Sharp & Savvy: John J. Burke

Sharp & Savvy: John J. Burke (1862 – 1952)
by David Mason

Mr. Burke was born in Picton, Ontario, Canada. In the early days of apprenticeships, young Mr. Burke went into the dry goods business until the age of 18, when he left Canada for Emporia, Kansas. It was here that he met Sherman Thacher [correction:  Edward Thacher] who would remain a close friend for the rest of his life.

In 1887, the doctors in Kansas told Mr. Burke that he would most likely not live to see his 30th birthday; he was only 25 at the time. He immediately wrote to his friend, Mr. Thacher who by this time had settled in the beautiful valley of Ojai. Mr. Thacher urged him to come to the peaceful valley. He arrived here in the same year, never to returned to his adopted town of Emporia, Kansas.

As a member of the community, he contributed time, knowledge and his assets to the improvement of the Ojai Valley. He was responsible for the Ojai Power Company, which first illuminated the homes of the valley residents. He became one of the proprietors of the Ojai Valley House, which was the new name of the old Blumberg’s hotel, and advertised it as “a homelike place for families and pleasure-seekers, situated in the famous Ojai Valley”.

When a railroad to the valley was needed, it was Mr. Burke who worked hard until it became a reality.

In 1900, Mr. Burke organized the Ojai Improvement Company, which established the Foothills Hotel. Being one of the first realtors of the valley, he was responsible for the development of the early residences on Foothill Road.

He started the Ojai State Bank and served as cashier for many years and eventually became Vice President of the bank, which sold to Bank of Italy before becoming Bank of America.

He was the first to see the future in olives in this area and started the Ojai Olive Mill. He was an important person in the creation of the Gridley Water Company, which furnished the precious liquid to the valley.

He was responsible for the building of the theatre in town and headed up the drive to raise money for the purchase of land for Villanova School.

Mr. Burke attended the first Ojai Tennis Tournament club meeting where he was elected their secretary.

When Mr. Edward D. Libbey wanted to beautify the valley by building arcades, parks and hotels, it was Mr. Burke he called upon to gain the cooperation of the people living in the valley and financial help from the business community. He was one of the early presidents of the Ojai Civic Association, and an officer of the board of trustees of the local library.

Exactness and thoroughness had characterized all of his attainments, for he believed in doing well whatever he undertook and this undoubtedly was the keynotes of his success. His death came at the age of 90, and at the time he was referred to as: “The leading citizen of Ojai”.

JUNE 30 – SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: Fernando Tico

Sharp & Savvy: Fernando Tico (1798 – 1861)
by David Mason

Fernando Tico was born in the small town of San Francisco on April 9, 1798, at 8 o’clock in the morning. He was baptized the next day and given the names:
Fernando Jose Maria Ignacio Martin Tico.

Mr. Tico married Maria Margarita Lopez at the Santa Barbara Mission in 1821 and they had three children. He also served as mayor for the town of Santa Barbara.

Tragedy entered Mr. Tico’s life in 1834 when his wife died. Soon afterwards, Mr. Tico married Maria de Jesus Silvestra Ortega and twelve children were born of that marriage.

The Rancho Ojai was granted to Mr. Tico in 1837, by Governor Juan B. Alvarado. At that time, the Ojai Valley was part of Santa Barbara County, and the Mexican land grant consisted of 17,716.83 acres.

With the cession of California to the United States following the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored. As required by the Land Act of 1851, a claim for Rancho Ojai was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1852.

In the transcripts of the proceedings, depositions were taken to insure Mr. Tico’s rights to the Ojai Valley. Andrus Pico wrote: “My name is Andrus Pico, my age is 42 years. I was born in California. I know the Ranch called Ojai; it is in Santa Barbara County. Fernando Tico first occupied it in 1831 and has continued to occupy it ever since with cattle, horses, a house and corrals”.

