The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the May 2, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. Bald used the same title for many of his articles, so the Ojai Valley Museum added “(No. 5)” to distinguish this particular article.
Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 5)
The back country men and their fall cattle drives were the most picturesque and exciting of all to me. Along in November the cattle for market would be rounded up, and those in the upper Cuyama valley would be driven via trail over Pine Mountain to the upper Sespe, where they would join with the Sespe cattle and those from the upper Santa Ynez.
There being no highways and trucks, the cattle were driven single file from the Sespe through Cherry Canyon over Ortega Hill into the north fork of the Matilija and down to Ortega Ranch – some six miles above the upper edge of Matilija lake. There they camped the second night.
From the Matilija Hot Springs on to Ventura it was easy going, for they had a road to travel. What is now Casitas Springs was known as Stony Flat, and was a large hay field. There the cattle were held overnight and the next day delivered to lima bean fields east of Ventura, where they became the property of the Hobson brothers, Will and Abe, the fathers respectively of Mrs. Edith Hoffman and Mrs. Grace Smith (all deceased).
The Matilija school children were alerted well in advance by the bawling cattle and shouting cowboys, as they forded the stream some 100 yards above the school. School would be dismissed until the last yip of the cowboys died away down the dusty road.
Among the cattlemen on these drives were, of course, various Reyes boy – Rudolpho, Anselmo, Peter and Rafael. Then there were the Wegis brothers, Frand and Gebhard. They were all from Cuyama.
From the Sespe and the upper Santa Ynez were the Eduardo Canet cowboys and various homesteaders, among them Ygnacio Ramos, the Warner brothers (Dave and Jack), Ramon Cota, Manuel Lopez. Perhaps the most colorful of them were the Ortega brothers, grandfather and great uncles of Milito Ortega, Ventura’s ex-postmaster.
There were many legends of their exploits in that rough country. Ramon Ortega in 1914 at the age of 82 went over a bluff, and both he and his horse were killed. He had always said he would die back there, and that he didn’t want to be packed out like a dead deer. Jacinto Reyes (he was always affectionately known as J.D.) packed uncle Ramon out sitting upright on a saddle horse as he had always wished to be brought out.
As I have mentioned, the Matilija school stood on the east bank of the river. Water was carried up in a galvanized bucket. All drank from the one tin cup. One small, battered tin basin served for washing our hands, and naturally there was a minimum of that.
There was a theory this creek water was soon purified in its flow over rocks and through sand and gravel. So there was no concern over contamination by sewage from the several resorts above.
My sister’s attendance at that school was of short duration for when mother discovered some foreign objects crawling in her hair there was something of a scene. There was one boy, Mike, that Margaret was quite fond of, but following this episode, she told him she didn’t wish to play with him anymore, that he was lousy. Mike replied: “No, Maggie, I ain’t had no louses for a month.”
Shortly after that Margaret returned to Nordhoff, while I continued attending Matilija regardless. Our home, Rancho Rinconada, was just midway between both schools. J.D. Reyes and I gave the ranch that name.
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.
WHAT’S NEW DOWNTOWN [in 1984]?
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.
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 , 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
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.”
No more false fronts, no more shambles at the rear.
This article was written for an appeared in the Ojai Valley News on June 11, 1999. It is reprinted here with their permission.
Orchid Town was an attraction in the ’40s and ’50s
by David Mason
“Gardening is one of the best things in the world to make you forget your troubles, so as you go along, take a little time out and relax in your garden amongst the flowers.” — Louis Boyle, Out West, 1952
The lavish two-story hotel with its sweeping veranda would have no overnight guests. The post office has not postmaster, the Orchid Café couldn’t serve a decent cup of coffee and there were no children learning their ABC’s at the Deer Little School.
The blacksmith shop was silent and no hymns were heard coming from the Community Church. The Last Chance Saloon never served liquor; the jail never held a prisoner; and the justice of the peace? Well, he never married a single couple.
This may sound like a very dull town, but on the contrary, it was probably one of the most exciting old beautiful towns in all of Southern California.
El Rancho Rinconada, Orchid Town, was the dream of a wealthy man.
