The following article first appeared on the front page of “THE OJAI” in the Thursday, March 14, 1957 edition. “THE OJAI” is now the “Ojai Valley News”. The article appears here with their permission. The author is unknown.

–Auto Club Report–

A meager handful of Ojai citizens, including only four or five local businessmen and merchants, showed up at the Ojai Elementary school auditorium Tuesday evening for a town-hall type forum on the city’s parking problems and an extensive parking survey report compiled by the Auto Club of Southern California.

The survey, prepared after careful study of parking facilities and related problems in Ojai’s business district, was presented by Auto Club engineering and technical services director Joseph Havenner, and in brief brought out the following points:

1. Ojai, in Havenner’s opinion, is not yet ready for a parking district, such as proposed by a Chamber of Commerce Committee.
2. Ojai has an exceptionally poor street and traffic circulation setup and this must be corrected through a master plan for streets and a similar plan for installing curbs, gutters, and sidewalks in the shopping area before any actual parking program is undertaken.
3. Ojai should have a plan for controlled development of its business district, primarily to the north, and should not deviate from it.
4. Parking meters, in Havenner’s opinion, would not be practical in Ojai.
5. The rear of the Arcade district offers the best opportunities for expanded parking areas.
6. Two hour parking limits should be established in the city parking lot.
7. All possible off-street parking areas should be preserved and improved.
8. A parking committee should be established.
9. Businessmen should help police themselves and their employees on better parking habits.
10. New business buildings should be required by city law to provide certain amounts of off-street parking space.

The Auto Club survey was conducted at no charge to the city at the request of city manager J. Julien Baget last December when the question arose as to whether or not the city should participate in the C of C parking district plans.

The study was deliberately made during the pre-Christmas rush when parking facilities would be taxed to peak loads.

Careful records were made of daily usage of parking spaces, origin of cars as to whether they were local or out of town, number of parking violations, and the overall flow of traffic in the business area.

In the central shopping regions, Auto Club surveyists tabulated a total of 281 parking spaces — 198 at the curb and 83 off-street lots. Most of these were kept in use during the two day count, reaching the peak occupancy about 11 a.m. each day, and the primary demand was found to be for a short time (one hour or less) parking spaces rather than all-day or part day usage.

It was found that 67 per cent of the cars parked in the business district were registered residents of the city; 19 per cent to be Valley and county areas, and 14 per cent to outside visitors.

To the city council and planning commission officials and about 15 citizens present, Havenner emphasized that proper street alignment, continuous traffic circulation, and adequate curbs, sidewalks, and gutters were problems Ojai must solve before it tackles the actual parking situation.

“The longer you delay, the more severe the problem will get and the more its solution will cost you “, Havenner pointed out. “Your present system could not serve a greatly expanded business area because the streets are not properly aligned to handle traffic circulation.”

Illustrating the report with colored slides of Ojai traffic and various parking locations, he noted that a large potential parking area behind the Arcade buildings is not being put to use.

Havenner said he did not think Ojai would ever experience the development of major shopping centers but that business places to accommodate local needs would be ever increasing.

Asked by Lynn Rains about the parking district plans, he said that such districts are not easy to form because often the property owner is not the same person who operates a business but merely leases the site. “It can be a fair and equitable solution in some cities but I don’t think Ojai is quite ready for that kind of operation now,” Havenner added.

Summing up before a brief question and answer period. Havenner, told the small audience, “The factual findings of the study indicate that the parking problem in Ojai is not so difficult to alleviate as outward appearance would lend one to believe. The problem appears to be one of traffic management which has not kept pace with the growth of the area and the changing character of parking demand and traffic movement.

“To improve the efficiency of off-street space will require the understanding of the problems by businessmen and citizens and calls for the formation of organized leadership.

“It must be recognized that off-street facilities to be attractive to customers must be located within the block of the customer’s designation and on the same side of the street.

“Appearance is an important factor in the successful operation of off-street parking facilities. Paving and marking , cleanliness, and improvement of store access by attractive rear entrances are most important considerations.

“An immediate halt should be placed upon the establishment of new businesses without adequate provision for off-street parking needs generated by them. For the present all-day parking demand special study and local leadership must be given to locate adequate parking both off-street and at the curb in areas where this type of parking will cause a minimum blight upon the area.

“The physical obstructions caused by the arches and high curbs on the north side of Ojai avenue in the Arcade compel motorists to egress from their cars from the left side into the street, causing a traffic hazard.

“Angle parking is not advised at the curb and should be used only in low speed urban areas where parking requirements take precedence over smooth operation of through traffic.”

Havenner concluded, “Ojai’s growth had had and will continue to have serious impact on the traffic and parking problems and on the general economy of its established business district.”

During the course of the meeting he also praised Ojai’s police department for its excellent enforcement of traffic and parking regulations and commended the city for its cooperation in assisting with the survey.

A limited number of copies of the published survey in book form will be available at the city hall for merchants or others interested in the parking situation.

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 6)

The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the March 14, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The photo was added by the Ojai Valley Museum. Bald titled his many articles with the same title. So, this article has “(No. 6)” added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 6)
Howard Bald

Clark, Thompson and Bracken were the Upper Ojai winery people. All were Irish immigrants. Nick Walnut was an Italian immigrant who cleared the land and planted his vineyard near what is now east Reeves road. Nick dug his own grave in his dooryard and was buried there at about the turn of the century. Now I am amused at rumors that a fortune was buried with him. He had left a family in the old country, but he willed the property to Will Thompson, then a boy of about ten years.

