Ojai’s First Jail

Ojai’s First Jail by Ed Wenig

Andy Van Curen's Jail

For those who needed to be incarcerated for some time, Andy Van Curen, long time constable in the Ojai Valley, provided lodging in a very small, home-made jail he had built himself on his own property. According to Edna Van Curen Miner, his daughter, the jail was built of 4 inch boards, one inch thick that were laid flat, one on top of the other, and then nailed through with iron spikes an inch apart. Says she: “It was a veritable fortress from which none could escape.”

There were two adjoining cells with an iron door for each, one cell capacity was 4, the other 7. A six inch square hole in each door provided a convenient opening for air and for providing a space for passing in small dishes of food. The jail was situated first close to Ojai Avenue, in front of what is now Loops Restaurant [now Carrow’s Restaurant]. Then it was moved under a tree back of the rear parking lot of the Security Pacific Bank building [now, Bank of America].

Andy Van Curen was Nordhoff’s constable for many years. In his later life, there was a movement among some of the citizens of Ojai to elect a younger and more active man to replace him as constable. Commenting on this situation in her memoirs of the period, Helen Baker Reynolds writes: “Andy was hurt and incensed. He let it be known that if he were replaced no one else could use his jail. The movement for replacement promptly collapsed.”

Years after its use was ended, the little jail was twice offered to the City with the suggestion that it be placed in the Civic Park, but the city was not interested.

Clara Koch who had become in possession of the Van Curen property gave the jail to Audrey Ovington of Santa Barbara, who engaged William J. Brakey, the famed “moving man” from Ventura to move it. Mr Brakey took it on a flatbed truck over the Casitas Pass, and deposited it at Cold Spring Tavern. There it stands today and may be seen by anyone interested.

Ed Wenig, Ojai’s home-made jail was escape-proof, Ojai Valley News, Nov. 19, 1969.

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