When Louis Boyle purchased the 77-acre ranch in the Ojai Valley in March of 1939, it consisted of a small house, garage and barn. Within a year, the land would start to spring forth with an array of exotic plants, for Mr. Boyle’s dream was to develop his ranch into a paradise of flowers.
Mr. Boyle was not raised in the flower business. His father had come to California with his family in the 1890s and had obtained employment in the iron and steel business, which he did quite successfully. His company manufactured barrels, canteens, camp stoves, tin cans and garbage cans.
The elder Boyle eventually took over the Pacific Stove Company, which made heaters and stoves; one popular line of heaters sold for 90 cents each.
One employee was an ambitious man by the name of Parkie O’ Keefe, the plant superintendent and salesman, who would sell stoves, write up the orders, come back to the plant, change clothes and work to make the stoves.
In 1913, Bob Merritt came to work for the Pacific Stove Company. After a few years, Mr. Merritt, longing to go into business for himself, convinced Mr. O’ Keefe to join him. The elder Boyle sold the stove manufacturing end of his business to them and retained a financial interest in their business, which came to be known as O’ Keefe and Merritt.
The Boyle manufacturing company was sold to the United States Steel Company in 1939 and it was then that Louis Boyle came to the Ojai Valley and bought El Rancho Rinconada.
He was not the first man to see the possibilities in this secluded ranch in the little valley. The previous owner, Loring Farnum, had attended Thacher School from 1898 until 1900 and was so impressed with the Ojai Valley that in 1908 he purchased the ranch and named it El Ranch Rinconada. He built a white farm house, planted a prune orchard and raised horses.
The original Farnum house was one of the 60 buildings in the valley that was lost in the great 1917 fire. Mr. Farnum was on the Boyd Club Board of Trustees and he was the first person to introduce radio to the Ojai Valley citizens.
Louis Boyle was enthusiastic about creating a sprawling ranch of orchids and other unique plans. He had attended the 1938 Pasadena Flower Show, where a large display of cymbidium orchids had caught his eye.
The Orchid Ranch would have to be unique, the land encircled by the mountains was too magnificent to construct just ordinary rows of lath and greenhouses.
The idea of creating a western town as a front for the flower beds was decided upon as an attractive way to conceal the lath house structures. Mr. Boyle and his helpers spent months going through junk yards, picking up old doors, windows and lumber.
The first building was the hotel. The imposing structure would stand out from the rest of the town. The windows were actually shadow boxes that held a variety of treasures. Each window box told a different story of the history of the Old West. They included old guns, powder horns, lamps and spectacles. Some contained wooden tools, music boxes, branding irons and straight razors.
Upon entering the front door of the hotel, your first view was of hundreds of orchid plants growing in attractive gardens –- a spectacular sight.
The rear side of the false front was also a treasure trove. Hung on the walls were old western pictures and newspapers. Out front stood a wishing well.
Further down the street, other false fronts continued to be built on both sides, until the town had almost all of the conveniences one would expect in a small town.
There was the drug store, church, hardware and general store. Then they had the little school, assayer’s office, the town hall and bank, the opera house and Last Chance Saloon –- and the largest building, Kate’s House, was named for one of the ladies of early San Francisco.
There was also the Chinese Laundry, King’s Harness Shop, Wells Fargo, Pony Express and The Picture Gallery.
The Picture Gallery was extraordinary. The walls were covered with beautiful pictures of orchids, the handiwork of many artists, who years ago contributed in their greatest ways to symbolizing the beautiful flowers.
The gallery consisted of more than 1,000 prints of orchids, offset in their placement on the walls to make room for the collection of museum quality antiques that were also neatly arranged in the gallery.
An office building and library were built on a low rise at the base of the mountains, so as to afford a panoramic view of the ranch. The atmosphere of the office was more like a home instead of a place of business. The library contained a large collection of rare botanical books, collected from around the world.
Over the years, the Orchid Ranch would become one of the main sources of elaborate displays at flower shows, winning many awards.
The various displays that Mr. Boyle entered in the shows were replicas of his greenhouses that were showplaces within themselves, adorned with exquisite garden statuary that added charm to the meandering rock-lined walks that encircled the beautiful beds of graceful orchids.