The wine mostly was hauled to the depot, either to Santa Paula or Nordhoff, in fifty gallon barrels with team and wagon and shipped to Los Angeles.

The last of the product was shipped to L.A. as vinegar and brought 15 cents a gallon. People used to quip that it was so strong it would burn a hole in the table cloth if a drop fell on it. We had linen table cloths in those days.

I mentioned the Italians who came to the winery to purchase wine. They mostly were wood choppers from off of Sulphur Mountain, for at that time cutting and shipping firewood to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara was quite an industry, and several fortunes, to my knowledge, were made. One of them was Huero Obioles, an old Spanish family. There are still descendants in Ventura county.

For a short period about that time Tom Clark and John Hobson, uncle of Mr. Fred Smith, had a wood camp where Perls Nursery stood and Clapp’s now is. Their operation extended from Villanova school to beyond the present Gourmet restaurant and over through Mira Monte to Rice road. [The Gourmet restaurant was located at 11432 Ventura. Boarded up now, it’s located between McDonald’s and Subway.] Fortunately, Meiners Oaks was never touched and neither was the arbolada, though Austin Pierpont recently told me that certain interests were negotiating for the wood rights to the Arbolada. He said that J.J. Burke, uncle of Bill Burke, learned of it and persuaded Foster and Hubby to buy the property. They were among builders of the Foothills hotel. They later sold it to Mr. Libbey. I believe they donated the land for Nordhoff high school that was built in 1911.

This piece of property was where "Perl's Nursery", then "Clapp's Nursery" used to be located many years ago. The property is located on the east side of Highway 33 in the commercial area of Mira Monte.
This piece of property was where “Perl’s Nursery”, then “Clapp’s Nursery” used to be located many years ago. The property is located on the east side of Highway 33 in the commercial area of Mira Monte.

Practically all of the oaks in the area from Villanova to the Gourmet restaurant is second growth, as well as all of the north side of Sulphur mountain.

The heavy wagons that transported wood from Sulphur mountain to Nordhoff for shipment to L.A. and the loads of grain played havoc with the grade from the upper to the lower valleys. It was a shorter and steeper grade than the present Dennison grade.

As a great deal of braking was necessary, the brake shoe quickly wore thin and became ineffective. So the teamsters would run one rear wagon wheel onto an iron shoe that was attached to the bed of the wagon. The wheel was rendered immobile as the shoe slid on the rocky dirt road. It, of course, was a very effective brake, but it gouged a deep rut in the dirt road, and the dust was almost intolerable.

In addition to that, the heat generated by the friction could cause sparks to start a fire should one land in the dry grass. Naturally those teamsters were not popular with the ordinary horse and buggy people.

I have in recent years hunted unsuccessfully through the scrap heaps of Upper Ojai farms in quest of one of those “brake shoes.” It would make a real addition to our historical museum. I doubt that there are many today who have ever seen one. The last one that I saw was at the Knott’s Berry Farm Historical Museum.


The following story was printed in the book “Portrait of a Community (Ojai – Yesterdays and Todays)” by Ellen Malino James in 1984. It is reprinted here with the permission of  publisher Ojai Valley News.

By Ellen Malino James

When Edward Drummond Libbey started the Arcade in 1917, he agreed to share the cost of upgrading the front footage with Ojai merchants. Nobody considered the rear of the Arcade. While the street fronts of the Ojai Avenue stores were united by the Mission style of architects Mead and Requa’s original plan, the back doors stood for fifty years in a haphazard jumble of old wood shacks, some dating back to the original 1870’s town of Nordhoff. The front arches continued to grace the picture postcards, the Arcade having become a kind of façade, like a Hollywood set. Behind it, lay a deteriorating shambles of old Western clapboard buildings.

In January, 1954, Mayor Ken Praire, City Engineer Major John Dron, and another official watch workers fix the parking lot drainage behind the Arcade. (Bill Klamser, Jr,, photo, OVN)
In January, 1954, Mayor Ken Praire, City Engineer Major John Dron, and another official watch workers fix the parking lot drainage behind the Arcade. (Bill Klamser, Jr. photo, OVN)

Architect Zelma Wilson and others foresaw that, with imagination and planning, the rear of the Arcade could become a “focal point of community life” – a village where residents and tourists alike could shop and socialize. The original plans of the Downtown Business Committee in 1971 called for plazas, fountains, covered walkways, and new shops and offices, all blending into a relaxed village atmosphere spanning the block from Signal to Montgomery Street behind the Arcade. Now, a decade later [1984], the Arcade Plaza is a local project, paid for without state or federal money. An ingenious application of the state law allowed for increased tax revenues within the redevelopment area to go exclusively for the benefit of this project.

When John Johnston came to Ojai as city manager in 1971, he recalls, “my great concern at that time was to prevent Ojai from turning into another San Fernando Valley.” Johnston, then in his late twenties, had just completed a term as City Manager of Artesia and Cerritos, where uncontrolled growth had transformed dairy farms into what was then the world’s largest indoor shopping mall.

