The following article first appeared in the Spring 2019 (VOLUME 37 NUMBER 1) issue of the “Ojai Valley Guide” magazine on pages 154 and 155. The magazine is published by the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission.
LOOK BACK IN OJAI Want to know what it smells like under the Jack Boyd Center? Drew Mashburn knows!
I admit it! I’m addicted to coffee. I mean real coffee. Strong and black!
Several years ago, my dear wife bought my favorite coffee mug at Rains Department Store. On it there is a black-and-white photo of downtown Ojai, looking west, when Ojai was called Nordhoff. The photo is mainly of the then-new Arcade. How do I know this? Because at the far left edge of the photo is the post office bell tower as it’s being built. It has scaffolding all around it and the domed top has yet to be added. So, the photo was most likely taken in late 1916 or early 1917 because construction was completed prior to the first Ojai Day that was held April 7, 1917.
Edward Drummond Libbey of Libbey Glass had the common-looking, old, western-style downtown — with its wooden boardwalks and false fronts — made over to create the beautiful downtown architecture we have today. But, he didn’t mess with the Ojai State Bank or the Jack Boyd Memorial Club that were prominent structures on Main Street and east of his new and grand post office. I’m not sure as to why, but I suspect that they were simply too magnificent in appearance to justify changing, or he had a gut feeling that if he did, he’d get his new-to-town butt kicked by longtime Nordhoff folks who loved those old buildings.
The Ojai State Bank’s architectural style was neoclassical with tall, heavy columns that looked like Rome to me. I understand it was built of brick. After Libbey had the Arcade, Pergola and Post Office in the downtown done over in the plaster/stucco-sided Mission Revival style of his liking, the old bank must have really clashed with them in appearance. It was located where the public parking lot is at the east end of the Pergola.
The Jack Boyd Memorial Club sat on the east side of the Ojai State Bank and along Ojai Creek (aka East Barranca). It was a masculine-looking building with a dark roof of wooden shingles and its covered porches were supported by very thick wooden posts. The Craftsman Bungalow-style building was built in 1903 to be a clubhouse for men. If ol’ Edward had dared to change the appearance of this sacred-to-the-community men’s-folk clubhouse, I’m fairly sure his hide would have been stretched above it’s fireplace mantel.
But, change is inevitable. I’m not sure exactly when, but the Ojai State Bank was acquired by the Bank of America. It set up shop in the old building for a number of years and, somewhere along the line, the bank wound up owning the Jack Boyd Memorial Club. In fact, in 1956, the Bank of America decided to build a new bank on the lot occupied by the Jack Boyd Memorial Club. The bank needed to rid itself of the old clubhouse. The Lions Club offered to take it off the bank’s hands, but members changed their minds when they heard that the city of Ojai was tossing around the idea of building a community recreation center. Upon hearing this, the Lions suggested that the city take ownership of the old men’s clubhouse and have it moved to a suitable site. That happened in February 1957. It was decided the Jack Boyd Memorial Club would be moved to Sarzotti Park.
I was a few months short of being 6 years old, so I wasn’t downtown to witness the Boyd Club being raised up off its foundation and onto the trailer and big truck used to move it east on Ojai Avenue. Believe it or not, Mom and Dad didn’t let me hang alone downtown at that age, but I was aware the Boyd Club was going to be headed up Park Road. We lived on East Aliso Street and our home backed up to Sarzotti Park. My neighborhood buddies and I rode our bikes down to the street and watched the crew move the old building from Ojai Avenue onto Park Road.
We probably drove the crew crazy because, as they ever so slowly moved the building, we kept circling around the truck, trailer and building to witness all we could. We were enthralled with what was going on. At one point, several of us youngsters ditched our bikes and crawled under the trailer because we wanted to see the bottom of the building. I don’t know what the heck we were thinking and some adult guy chased us out from under there. Kids!
The building was offloaded onto heavy, wooden-beam cribbing to where it sits today. I’m not positive, but I think it took two trips to get all of the building from Ojai Avenue to Sarzotti Park. I only recall the one section of building being moved. Guess what? As the building sat there for a few months being readied for lowering onto a new foundation, us kids got under it several more times! After all these years, I can still recall how it smelled. It had a strong smell of musty, old wood. Yet, it was a pleasant smell.
The building sat on that cribbing for what seemed like a lifetime to me. I could hardly wait to have it open into the new recreation center I had heard it was going to become. My buddies and I would go up there often to check on the progress of the building being permanently set in place.
One time, two of my East Aliso Street buddies (Mike Payton and Mark Kingsbury) were behind the building. I think it was Mike who climbed up a tall pine tree in the row of pines that ran from the western side of the park clear to the east side and just south of the building. Mike was throwing down pine cones to Mark and me. There was all kinds of scrap lumber scattered around the building. Mike flung down a pine cone from his lofty position. Mark and I stepped back in an attempt to catch it. I stepped onto a 16d nail that was protruding through a piece of scrap wood. When I lifted up my foot, the wood lifted up off the ground as well. It really freaked me out! I really buried that big ol’ nail into my heel. I think it went clear up to my tailbone. All I could think about was what Mom had told me about stepping on a a rusty nail . . . that being, you can get lockjaw from it! I pulled the nail and chunk of wood loose, then hightailed it for home at close to the speed of sound. Mark could usually run as fast as me, but he was no match for my speeding frame that day. I think I must have left a sonic boom.
I believe it was about April that the building was set onto its new foundation, then opened for public use that summer. My puncture wound had healed by that time and I didn’t get lockjaw because Mom made me get a dang tetanus shot. So, I was one of the first of the neighborhood kids to get to use the new recreation center, which became known as the Boyd Club, now the Boyd Center.
Oh, I almost forgot. Unfortunately, the Ojai State Bank building was demolished in 1960. I know that its big Roman-looking columns were saved, but I have been unable to locate them.
By the way, in case any of you know of a coffee mug for sale with the Ojai State Bank and the Jack Boyd Memorial Club on it, please let me know where my wife might purchase it for me.
Drew Mashburn is a volunteer at the Ojai Valley Museum.
The following article was first published in the Winter 2018 (VOLUME 36 NUMBER 4) issue of the “Ojai Valley Guide” magazine that is published by the “Ojai Valley News”. With their permission, the article is reprinted here. It ran on pages 154 and 155 in the magazine.
LOOK BACK IN OJAI 1969 Beautification Month
Contributed on behalf
of the Ojai Valley Museum
In October 1969, the Ojai Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a “Beautification for Better Business Campaign.” I had graduated from Nordhoff High School only a few months before and must tell you, at the time, my business was chasing after beautiful women and cars. I could not have cared less about sprucing up things around the valley, except for a good wash and waxing of my 1961 Austin Healy “Bug Eye” Sprite to, hopefully, impress beautiful young ladies.
So, moving on, I was ignorant of this cleanup drive.
Mr. Libbey, of Libbey Glass Co. fame, was a proponent of the “City Beautiful Movement” featured at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. At the original Ojai Day, April 7, 1917, held in Civic Park (now Libbey Park), Libbey said in a speech: “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 the higher ideals which the people fostering of the love of that which is beautiful and inspiring.”