The deposition of Pedro C. Carrillo was somewhat longer.
“Question: Will you now state what you know concerning the occupation and inhabitancy of this Rancho by Fernando Tico?”
“Answer: Tico established himself on the Rancho Ojai by permission from Padre Blas Ordaz in the year 1836. He built a corral and a house or hut built of sticks in which he lived with his family. In the year 1837 he got a grant from the Governor and built a fine adobe house about three miles to the westward of the house he first occupied and I have known him to live in it ever since that time in the Rancho with his family, cultivating, having cattle, horses and sheep in the place.” Mr. Tico’s land grant was approved by the Public Land Commission.

Mr. Tico served as Constable in the town of Ventura, he was the Justice of the Peace and in the same year he was elected to the first Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors [in 1854].

In 1853, Mr. Tico sold the Rancho Ojai to Henry Starrow Carnes of Santa Barbara.

Fernando Tico died on December 29, 1861; and his body was the last to be buried in the cemetery at the Ventura Mission.

JUNE 30 – SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: Edward Drummond Libbey

Sharp & Savvy: Edward Drummond Libbey (1854 – 1925)
by David Mason

Edward Drummond Libbey

Mr. Libbey, east coast millionaire and philanthropist, is credited with transforming the typical western town of Nordhoff into the civilized, elegant village of Ojai in 1917.

Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1854, Mr. Libbey became a partner with his father in the glass business in Toledo, Ohio. By 1883, he was the sole proprietor of The Libbey Glass Company.

Since he loved beautiful things and possessed the wealth and power to obtain them, he founded the Toledo Museum of Art in 1901 and was President for many years.

In 1907, Mr. Libbey’s friend, Mr. Harry T. Sinclair, invited Mr. and Mrs. Libbey to winter in Nordhoff at the beautiful Foothills Hotel, which was only open during the winter months.

While Mr. Libbey fell in love with the beauty of the Ojai Valley, he was not pleased with the “ramshackle” town where the stores had false fronts and metal awnings, and the sidewalks were slatted boards.

Libbey's Transformation of Downtown Ojai

With his combination of money and imagination, Mr. Libbey created what we now enjoy about downtown Ojai. In 1916 he began to acquire land. He held progressive conferences with Nordhoff “movers and shakers” including Sherman Thacher, Walter Bristol, John J. Burke and Harry Sinclair. Together, they hired San Diego architects Richard Requa and Frank Mead for suggestions to make Nordhoff a distinctive cohesive and beautiful town.

He began with the building of a Spanish arcade that would cover the false fronts on the stores. In front of the Blumberg’s old hotel, a wisteria covered pergola was built and the centerpiece was to be a beautiful tower for the post office.

Mr. Libbey developed several hundred acres into the Arbolada for home sites for those wanting to come to the valley and build a house. He donated part of his land for the development of the Ojai Valley School.

After a fire that destroyed the Catholic Church, Mr. Libbey helped with the reconstruction of the church with the help of architects Requa and Mead.

He developed the Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club with the help of architect Wallace Neff. The golf course would become one of the most outstanding in America.

The El Roblar Hotel was another important element of Mr. Libbey’s plan for the Ojai Valley.

Mr. Libbey, pleased with the final results of the town of Ojai said: “There has been too little attention paid to things aesthetic in our communities and in our homes. The time has come when we should encourage in ourselves, thoughts of things beautiful… and also of higher ideals which encourages and promotes in the people the fostering of love of that which is beautiful and inspiring.”

Even after the death of Mr. Edward Drummond Libbey in 1925, his estate donated the land for a new library in Ojai and contributed $10,000 towards the construction of the building, designed by Carleton Winslow.

Richard S. Requa, the main architect for the downtown of Ojai, and many of the homes built during the same period said: “The simple lines and curves, the early mission arcades, and Portales, the red terracotta roofing tiles, the wrought iron grilles and balconies and the modest Spanish tower, all seemed to take their places among the trees and shrubs as though they had been placed there by nature when, in one of her happy moods, she fashioned and adorned the valley.”