“In Ojai,” says Johnston, “I ran into a city council that stopped this sort of development on its heels.” With Councilman Hal Mitrany and others, Johnston met with Ojai’s downtown merchants to explore ways to redevelop a “shambles” of old structures. In the back alley behind the Arcade, buildings were collapsing, Johnston recalls, “but what could we do? The city was too poor to do it on their own.”

AS A FIRST step, Johnston urged the city to form a parking and improvement district. The merchants then went to Architect Zelma Wilson, A.I.A. to design an expanded Arcade. Johnston then, in early 1972, asked Robert Hill of the California Department of Housing and Community Development to visit Ojai and to outline for the city council how the state redevelopment law could be applied specifically to Ojai’s needs.

Plans were laid for upgrading the downtown core and putting in public improvements with money from tax increments. Each time a property owner increased the value of his land and buildings within the 135-acre boundary of the agency, local tax money flowed into the coffers of the new redevelopment agency.

“So the project came out as originally hoped for,” said Johnston. “It just took a lot longer.” Ten years, in fact, from the original conception in 1972 to the dedication in April, 1982.

OJAI REMAINS one of the few towns to apply the state law on redevelopment in this novel and constructive way to its downtown area. The amount of money available to the redevelopment agency proved to be more than originally hoped for, because property values increased during the past decade beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. Yet with Proposition 13 and the inevitable decline in real estate values, the redevelopment agency idea is not as desirable as a tool as it once was.

Crucial to the redevelopment plan was the timing and local leadership in Ojai. “It is unlikely that the project would have taken place,” says Johnston, “if the interest and support were not there.”

Johnston particularly recalls the role of Clifford Hey and James Loebl: “When things got tough, they didn’t back down.” But there were many others. “Hundreds of people from all walks of life made this happen.” Just one example: Alan Rains invested in sidewalks outside his store long before the plans for the surrounding area took shape. What the redevelopment agency did was to create confidence in the community.


Behind the Arcade:  Before

Walk-through at Matilija Street Plaza in 1938, Floodwaters running through the street. (photo courtesy of the late Lois Heaton)
Walk-through at Matilija Street Plaza in 1938, Floodwaters running through the street. (Photo courtesy of the late Lois Heaton)


Back door of Ojai Realty, to the left of The Hub, on this same site since 1917 when the front of the Arcade was begun. Previously, the Ojai State Bank stood here. (photo, circa 1950s, courtesy of Alan Rains)
Back door of Ojai Realty [Love Heals in 2017, at 260 E. Ojai Ave], to the left of The Hub, on this same site since 1917 when the front of the Arcade was begun. Previously, the Ojai State Bank stood here. (Photo, circa 1950s, courtesy of Alan Rains)
When David Mason, owner of the Village Florist, opened his store more than a decade ago, he remembered how he used to play on that spot as a toddler. The Village Florist stands on the site of Doug Jordan's next to Ed Benton's. The mural on the wall of the Village Florist dates from the 1950s when David Mason would accompany his mother, Maxine Miller Mason, to work in the store.
When David Mason, owner of the Village Florist, opened his store more than a decade ago, he remembered how he used to play on that spot as a toddler. The Village Florist stands on the site of Doug Jordan’s next to Ed Benton’s. The mural on the wall of the Village Florist dates from the 1950s when David Mason would accompany his mother, Maxine Miller Mason, to work in the store. [The Village Florist was located at 242 E. Ojai Ave; in 2017 it is Osteria Monte Grappa.]
Rear view of Ojai Gift store with outhouse as it looked in the 1950s. (photo courtesy of Alan Rains)
Rear view of Ojai Gift store with outhouse as it looked in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Alan Rains)

Behind the Arcade:  After

Merchant Alan Rains recalls:  “Our concern was that we did not want to see Ojai follow the same route as the San Fernando Valley with shops starting at Woodland Hills and running fifteen miles to wherever.  Ojai had not been growing in a healthy pattern for several years and it was felt something needed to be done to revitalize the original shopping area.”

The plaza looking east with new lanterns and landscaping. (OVN staff photo)
The plaza looking east with new lanterns and landscaping. (OVN staff photo)


Attractive benches, flowers, and places to rest, much in the tradition of a European town square. (OVN staff photo)
Attractive benches, flowers, and places to rest, much in the tradition of a European town square. (OVN staff photo)


The area behind the Arcade is no longer an eyesore, but an attractive showplace. (OVN staff photo)
The area behind the Arcade is no longer an eyesore, but an attractive showplace. (OVN staff photo) [This fountain was removed in the late 1990s.]
No more false fronts, no more shambles at the rear.


The Age of Reformation: The founding of AARP in Ojai

The Age of Reformation: Ethel Andrus and the Founding of AARP
by Craig Walker and Bret Bradigan
from The Ojai Quarterly

As Jack Fay remembers it, it was just a quiet business dinner with six people in a small meeting room at the Ojai Valley Inn. The air wasn’t charged with the momentous changes about to take place. Instead, they discussed legal incorporation issues and health insurance premiums.

Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus organized the meeting. She represented the Grey Gables in Ojai on behalf of the National Retired Teachers Association, and Fay was her lawyer. The others at the meeting were Ruth Lana, Andrus’ long-time lieutenant; Dorothy Crippen, Andrus’ cousin; Leonard Fialco, the assistant to the sixth person present, Leonard Davis, an ambitious if yet only modestly successful insurance broker from Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

During that Ojai evening in 1958, the American Association of Retired Persons was born. And what it meant to grow old in this country changed dramatically. At first, the AARP was structured as a mechanism by which the National Retired Teachers Association, founded in 1947 by Andrus, could sell health insurance to the general public. The NRTA had been selling policies to retired teachers since 1956, and it had proven both profitable and popular. Insurance companies had turned Andrus down 40 times in the past 11 years. Yet in those pre-Medicare days she knew that people over 65 deserved the security and dignity that comes from knowing that they could rely on a doctor’s care.

When Andrus started the NRTA in 1947, 75 percent of people over the age of 65 lived with their relatives and 55 percent lived below the poverty line, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In 1940, life expectancy was 60.8 years for men, 65.2 for females. In 2007, life expectancy figures were 75.4 and 80.4 respectively.

Some of the increase in lifespan can be attributed to medical advances, which the AARP has advocated and funded. Some could also be plausibly attributed to the dynamic lifestyle that Dr. Andrus pioneered and of which she was a living example: a lifestyle based on exercise, travel, lifetime learning, second careers, political and social activism, volunteering and community service.

Despite its modest origins in Ojai, the AARP now has 40 million members and is considered one of the most powerful nonprofit organizations in the United States. Its magazine has the largest circulation of any periodical. Its lobbying arm in Washington, D.C, is considered the most formidable. The organization extends into every area of aging, from leading-edge research to group travel discounts.

Fay, a former Ojai mayor and city councilman, is still practicing law. He is the sole survivor of that meeting since the death of Davis in 2001.

“As the meeting broke up, Davis took me by the shoulder and whispered to me, “You’ll never get anywhere in life if you don’t think big,” Fay recalls. “And I thought that was a heck of a good idea. So, I started thinking big. It didn’t work for me, but it did work for Davis.”

Leonard Davis convinced Continental Casualty to start up a pilot program for selling policies to everyone over the age of 65, not just retired teachers. It proved an immediate success. It went nationwide, with Davis as the sole broker. “He had the whole country as a fertile field to sell his health insurance,” Fay says. “So he made the best of it.”

Davis put up $50,000 in startup money. Dr. Andrus founded Modern Maturity magazine, now AARP Magazine, which lobbied for the interests of the elderly and, perhaps not coincidentally, served as an excellent marketing vehicle for the health insurance policies in those pre- Medicare years.

Within a year, the number of policies written went from 5,000 to 15,000. Within a few decades, Forbes magazine listed Davis as one of its 400 wealthiest Americans, with a personal fortune estimated at $230 million at the time he sold his Philadelphia-based Colonial Penn Group in 1984.

“I remember that evening vividly,” Fay says, “But I don’t think any one of us realized the import. Who could have predicted it?”

If anyone could have predicted it, it would likely have been Dr. Andrus, who founded the NRTA in 1947 before moving to Ojai from Glendale in 1954 to open a revolutionary new retirement home for teachers at Grey Gables.

A daughter of the progressive movement
She was born in San Francisco in 1884, the daughter of what she described as “a struggling young attorney” and “his proud and admiring helpmate.” She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1903 and began her long and storied teaching career at the Lewis Institute, the first junior college in the country, now the Illinois Institute of Technology.

She volunteered regularly at the nearby Hull House, founded by prominent reformer Jane Addams, who in 1930 became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. At the time of Andrus’ volunteer service, however, the Hull House, founded just a few years earlier in 1897, was still an open experiment in social democracy, providing spiritual and educational uplift for its neighborhood of newly arrived immigrants in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. Each week, as many as 2,000 people came to the settlement house for night school classes, kindergarten classes, its famed public kitchen, its art gallery, gym, bookbindery, drama groups and library.

Dr. Andrus might be seen as a product of the Progressive Movement, which arose in the late 19th century as a socially responsible response to the abject poverty in which many of the new wave of immigrants lived, as well as against the greed of the Gilded Age of robber barons and growing economic inequality. Crusading journalists like Ida Tarbell and Frank Norris brought attention to the dangers and humiliations faced by factory workers and farmers. In 1906, during Dr. Andrus’ service at the Hull House, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, about Chicago’s meatpacking plants and stockyards, was published. With its nauseating descriptions of filthy practices and labor abuse, it led to such reforms as the Pure Food and Drug Act. The story of a Lithuanian immigrant and his family living in squalor and abuse, The Jungle intimately described many of the people for whom Addams, and Andrus, sought to provide a ladder out of poverty.

“I learned there to know life intimately and to value folks of different races and creeds,” Dr. Andrus wrote. “I saw there wonderful examples, not only of rehabilitation but of resurrection as well.”

Return to California
Her father’s failing health and eyesight brought her back to California. She took a teaching position at Santa Paula High School, which may have been her first exposure to Ojai, though she is said to have selected Ojai for her endeavors after giving a talk at Nordhoff High School in 1953.

In 1916, she was offered the assistant principal position at East Los Angeles High School. The following year, the principal retired and she was offered the job. At age 32, Ethel Percy Andrus had become the first female principal of a large, urban high school in the state of California.