Libbey’s speech includes the word “beautiful” twice. His words and actions emphasized improving Ojai’s aesthetic qualities. As a lifelong resident (67-plus years) of the Ojai Valley, I truly believe that Libbey’s ideals have been ingrained in our town, even inspiring the 1969 beautification campaign and valleywide cleanup drive decades after his speech.
On the evening of Oct. 30, City Building Inspector Ken Swift and Hal Mitrany of the Chamber of Commerce chaired a meeting at the Ojai Woman’s Club to organize the cleanup. Thirty-eight groups were invited and about 40 representatives attended. The PTA, American Legion, Chamber of Commerce, Boy and Girl Scouts, Retail Merchants Association, Jaycees, Woman’s Club, Garden Club, Retired Men’s Club, East Ojai Valley Associates and the Committee to Preserve the Ojai were among the groups participating.
Harrison’s Rubbish Service volunteered to place collection bins throughout the city and dates were set for free trash and junk removal.
City, county and state agencies were on board. The City Council proclaimed November Cleanup and Beautification Month. The county allowed a main trash-collecting station to be located behind Libbey Park and the state furnished a truck and driver to assist groups that picked up litter along the highways.
A city beautification conference was held at the Ojai Valley Inn, attended by about 80 planners and planning commissioners from all the cities in Ventura County. Featured speakers were Camarillo officials who touted their community’s beautification successes.
In November, the Ojai Architectural Board of Review decided to demolish the Pergola’s two large arches that had been bombed in October 1967 and December 1968. In addition to removing an eyesore, they wanted to open up the view of the park from Ojai Avenue. The Ojai Planning Commission, City Council and Ojai Civic Center Park trustees agreed.
The city also decided to work with business owners to help pay for sidewalk repairs as some sidewalks were not only unsightly, but dangerous. Sidewalk repairs and installation of planters were coordinated with the state repaving Ojai Avenue. In addition, the city repaved 12 residential streets in the western portion of town.
Despite the fanfare and ambitious goals, Inspector Swift reported at the end of November that the beautification and cleanup campaign had fallen short, as participating organizations failed to develop, propose or implement plans. Little had been accomplished beyond some improvement at private homes. He did, however, report two successful beautification projects:
+ The Civic Center Park Board of Directors voted to demolish the bombed arches at the front of the park.
+ The Chamber of Commerce purchased and planted a permanent Christmas tree at the “Y” intersection.
That very same Christmas tree has grown into a mighty fine tree that we all continue to enjoy during the holidays and all year round.
The following article first appeared on the front page of the Friday, August 18, 1916 edition of “THE OJAI.” The author is unknown. Note: Reference is made several times to the town of “Nordhoff.” This was what the town’s name was before it was changed to “Ojai”. All photos were added to this article by the Ojai Valley Museum.
THE TRANSFORMATION HAS BEGUN
Just now things are doing in Nordhoff of such unusual character that the oldest inhabitant is constrained to sit up, or stand up, and take notice. In fact, the activity is being led by one of the oldest inhabitants — Thomas Clark, who, indeed, throughout all the past in Nordhoff’s history, has lived an active life, contributing his full share of the warp and woof woven into history’s fabric, which has grown threadbare in spots by the constant wear of time, and which he has started in to rehabilitate with new industrial threads and some patches.
No doubt the inspiration for greater and better things first surged in on the crest of the wave of sentiment for good roads, becoming a fixed purpose when Mr. E. D. Libbey arose to the occasion and gave added impetus to the vehicle of progress not alone in words, but in action. As a captain of industry and commercial achievement few men are better equipped than Mr. Libbey. With the wealth to humor any reasonable ambition, coupled with an inclination favorable to this locality. Nordhoff is indeed fortunate to have the right to lay partial claim to the citizenship of such a magnanimous benefactor and admirer of nature’s gifts so lavishly, of which Nordhoff is the commercial center.
Mr. Clark’s labors for betterments are closely linked with Mr. Libbey’s plans for civic or community improvements, the work of the former aiding the purposes of the latter, which are known to and being carried out by Mr. H. T. Sinclair. Mr. Libbey’s confidential agent in the matter of improvements contemplated or in progress on the beautiful park tract and the old Ojai Inn square, which is the expansive front yard or plaza of the business center of Nordhoff, to be transformed into a place of greater beauty by the hand of artifice, and to harmonize the scene, without a blemish, the property owners will obscure unsightly fronts behind an ornamental arcade of concrete and tile, the material for which already lines either side of the street, awaiting the labors of the architect and the builders.
After some parleying, and a small amount of worry as to the fate of the postoffice, Tom Clark cleared the way for a place for the old postoffice building to light, and Escovedo, the housemover, accomplished the rest, and the old Smith building has been transplanted — in two sections — across the street, and now rests intact on the east side of the Clark lot, with post office, plumbing shop, barber shop and Brady’s kitchen safely housed as of yore.
To do this Mr. Clark wisely revised his plans and demolished his entire barn structure, to be replaced with a modern garage and auto and horse livery annex. The west wall of the garage, under the skilled hand of Philip Scheidecker, of Los Angeles, is rapidly going up, entirely constructed of rock, mostly moss-covered, above the rougher foundation.
The removal of the old building is the signal for activity on the Libbey side, but just what transformation is to take place is a matter of rumor or conjecture. A fine building, without doubt, is to replace the old, combining post office and public library — perhaps. Many other things are likely to happen that will add to the greater and more beautiful Nordhoff.
The following article first appeared in the Friday, November 24, 1916 edition of “THE OJAI” on the front page. The author is unknown. This was written before the town name changed from “Nordhoff” to “Ojai.” The photos were added by the Ojai Valley Museum.
ANOTHER BEAUTY SPOT ON MAIN STREET
Landscape gardener F. C. Fassel, on the annual payroll of Mr. E. D. Libbey, is now grading the vacant lot between the Ojai State Bank and the Boyd Club, which within a year will be styled the “Garden of Rose,” which in beauty will outrival Eden — perhaps — with the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve looking in instead of looking out.
The ground is to be artistically embellished for the reception of all the more popular and beautiful varieties of rose bushes. All of the fine specimens so carefully nurtured by custodian Achelpohl of the Club will be transplanted in the plot, without retarding their bloom. This beauty spot will serve to add to the power of the magnet that will surely attract outsiders to the Ojai valley, adding still greater charm to Nordhoff’s civic center.
It is to be regretted that the wheels of the vehicle of progress shattered and tore out the great trailing rose bush at the corner of Clark’s deposed livery barn. In full bloom, with the rich colorings gleaming from the lower and upper branches of a live oak that served as a trellis, it was the marvel of all the tourists and the pride of the valley. It, however, still survives to bloom perpetually in thousands of “snap shots” by the ladies and knights of the Camera.
But there is some recompense for its loss. A handsome garage, built of moss covered native rock and tile adornments, is nearing completion on the corner, which furnishes an attraction less dainty, but more useful.
The new post office building of hollow tile construction, with its massive tower, is now going up. The memorial fountain, after being torn down, is assuming its former shape in a position four feet further back from the street.
The park wall and pergola is lining up handsomely.
The big park is taking on more beauty daily, and the million gallon reservoir is nearly completed.
The following article first appeared on Page A-2 in the November 11, 1992 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It’s reprinted here with their permission.
David Mason: Linking Past & Future
“In the middle of the Ojai Valley lies a little hamlet, which the people have been kind enough to name after the author of this book.”