The camellia plants would add another source of color and beauty to the ranch. Planted throughout the property were more than 7,000 camellia bushes, consisting of 150 different varieties. Many of them were rare and unusual.
The 1948 forest fire would take its toll on the Orchid Ranch, as well as the entire Ojai Valley. At El Rancho Rinconada, lath houses burned to the ground, destroying the precious plants and flowers that the lath had been protecting. The camellias that were planted along the outskirts of the ranch, closer to the surrounding hills, were lost when the fire swept into the little valley.
The ranch was repaired of all fire damage and, in short time, was back in full operation. As though to add insult to injury, the next year it snowed on the little town. To protect the orchids, which were only covered by lath, smudge pots had to be moved in.
By 1952 there were more than 50,000 cymbidium plants growing on the ranch. Mr. Boyle learned all he could about the flowers, mostly through trial and error. His passion for cymbidiums was a major contributor to the flower’s popularity.
During the years that the ranch was in operation, the cymbidium orchid became the most popular flower for stylish corsages. Florists from around the world were supplied with the blooms shipped from El Rancho Rinconada.
There was no lovelier orchid than the cymbidium and there was no finer selection in the United States than those grown at Orchid Town, El Rancho Rinconada. Many different varieties of cymbidiums were propagated there in the many specially designed greenhouses built for the young seedlings.
The names of the cymbidiums read like a list from “Who’s Who,” including: Anne Boleyn, Bach, Mozart, Beau Brummel, Cleopatra, Godiva, Goldilocks, Hiawatha, Pocahontas, Paul Revere, Joan of Arc and Marco Polo. The royal family was not forgotten; plants were named for Queen Elizatbeth I, Queen Mary, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles and Windsor Castle. President Lincoln and President Wilson were also included in the list.
Many other unusual flowers filled the ranch greenhouses, among them the waxy red Hawaiian anthuriums and the cypripedium orchids, also known as the Slipper Orchid.
The ranch would continue to delight people from around the world, whether it be those fortunate enough to have been invited to the many private parties and official affairs that were held there, down to the excitement felt by the smallest florists across the country who received their shipments of the exquisite flowers from the ranch.
When Mr. Boyle died in August of 1954 the glory of El Rancho Rinconada began to fade, but not to the memories. I’m sure the many hours I spent as a child, admiring the quaint place and the beautiful creations of God, had a lot to do with influencing my life.
The property was eventually sold to Camp Ramah and there aren’t many of the original structures left. The office and library, the main house and guest house remain. The western town is gone and the one sign of an earlier day is the wishing well.
Camp Ramah has maintained the land with spacious lawns, tree and flowers, and the serene atmosphere remains. Today, the former El Rancho Rinconada is used for the health and enrichment of young people’s lives, not unlike what it did for the flowers many years ago.
The following article was printed in the Ojai Valley News in the 1960s or 1970s, and is reprinted here with their permission. It was written by Ed Wenig.
Ojai Valley sold for 45-cents an acre
The entire Ojai Valley of over 17,000 acres was once an outright gift of the Mexican government to a prominent Ventura man, Don Fernando Tico. It should be added, too, that in the ensuing years the Ojai Valley was sold and resold for sharply advancing prices of approximately 45 cents to 62 cents, and then one dollar an acre!
The Ojai Valley had long been in the possession of Mission San Buenaventura when the Mexican government, in 1833, secularized (confiscated) all Mission property. In 1837 “Ranch Ojay” was granted to Don Fernando Tico, who held a high appointive position in the civil government of the Ventura area.
Fernando Tico built a little house in, what is now, the eastern part of the present city of Ojai and lived there some years. But he soon found that he was “land poor”. Taxes were too high. For that reason he even refused an additional gift of the Rancho Santa Ana, which was offered to him by Governor Alvarado. He moved back to Ventura, after selling the entire valley for $7,500 to Henry Storrow Carnes of Santa Barbara. In 1856, Carnes sold Rancho Ojay to Juan Camarillo for $10,000.