With her flaming red hair and intense purpose, Andrus cut a memorable figure. One of her students, the actor Robert Preston of The Music Man fame, said, “The big iron scroll at Abraham Lincoln High School through which we passed said “Opportunity.” Isn’t it amazing that we didn’t know until we walked out: Opportunity had red hair!”

The lessons Ethel Percy Andrus learned at Hull House would serve her well over the next 28 years.

The school was notorious for its high rates of social dysfunction and juvenile delinquency. Despite the grand homes on the bluff overlooking the Los Angeles River, the district was also crowded with coldwater flats and tarpaper shacks from immigrant influxes: Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Mexican families particularly.

Lincoln Heights, considered the oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles, was always ethnically diverse, and racial clashes were common. It was the setting for the infamous Zoot Suit Riots, which began in 1942 because a Hispanic youth named Jose Diaz was allegedly murdered in Sleepy Lagoon in nearby Williams Ranch.

Asians, Latinos and Italians mixed with affluent founding families as well as Russian refugees from a Christian sect. Andrus wrote, “They lived in the flats near City Hall. They were an interesting people, led by an epileptic and financed by the elder Leo Tolstoi.”

Lincoln’s Legacy
Dr. Andrus’ first task was to find some concepts to unify these immigrants and starchy patricians into a community. “Our faith became an obsession,” she wrote. “We must keep our many nationalities conscious and proud of their racial and national background, of the contributions made to the American dream, and to the insistent obligation they, the youngsters, must themselves accept in raising their own coming families with a double loyalty; respecting their own roots and the traditions alike of America and the land and faith of their forefathers.”

Every school day, at auditorium call, the students repeated these words: “I hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal. God hath made of one blood all races of men, and we are his children, brothers and sisters all.”

Her father’s hero was Abraham Lincoln. Her nephew was named Lincoln. Lincoln was also the hero of her mentor, Jane Addams, whose father was one of the founders of the Republican Party and a personal friend of the Great Emancipator. In 1919, Dr. Andrus was instrumental in having the neighborhood renamed from East Los Angeles to Lincoln Heights, and the 2,000-student school renamed Abraham Lincoln High School.

One of the anecdotes told about Lincoln was that after he gave a conciliatory speech about the Confederacy, a woman in the audience said, “But Mr. President, we must destroy our enemies!” Lincoln replied, “Yes, ma’am. But do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Dr. Andrus took that story to heart, always working to defuse tensions in the multiethnic community and build a shared sense of purpose. She forged strong connections. She worked with Los Angeles County Community Hospital to train nurses at the school. She encouraged civic associations like the Optimists to sponsor education awards and scholarships. Former athletes came back as coaches. Standout students went to college and came back as teachers. Besides Robert Preston, among her renowned alumni were actor Robert Young (who played Marcus Welby, M.D.) and Cardinal Robert Mahoney.

It didn’t take long before Dr. Andrus’ reforming zeal stirred up controversy, and delivered results. For example, she dropped Latin and Greek, and added vocational courses. “The discipline and faith routinely ingrained by the school reduced juvenile delinquency and brought a citation from the Superior Court,” wrote Scott Hart in “The Power of Years,” an Andrus biography commissioned by the NRTA and the AARP.

Among her proudest achievements was founding the Opportunity School with but one other certificated teacher, but with a staff of vital teachers: engineers, salesmen, preachers and the like. It later became the Lincoln Heights Adult Evening School,” she wrote. It served as a focal point for a community fractured along ethnic and economic lines.

Dr. Andrus said, “It was not a revolutionary idea–except in practice–to realize that the sons and daughters of folk pouring in from every corner of the globe had now some kind of common background, something to hold them together, a community pride.”

A lifelong learner, Dr. Andrus received her M.A. in 1928, and, in 1930, became one of the first women to receive her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

She also brought her faculty together into a tight-knit team. Ed Wenig, her drama teacher, moved to Ojai after his retirement to help her with the NRTA. Wenig became an esteemed local historian as well as a columnist for Modern Maturity magazine.

Wenig’s daughter, Patty Atkinson, was five in 1956 when the family moved to Ojai. “She was an imposing woman–she commanded a lot of authority,” Atkinson says of Andrus. Atkinson says her father adored Dr. Andrus, serving on many boards with her, including the NRTA, and helping with her many writing and publishing ventures after moving to Ojai.

Atkinson remembers her father, who had quite a peripatetic career including a stint teaching in the Philippines before joining forces with Dr. Andrus, talking about the day in 1942 that the Japanese students were rounded up to go to internment camps. “As the buses passed the school, the entire student body stood outside and waved,” she recalls. That measure of human respect was directly due to Andrus’ influence.

She also says her father would herd the students into assemblies and stage radio plays while the faculty held meetings. Often, Wenig would have to frisk students for weapons as they filed into the auditorium.

Even as Lincoln High School became nationally recognized for excellence, Dr. Andrus’ methods were studied and encouraged by the National Educational Association, her priorities changed to the very local near the end of the school year in 1944.

“My resignation came to Lincoln and myself as a sudden surprise,” she said. That morning the nurse attending my mother told me of her belief that my mother was to be a hopeless invalid. On the way to school, I determined that I could give to her the loving care she had given to my father during his blindness.”

Dr. Andrus was 60 years old, with a full life of significant achievements. But it was while caring for her mother that she became acutely aware of the problems faced by aging people. And so she launched the second, and most enduring, role of her career.