—- Charles Nordhoff
“The Ojai Valley (pronounced Ohy) is reached by a drive of 38 miles by way of the Carpenteria and the Casitas Pass…The valley is famous even in California for the abundance and loveliness of its woods of evergreen oaks…the oaks dot the surface of the whole lower valley, and are scattered over it in single specimens and clumps…”
The description crafted by Charles Nordhoff in his 1882 edition of “California for Health, Pleasure, and Residence” is a vision shared in many ways by one special Ojai man.
Separated by a century, Charles Nordhoff and David Mason share a common bond – enthusiasm for the Ojai Valley, and the ability to communicate that to others. Nordhoff wrote eloquently one hundred years ago about the grandeur of the valley and of California. Mason, a lifelong resident of Ojai, currently gives witty, informative slide shows about the history of the valley.
“Charles Nordhoff died on July 14 in 1901. I was born 38 years later in Ojai, on July 14. That coincidence has become significant to me over time, as I have become more drawn to the early days of Ojai,” said Mason, 53. “I feel very close to Nordhoff’s era in many ways.”
Mason’s interest in the past was sparked in 1964, when a friend’s mother died. The friend asked to use Mason’s dumpster to throw out some old things. Those “old things” included hundreds of postcards and photographs of early Ojai, and other memorabilia, Mason rescued all he could from the trash bin, and he was hooked.
“I framed a lot of the postcards, and had copies of the photos made for the Ojai Valley Museum and the Ventura County Museum. Over the years I’ve collected much more, and I’ve saved things, like photos of Lake Casitas being built. I’m an incredible packrat,” he said with a chuckle.
Mason now serves as vice chairman, and is past chairman, of Ventura County’s Cultural Heritage Board. He was the first chairman of the City of Ojai’s Cultural Heritage Board, and was also Ojai’s Citizen of the Year in 1986. Mason works as a realtor, having retired after a 25 year career as a florist. He owned the award-winning Village Florist in the Arcade, and closed it three years ago.
Mason’s slide show, which he presents to groups around the county, begins with Charles Nordhoff’s birth in 1832 in what was then Prussia. He tracks Nordhoff’s life – his move to America at the age of 3 and, later, traveling around the world with the U.S. Navy. Eventually Nordhoff became editor of the New York Post, and wrote his famous book “California for Health, Pleasure, and Residence” in 1872. That 206 page volume brought so many settlers to the state that Nordhoff was the name originally chosen for Ojai.
“Between 1870 and 1900, the population of California doubled, growing from 560,000 to well over a million. In that same 30 year period, over three million copies of Nordhoff’s book were sold,” Mason commented.
According to Mason, Mrs. Catherine Blumberg suggested the town be named Nordhoff in the early 1870’s. Topa Topa was also being considered. Catherine and her husband, Abram Wheeler Blumberg, came out West because of Nordhoff’s book and built the Ojai Inn in what is now Libbey Park. Nordhoff remained the village’s name for over 40 years.
“The name was formally changed to Ojai in 1917, at the beginning of World War I. There was a lot of anti-German sentiment, which fueled the change,” Mason remarked.
With slides and commentary, Mason captures the growth of the little town from 1872, when about 50 people lived in the village, up into the 1920’s. By then, cut-glass heir Edward Drummond Libbey of Ohio had come to Ojai and put his very personal stamp on the town. Libbey bought the 360 acre Arbolada, to save the area from being cut down for wood, and began to sell lots for homes. He also built the Ojai Valley Inn, the Post Office tower, the arched entryway to Libbey Park (now gone), and transformed the front of the downtown stores into a Spanish Mission style Arcade. Libbey also made a generous donation to the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, and had a hand in its construction.
“Mr. Libbey had the desire to make things beautiful and the money to do it. He was influenced by castles in Spain and the rural Spanish towns, with their muted colors and soft, flowing lines.
“Mr. Libbey was also a smart developer. Here he had bought the Arbolada, but then had trouble selling the lots. People would come out to Ojai to buy a lot and they’d see how rustic things were downtown, with dirt streets and wooden slats along the front of the stores. It lacked charm. It looked like a Western frontier town and there wasn’t much to do,” Mason said. “So Libbey created a golf course and a nice downtown.”
Mason feels that if Libbey were to visit Ojai today, he would be quite pleased with the town.
“He would definitely approve of the look of Ojai. He would particularly like the Redevelopment Agency’s project of 1980, which remodeled the back of the Arcade to match the front. That completed Mr. Libbey’s vision for the town,” he said. “But he would miss those arches that were in front of the park!”
The arches were torn down in the late 1960’s. Originally they stood along the Ojai Avenue entrance to the park, and were designed to provide a balance to the heavy look of the Arcade. The park arches had an overhead trellis that was covered in wisteria. And directly in front of the arches, a lion’s head fountain served as a horse trough. The fountain was in place several years before Libbey commissioned the arches.
Mason believes that there might be a resurgence of interest in the old arches, and a move to replace them eventually. Mason would support such a move.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Libbey’s aesthetic vision for Ojai,” he said. “It’s our heritage. It’s what makes us unique.”
[Mason later headed up a committee to rebuild the Pergola. The recreated Pergola was dedicated on July 4, 1999.]
This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News on February 19, 1999. It is used here with their permission.
Evelyn Nordhoff is Returned
“The People of The Ojai can best show their appreciation of the generosity of the donors by keeping the fountain free from defacements, and by gradually developing around it village improvements of other kinds.” –The Ojai, Saturday, October 15, 1904
The journey to the town of Nordhoff, now Ojai, was long and tiring.
The dusty road was hardly passable in many places and the fact that the buggies had to ford rivers at least a dozen times didn’t help. The wild berries hanging down from the low tree limbs seemed to cover the trail.
There was a sign of relief when the buggies made it to the small camping area, now Camp Comfort, to take a rest. The stream was always running with cool water and the towering trees provided a shady nook.
When travelers finally reached the small western town of Nordhoff, the first stop was the conveniently placed watering trough and drinking fountain in the center of town.
The fountain was a beautiful addition to the small community which had earlier lacked any architectural charm – it’s design would eventually become known as “Mission Revival” and it was one of the earliest examples.
The Ventura Free Press called it “one of the finest fountains in the state,” and described it in detail.
“On the side facing the middle of main street, we see the drinking place for horses, consisting of a stone trough about twelve feet long, two feet deep and two feet wide, always full of running water supplied from a pipe running out of the lion’s mouth.
“A division, the centerpiece of the fountain, runs lengthwise directly back of the horse trough, and is made prettier by having the stone cut into mouldings at either end. This piece is about fourteen feet long and fully eight feet high in the middle, and is rounding at the top. At each end of this, only a few inches above the ground, the poor thirsty dogs find drinking places.
“The drinking place for humanity is found on the side next to the Ojai Inn, and consists of a large bowl hollowed out of a piece of stone, into which runs a tiny stream of water from a small lion’s mouth.
“The donor has not forgotten the tired traveler, but has built a broad resting place for him on a big slab of stone. The Ojai newspaper refers to as ‘an ornament we should be proud of.'”
The fountain, built in memory of Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff in 1904, was indeed an improvement to the downtown block. The community of Nordhoff, the principal settlement in the Ojai Valley, had been established in 1874 and was still in its early stages of development. Evelyn Nordhoff was the daughter of Charles Nordhoff, the well-known author for whom the town was named.