Juan Camarillo had come from Mexico in 1834 and was a successful merchant in Santa Barbara. He had soon begun buying and selling land grants, one of which was the Rancho Ojay. After holding it for eight years, he sold it in 1864 for $17,754 to John Bartlett.
It might be said that year 1864 marked the first subdivision of the Ojai. Four days after he purchased the land, Bartlett sold one-third to John B. Church for $6,000 and two-thirds to John Wyeth for $12,000. A month later Church and Wyeth sold half the valley to Charles H. Russell and Henry M. Alexander. These gentlemen bought the rest of the grant in the same year, and in 1868 the entire Ojai Valley was reunited again when it was sold to John P. Green, acting as attorney for Thomas A. Scott, former Assistant Secretary of War under President Lincoln.
When Vickie Robertson, long-time employee of Ojai Village Pharmacy, discovered that she had been working in the oldest pharmacy in Ventura County, she became a historical sleuth. “Wow,” she said, “I wonder how many people know this,” and began her investigations.
Robertson traced a lineage of pharmacists in Ojai who have owned the business since 1891. As she searched through books, talked to historians, and waded through reels of microfiche at the Ojai Library, she discovered that the store’s line of pharmacists had been unbroken since Dr. Benjamin Levan Saegar first established the Ojai Drug Store in Nordhoff (Ojai’s original name).
In the first issue of The Ojai newspaper (partly owned by Dr. Saegar), dated October 27, 1891, the Ojai Drug Store advertised, “Constantly on hand – a full stock of fresh drugs, cinnamon from Ceylon, ginger from Borneo, perfumes, fancy chocolates and toilet articles, stationery, cigars, tobacco, etc. Physicians prescriptions a specialty and promptly attended to day and night.” The population of the town was 300 people.
As Dr. Saegar was the first person in town to have a telephone and a drug store with soda fountain, his store became a hub of the village. People came to make phone calls for a few pennies, meet their friends, have an ice cream float, and exchange news of the day.
According to historian David Mason, “The Ojai Drug Store also doubled as the newspaper office, and Dr. Saegar was the paper’s first editor. People could drop off articles, ads, and pay for subscriptions while filling their prescriptions.”
In 1911 Dr. Saegar sold the store to W.V. Skillman who owned it only briefly although he did find the time to refurbish the soda fountain. The following year Skillman sold it to S. D. Nill who owned the business until April 1916 when he sold it to entrepreneur and pharmacist John Flanagan.
The Ojai reported, “He (Flanagan) is a thorough business man, and knows the needs of the trade, and that he must be able to deliver the goods at the right prices, to hold the trade, as communities are loyal to home interests if the ‘home interests’ are loyal to the community. Drop around and get acquainted. Mr. Flanagan is a live wire and thrice welcome.” In early 1917 Flanagan expanded his business to a larger space at 202 Ojai Ave at the site of Thomas Clark’s old horse livery.
During this same period, Thomas S. Clark owned the property along Ojai Ave between Signal and Matilija streets to the boundaries of the present Rains Department Store. Clark was also the County Supervisor for Ventura from 1904 to 1936. In 1895 he opened a horse stable and livery on the corner of Ojai Ave and Signal St. In 1910, when automobiles became available, Clark expanded his livery business into an auto livery. He enlarged the building to110 Signal Street, part of his property behind the former horse livery. Clark had the first auto showrooms in the Ojai valley.
In 1917 Clark sold his auto livery to E.A. Runkle who consolidated the “auto, livery and stage coach” business to the Signal St location enabling Flanagan to move his pharmacy to the corner location on Ojai Ave the following year.
In 1917 while World War I raged in Europe, two major fires descended upon Ojai, one in June and one in September. The June blaze took five lives and destroyed 70 homes, a church and part of the high school. Tom Clark’s home on Matilija and Signal was saved by a bucket brigade. “The second fire (in September) was caused from a gasoline stove explosion in the lunch room of Miss Elvie Presley at 11 o’clock and spread quickly in all directions,” reported The Ojai.
