Star Camp Congress 1928

Star Camp. Note the original Meiners Oaks Ranch House; the Ranch House Restaurant started here.

The Ojai Star Camp (1928) by Joseph Ross

The Ojai Valley has been the scene of many interesting and notable events, but it is doubtful anything has taken place as unique and distinctive as the Star Camp Congress on the meadow near Meiners Oaks in 1928.

Not often, in this comfort-loving age, do we see such a gathering–a thousand people living in tents for a week or so, whose sole object was to get away from the pressure of domestic and business life, to be quiet and to listen to the teaching of a modest young man who offered to show them how to end sorrow and suffering, and to be happy.

Quietly, and without brass bands or parades of any kind, this great party of campers settled into its city of tents.

Little did the small body of theosophists at Krotona in old Hollywood, members of the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, realize that when their secretary, A. P Warrington, was guided to visit his friends, the Rev. Robert Walton and Mary Gray in Ojai, and that when, with their help, he found the Kerfoot Ranch in Meiners Oaks, little did they or Dr. Annie Besant guess that in moving Krotona to Ojai in 1924, they would be preparing the way for these surprising gatherings that would take place during the 1920s.

Besant, president of the Theosophical Society, was accustomed to such inner guidance, as in the purchases of Starland, what Oak Grove is today, and the Happy Valley (Upper Ojai property) for a cradle to nurture a new race of human beings.

Besant attended the American Theosophical Society Convention in Chicago in 1926. However, her special work was really in Ojai, where her intuition led her to start a new colony and school for the children of the “sixth sub-race” and where Krishnamurti, who referred to himself as “K,” would one day start his school at the west end of the valley.

George and Grace Hall moved from Hollywood to live at Krotona in August, 1926, when he became the general manager for Krotona. He planned a subdivision at the east end of the village, to be called Siete Robles, in which he expected to interest most of the would-be Krotona settlers.

Krishnamurti and Annie Besant in 1926.

Besant and “K,” with their entourage, arrived in Los Angeles in September 1926 and were met at the train station by many of their fellow workers. Her first visit here confirmed that the Ojai Valley would be the future world center for the teachings of J. Krishnamurti.

Oct. 1, 1926, in honor of Besant’s 80th birthday, afternoon tea was served at Krotona to 150 to 200 friends. Standing on the veranda of the Krotona Library, Dr. Besant shared her first impressions of the Ojai Valley.

“I find that your valley has an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and spirituality that is most reminiscent of India in these respects than any other part of the globe that I have visited.”

Referring to the small group of theosophists coming to Ojai, and the work they would do, she emphasized that they came to live in friendliness and brotherhood.

Besant shared her plan to purchase land in Ojai with close associates, and Frank Gerard, a devotee of “K” since 1915, and Fritz Kunz, a dedicated and highly paced member of the Theosophical Society, were the sweat and blood behind what would become the Upper Ojai Valley site.

On Sunday morning, Jan. 3, 1927, Besant called her co-workers together to share her vision and thoughts on buying a piece of land in Ojai, among them George Hall, an active realtor and Krotona manager who was pushing for a tract of land adjacent to Krotona, a tract of live oaks that would one day become a sacred spot (the Oak Grove).

About 10 a.m., they left “K’s” home at Arya Vihara to see the land on the west side of the Krotona property, since Hall and others thought this piece of land would be the right place for what Besant had in mind. When they came to a high open place on the property, Outlook Point, they all gathered around Besant and expressed their ideas about the site.

However, she did not say much, nor did she or “K” seem impressed or much interested in the location, although some 160 acres were bought, later to become the Oak Grove center in Starland, from which “K” would give his dialogues until his death in 1986.

Meanwhile, “K” persuaded Besant and the group to look at the Upper Ojai region where there was also a larger tract of land for sale. They liked it very much and got in touch with the owners, and the negotiations began for about 465 acres, plus the oil rights.

Before Dr. Besant and “K”, with their entourage, left for Europe in April, 1927 (Besant never to return), she appointed George Hall her representative in all matters in Ojai. She appointed the Board of Trustees for the Happy Valley land, all Esoteric Section members, to manage the property according to her wishes and instructions. In May, 1930, Happy Valley was incorporated as the Happy Valley Foundation.