Evelyn Nordhoff’s early life was spent at the family home on the New Jersey palisades, in an area which would eventually become known as “Millionaire’s Row.”
As a young woman, Evelyn enrolled at Smith College, located in west-central Massachusetts and founded in 1871 for the education of women. Her schooling was cut short after one year, with the reason given that “she was needed at home.”
Evelyn learned to etch copper and gained notice by producing decorative, printed calendars. She also created artistically-worked leather pieces.
According to researcher Richard Hoye, “An opportunity opened for Evelyn to visit England when her brother Walter was posted there as a newspaper correspondent.”
In 1888, the first Arts and Crafts exhibition was staged in London, and a co-founder of the exhibition society, Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, presented four lectures on bookbinding. Evelyn’s attendance at these lectures piqued her interest in that line of work.
When she eventually returned to America, the Nordhoff family made a touring visit to California. The Ventura County newspaper reported that the Nordhoffs passed through the seaside town and went directly to the Ojai Valley.
Returning to New York City, Evelyn obtained work with a bindery to pursue her interest in the art of bookbinding. There she learned to sew pages and to mend old books. This was the first level of the craft. Evelyn would learn the business from many teachers before she became proficient in the skill of bookbinding.
Evelyn opened her own workroom in Greenwich Village across from the New York University. Her artistry in the work of bookbinding began to gain attention for the young Evelyn as a woman and an artist. She possessed the Nordhoff sense of independence, and the initiative in pursing against the odds.
Training in a craft from which women had previously been excluded reflects a high degree of personal determination and she was a good example of a confident and talented woman, the first woman in the United States to take up the vocation of artistic bookbinding.
Evelyn Nordhoff spent her summer months in California with her parents, who, by this time, made their home in Coronado. In late summer of 1889, when Evelyn would again have departed from Coronado after a summer’s visit, her parents did not realize that this would be their last parting with their daughter, for in November they received word she had died.
She had suffered an attack of appendicitis, was operated on, and failed to recover.
The Nordhoff fountain was given to the community of Nordhoff by sisters Olivia and Caroline Stokes in Evelyn’s memory. The Stokes sisters had inherited wealth from banking, real estate and other interests in the New York City area. They were lifetime companions, never married, especially devout and well-known philanthropists. Their gifts were numerous and worldwide.
The Stokes sisters visited the Ojai Valley in 1903, staying at the Hughes home on Thacher Road, and were probably influenced by Sherman Thacher, founder of a nearby boys’ school, to build the fountain as a lasting memorial to this talented young lady.
Richard Hoye suggests that, “There may also have been a temperance motive. The banning of liquor was strongly supported in the community and by the Stokes sisters. A drinking fountain closely located to a horse trough would remove an excuse that stage drivers and their passengers might have had to resort to alcohol to slacken their thirst after a dusty trip from Ventura to the mountain town.”
In 1917, when Edward D. Libbey, Ojai’s greatest benefactor, began his transformation of the small town, he had the fountain moved back four feet to widen the roadway.
Libbey removed the Ojai Inn and built a beautiful, wisteria-covered, arched and walled pergola. With the fountain as the center focal point, an attractive entrance was created into the Civic Center Park, now Libbey Park.
In the 1960s, the whole structure began to shown signs of age and suffered major damage from vandalism. In the turmoil of this period, the entrance arch was damaged by explosives and by 1971 the pergola and fountain were removed.
The bronze plaque on the fountain that was inscribed, “In memory of Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff, this fountain is given to the people of Nordhoff, 1904” was returned to members of the Nordhoff family.
With the restoration of this landmark – the pergola and the Nordhoff fountain – the bronze plaque has been returned to the people of the Ojai Valley. The plaque will once again be placed on this beautiful fountain which will be rebuilt in memory of Evelyn’s aspirations and accomplishments – a spirit which has prevailed in the history of the Ojai Valley, in its schools and its artistic culture.
This story is from Walter W. Bristol’s 1946 book, “THE STORY OF THE OJAI VALLEY.” It is assumed Bristol authored this story.
Walter W. Bristol
The fist civic organization in the Ojai Valley so far, at least, as my research went, was known at the Committee of Fifteen. It was organized in October, 1903 as a response to a need for law and order. The Committee was headed by Sherman Thacher and included the well known names of that day. The work of the Committee was that of vigilantes in a mild way. No gallows was erected on which to hang miscreants, but they did have a struggle to stay the illegal sale of liquor in the community. In their rather infrequent meetings the Committee discussed a variety of matters connected with the welfare of the valley.
The Committee of Fifteen, wishing to change its complexion and enlarge its scope so as to invite the world to share the wonders of the Ojai Valley, appointed a committee on November 21, 1906, to perfect arrangements for the organization of a Board of Trade, and “moved to insert a notice in ‘The Ojai’ calling a meeting of the citizens on November 28th to effect the said organization.” Forty members signed up after paying fifty cents initiation fee and one dollar in advance as dues for the year. The first board of directors was E. S. Thacher, H. Waldo Forster, C. E. Gibson, E. F. Baker, W. C. Hendrickson, Joseph Hobart, F. P. Barrow, Dr. B. L. Saeger, J. J. Burke. The first officers were E. S. Thacher, president, H. W. Forster, vice-president, J. J. Burke, secretary, and E. F. Baker, treasurer. Advertising and Transportation Committees were appointed. Booklets were prepared with which to contact the world and were paid for by the county.
At one of its first meetings the board asked the merchants to write letters to the Southern Pacific Co. asking for better freight and passenger service, and suggested that “the merchants have all their freight come by water, which might be used as a lever to bring the So. Pacific Co. to time.” I wonder how many nights’ sleep the S. P. Co. officials lost over that dire threat.
In 1907 the possibility of getting electricity in the valley was discussed. The artesian wells along Ojai Avenue were deemed a menace to health. Four kerosene street lamps were ordered placed from the railroad station to Ojai Ave. and $25 was voted for this improvement. In 1908 subscriptions were taken to build a bridge across the San Antonio river near the Gally cottages. On April 1st, 1910, the Board of Trade directors favored unanimously the bonding of the county for good roads to the extent of $1,000,000, providing the Ojai Supervisorial District got its share. T. S. Clark was then our supervisor. The subject of building a high school, the minutes read, brought out the statement from Principal W. W. Bristol that a building built in the bungalow style, exclusive of the grounds could be constructed for $15,000. He thought it would be ten years before the school would have 100 pupils. (There were about 70 in 1920; the great fire of 1917 played havoc with any increase in population.) The last minutes of the Board of Trade were on October 11th, 1911.
In the meantime the new high school was built and opened in the fall of 1911. The struggle over the site of the school was rather strenuous as between the east and the west side of town. When the people expressed their will at the polls the present site was chosen and like good Americans the fight was soon forgotten.
One day in the fall of 1912 Mr. Frank Weir called upon the writer and proposed a new organization whose purpose was the welfare and growth of the community. He proposed to call it “The Ojai Valley Civic League” and asked me to undertake the secretaryship. Mr. Weir was a very sick man, but energetic and full of enthusiasm for the Ojai Valley. He had in mind the opening of an office in Los Angeles to contact tourists and direct them this way. We collected from both men and women about $400.00. The matter of the Los Angeles office was out of the question. The money was spent mainly for 12 electric lights and their upkeep so long as the money lasted. Mr. Weir and the organization perished with him.
