This article first appeared in the Miravalley News in May of 2000. The author is Al Warren.  The color photo was added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

by Al Warren

By taking just a few short steps across a sunny courtyard, you may escape the activity of Ojai Avenue and enjoy the serenity of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The locale is the Ojai Valley Museum, housed in an exquisite replica of early mission style architecture. Built as a church in 1919, the museum is the only building in Ojai on the National Register of Historic Places. A striking stained glass window and massive wooden doors adorn the front of the structure. In 1969, the Ojai Valley Historical Society was incorporated to give Ojai’s history a fitting home. After several moves, the Museum has found its home.

The “Ojai Valley Museum” is located at 130 W. Ojai Avenue in Ojai, California.

Inside is a remarkable collection of documents, artifacts, newspapers, and pictures that recreate the Ojai scene from time before the Spanish intrusion in 1542 through the early settlement years, long before the area changed its name from Nordhoff to Ojai.

Fittingly, the exhibit nearest the entrance is devoted to the earliest inhabitants of this area – the Chumash people. Tools, weapons, utensils, ornaments attest to the presence of rich Canalino/Chumash cultures. For as long ago as 2000 years well organized villages existed, including permanent sites on the Channel Islands.

Adjacent to the Chumash story is an equally well displayed collection of memorabilia recounting the history of the settlers who established the roots of this community. Names that now identify streets, schools, and parks become real people through photographs and documents that record their accomplishments. Tico, Blumberg, Pierpont, Baker, Libbey, Soule, Thacher are a few of the many who contributed to the history of the Ojai valley.

A highlight of a visit to the museum is the diorama depicting the Sespe Wilderness area. A beautifully painted backdrop surrounds lifelike representations of the wildlife and vegetation indigenous to The Sespe. The scene is breathtakingly real, including the huge boulders. Museum Director Robin Sim told me that these were man-made and added, “Real stone would be much too heavy.”

I had to believe her. They looked real to me. She assured me also that what I saw as a blank wall next to the diorama, she could see as a door to a children’s section — coming soon. Remarkable vision!

As you leave the Sespe diorama, a sculpture of real stone is visible through the rear windows of the building. This magnificent piece, “Condor Soaring”, was sculpted by Carlyle Montgomery who died in 1998. The condor appears alive. Sculpted from a 9000 pound slab of black Belgian fossilized limestone, “Condor Soaring” stands in the patio at the rear of the museum.

The Gallery is a room set apart from the permanent exhibits. Its intended use is for viewing exhibits of ongoing events. Subjects are changed periodically. Currently featured is “The Ojai”, one of the most durable and respected tennis tournaments in the world. The exhibit billed as “100 Years of Tennis” is a nostalgic tribute to the Ojai residents and organizations whose time and enthusiasm have maintained the tradition of quality tennis competition for over 100 years. Actually, the present format of single elimination matches began in 1899.

It isn’t necessary to be a tennis buff to enjoy this beautifully executed exhibit. Photographs and manikins display the gracefully inappropriate feminine tennis wear. Pictures of the players and spectators abound. The placards record the history of Ojai as well as that of tennis. Displays of old rackets and tennis balls evoke fond memories for anyone who has ever stepped on a court.

The greatest players in the world have competed on Ojai courts. The list is long: Bill Tilden, May Sutton Bundy, Helen Wills Moody, Ellsworth Vines, Pancho Gonzales, Alice Marble and Billie Jean King are among the best known, but not necessarily the best of a distinguished list.

For old tennis hackers such as I, this is a touching trek down memory lane. For anyone else, it is a creative and professionally prepared exhibit of an event that has brought very favorable attention to Ojai. Competition in “The Ojai” begins the last week of April.

Our Museum is proof that size is not necessary to assure quality. On Wednesday through Friday the doors open at 1:00 P.M. Saturday and Sunday the opening hour is 10:00 A.M. A gift shop is on the premises.

The Museum is located on the corner of Blanche Street and West Ojai and the phone number is 640 1390.

Recreational Facilities

The following article was in the “Ojai Valley – California” brochure in about April of 1958. It was published by the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. The author is unknown.

No publication date is printed on or in this brochure, but "APR 21 1958" was stamped on the front cover by the VENTURA COUNTY FREE LIBRARY. This brochure is presently in the Ojai Valley Museum's research library.
No publication date is printed on or in this brochure, but “APR 21 1958” was stamped on the front cover by the VENTURA COUNTY FREE LIBRARY. This brochure is in the Ojai Valley Museum’s research library.