*To honor Mr. Libbey, the 1917 Nordhoff High School yearbook printed this tribute:

To Edward Drummond Libbey
We dedicate this yearbook

A man whose practical idealism,
Whose love of the beautiful,
Whose vision of altruistic service,
Has inspired and brought to pass
A great work in the Ojai Valley–
All esthetic endowment of such
Wondrous value
That no man can contemplate it
Without
Spiritual uplift.

1917 Nordhoff Topa Topa Annual

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: Dr. Benjamin Levan Saeger

Sharp & Savvy: Dr. Benjamin Levan Saeger (1853 – 1934)
by David Mason

Dr. Saeger received his medical degree from the University of Michigan and had opened his first office in Pennsylvania. His life would take a dramatic change when his friend, Dr. Wilson P. Kern, the only local doctor in the Ojai Valley became ill.

Dr. Kern requested that Dr. Saeger come to the valley to fill in during his illness. He arrived in 1889 and what was to be a temporary job, turned into a practice lasting for 45 years. His first home was a room in the Blumberg’s hotel and his room and board amounted to $20.00 per month.

After the death of his friend, Dr. Kern, he decided to stay. In 1892 he opened the Ojai Drugstore along with his “country doctor” practice. The drugstore’s shelves were covered with all that was available at the time to restore one to good health. A soda fountain was also in the building. The doctor’s typical ad in the local newspaper read as follows: “We carry no groceries, hardware, nor general merchandise. In drugs and stationery we solicit the public patronage.”

In 1896, the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company of San Francisco asked Dr. Saeger to become their agent for the town. He was then the first person in the valley to have a telephone. It would serve the valley as a direct link to the outside world. The doctor would send the message out of the valley by turning the crank on the strange device and when someone miraculously answered, he would give them the message.

Before the citizens of the valley were accustomed to the invention of the telephone, someone invented the automobile. Dr. Saeger was the first person in the valley to own one, a Buick Blue Streak.

In 1903, Dr. Saeger was part of a small group that formed the Ojai Publishing Company and started printing the local newspaper; The Ojai, now the Ojai Valley News. Dr. Saeger was the paper’s first editor.
The drugstore then doubled as the newspaper office. One could drop off articles, advertisements and pay for subscriptions while filling their prescriptions.

In 1934, the stores in the town of Ojai were closed. The people of the small valley had lost their beloved doctor. The report that Dr. Benjamin Levan Saeger had died caused the town to close its doors in honor of this fine man.

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: The Clark Brothers

Sharp & Savvy: The Clark Brothers
By David Mason

Perhaps the greatest testament to the bravery of the two Clark brothers was written by Henry Sparks in his account of the Ojai Fire of 1917.

“When Tom Clark arrived from his duties at the Courthouse,…he first organized a bucket brigade, sending for all the washtubs in town, then ordered barley sacks and designated certain dependable men to mount the houses with shingled roofs and beat out any blaze there. In this manner, the Pratt House was saved but the Foothills Hotel, lost, as the caretaker would not allow the men a ladder to mount the roof. …As the fire burned itself out, the men rushed to the business section. They only succeeded in saving Tom’s home by the narrowest of margins, losing the second story altogether. Tom continued to fight fire through the night. …In the meantime, Bob and the rest of the Clark family, including the women, were out fighting the flames to save homes between the town and the Thacher School. …Let me repeat what I heard John Lagomarsino tell N.B. Smith, ‘About a dozen of us stayed on the roofs of these buildings for two hours with wet sacks and pails of water. Ten different times the roofs took fire and sometimes in two or three places at a time. …I never saw a man work so hard and use his head so well as Bob Clark did that night. He was badly burned about the face and arms….’ Is it any wonder that the entire Clark family is highly regarded in the Ojai Valley and throughout the entire county?”