While we are waiting for another civic organization to spring up I wish to give you a picture of the rather crude conditions of living in the valley in the first decade of the twentieth century.
We had a telephone system. It was very intimate service. Central was the clearing house of the whole community and the operators were most patient and gracious in giving information. The time of day, the location of a fire, the time of Jones’ funeral, the time the mail arrives, has Mrs. Scott had her operation? have you seen my dog on the street? and so on. Sometimes we had to wait a good while to get our number, but on the whole it was a good service. There was no electricity in the valley. Kerosene and acetylene gas were used. In 1913 a local electric plant was set up. There were frequent break downs and the service closed at 10 o’clock. All evening affairs were regulated by that arrangement. The water supply was so uncertain that the householders had to have settling tanks to insure a constant supply. Joe Berry, walking up Ojai Ave. to the pump followed by his dog, was a familiar sight. Transportation was by stage and train. The stage came form Ventura via Creek road with no bridges to span the many crossings. In winter the valley was often completely isolated—sometimes for days at a time. The train had a morning leaving time, but there was not certainty as to when it would get back. Main street in Ojai was a mud hole in winter and terribly dusty in summer. There were very few automobiles owned locally. The stores were all wooden and some of them mere shacks. The wooden sidewalks were on different levels.
About 1914 Edward Drummond Libbey came on the scene in a magnificent way, but that is another story.
On April 24, 1914, a great meeting of the men of the valley was held at the village hotel— the Ojai Inn. Eighty-seven men were present. Sherman D. Thacher presided, and speaking and music was the order of the evening plus the memorable dinner arranged by Manager Joe Linnell, E. S. Thacher, J. J. Burke, L. R. Orton, Judge Wilson, E. D. Libbey and E. L. Wiest took part. The purpose of the meeting was to formulate some kind of a civic organization in succession to the Board of Trade. Since the Ojai Valley Woman’s Club was very helpful along civic lines, it was thought best not to ask them for support, hence the name Ojai Valley Men’s League came into being. Seventeen directors were elected on that night. The directors in turn elected Sherman D. Thacher, president, and Walter W. Bristol, secretary-treasurer. The directorate changed more or less every year, but the above named executive officers remained the same until 1927 when Mr. Thacher resigned and the writer was elected in his stead. At that time also the name was changed to the O. V. Chamber of Commerce.
To discuss the work of the Men’s League in full would be out of place here. Aside from lighting and cleaning the streets it stood ready to take the lead in every worthy enterprise. I will cite the year 1917. On April 6th of that year the Men’s League planned a day of celebration in honor of Edward D. Libbey, who had done so much to put the Ojai Valley on the map. The plan was to make it an annual affair to be called “Libbey Day.” Mr. Libbey did not accept this suggestion and it was thereafter celebrated, but was designated “Ojai Day.” It took the form of a basket picnic and was held in the Civic Center.
On this particular day in 1917 people came from all over the county. There was band music and community singing. A speaker’s stand was erected near the tennis courts. Mr. Libbey spoke and T. C. Stevens of Los Angeles, a warm friend of Mr. Libbey, was the principal speaker of the day. the climax of the celebration was a procession of about one hundred cars (quite a sight for that time) which, starting from the civic center, wound over the roads of Arbolada.
Just a few days before this celebration, March 30, 1917, the community met in the high school auditorium to honor Charles M. Pratt for the splendid gift to the community of manual training and domestic science buildings at the high school with complete equipment for each. The speakers were County Superintendent J. E. Reynolds, Felton Taylor, president of the student body, Principal Bristol and Sherman Thacher who presided.
The League under the able direction of its president, Sherman Thacher, did a good work in providing for the victims of the Spanish influenza. The Boyd Club was taken over for a hospital. Loring Farnum and Miss Sarah McMillian should be remembered for their services in this strenuous time.
In 1918 the League collected $374.00 for the purpose of a curb to curb pavement through town. About this time the directors of the League began agitation for the incorporation of the village. The boundaries were determined, the election called and incorporation was successfully carried in 1921.
It was the custom from the first for the League to have an annual dinner meeting. As I look back over the years these meetings stand out not only as one of the most important and enjoyable events of the year, but as a means of promoting a sense of unity and good feeling. The Chamber of Commerce still exists and should be a constantly greater agency for community betterment.
We today cherish the memory of the men and women who in days past established in the Ojai Valley a tradition of culture and local pride. This tradition must be carried on if this community is not to lose its distinctive qualities. Eternal vigilance is the price of such an achievement. “Where there is no vision the people perish.”
Downtown Ojai in 1920s. Courtesy Ojai Valley Museum
Ojai Day celebrates the 1917 transformation of Ojai from a dusty, ramshackle collection of old West shops into unified design of public architecture and parks, with converging perspectives of arches and towers. What inspired Edward Libbey to transform Ojai into an architectural jewel? Mark Lewis interviewed Craig Walker, who revived the Ojai Day celebration in 1991, for this in-depth look at the origins of Ojai Day. Craig traces the impetus to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, an epochal event that launched the City Beautiful Movement, made Libbey a vast fortune and introduced him to Mission Revival architecture.
The original plan was to call it Libbey Day, to honor the man who had transformed the dusty, dowdy, backwater burg of Nordhoff into the model Mission Revival village of Ojai. But Edward Drummond Libbey was having none of it. He was proud of his role as Ojai’s guardian angel, but he preferred to celebrate the town itself on the occasion of its rechristening, rather than focus on his role in the process. As usual, Libbey got his way. And so, on April 7, 1917, some 2,000 people crammed themselves into the town’s brand-new Civic Park to celebrate Ojai Day.
“We are celebrating here today the fulfillment of a conception,” Libbey told the crowd. On every side stood examples of his handiwork: The Arcade, the Pergola and the Post Office Tower, all immaculately sheathed in sparkling white stucco or plaster.
“There has been too little attention paid to things aesthetic in our communities and in our homes,” Libbey said. “The time has come when we should encourage in ourselves thoughts of things beautiful, and the higher ideals which art encourages and promotes must awaken in the people the fostering of the love of that which is beautiful and inspiring. We must today decry with contempt and aversion all that is cheap, vulgar and degrading.”
That night the new buildings were illuminated with white light, rendering them incandescent. The effect must have reminded some onlookers of similar illuminations they had witnessed at the Panama-California Exposition, a world’s fair of sorts that had just closed on January 1, after a successful two-year run in San Diego’s Balboa Park.
Looking back at these events across a distance of 95 years, it seems clear that Libbey’s Ojai project was heavily influenced by the San Diego fair. The Panama-California Exposition had popularized the new Spanish Colonial Revival style, a baroque offshoot of the Mission style and Ojai’s Post Office Tower would have looked right at home in Balboa Park. But one local history maven, Craig Walker, traces Libbey’s original inspiration further back, to an earlier world’s fair: Chicago’s legendary World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, better known as the White City.
The Chicago fair had an enormous impact, and still lingers in the national memory. It is the subject of Erik Larson’s hugely popular nonfiction book The Devil in the White City, first published in 2004 and still going strong on the paperback bestseller lists almost a decade later. The book focuses on a serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes, the eponymous “Devil” of Larson’s title, who preyed upon fairgoers. But for most people who visited the White City, it looked more like heaven than hell.
