the author was referring to a neon sign in the shape of a rooster. It was installed by the first cocktail lounge in Ojai.]

Flower shows, sales of wreaths and decorating the arcade at Christmas have been club projects. This last is accomplished in cooperation with the Ojai Chamber of Commerce.

Ojai Issues in 1900, from The Ojai Newspaper

In Ojai, Issues and Causes Didn’t Change by David Mason

‘The Ojai’ is for sale. When I came to the Ojai I had but $68. In four years I have accumulated more property than most men can show for a lifetime of labor; I can still show more than $1,000 a year profit from the paper. It will therefore be seen that ‘The Ojai’ is perhaps as well-paying a business as any in this town, and that it will be a good investment for whomsoever shall purchase it.

Editor and Proprietor Randolph R. Freeman The Ojai, 1900

1900’s horse and buggy stage making its daily stop at the livery stable, now the Ojai Village Pharmacy, corner of Ojai Avenue and Signal Street.

The changing of the dates from the 1800s to the 1900s was hardly celebrated by the people of the small western town of Nordhoff, now Ojai. The editor of the local newspaper, The Ojai, chose this time to make a decision to leave this “wild west” town. Not quite being “run out of town,” but close, the editor said, “Within four years, assaults with intent to kill me have been three in number, all unprovoked, and I have had some lovely fist-fights. I have never said anything in the paper concerning them – because my adversaries have themselves had no paper of their own, and it would hardly be fair; and perhaps but few of my readers know even by hearsay of these little affairs. However, the blow which I received on the head this week has shattered my nerves to the extent of incapacitating me for work. Nor have I yet recovered the strength which I lost by my recent siege of typhoid fever; I fear it shall be a long time before I am returned to my wanted health on account of this combination of causes. Therefore, I must quit the newspaper business for a time at least.”

The beginning of the year 1900 would bring the all-important farm report to the front page of the local paper. “The farmer of the past century has been of the pioneer order. His work in the main was to clear new lands, get new homes in shape and begin the work of farming scientifically.” Predictions for the coming years included: “The ideal American farmer of 1900 will have an entirely different mission to fill. It will be necessary for him to be more energetic than the old times for he will have much stronger competition to meet. His stock will be pure-bred and of high quality, and it will be fed systematically, with a mind well-cultivated and everything carried on in a business way, he will move along subjugating nature, and by invention, machinery and fertilizers will double the products of his land and thus be ready to reap a full share of benefits arising from the advance of American civilization and American commerce.”

From the music industry and the Choir Musical Journal for 1900, the main subject was the insane craze for

Nordhoff Post Office at the turn of the century in downtown Nordhoff, now Ojai

“ragtime” music. “The counters of the music stores are loaded with this virulent poison which, in the form of a malicious epidemic, is finding its way into the homes and brains of the youth to such an extent as to arouse one’s suspicions of their sanity. The pools of slush through which the composers of some of these songs have dragged their questionable rimes are rank enough to stifle the nostrils of decency, and yet young men and ladies of the best standing daily roll around their tongues in gluttonous delight of the most nauseating twaddle about ‘hot town’ and ‘warm babies’ – some of them set to double-jointed, jumping-jack air that fairly twists the ears of an educated musician from their anchorage. Some of these songs are so maudlin in sentiment and rhythm as to make the themes they express fairly stagger in the drunkenness of their exaggerations. They are a plague to both music and musicians, and a stench to refinement.” With the new year dawning, the sports world would also make the news, the Ojai Tennis Tournament Committee began work on building the new tennis courts in the back of the Ojai Inn, now Libbey Park. “The ground has been plowed and leveled. One-third of the backstop posts have also been erected. The work of sifting the surface earth will begin next week.” The tournament for 1900 was held on Friday and Saturday, April 6 and 7.

The game of golf was also popular in 1900. Statistics for the year found that there were 200,000 golf players in the United States, using 3,200,000 clubs, the cost of which, including breakages and repairs, bring the total spent up to $8,000,000. It would have taken 1,000 freight cars loaded to capacity to have carried them. The balls used added up to 2,400,000-dozen per year, a mere trifling expenditure of $8,400,000 annually. Dues paid on the various golf clubs amounted to $6,000,000. With so much spent on the game, The Ojai newspaper felt that it should really be considered “the national game.”

The “homeless” were also a big news item. The Ojai Valley was working to deal with the problem of tramps. “The whole country is still confronted with the tramp problem. It costs California scores of thousands of dollars each year to pay officers’ costs for arresting, jailing and feeding for a few days these roving men.” The paper reported that had the governor signed the “Tramp Bill,” these men would have been at work, either on the highways or the county farm. The people felt that the whole problem would have been solved, the state would have saved an immense expense, the roads would have been greatly improved and the people would not have to put up with the annoyance of the tramps begging for money.