Thomas S. Clark (1865 – 1940)

Tom Clark arrived in the Ojai Valley in 1881, along with his mother and six siblings, after his father, Michael, had sent for the family to join him. Michael had commuted back and forth from Wisconsin to the Ojai Valley since 1868, the year his brother had settled in the Upper Ojai.

On his arrival, “red-haired Tommy” convinced the local stage line that he, at 16 years of age, was capable of driving stage for the handsome sum of $30 a month. Before long, he was considered the only driver capable of delivering passengers to Ventura during the valley’s periodic torrential rain storms.

In 1894, he and his brother Will, opened the Clark Brothers Stage Line, charging $1 for trips from Nordhoff to Ventura, and charging 50 cents apiece for luggage.

By 1903, Tom, then married and the father of five, was recognized as “one of the most prominent business factors” in the Ojai by the Ventura Democrat newspaper. The following year, he purchased a home, which was the former Oak Cottage rooming house on the S.E. corner of Signal and Matilija Streets.

It was a proud moment for Tom when he, the son of Irish famine immigrants, was invited to serve as a founding member of the Committee of Fifteen, “pledged to enforce the law, preserve order and promote good citizenship” in the valley.

Thomas Clark

On November 8, 1904, Tom was elected Supervisor for the 3rd District, County of Ventura, a position he held until 1932. As Supervisor, his main responsibility was facilitating transportation throughout the county-many roads and bridges were built as the result of his determination and political skill.

As a member of the Ventura County Fair Board, Tom suggested that Chariot Races be introduced as an attraction after said races were abandoned by the Rose Bowl as being too dangerous. Tom, himself, was happy to drive year after year, breaking the world record for four-abreast chariot racing in 1926, an event notable enough to be mentioned in the Boston Globe, and, as reported by The Ojai; “the garl darndest, air-splittingest, bloodcurdlingest chariot races ever staged on the Pacific Coast.”

Editor Frank Kilbourne of The Ojai wrote of Tom on his death, “He was that dearly prized and rare man, a public official whose honesty never was questioned; he served without thought of personal gain or advancement.”

Helen Robertson proposed that a permanent memorial be constructed to honor Tom. Today, that horse trough resides in Rotary Community Park with the original inscription stone:

TO TOM CLARK
BUILT BY HIS FRIENDS TO HONOR A GREAT
HORSEMAN FOR HIS MANY YEARS OF SERVICE TO THE
OJAI VALLEY

Robert Emmet “Bob” Clark

Tom Clark’s youngest brother, Bob, worshipped his elder brother as only an irreverent younger brother can do, emulating his brave deeds and always attempting to outdo them. While both were expert horseman, masters of the “six-in-hand,” Tom was small and compact, reserved, calm, and self-contained, while Bob was tall, rangy, bold, brave, and never met a stranger. Both, however, were distinguished by their red hair and their love for the Ojai Valley.

Bob Clark driving the tally-ho from Santa Barbara to The Ojai over the Casitas Pass Road, 1904.

Bob drove stage for Tom during his youth, graduating to serving in the forest Service after his marriage in 1905. He was awarded a Peacemaker revolver by President Teddy Roosevelt for his role in settling the Jenkins-Chormicle Feud during his first assignment as a ranger.

He tried his hand at ranching for a few years, but found his calling when he was elected Sheriff of Ventura County by a landslide in 1922.

In 1924, Sheriff Bob made the front page of the local paper with his crew and 65 drums of 196-proof alcohol, valued at $67,600 in 1925-era dollars, the “largest haul of contraband on the Pacific Coast.”

Former deputy Leslie White wrote: “He was one of the squarest men I have ever known. …Of course, Bob Clark was a politician-he was elected to office by the vote of the people-but if there exists such a contradiction as an honest politician, it’s old Bob Clark.”