The Chicken Coop
In the AARP’s current television ads, the camera lens takes in a decrepit chicken coop, with the narration: “The unlikely birth place of a fundamental idea… Ethel couldn’t ignore the clear need for health and financial security, and it inspired her to found AARP.”

The chicken coop incident came not long after her retirement. While she was caring for her mother, Dr. Andrus kept busy with professional associations. She was named director of welfare for the Southern Section of the California Teachers Association, charged with seeing to the material needs of thousands of retirees.

It was a job she took personally, having learned that her pension, after 40 years in education, was $61.49 a month plus another $23.93 a month in an annuity, barely even a living wage. While she could rely on family money and other sources of income, she realized that very few teachers had such privileges waiting for them after their careers were over. Most retired teachers in those days were women, who were left especially destitute when widowed.

One day a local grocer asked Dr. Andrus if she would check on an old woman he hadn’t seen in several days. He gave Ethel the woman’s address. The people who lived there didn’t recognize the name, but then said, “Oh, you must mean the old woman living out back.” That’s when Andrus discovered that one of her retired teachers was living in a chicken coop. The woman was gravely ill, but had no money to visit a doctor. It was a moment that would charge Ethel Percy Andrus’ life with a new purpose.

She set about this new mission with great deliberation. The first step was to organize teachers nationwide in an effort to boost their collective clout. On Oct. 13, 1947, the 125 members of the California Retired Teachers Association present in Berkeley voted unanimously to form the National Retired Teachers Association.

That long journey eventually led to Ojai. Dr. Andrus began stumping the country, giving talks about the issues of aging, about the great gifts that elderly people could contribute to society, and about the means and mechanisms by which that pent-up potential would be realized. She brought an evangelical zeal to the task, repudiating the well-meaning social workers, retirement home activity directors, and even retirees themselves who fill the days of retired people with recreational activities like bingo or shuffleboard.

Older people need purpose in their life, meaningful and productive work, Dr. Andrus said. She objected to the term ‘senior citizen’ as isolating and demeaning. “We wouldn’t call 45-year-olds junior citizens,” she would say.

Friends and associates noticed a marked difference in Dr. Andrus. “She might talk with nostalgia of

Model of Grey Gables used at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.the halls of ivy, and hours later with iron firmness about a business matter. Her ability to listen equaled her gift for quick brisk speech, everyone left her company feeling good about themselves, according to Power of Years.

the halls of ivy, and hours later with iron firmness about a business matter. Her ability to listen equaled her gift for quick brisk speech, everyone left her company feeling good about themselves,” according to The Power of Years.

Fay says that being in her presence “was an amazing feeling. She was an idealist and a visionary, and her lieutenants, Dorothy and Ruth, did the nuts and bolts work, and I did the legal work. She was a leader in the true sense of the word. She had great charisma, very articulate, although soft-spoken. She had such an aura about her, that I’ve been with her on several occasions when as soon as she walked into a room, silence came over it, and they looked at her in awe.”

One of the goals she set for the NRTA was to provide a model facility for active retirement. As she began casting about for a location, she might have remembered Ojai for its warm, dry air and bright sunshine from her days as a teacher in nearby Santa Paula; or she might have had conversations with local residents about the idea after giving a talk at Nordhoff High School, then located on El Paseo Drive.




Grey Gables of Ojai



Quiet Town, Big Changes
The morning after her Nordhoff talk in 1953, she saw two buildings for sale; a house on the corner of Montgomery Street and Grand Avenue, and a three-story building behind it. The property, Grey Gables, already had several small apartments, common living areas, a library and a large music hall. The NRTA put in an offer.

She had a grander vision of what retirement living could be than anything that had come before. Dr. Andrus foresaw a nursing home where the elderly might receive 24-hour care, and where they would actively work, volunteer and participate in the life of their community.

The city was skeptical. There were two other applicants for the site: Sam Sklar, who had recently bought Wheeler Hot Springs, and planned to operate the Gables in conjunction with his resort; and Alcoholics Anonymous, looking for a rest home for people in recovery. “The City was also not eager for us, grudgingly granting us the license which was essential to the sale only after being forced to decide between the claims of Alcohol[ics] Anonymous, a resort of uncertain moral standards and a retirement home. Finally, at long last, the City Council felt our institution was the least worst, and Grey Gables was in the forming,” Andrus wrote. Obstacles loomed, however.

The previous owners proved difficult. “The Sanfords were unpredictable; they wanted badly to sell, but

Grey Gables in 1954

they hated the necessity of foregoing their dream,” Andrus wrote.
But the sale was a necessity. The Sanfords were about to be foreclosed on, owing $80,000 on the property. (Alee Sanford had her own, parallel vision for the property when she built it in the late 1940s, as a resident teachers’ club and library, with subsidized housing for local teachers.)

The first five years were a whirlwind of activity. Dr. Andrus brought Lana to Ojai as her trusted advisor, and they set to work “often substituting sheer energy for cash, and nervous energy for cash,” she later wrote. They created the menus, arranged the activities and attended the phones 24 hours a day.

The first resident, Emma McRedie Turner, from Chicago, arrived on July 17, 1954. “I was absolutely alone here, but the patrol car came by regularly,” she was quoted as saying in The Power of Years. Within 10 years, it had 85 residents.