It was there, on the shore of Lake Michigan, that Edward Libbey witnessed a testing of the hypothesis he would propagate in Ojai two decades later: that beautiful buildings inspire people to become better citizens. To judge by Chicago’s less-than-sterling reputation over the years as a bastion of civic virtue, the original experiment was rather a bust. Ojai would turn out to be a different story.
MAKE NO LITTLE PLANS
The World’s Columbian Exposition originally was scheduled to open in 1892, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the New World. But its organizers got carried away. Led by the architect Daniel Burnham, they turned the fair into an epic celebration of modern America and its apparently limitless potential. “Make no little plans,” Burnham famously said; “They have no magic to stir men’s blood, and probably themselves will not be realized.”
Big plans take time to develop. As a result, the fair did not open until May 1893. But it was worth the wait. Burnham & Co. had built an entire model city in Jackson Park. This was in effect a Hollywood set, made up of temporary buildings molded out of a kind of stucco and painted white to look like marble. Nevertheless, the effect was stunning especially at night, when they were bathed in electric light. Collectively they comprised the White City, and people looked upon them in wonder.
Some 27 million people visited the fair that year, the equivalent of a third of the country’s population. Among them was the future author L. Frank Baum, for whom the White City would serve as the model for the Emerald City in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Another onlooker was Elias Disney, a carpenter who had helped to build the White City; his son Walt would one day build his own White City in Anaheim and call it Disneyland. Even the notoriously cynical historian Henry Adams was impressed with what Burnham had wrought.
“Chicago in 1893 asked for the first time the question whether the American people knew where they were driving,” Adams later wrote. The answer was still unclear, but at least the question was framed intelligently. The White City, Adams wrote, “was the first expression of American thought as a unity; one must start there.”
All sorts of people beat a path to Chicago in 1893, including the theosophist Annie Besant, who was on her way from Britain to India. She stopped off in Chicago long enough to attend the fair’s Parliament of Religions, during which Swami Vivekananda introduced America (and the West in general) to Vedanta and yoga. Such epochal goings-on were routine at the Chicago World’s Fair, which also introduced America to the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack candy and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. But its most far-reaching legacy was the City Beautiful Movement, which the White City embodied.
“The industrial cities of the 1870s and ’80s had little planning “they evolved as crowded, ugly, haphazard affairs,” Craig Walker said. Burnham built the White City to show that there was a better way. “The belief was that cities built as a unified, planned development, with beautiful public buildings and parks, would inspire civic pride and moral virtues that would bring social reform,” Walker said. “The exposition was the blueprint for modern America; it had a major influence on art, architecture, city planning, business and industry.”
Ah yes, business and industry. The exposition was not entirely about art and moral uplift. Commerce also was highlighted, and many manufacturers built exhibits to showcase their wares. Among them was a certain glass manufacturer from Toledo, who saw the fair as his chance to hit the big time.
Edward Drummond Libbey was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1854. He followed his father into the glass business and by 1892 was the head of Libbey Glass. The firm had moved in 1888 from New England to Ohio, where it struggled for a few years before finding its footing. Now Libbey saw the World’s Columbian Exposition as opportunity to establish his firm as the premier national brand for high-quality cut glass tableware. But his board of directors balked at investing big bucks to build a first-class exhibit. So Libbey borrowed the money himself and built it anyway. It was a full-scale glass factory situated on the Midway Plaisance, west of the fairgrounds proper. Libbey’s gamble paid off: The Libbey Glass pavilion was a huge success with fairgoers.
Libbey spent a lot of the time at the fair, living above the store, so to speak, in an apartment built into the pavilion’s second floor. The building was located half a mile east of the Ferris Wheel and just short walk west from Stony Island Avenue. On the other side of the avenue lay the shimmering White City.
Most of the fair’s buildings showcased the neo-classical Beaux Arts style, which America’s leading architects had studied in Paris. Among the more notable exceptions was the California Building, which stood less than a quarter of a mile away from the Libbey Glass exhibit. Paris had never seen its like. Nor had Chicago, for that matter. The California Building introduced America, and Edward Libbey, to a new architectural style called Mission Revival.
California had not always celebrated its Mission Era heritage. After the gold rush petered out, the state’s boosters needed to give people from back East a different reason to migrate west, and California’s Spanish and Mexican heritage did not seem like a selling point for white Protestant Americans. On the contrary, the state’s boosters feared that all those Spanish-style churches and forts made California seem too foreign and too Catholic. “From the 1840s to the early 1880s, the American immigrants did everything they could to eradicate the state’s Old World Spanish architecture,” Craig Walker said. “The missions and presidios were abandoned and destroyed.”
Casting about for a viable marketing angle, California’s railroad barons brought in the travel writer Charles Nordhoff to publicize the state’s natural beauty and healthy climate. Nordhoff hit the mark with his book California for Health, Pleasure and Residence (1872), an enormous success that induced thousands of Americans to move west. Some of them ended up in the sparsely Ojai Valley, where a real estate promoter named Royce Surdam was promoting a new town site. The settlers decided to name this town Nordhoff, to honor the man whose book had lured so many of them to California.
Nordhoff’s founders took no cues from the few remaining adobe structures they encountered in the vicinity. Their new town was built out of wood, and looked like it had been plucked from Kansas or Iowa and replanted in the Ojai Valley. But not every visitor from the East was averse to adobe. When the author Helen Hunt Jackson passed through Ventura County in 1882, she ignored Nordhoff but made a point of lingering in Rancho Camulo, a Spanish-style ranch near the present-day town of Piru. Rancho Camulo served Jackson as a model setting for Ramona (1884), her melodramatic novel about a young Indian woman who lives on a California ranch during the early years of statehood.
Ramona changed everything. A runaway bestseller, it sparked a national fascination with California’s Mission Era. The state’s boosters reversed course and embraced the old missions as iconic symbols of a romantic (and mostly spurious) past. “They just rode this Ramona thing,” Walker said. In the end, Jackson’s book lured even more people to California than Charles Nordhoff’s had.
Meanwhile, California architects concocted the Mission Revival style to create new buildings that harked back to the period in which Ramona was set. Naturally, when it came time to design a California exhibit building for the World’s Columbian Exposition, state officials chose a Mission Revival motif. The California Building was hardly the first example of this new style, but it was the first one to win nationwide acclaim. It made a big splash at the fair.
“It really was the building that got America’s attention,” Walker said.
Did it get Edward Libbey’s attention? He could hardly have missed it, given its close proximity to the Libbey Glass pavilion. Was he impressed? There is no way of knowing. All one can say with confidence is that Ojai’s future benefactor first encountered the Mission Revival style in Chicago in 1893.
The World’s Columbian Exposition also put Libbey on the path to extraordinary wealth, due to the success of his glass-making exhibit. “His whole glass empire just took off,” Walker said. “It propelled him to the top of America’s glass manufacturers, and he became one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country.”
And, crucially, the fair exposed Libbey to the full effect of the City Beautiful Movement. Before long he began applying its precepts to Toledo, where in 1901 he co-founded the Toledo Museum of Art. But Toledo turned out to be too big a city for one man to beautify. Libbey continued to support the museum, but he spent more and more of his time in Southern California. In 1908 he discovered Nordhoff, and built himself a winter home high up on Foothill Road. He loved the valley’s climate and mountain scenery, but was less impressed by its tacky architecture. Eventually, it occurred to him that Nordhoff, too, could benefit from the Libbey touch.