As observed in the Ventura Daily Post, “In the four years he has been in office, raids against booze joints, dope dens, gambling and prostitution houses have resulted in over 500 arrests with practically all convictions. …He has handled 18 murder cases and has arrested his man in all but one, a record perhaps that has never been exceeded anywhere.”

In 1933, Clark was appointed U.S. Marshal for Southern California, and in that capacity, earned a reputation for his humane treatment of prisoners: “A fellow in trouble appreciates square shooting; I’ve taken hundreds of men to the penitentiary, and I’ve never used handcuffs. They knew I expected them not to double cross me, and not one ever did.” The one time Clark did handcuff a prisoner was at the prisoner’s request. Notorious robber-murderer Juan Marion, whom Clark and others had pursued for 14,000 miles-through Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Mexico, and California-asked that he be shackled. “I know that if I’m not handcuffed, I’ll try to escape and I don’t want to double cross you, Bob,” he explained.

After retirement in 1949, Bob and wife Alice returned to the Ojai Valley, spending their final years on son Ned Clark’s ranch on Sulphur Mountain where four of their grandchildren live today.

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: Charles Millard Pratt

Sharp & Savvy: Charles Millard Pratt (1855 – 1935)
by David Mason

Mr. Pratt was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 2, 1855. His father, Charles Pratt Sr. was, at the time, the richest man in Brooklyn and was a partner in the Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller.

By 1879, Charles M. Pratt had graduated from Amherst College and had received an honorary M. A. from Yale, before joining his father’s company, Standard Oil as the company secretary. At various times he was also president and a director of the oil company.

In 1884, he married Mary Seymour Morris, the daughter of the Governor of Connecticut Luzon B. Morris. The Pratt’s had five children.

Mr. Pratt was appointed as a trustee of Amherst College, his alma mater and Vassar College, his wife’s alma mater. He became president of the board of trustees for the Pratt Institute  in New York.

He served on the boards of the Long Island Railroad, and the Brooklyn City Railroad. He was a director in the American Express Company, the Mechanics and Metals National Bank and the Union Mortgage Company.

His interests varied as he was also a director in the Pratt and Lambert Paint Company, the Self Winding Clock Company, and the Chelsea Fiber Mills.

Mr. Pratt was the first alumnus to donate a building to Amherst College, the Pratt Gymnasium, erected in 1883.

Discovering Ojai, Mr. and Mrs. Pratt purchased acreage just north of the Foothills Hotel with thoughts of building a winter home here.

Their choice of architects was the popular Greene and Greene bothers. Many glowing articles were being written about the Greenes, and the Pratts decided that they should have them design their new home.

Pratt House

The Greene brothers placed less emphasis on a formal entry and spacious living and dining areas. Instead, the entry door opened directly into the modest living room. Despite the informality, however, all details of the Pratt house design were given the Greenes’ strict attention. Mr. Pratt was a shareholder in the Foothills Hotel and, consequently, they entertained at the hotel rather than at home.

In 1916, with the Nordhoff High School in need of additional classrooms, Mr. Pratt donated the money to build two very important buildings for the school. One was for manual training and the other for domestic science and art. These additions to the school cost Mr. Pratt $25,000. In 1917, when the forest fire swept through the valley, the manual training building was burned and Mr. Pratt had it replaced immediately.*

Charles Millard Pratt became an invalid and bedridden in 1925 and spent the rest of his life at the family estate in Glen Cove, Long Island. His important contributions to the Ojai Valley had come to an end. He died in November of 1935.

The Pratt House is a Ventura County Historical Landmark and a Federal Landmark. For all times this building has been one of the Greene and Greene brothers’ masterpieces.

*As a tribute to Pratt, the 1916 Nordhoff Yearbook included the following poem:

Charles Millard Pratt

To the man from out of the East
Who bears choice gifts
To bless us and those who follow,
Gifts of gold, but also
Gifts of character and the spirit
Of plain democracy,
More enduring,
We dedicate this, our annual.