“We of Grey Gables are certain that this project will be a pilot one, the first perhaps of many to prove to the world that retirement can be a dynamic adventure in gracious living,” Andrus wrote.

Dr. Andrus at her desk in Ojai

Jack Fay remembers his initial encounter with the red-haired dynamo. “In 1955, I first met Dr. Andrus at a City Council meeting, where I was representing an applicant for a land-use proposition, and she was there with her attorney, opposing my client, and it was a very contentious hearing, but not with her. I was just fine with her. I lost that case. She won it. Within a week, Andrus called me and said, ‘I wish you’d be my attorney.’ So I said, ‘Fine!'”

Little did I know what I was getting into. Dr. Andrus brought a large crew of people with her to Ojai from her former home in Glendale, including Ruth Lana, herself a former teacher. Ruth’s daughter, Lora, spent several years in Ojai, first as a student at Happy Valley School, then as an employee of the NRTA and AARP. “I remember opening these countless envelopes and shaking out the $2 [AARP membership fees] inside,” she said. The AARP grew from its first member in 1958 to about 400,000 in 1962, when the membership office was moved to Long Beach. The organization continued to be headquartered in Ojai until 1965, when the entire operation was moved first to Long Beach, then to Washington D.C.

Early residents of Grey Gables were attracted by Ethel’s vision of an active life of service, and so the Gables soon became an important asset to the community. Its residents served on local boards, tutored in the schools, taught classes at the Art Center and volunteered throughout the valley.

In 1959 the Ojai City Council, which had originally balked at the project, awarded Ethel Andrus and her Grey Gables residents a city proclamation honoring their many contributions to the community.

While she was busy lobbying politicians in Washington, D.C. (Lora Lana remembers her mother and Andrus living out of suitcases for weeks at a time), she also kept close touch with her people in Ojai. When a Nordhoff teacher, Herb Smith, and his wife were stricken with polio, Ethel spearheaded the fund-raising effort that paid for their house to be retrofitted for the wheelchair-bound couple.

Andrus cut quite a figure around town, says Anne Friend Thacher, who began working for both the NRTA and the AARP maintaining membership files. “No one called her Ethel. She had this striking red hair and was a very smart person.”

Dr. Andrus also brought her nephew, Lincoln Service, along with his young daughters, Barbara and Suzanne (Sandy) Andrus Service, to Ojai in 1954. The girls were seven and eight. Dr. Service served as the Gables’ medical staff. “We just loved Ojai,” Barbara says. “It was rural, and very beautiful, and very different from Glendale.” Even with Ojai’s laid-back country feel, Dr. Andrus insisted on proper decorum in dress and bearing. “One time she drove me down to Long Beach to go clothes shopping,” Sandy Service says. “We went into several stores where I would sit on the sofa and they brought out clothes for me to try. She would always pick these fancy silk suits. I said, ‘Nana, people in Ojai don’t dress like that.” She said, “A lady is a lady no matter where she lives.”

Thacher was a student at Happy Valley School at the time. Lora Lana was a year ahead of her. Thacher was promoted to secretary and continued to work for both organizations while a student at Berkeley. “They employed a lot of local people. The pay was pretty terrible,” she says. “One of my jobs was to correspond with people who had questions. One of the questions was, “How do you pronounce Ojai?”

Dr. Andrus was known for hiring young people. both to keep the former teachers in touch with youth, and also to allow the residents to use their wisdom and experience to guide young people. “Youth can and should be courted,” she wrote. “Youth will, in dividends of gratitude, pay high for the investment of the oldster’s time, interest and thoughtful attention.”

As the NRTA and AARP grew into national powerhouses, the local offices expanded. In 1954, the NRTA purchased Sycamore Lodge, a motel next to Grey Gables that fronted Grand Avenue; later, several apartments were added on the back and west side of the property. The Acacias nursing home was built in 1959.

Dr. Andrus set out the vision for the Acacias in an article for Modern Maturity in 1959, shortly after its purchase:

“The Acacias hopes to be more than a nursing facility, more than a convalescent home; it is a health center that will demonstrate the potency of helping older people discover the basis of their trouble and through care, friendly concern, and expert service find the right channels to recovery. The Acacias in its freshness and beauty of building and setting is in itself a strong factor in the attainment of this goal; its lines are restful; its colors refreshing; its furnishing modern and effective.”

Though she was instrumental in many causes of the day–working to end mandatory retirement and age-related discrimination, and to establish the now ubiquitous senior discounts–Dr. Andrus did so in an entirely non-adversarial manner. She didn’t lead marches, sit-ins, political campaigns, etc. It was all done through education, research, advocacy and programs by her own membership organizations.

Through the research arm of AARP, she exploded many commonly held myths, stereotypes and assumptions about aging. She used this new knowledge about aging to promote a new image of growing older and retirement … from the end of one’s creative life to the beginning, from isolation to involvement, from deterioration to continued growth, from a time to be feared to a time of opportunity and renewed productivity.

Leonard Davis and Dr. Andrus made a formidable team, lobbying tirelessly for the passage of Medicare in 1965.

Davis died at age 76 in 2001. Despite a few scrapes with regulators and Congressional investigative arms (he lost his lock on being the sole insurance broker for the AARP during the 1970s), he was a generous benefactor to many causes. In addition to the many millions he and his wife Sophie gave to universities, museums and cultural centers, he endowed the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California, the first center in the country devoted to training medical staff to treat elderly patients.