April 15, 1928, “K” arrived back in Los Angeles in the company of Baron van Pallandt, a Dutch nobleman of Ommen, Holland, Mr. Tristram and Mr. Prasad, professors of physics at the University of Madras.

Among those greeting them were Mr. and Mrs. D. Rajagopal, chief organizer, Order of the Star; Dr. and Mrs. John A. Ingelman, national organizer for the United States; Marie Russak Hotchener, editor of The Star magazine; Louis Zalk, Ojai camp manager; James Montgomery Flagg, the illustrator, also Bishop John Tettemer of the Liberal Catholic Church, and many others who were especially devoted to K’s teachings.

New additions to the garage building were now under construction at Krotona Institute to make storage for seven cars. Also being installed was a private 280-gallon gasoline station with pump for the residents’ use.

Since members were coming from all over the world to attend the Star Congress, they wanted to stay at Krotona, but the accommodations at Krotona were still very limited. As for the village of Ojai, it would cost no less than $8 per day, with or without meals, and these also were limited.

Bath House

Starland camp, west of today’s Taormina property, progressing under Hall’s direct supervision, with the guidance of Zalk, construction began immediately with three bath houses and a cafeteria to make a success of the planned International Star Camp in May, 1928.

The gathering included about 1,200 people (11 nationalities besides American were represented). Ojai had thrown open its doors to the world.

A building boom was soon on in the Ojai Valley. Meiner’s Oaks help a special interest for most of the followers, who were all buying lots within a short walk of Starland.

The opening meeting of the Star Camp 1928 Congress, the Campfire, was held on Outlook Point, overlooking the surrounding countryside. After introductory music, “K” stepped forward and touched the torch to the campfire, chanting an ancient Sanskrit hymn as the flames leaped skyward.

Outdoor dining at Star Camp.

Zalk, general director of the camp, then extended a warm greeting to the many assembled for the first congress. Jinarajadasa of India followed, delighting his listeners with a talk. Next, Warrington spoke poetically of the dream of a dreamer saying, “The first Star Congress of Ojai was the realization of a long-cherished vision held by one man, J. Krishnamurti, for many years.”

On August 3, 1929, at the Ommen Star Camp in Holland, in the presence of Annie Besant, “K” officially dissolved the Order of the Star and the Star Camps around the world were opened for public use.

The management of the Ojai camp made an announcement that the property was to be made available for the use of other organizations all over the nation who might desire such a location and such equipment for convention purposes, except for the time when “K” would occupy the Oak Grove each May for his dialogues.

Around 1975, the Oak Grove School was started adjacent to the Oak Grove.

From the Ojai Valley News, July 28, 2000.

Postcard: Forest Rangers at Matilija Hot Springs

This is the annual gathering of the U.S. Forest Rangers, Santa Barbara Forest Reserve, at Matilija Hot Springs.  Most of the rangers had districts in remote areas.  Supervisor Willis M. Slosson held these gatherings once/year so that they could get together and exchange ideas.

—-Patricia Clark Doerner

Meiners Oaks

Meiners Oaks by Ed Wenig

Meiners Oaks, a community where nearly every home is under a Live Oak tree, takes its name from John Meiners, who owned the large area for many years.

John Meiners, native of Germany, had come to the United States about 1848 and had established a successful brewery business in Milwaukee. He acquired his Ojai ranch in the seventies, sight unseen, as a result of an unpaid debt. When he heard that his friend, Edward D. Holton, a Milwaukee banker, was going to California for a brief trip, Meiners asked him to see the property he had acquired. Mr. Holton’s evaluation was, “It is the most beautiful valley I have ever seen.”

Upon investigating his new property, John Meiners found that he owned what was perhaps the largest oak grove on level land in Southern California, much of it so dense that the ground was in continuous shade. Furthermore, to his surprise, Meiners discovered that the climate of the valley was good for his asthma.

For a long time, the oak grove was fenced and provided a pasture for a large herd of hogs. All traffic from Ojai to Matilija went on a private road through the Meiners property, using a gate which was supposed to be kept closed. So many people went through the gate without closing it that in 1893, the manager of the ranch, P.W. Soper, locked the gate. With the Meiners road closed, the only way of getting the mail to Matilija by stagecoach was a roundabout one by Rice Road.