1916 Nordhoff Topa Topa Annual

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: Abram Lincoln Hobson

Sharp & Savvy: Abram Lincoln Hobson (1861 – 1929)
by David Mason

Abram Hobson was born in the seaside town of Ventura in March of 1861. He obtained his early education in the public schools of the county. At the age of 16, he went to work for his father in the meat packing business and four years later, he bought out his father’s interest and entered into a partnership with one of his brothers. The name of the business was then changed to Hobson Brothers Packing Company and through the leadership of these men, the business became known as one of the most outstanding concerns of its kind in Southern California.

For a number of years, along with the meat packing company, they were also interested in the business of street paving. They became one of the leading paving contractors in the west and undertook large contracts in many western cities, even installing the gravity sewer line in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In all of their business affairs, the Hobson brothers maintained their transactions at the highest level of ethics and always enjoyed a splendid reputation for dependability and honor.

With a desire to take a wife, Abram Hobson married Helen Barnard in 1889. Helen’s father was the first president of the Seattle University and he had come to Ventura to engage in the lumber and real estate business.

Mr. Hobson’s love of fine horses was well-known and his stable included some of the best-known show equines in Southern California. An able rider, he was for years a colorful figure in local parades.

With such an outstanding background it was no wonder that the small town of Nordhoff welcomed this highly successful family to its community.

The Hobson home was built in 1907 in the popular Craftsman style. It was constructed entirely of wood with a peaked roof and wide overhanging eaves.

Upon entering the spacious bungalow, your attention was directed immediately to the striking fireplace, it had its own individual character with beautiful handmade tiles.

In the dining room, a traditional arts and crafts feature was the built-in sideboard with its long serving surface and china cabinet. The house had a welcome feeling that greeted visitors.

The Hobson daughter, Grace, loved living in the Ojai Valley. The Nordhoff Union High School, which started in 1909, was the center of her life and she would be the valedictorian of the first graduating class in 1912.

With the transformation of the town of Nordhoff by Edward Drummond Libbey, Ojai’s greatest benefactor, to a Spanish-style city during the years of 1916 and 1917, it was only natural that the Hobson family would want their home to match the new design that was being built all over the valley. Architect Richard Requa, who was doing so many of the Spanish buildings, agreed to help the Hobson’s to change their Craftsman-style bungalow into a striking Spanish-style home.

As each room was being transformed, the family vacated that room until it was finished. Most of the work was to the exterior of the building. The interior remained generally the same.

A smaller house, also in Spanish design, was constructed a short distance from the main house, and the walkway between the two buildings was shaded by a wisteria covered pergola.

Completed in 1925, the estate with its two houses, tennis court, miniature golf course and formal gardens, was definitely a beautiful Ojai showplace.

When Abram Hobson died in 1929, daughter Grace and her husband Fred Smith moved into the smaller house to be near her mother, Helen Hobson, for the rest of her life. Grace continued her father’s charitable work in the valley, and throughout the county of Ventura.

After the death of Grace Hobson Smith, her husband presented the estate to the city of Ojai as a gift from the Hobson-Smith family. In 1976, the historic Hobson home became City Hall for the community and today it is one of the most attractive and unique government buildings in the state of California.

The generosity and support of the Hobson and Smith families continues through the present day, under the auspices of the Smith Hobson Foundation, directed by Gregory and Jeffrey Smith, the great-grandsons of Abram Lincoln Hobson. Beneficiaries include Ojai Valley Museum, Ojai Valley School, Ventura County Museum, Claremont Colleges, Ventura County Symphony, New West Symphony among many other worthwhile recipients.

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Sharp & Savvy: Abram Blumberg

Sharp & Savvy: Abram Blumberg (1836 – 1898)
by David Mason

The Blumberg Hotel

Mr. Abram Blumberg was a very successful business man, town promoter and builder. His wife, who was quite sickly, had spent a considerable amount of time reading about California in the books written by the notable author; Charles Nordhoff, and encouraged her husband to give up his business affairs and leave Iowa to seek a better climate in the west.