This second fire destroyed much of the downtown area including all the buildings along Ojai Ave up to the present Tottenham Court. Although townspeople and merchants helped move the drug store’s medicines and bottles away from the flames, Flanagan’s loss was considerable. He had over $3 – 3.4K in damages from broken bottles, exploded packages, and melted candy’s, soaps, chocolates and perfumes. Until Ventura County took over the fire department in the late 1920’s, local volunteers and US. Forest Service rangers fought the fires. Ojai was provided with it’s first fire truck in 1918 thanks to the generosity of E. D. Libbey.
Due to the damage and loss all businesses experienced, “The Ojai” urged “all the people of the Ojai to buy their goods more generously than ever before, of our local dealers, who have suffered so seriously and not to permit reduction in prices for slight damage by water, fire or smoke.”
Town benefactor E. D. Libbey built the Arcade and Tom Clark replaced the wooden frame building with massive stones that form the Signal Street walls today. John Flanagan celebrated the opening of his new store on June 27, 1918 with music and dancing. “The residents of the Ojai enjoyed a royal good time,” the Ojai reported. “Ice Cream and sodas were served free to all who cared to indulge and there were plenty of good smokes for the smokers.”
In 1919 George and Ida Crampton took over the Ojai Drug Store from Flanagan. Flanagan left the pharmacy for the automobile business and started the new Dodge car agency in Ventura. After the purchase Crampton invited the town “to an open house to come to his store for a good time. The products of his soda fountain will be dispensed free during the evening,” The Ojai reported. The population of Ojai was 500 people.
In 1924, the Cramptons sold the pharmacy business to R. J. Boardman, who ran it as Boardman’s Drug Store until 1947 when he sold it to Dr. E. K. Roberts and pharmacist Tom E. Clark who named it The Village Drug. (Dr. Roberts was Tom Clark’s brother-in-law).
Roberts and Clark owned the business until the early 1955 when they sold it to Mr. Ripley. However, within four years, Ripley sold it to pharmacist Alex Golbuff.
Golbuff ran the business from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM six days a week and 9 AM to 5 PM on Sundays for twelve years. One day in 1968, as the legend goes, Leonard Badt walked into the pharmacy and said, “I would like to buy this business.” Golbuff, fed up with working so many hours for so many years, said, “Take it!” And Badt did just that.
When Badt purchased the pharmacy business, he also had his eye on owning the land and building as well. He then approached Tom S. Clark’s daughters and asked to buy the property. They promised to sell it to him.
Thomas S. Clark and his first wife Ella Bakeman had nine children. After she died at the age of 55 in 1924, he remarried. When Clark died in 1940, he had willed the buildings on the corner of Ojai Ave and Signal St to his second wife Ida Brambel Clark.
Ojai resident Tom Clark Conrad, whose mother Margaret was one of T.S. Clark’s daughters, said, “My mother and her three sisters bought the property from Ida Clark and then sold it to two other sisters Dortha Clark Roberts and Elizabeth Clark. When Roberts and Clark died, the estate honored the promise made earlier to Leonard Badt and sold him the property. Badt’s two sons still own the building.”
In 1967, Stan Lazarus purchased the “other” drug store, Ojai Pharmacy, then located at 328 E. Ojai Avenue and the current location of Bonnie Lu’s. He bought the business from the Carsner family. A very popular man about town, James E. “Jack” France managed the store. After the tragic death of Leonard Badt in 1982, Lazarus purchased the “Ojai Drug Store” business from Leonard Badt’s estate and merged the two stores renaming it Ojai Village Pharmacy. June Conrad, Tom’s wife, said, “My friend Doris de Groot Mayfield had her first date with her future husband at the soda fountain in that pharmacy in 1942.” This year Ojai Village Pharmacy celebrates 120 years of unbroken pharmacy business in Ojai.
Many thanks to those who made this story possible: David Mason, Patricia Frye, Tom and June Conrad, the Ojai Valley Library, the Ojai Valley Museum, and most of all – Stan Lazarus and Vickie Robertson. Mason said, “It’s a nice thing that she (Robertson) has done and worked it through so long. It’s good for the historic preservation aspect of the valley. The Ojai Museum should have a copy of her findings, and I would encourage her to do other projects.”