THE VILLAGE BEAUTIFUL MOVEMENT
Nordhoff’s ramshackle business district did not amount to much: a forgettable stretch of uninspired wooden storefronts, indistinguishable from a thousand other hick towns languishing in the boondocks. In short, Nordhoff was homely. Libbey had a remedy. He had internalized the great lesson of Chicago, which was that art and human progress were inextricably linked. And among the arts, architecture was especially effective at creating a physical context for uplift. What had been true of Athens and Rome could become true of Nordhoff: Beautiful buildings would inspire civic virtue among the inhabitants, and make the town a better place in every sense. In April 1914, Libbey called a meeting of Nordoff’s leading citizens to offer a suggestion: They should essentially scrap the town they had, and build a new one.
“Make no little plans!” That was Daniel Burnham’s advice to the city planners of America, and it was Edward Libbey’s advice to the burghers of Nordhoff. His wildly ambitious proposal evidently stirred the blood of every man at that meeting, for they voted unanimously to embrace it. Why would they not, given that Libbey and his rich friends would provide most of the funds? And so the great experiment began.
There were still a few details to fill in. First and foremost, who would be Libbey’s architect, and what style would he employ? The choice ultimately fell upon Richard Requa of San Diego, whose firm, Mead and Requa, did some work for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915. Libbey evidently visited the San Diego fair, was impressed by its Spanish Colonial Revival motif, and hired Requa to create something similar in Nordhoff.
But the sequence of events suggests that Libbey already had settled on the Mission style for Nordhoff, well before he ever set foot in Balboa Park. After all, he had been familiar with the style at least since 1893, when he first clapped eyes on the California Building at the Chicago World’s Fair. And he no doubt had admired the Thacher School’s administration building, a Mission-style structure built in 1911. Significantly, the first major new building erected in Nordhoff in the immediate aftermath of that April 1914 meeting was a Mission-style movie theater, the Isis. (It’s still there, almost a century later, only now it’s called the Ojai Playhouse.) Given the town’s enthusiastic embrace of Libbey’s plan, it seems most unlikely that someone would have built a major new building in the downtown district without first vetting the design with the man from Toledo.
Libbey did have other architectural choices. The most impressive-looking building in downtown Nordhoff in 1914 was the Ojai State Bank, a stately brick pile in the neoclassical mode, complete with Doric columns. Theoretically, Libbey could have put up a neoclassical village to match the bank. But that would have looked bizarre, given the region’s historical context. The closest points of reference were Ventura and Santa Barbara, each of which dated back to the Mission Era and boasted an authentic mission building. Mission Revival was the obvious choice for Nordhoff. It seems likely that Libbey had made that decision even before he called that meeting.
Libbey of course was no architect. He left the design details to Requa, who used a mixture of Mission style (e.g., the Arcade) and Spanish Colonial Revival style (the Post Office Tower) to bring Libbey’s vision to life. Meanwhile, in March 1917, the town completed its Ramona makeover by changing its name to Ojai. Now it had a Spanish-sounding name to complement its new look. (The name, like the architecture, is not actually Spanish; it’s derived from the name of one of the Chumash Indian villages that once dotted the valley.) Thus it was Ojai Day, rather than Nordhoff Day, that the town celebrated a few weeks later on April 7.
At the opening ceremony, Libbey handed the deed to Civic Park to Sherman Day Thacher, who accepted it on behalf of the newly formed Ojai Civic Association. A reporter for The Ojai newspaper recorded Libbey’s speech, an earnest paean to the power of art:
“Art is but visualized idealism, and is expressed in all surroundings and conditions of society,” he told the crowd. “From the earliest age to the present time, art has been to the races of men one of the greatest incentives toward progress, refinement and the aesthetic missionary to the peoples of the world.”
Did the townspeople take Libbey seriously, with all his high-falutin’ rhetoric about Greece and Rome and beauty and virtue? Relatively few people in the crowd knew him well. He was only a part-time resident, after all. But clearly he was sincere, and most of his listeners were grateful that he had taken Ojai under his wing. Heads nodded in agreement as he launched into his peroration:
“Thus we are today celebrating, in the expression of this little example of Spanish architecture in Ojai Park, a culmination of an idea and the response to that spark of idealism which demands from us a resolution to cultivate, encourage and promote those things which go to make the beautiful in life, and bring to all happiness and pleasure.”
The crowd gave Libbey a huge ovation. And then the party began.
“Last Saturday a new epoch in the social and industrial life of the rejuvenated and resuscitated ancient Nordhoff, under a new title and new conditions, was ushered in and welcomed with joyous acclaim and much felicitation,” The Ojai reported in its next issue. “It was the most memorable day in the history of the Valley. New life, new ambitions and greater accomplishments will date from April 7, 1917.”
THE LIBBEY LEGACY
Ojai Day was not celebrated in 1918, due to America’s participation in World War I. But it returned in 1919 and became an annual event, as Libbey’s influence provided the town with more new buildings to celebrate: The St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel (now the Ojai Valley Museum) in 1918, the El Roblar Hotel (now the Oaks at Ojai) in 1920, the Ojai Valley School in 1923, the original Ojai Valley Inn clubhouse in 1924. Then Libbey died in 1925. The town continued to celebrate Ojai Day until at least 1928, but at some point after that, the tradition was abandoned.
The buildings, of course, remained. But as the decades passed, some of them fell into disrepair. The original Pergola was demolished in 1971, the same year Civic Park was renamed Libbey Park. “And we almost lost the Arcade in 1989,” Walker said.
Walker is a retired Nordhoff High School history teacher and an expert on the valley’s architectural history. (He inherited some of that expertise from his late father, the noted architect and longtime Ojai resident Rodney Walker.) He was a member of the citizens group that saved the Arcade, by raising funds to refurbish it and bring it up to code. In the wake of that effort, Walker led a move to bring back Ojai Day. The event was revived in 1991, and now is celebrated each year on the third Saturday of October.
Walker also was among the people who brought back the Pergola in 1999. As a member of the Ojai Valley Museum board, he continues to lend his expertise to the museum’s projects. It was while researching a talk about Ojai architecture that Walker learned that Libbey had been an exhibitor at the World’s Columbian Exposition, where he would have been exposed to both the Mission Revival style and the City Beautiful Movement. Walker already was familiar with Libbey’s Ojai Day speech from 1917, but now he viewed those words in a new light.
“The words just echoed the real heart of what the City Beautiful Movement was all about,” Walker said. “On that day in 1917, the architectural and social ideals of the World’s Columbian Exposition were expressed in a beautiful new civic center that was created by a man who owed his own success in large part to that same Chicago exposition.”
Did Libbey achieve his dream for Ojai? Certainly his influence on the look of the town has been enormous. Walker points to all the beautiful Mission- or Spanish-style buildings that other people erected in the valley after Libbey worked his magic downtown. These include the Krotona Institute of Theosophy, Villanova Preparatory School, the Ojai Presbyterian Church, the Ojai Unified School District headquarters (formerly Ojai Elementary), the Chaparral Auditorium, and many, many others.