Dr. Andrus died July 13, 1967, active to the end, mourned by many and replaced by none. Though she had unlocked the vast wealth held by retired people as they were brought out of isolation and into the mainstream of America, her personal fortune, according to Fay, was valued at less than $100,000.

She was eulogized by President Lyndon Johnson as well as by Ojai friends and neighbors. “In Ethel Percy Andrus,” he wrote, “humanity had a trusted and untiring friend. She has left us all poorer by her death. But by her enduring accomplishments, she has enriched not only us, but all succeeding generations of Americans.”

Ethel_Andrus_story in PDF.

Clyde Stewart’s Store

Clyde Stewart’s Store by Richard Hoye

Clyde Stewart opened a store at the center of the village of Nordhoff in 1910, and his business was listed in the telephone book that year. An advertisement, carried in The Ojai newspaper in 1917 read:

We carry a full line of
and solicit your business,
C.A. Stewart, Grocer.
6 Years in Business
Nordhoff, California

In this photograph, we see Stewart with his staff of clerks. The array of goods on display is typical of most of the grocery and general merchandise stores of the day. Packets of seeds rest in racks on the floor to the left of the aisle. Pots and pans are on the shelves above. At the rear, a large clock hangs on the wall.

Note the sky lights at the center of the ceiling. Those same sky lights can be seen today at Vesta Home & Hearth (previously Tottingham Court).

Howard Bald wrote of an incident that occurred at Clyde Stewart’s store about 1910:

About this time, “one smart aleck rode into Clyde Stewart’s grocery store (on a horse) and roped a fellow and dragged him over the counter…that smart aleck…was myself.”

Howard was only eighteen years old at the time. His behavior must have created quite a stir.

Clyde Stewart ran for and won the office of City Clerk for the newly incorporated City of Ojai in 1921, becoming the first in the city to hold that office. He was later active in the Ojai Orange Association and was secretary of the Association in 1934. He owned a ranch on McNell Road.

Ojai’s First Store

Ojai’s First Store by Ed Wenig

Lafayette Herbert's Store

The first general store in Ojai Valley was opened by Mr. and Mrs. L.R. Herbert in 1874 on the north side of Ojai Avenue across from the present Civic Center Park [now, Libbey Park]. Ojai pioneers recall it as a small one-story building with one room that carried everything the early settlers needed.

Hattie Waite Cota, in an article on Ojai Valley’s first store, described the amazing variety of goods it displayed. She said: “The shelves were divided into sections in which goods were placed, each item in its respective department. There was a drug, a dry goods, a boot and shoe counter, and near the entrance a small glass showcase that contained, among other things, several varieties of candy, such as peppermint, horehound, gum drops, stick candy and licorice strips, very strong and very black.”

A cherished memory of Mrs. Cota: “Some time later a millinery section was added, stocked only with children’s hats. My choice was a broad-brimmed, plain-black straw [hat] with band and streamers of corn-colored ribbon.”

Mrs. Thad Timms read a paper before the Pioneer section of the Ojai Valley Woman’s Club in 1938 and is here quoted: “Prior to the year 1874, all incoming and outgoing mail was carried by some one of the residents of the valley who happened to be riding or driving to Ventura to the post office. On March 11, 1874, the Postmaster General in Washington, D.C. appointed LaFayette R. Herbert as the first postmaster of Nordhoff [now Ojai]—an office was established.”

The Nordhoff store, as with most general stores, had a little section in the front for the distribution of mail. This addition, of course, drew many into the store who, in winter especially, lingered around the wood-burning stove in the middle of the room. Here the cracker-barrel philosophers settled the problems of the world, lent their ears for local news and gossip.

Early settlers remember the blending aroma of cheese, coffee, spices, sausages and new leather. Of course, nothing was packaged, and the storekeeper measured the amount wanted from barrels, sacks and other volume containers.

Farmers, with their wagons hauling hams, chickens in small coops or with legs tied, cases or boxes of eggs, tied their horses to hitching racks or trees and proceeded to trade their produce for coal oil, flour, sugar, harness and other needs.

Barter between the farmer and the storekeeper was the general rule. This put an extra load on the Nordhoff storekeeper, who had to take all the farm produce to Ventura and bring back goods for sale. With dusty roads in summer and deep mud in winter, this was quite a burden for heavy-laden wagons.

Through the years the little store was sold to A.A. Garland and son. Later, Thomas Gilbert bought it. Finding that he needed help in the store, he sent for his bride-to-be from Michigan and announced publicly that he was going to be married. He invited all the residents of the valley to the wedding, which was held on the hotel grounds [at the front of what is now Libbey Park] with music furnished by the Ventura band. Some years later, the Thomas Gilbert family moved to Santa Barbara.

A Mr. Brown and his wife then took over the store for a brief period, but Frank P. Barrows bought it and changed it to a hardware store. Finally, Mr. G.H. Hickey and two brothers bought it and rebuilt it. The Rains Department Store, now operating on the same site, is a successor to Hickey Brothers and is operated by Alan Rains, grandson of Mr. G.H. Hickey.

“Everything sold in Ojai’s first store,”Ojai Valley News, Nov. 5, 1969