They traveled first to the town of Los Angeles in 1872, but still Mrs. Blumberg’s health did not improve. After traveling around California, looking for a place where the weather might help her, they happened to read of a new town being promoted by a Mr. R.G. Surdam, in the Ojai Valley.

The Blumberg’s arrival in the valley did much to help settle Mr. Surdam’s town. They arrived in 1873 and almost instantly, Mrs. Blumberg began to recover from her illness. Deciding to stay, Mr. Surdam offered Abram Blumberg 20 acres in the center of town on which to build a small hotel, it was completed in 1874 and called the Ojai Inn, however most of the valley habitants referred to it as the Blumberg’s Hotel.
The Ventura newspaper printed glowing reports on the progress in the valley; “No time should be lost by the Ojai people in making their little valley as attractive as possible. It can be made a most delightful resort.” January 1874.

However, the town did not have a name, some were favoring the name “Topa Topa”, but Mrs. Blumberg felt that because of the wonderful books written by Charles Nordhoff, which was responsible for so many of the valley’s first settlers, they should name the town Nordhoff in his honor.

Meanwhile, in the hotel, the first child was born in the new town of Nordhoff. Irene May Blumberg on September 29, 1874.

Abram Blumberg was killed on the streets of Los Angeles while bicycle riding with his wife, hit by a Trolley Car in 1898.

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

The Beautiful Drives of the ’90s

The Beautiful Drives of the ’90s by Ed Wenig

Tourists arriving in the Ojai Valley in the 1890’s asked much the same questions as tourists who arrive in the valley today. “What can we do and see in Ojai? What drives would you suggest?”

Here is the reply given in an article by the editor of THE OJAI in 1897, under the heading, TO OUR VISITORS.

“One day, or an afternoon should be devoted to the Matilija, going by the hill road north of Nordhoff, digressing if possible to visit the Crawford place and get the eastward view from that point, and penetrating the canyon beyond Matilija to Wheeler’s or Cliff Glen. The hot springs of the Matilija are famous, but the rugged scenery is well worth seeing for its own sake. The return should be made by the Laguna on the Ventura road where the live oak vistas are finest. (Note: The Laguna, once also called Mirror Lake, is now dry, and lies immediately south of Henderson Field). If possible El Nido Ranch should be visited on the way.

“Another drive should include the eastern end of the valley here the greater orange ranches are… One may proceed to Mr. Hall’s ranch where the oldest olive trees are to be seen and the celebrated Whale Rock, and to “Overlook,” Dr. Pierpont’s charming resort, and to Mr. Green’s where the first gold was found, and reach Mr. Thacher’s School at Casa de Piedra Ranch, most interesting to strangers perhaps at recess, from 10:20 to 11 a.m. A 1/2 mile north of Topa Topa Ranch of a hundred acres f citrus fruit whose reputation in the San Francisco markets is an enviable one. A little further drive will include Glencoe Ranch at the head of the valley, and the homeward trip will lead by “Old Nick’s” wine ranch and along the Ojai Avenue back to the town.

“The Upper Valley” is worth another day’s excursion. Dennison’s stock ranch, Hobart’s well kept apricot and almond ranch, Robinson’s, Gray’s, McGuire’s, Pinkerton’s and others, and the large winery of Mr. Bracken are all interesting. The top of Sulphur Mountain may be reached from the upper Valley by comfortable road, and the view of the ocean and the islands amply repays the two or three miles of ascent.

“But if one has entered the valley by the Creek Road one should leave it if possible by driving through the Upper Valley and the Santa Paula Canyon. This drive is one of the most beautiful in Southern California.”