But an Ojai building need not be Mission style or Spanish style to reflect Libbey’s legacy; it need only be beautiful. Nor is his influence limited to architecture. Today the town is known as a mecca for artists, and Libbey, in a sense, was their prophet. He called for the community to pay more attention “to things aesthetic,” and his call has been heeded.
“It all goes to show, first of all, that one man can make a difference,” Walker said. “Libbey’s ideas must have infected the people of Ojai.”
In one way, Libbey outdid Daniel Burnham. The glorious White City burned down in 1894; only one of its buildings remains standing in Jackson Park. But Libbey’s buildings still stand along Ojai Avenue, and still perform their intended function. Burnham’s lost masterpiece was a blueprint for future cities that were never built, except, perhaps, by L. Frank Baum and Walt Disney. But the Emerald City is imaginary, and Disneyland is a theme park. Ojai is a real town, where people live. If today Ojai prides itself on its beauty and on its highly developed sense of civic virtue, then much of the credit must go to Edward Drummond Libbey, who set out to build a better town, and succeeded.
“I think it helped people realize that they live in someplace special,” Walker said. “This was Libbey’s stated intention “to inspire people to these higher ideals of civic involvement. One could say that his intention has been borne out.”
(Originally published in the Ojai Quarterly’s Fall 2012 issue. Republished with permission.)
“[The Ojai Valley School] So far it has proven very successful, combining as it does the most intelligent educational methods of the best city schools and the beautiful and healthful environment of the Ojai.” –Country Life Magazine, September 1924
During 1909, Walter W. Bristol organized the Nordhoff Union High School in the town of Nordhoff, now Ojai, and became the school’s first principal.
He held that position until 1919, when he resigned to assist his wife in the running of a small country school that she was operating, known as the Bristol School.
Mrs. Bristol’s school had started in the fall of 1912, with two students. Classes were held in her home on the northwest corner of Ojai Avenue and Bristol Road. The house had been built in 1911, and it was typical wooden construction with a screened-in sleeping porch that ran across one end.
By 1913, the sleeping porch had been divided into classrooms and desks were installed, so as to accommodate more pupils.
The need for a progressive private school was very much in evidence in the small western town.
Before long, a separate school building was erected farther north on their property. The Bristols felt that their new building would probably accommodate up to 15 pupils, but before long that total had reached 25 pupils. It was indeed a crowded little school.
The great forest fire of 1917, which had burned the Foothills Hotel and 60 other building in the Ojai Valley, also destroyed the charming little Bristol School. The fire, however, did not burn the cottages that were on the same property, so classes continued. The Bristols had been asked to board students at the their school, but there had not been enough room. Now that the building was to be rebuilt, they made plans to include rooms for boarding students and three classrooms. It was a very successful school. The outdoor life in a superb winter climate and amidst charming scenery made the school life both wholesome and attractive.
Another person who had a profound interest in the local children’s education was Edward Yeomans. Arriving in the valley for the winter of 1912, Yeomans was not happy about coming to California from his home in the east. He was working for the family business, Yeomans Brothers Co., a water pump manufacturing company, and his feelings about California were that it was merely a vacation spot for rich bankers with whom he had absolutely nothing in common. However, the beauty of the Ojai Valley and the simplicity of life here convinced him that he could find no better place in which to spend the winter.
Yeomans wrote to his friends in the east: “I felt this valley to be the most beautiful spot in the world. Fruit orchards and their blossoms, and the entire 15 miles from Ventura to Ojai, not a house visible! They valley itself was fully planted in orange groves, or left as God made it; acres of live oak trees and acres of wild wheat growing under the live oaks awaiting harvesting. Olive and fig trees line all roads and mark the divisions of property.”
Deciding to stay in the Ojai Valley, Yeomans resigned his position at the family-owned company. His desire to start a school of a progressive nature took full charge of his thinking. He had found the perfect spot for his new school, the Ojai Valley, a place he had grown to love. A valley “completely unspoiled by man — nature so generously holding her beauty and rich gifts for man’s careful husbanding on so vast a scale that man was rarely visible.”
Yeomans heard that the Bristols would be interested in selling their school and property, but Yeomans was not interested in the Bristol property or the buildings, so the Bristols agreed to sell him only the goodwill in the school.
A meeting of the prominent local residents was called to discuss the plans of Yeomans’ new school. A name was decided upon, the Ojai Valley School, and it would need to have beautiful buildings in order to be a credit to the community.
Mary Bard, the wife of Senator Thomas Bard, attended the school meetings, and she was the most enthusiastic person there. Mary Bard had married the senator in 1878, and they had seven children. It was not surprising that she was interested in education.
When asked what type of school Yeomans was interested in starting, he responded, “A school whose main subjects are music, nature study and shop work. No languages for little children and no English grammar taught to them. No arithmetic at first, except what we need for work in construction. No desks fastened to floors, just desks that could easily be moved for acting of ballads or poetry. No examinations, no discipline for its own sake, but inner control, and consideration for all working in the school, and so, good citizenship.”
Mary Bard was much stirred and inspired by Yeomans’ talk and said she wanted to do whatever she could in order to help start such a school. Frank Frost, another valley resident, also wanted to do his share of work toward the new school.
E. D. Libbey, Ojai’s greatest benefactor, had just subdivided a large tract of land and had named it the Arbolada; and Frost felt that the lots in the subdivision would sell more rapidly if there were a school nearby. Frost wrote to Libbey in Toledo, Ohio and said, “You never can sell your land unless you can also say there is a good school nearby.” It was just the right message. Libbey donated a parcel of land to the group with only one restriction. They could have any amount of land they required, but it had to remain in the ownership of Libbey until three years had passed and the school had succeeded. The Ojai Valley School officially opened for business in October 1923.
With so many students requesting to attend the new school and wanting to be boarding students, Frost decided that to do his part, he would build a dormitory for the school. He supervised the building, which originally would hold 30 students, and it was filled to capacity the first day.
Yeomans wrote to Mrs. Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen to see if she could be persuaded to leave the Francis Parker School of Chicago and come to the Ojai Valley and be principal of the new school. Thorne-Thomsen accepted the position and arrived in the valley, only to be sick most of the first year; so it was up to Yeomans to be in charge during that time. He thought of himself more in the capacity of janitor rather that principal. He felt that “a school and its faculty are not a group working together for the benefit of the school on equal footing always, the school has no power of growth.”
As word spread up and down the state about this new school and the progressive learning that was taught there, people became anxious to hear all they could about it. Invited to speak at a large function in Los Angeles, Yeomans found himself extremely nervous in front of the crowd of people. Once he had spoken a few words, in which he referred to himself “as a pump manufacturer, not an educator,” he became at ease. He said he “was there as a rebel against his own painful and unhappy education in childhood, where fear ruled his entire life and school was a prison.” At that time he had promised himself when he grew up, he would try to save other children from such an unhappy life.
Libbey advertised the new school in his sales brochures for his Arbolada lots. “In this lovely sport, far away from the noise and crowding of city schools, children are given a superior training” and a far finer appreciation of life. The purpose of the school is “to cherish and develop the individuality of each pupil rather than to turn out a rubber stamp product.” This proved to be a successful move for both.
Source: David Mason, “Ojai Valley School merged educators dreams.” Ojai Valley News, October 1, 1999