The Ojai editor wrote: “The tramp is a human being; he is our brother no matter how ragged, degraded or demoralized he may be. He may lack energy; he may have bad habits; he may be badly balanced; he may himself be to blame for his destitute condition, but he is human and must be so treated. Don’t curse the poor tramp. Some men are born financiers, others are not. When a man’s last dollar is gone and he has no bed in which to sleep; no money with which to buy food, and his toes are out of his shoes; his clothes are ragged and dirty, he loses his confidence, he easily becomes demoralized and discouraged, and life is shorn of its charms. Let the state take hold of this problem, and solve it; it can be done. Safety to the community requires it. Religions demands it.” In the entertainment news, the local paper reported that: “A band of Italian gypsies in wagons and rags passed through Nordhoff on Thursday. The head man of the outfit had a trick bear which danced and wrestled $2.60 worth, to the great delight of the population, while his Indian wife with a papoose led a little monkey around by a string and caused it to dance and do tricks whenever 10 cents was proffered. The whole gang begged food and clothes to the tune of several barley-sacks full and went on their way rejoicing.” The editor couldn’t help but add some advice to travelers with, “If the gang were but half so dirty they could easily dispense with one-half the horses now required to haul them about.”

The turn of the century brought about major water issues, too. The Santa Barbara News said: “What’s the matter with having a few watering troughs in the city? The water company have disconnected the ones on Canon Perdido and Haley streets. What’s the matter with the city reconnecting them?” The Los Angeles Express, commented by using the town of Nordhoff as an example: “Whatever difficulty exists between the water company and the city of Santa Barbara is non-essential to the point in hand. The plan of providing watering troughs is one which should be immediately put into execution, and these should be placed at frequent intervals along the highways. If Santa Barbara officials are in doubt to the good effects of this scheme, let them drive over the mountains to the little village of Nordhoff, in the Ojai Valley. There on the principal street, and heavily shaded by one of those grand old live oak trees which have made the Ojai famous, is a big, generous trough brimful of the most delicious mountain water. Such public improvements are an index to a town’s character, and will be jotted down by the visitor seeking for a place to locate.”

For a segment on travel and leisure, the trees in the valley were being written about in the Honolulu-Bulletin. In regards to the trees growing in their streets, the editor wrote: “If a precedent for the tree’s occupancy of part of the thoroughfare is required, allow me to refer to the village of Nordhoff, in Ventura County, California. Nordhoff has a very warm summer climate, which has naturally caused the people to prize their fine oak shade trees. The village is built under the trees, which are allowed to stand wherever they chanced to grow. If they are in the street, the people drive around them, saying the trees were there first and shall not be molested. How grateful the shade of those trees is to man and beast can be understood when the love of the people for the trees is known. In California the protects the trees in the roads or streets; and, in Ventura County in particular, woe to the man who lays his ax to any tree upon a public road. There the trees as well as the people are protected, and if an overhanging limb gets too familiar with passersby, an order from the supervisor of the district must be obtained before the offending part of the tree can be removed.”

The new year’s news, from the local Presbyterian Church was very exciting; a special offering was taken on Sunday amounting to $58.30, which was more than double any previous basket collection. In the building category, “A number of enterprising citizens are engaged today in a fence-building bee. They are enclosing the Presbyterian Church lot. Cows shall hereafter keep off the grass, the posies and the plants.” “The trustees and patrons of the George Thacher Memorial Library (now Ojai Library) extended the ladies and gentlemen of the Ojai Valley their sincere thanks for the praiseworthy efforts in the dramatic line which brought into the treasury of the library, eighty dollars to be expended for books.” A very successful library fund-raising event for the beginning of the 1900s. A lot of changes took place in the Ojai Valley during the last 100 years, but did we really change that much? A very happy and successful new year to each and everyone of you.

“Now get up a little rally
And come to the Ojai Valley,
You dear friends back there,
With snow and ice in your hair,
Come enjoy winters fair.
Orchards loaded with golden fruit,
Which is sure to suit,
And it’s plain to be seen,
That nothing grows lean,
With hills and dells all green.
Our schools are the best
To be found in the west;
Teachers and scholars all
Both great and small,
Can answer the call.
Our several preachers
Are all good teachers;
They tell us that we must,
In God put our trust,
Then the devil we can bust.
In this valley so fair
Is the home of many a millionaire,
But now please remind,
That they are the generous kind,
Which you seldom find.
Now hurry with your rally,
On high, to this beautiful valley,
For it’s sure some treat,
And it can’t be beat.”

O.I. Bill, 1900