A news item in “The Ojai” related that, as Rice Road has been flooded, “the mail was sent up to Matilija last night on horseback, the rider going across the back hill country . . .” However, Mr. Soper later gave several keys to A.W. Blumberg, operator of Matilija Hot Springs, with the stipulation that they were to be used only by mail carriers and scheduled stage coach drivers.
In 1896, the big barn on the Meiners ranch, located approximately where the Ranch House Restaurant is now, caught fire one evening about midnight. No fire-fighting equipment was available. Twenty horses, many tons of hay, harness, and farm implements were completely destroyed. “The Ojai” of February 15, 1896 reported . . . “Mr. Meiners built a large temporary barn on Monday, and the work of the great ranch goes on energetically.”

The Milwaukee brewer lived on his ranch intermittently from the 1880s until his death in the valley in 1898. His original big house still stands on the hill above the Ranch House Restaurant and is now used by the Happy Valley School.

John Meiners organized his ever-increasing acreage into a very productive ranch. Several hundred acres to the north of the oak grove were planted in oranges, lemons, prunes, apricots and apples. P.W. Soper, father of the late “Pop” Soper, was general manager of the Meiners Ranch and lessee of 90 acres of Texas red oats, 90 acres of wheat and 200 acres of barley. A visitor who toured the ranch with Mr. Meiners in 1897 wrote, “At the Meiners Ranch we saw stalks of oats that measured 7 feet 7 inches.”

To visualize the vast area, the ranch can be described as bounded on the south by the hills of the Happy Valley School, on the west by Rice Road, on the north by the foothills near Cozy Dell Canyon and on the east by a line running through the junction of Highway 33 and El Roblar Street, north and south.

The forebears of several of the present-day residents of the Ojai Valley came here as a result of John Meiners’ interest in his ranch. The granddaughters of Edward D. Holton, who made the original favorable report concerning the ranch of Mr. Meiners and the Ojai Valley, are Misses Alice and Helen Robertson of the east valley, and his granddaughter, Mrs. Anson Thacher. Otto Busch came to the ranch as manager in 1907, and his son George Busch, now retired, was one of Ojai’s postmasters.

“He got Meiners O. for unpaid debt,” Ojai Valley News, Dec. 3, 1969

Sharp & Savvy: John Meiners

Sharp & Savvy: John Meiners (1827 – 1898)
by David Mason

Mr. Meiners was born in the town of Oldenberg, Germany, and received his early education and business training there. In 1848, he immigrated to America and settled in the town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

He built a starch factory and sawmill, both of which he sold in 1860 to invest in a distillery. The company distilled wines, alcohol, spirits and whiskey. Their trade was mainly local, but occasionally items were shipped to France and Germany. By 1861, the distillery was operating at its capacity of 500 bushels per day.

Mr. Meiners acquired his property in the Ojai Valley in the 1870’s, sight unseen as a result of an unpaid debt. Mr. Meiners had never been to California and wasn’t sure if he had struck a good or bad deal, but, nonetheless, the deed was done.

He became aware that a banker friend was planning a trip to the area, so he asked if his friend could locate the 1,200 acres and let him know how it appeared. When his friend arrived in Santa Barbara, he was able to secure transportation over the mountains to the little valley where the Meiners’ land was located. It was in the westerly portion of the Ojai Valley. What his friend wired to Mr. Meiners was just a very few words; “it was the most beautiful valley he had ever seen”.

Within a few years, John Meiners moved his family to California and to their new ranch. He built a large house on a bluff overlooking the ranch and named it “Cheery Acres.”

He then put the ranch into production, planting fruit trees, wheat and barley. The center of the ranch was covered by a thick forest of oak trees, which he fenced off from the rest of the ranch to raise hogs.

Mr. Meiners found that the climate in the Ojai Valley was also good for his asthma and he longed for the day he could spend more time here. For years, he continued to commute between his California ranch and Milwaukee.

Since the ranch continued to produce excellent crops, Mr. Meiners planted even more and then put in several hundred acres in oranges, lemons, olives, prunes, apricots and apples.

Finally turning over his Milwaukee business to his son Gustave, Mr. Meiners was able to stay in California and work the ranch he enjoyed so immensely.

In December of 1898, John Meiners passed away and his heirs continued to operate the ranch until 1924. The ranch was then incorporated by the Ojai Ranch and Development Company, which subdivided 800 acres.

Today, Meiners Oaks is still sheltered by the towering oaks that led the friend to say; “it was in the most beautiful valley he had ever seen”.