“For those who enjoy horseback riding, Senior’s Canyon, and the Sespe Trail, starting from Gridley’s interesting ranch should not be neglected.”
Horse-drawn rigs were the standard means of transportation for both Ojai residents and sight-seeing tourists. P.L. Smith, Ojai Livery Stable proprietor, proudly advertised a brand new passenger wagon “covered with three seats across, finely upholstered, for carrying passengers over the beautiful drives of the vicinity… just the vehicle for taking parties over the Casitas or down Creek Road, or to the several springs and resorts.”

Horseback riding excursions were also popular for the local folk. There was some discussion whether girls should wear long divided skirts and ride astride their mounts, or ride side-saddle with their flowing skirts hiding pretty ankles. Side-saddles gradually disappeared, however, the chaperones being the last to give them up.

SAN ANTONIO creek drive (Picture courtesy of Howard Gally)

Golf in Ojai (1899)

Golf in 1899 Cost Only 15 Cents a Day in Ojai by Ed Wenig

A gala occasion was celebrated in Nordhoff on Saturday, January 14, 1899, when the first golf course in the valley was opened to the public. Mrs. Mary Gally had supervised the laying out of the course north of the Gally Cottages with the help of some easterners who knew something about golf links.

The greens were patches of sand. Buckets of wet sand hung on posts at the beginning of the fairways for the use of the players in making their tees. Bunkers were made of strips of three-foot wire – netting placed on the top of one-foot ridges of earth. Burned-out hollow stumps and many squirrel holes dotted the fairways.

“Hold my caddy”
The game was a great novelty to the residents of the valley. The players on the opening day, mostly visitors from the east, were followed from hole to hole by the wondering “natives” who chattered continuously, asking the names of the various clubs, how to score, etc.

Mr. Hubby, a local authority on golf terms obligingly explained the game to the onlookers. One of Mr. Hubby’s favorite stories was that of a young lady in the east who had learned to rattle off golf terms with such authority that one golfer remarked that she must be very well posted on golf. “Oh, yes,” she replied, “I know nearly all about it except that I haven’t yet learned how to hold by caddy!”

At the close of the formal opening, refreshments of ice cream, cake and preserved ginger were served at the Gally Cottages.

Although the opening day was pronounced a great success by all who attended, the editor of THE OJAI called the attention of the valley residents to an unfortunate aftermath in the next issue of this paper. He wrote: “After the day was done the putting of greens were an offence to the landscape. The ladies wore those high-heeled shoes that left their imprints deep in the sands as a reminder that society had been at large very recently. It has taken four men all week to repair this damage. Dear people, when you play golf here will you please wear tennis shoes or shoes without heels, that the putting greens may not be put out of repair and other players out of temper and into profanity?”

Players on the course paid 15c for one-half day; 25c for one day, $1 for one week, $2 for one month, and $10 for the season. Caddies were paid 10c for nine holes, and 20c for an eighteen hole round.

Interesting Rules
Because of the particular hazards of the course the Green Committee of the newly-formed Ojai Valley Golf Club found it necessary to make additional rules to the ones laid down by the U.S. Golf Association. Some of these were:

  1. A ball fastened in the netting of any bunker must be dropped behind the same and within a club’s length without penalty.
  2. A ball driven onto the ploughed ground or grain field may be dropped at the point where it left the course under penalty of one stoke.
  3. If ball goes into a squirrel hole, it may be dropped behind the hole, or if unrecoverable another ball may be dropped in its place without penalty.
  4. All stones and pebbles, loose branches and twigs may be removed, provided the ball is not disturbed. If the ball lies on a stone it may be dropped behind the same without penalty.
  5. A ball is in unplayable position near the stumps may be dropped behind the stumps without penalty.

One of Howard Gally’s childhood memories of the early days of the golf course was his mother’s indignation upon learning that her smallest son had been held by his heels and lowered into a burned-out hollow tree by a player to retrieve his ball. Today Howard says he still finds parts of long-lost golf balls in the area where the course was located.

MARY GALLY – standing in the middle of the back row. In the same group are Willian Thacher and Mr. and Mrs. Harry St. Claire.