Recreational Facilities

One of the outstanding highlights of the year is the annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament, sponsored by the Ojai Valley Tennis Association. Housing the players and staffing the event is a community project of major proportions. One of the oldest tournaments in the United States to be held continuously in the same location, its 50th anniversary was celebrated in 1957.

Scene at the 57th annual Tennis Tournament...note capacity crowd.
Scene at the 57th annual Tennis Tournament…note capacity crowd.

Included in the five to six hundred who participate each year are prominent families of the tennis world, with third and fourth generations still returning to play in The Ojai. Among those families are such famous names as Sutton, Bundy, Sinsabaugh, Vines, Connolley, Falkenberg, Browne, Kramer, Brough, Flam, Cheney, Fleitz, Betz, Olmeda, Franks, and Douglas.

The competition covers all age groups, with twenty contests being played simultaneously on the many private, school and public courts throughout the Valley.

The theme of the tournament is “Sportsmanship First.” It is the only large tournament in which an eleven-year-old is on an equal footing with a Davis Cup player; a school girl may play before the same gallery on the same No. 1 Court just vacated by a Wimbledon champion.

The Ojai Valley Trails Association, Inc., an organization of nearly five hundred members, is dedicated primarily to the development and maintenance of the network of trails in the mountain ranges surrounding the Valley. The promotion of pleasure riding, horse shows, camping and hiking is a secondary aim of the association.

A public gymkhana and practice field on a five-acre site on Bryant Street was donated through a lease agreement by the Richfield Oil Company and has been developed as a practice field for gymkhana events and as an arena for public riding events.

Gymkhana! Speed, beautiful horses, superb horsemanship.
Gymkhana! Speed, beautiful horses, superb horsemanship.

During the year the Association puts on at least one official outing a month, including moonlights rides, steak barbecues and brunch and breakfast rides. Twice a year the riders take a two-day overnight camp trip into the mountains.

The Association sponsors two horse shows a year. Other annual events are the gymkhanas sponsored, twice a year by the Thacher School, and the shows conducted by the Skirt and Quirt Riding Group, an organization of women and girls.

The Ojai Valley Summer Recreation Program includes an intensive swimming program led by the American Red Cross. This activity is held every year at the Matilija Pool with four of five hundred children receiving instruction. Private swimming instruction is offered each year of the Ojai Valley School and the Ojai Valley Inn. There are public swimming pools at Wheeler Hot Springs, Matilija and Ojala – all located in the canyon area.

All Ojai children learn to swim.
All Ojai children learn to swim.

The recently organized Ojai Police Boys’ Club, with a gymnasium on South Montgomery Street, features boxing, wrestling, weight-lifting and pool. Baseball, basketball and football are being added to the program. One of the novel features of the program is the appearance of top figures in the Southern California boxing and wrestling world at many of the matches conducted in the Boys’ Club. This has been possible because Soper’s Training Camp in Matilija Canyon is the training base for many of these notables.

The boys of the Valley are also provided an exceptional baseball program under the Ojai Valley Recreation Council. There are fourteen teams in three classes –- Farm, Twilight and Pony Leagues. They average more than fifteen boys per team, ranging in age from nine to fourteen, in the latter two groups. The Farm teams comprise more than one hundred boys under the age of nine.

More than 55 men work with these boys. Each team gets over 300 man hours of supervision per week. The schedule for each league totals 18 games. Uniforms and equipment are furnished by merchants of the Valley.

Three diamonds –- in Oak View, Meiners Oaks and Ojai –- are in use constantly from May to early September. The annual season winds up with three All-Star games and contests played with teams from other cities from up and down the West Coast.

Each year has seen more and more boys participating in this program. Wives, who have to serve supper two hours late three days a week, not only have become reconciled to it but are rabid fans for their offspring’s team.

In the Ojai Civic Center Park are excellent tennis courts open to the public and maintained by the Ojai Valley Tennis Club. This facility provides a beautiful open-air bowl with stage and seating accommodations for over 700 persons.

In the canyon area, on Highway 399, fishermen find Matilija Lake and Dam, a camping and fishing paradise, with an excellent stock of trout, bass, bluegill and catfish. Rowboats are permitted and available for rent. The lake and camp area covers approximately two hundred acres, with barbecue pits, tables, restrooms, trailer accommodations and campsites.

Matilija Lake and a quiet fishing scene. No motor boats or outboards here to frighten the fish.
Matilija Lake and a quiet fishing scene. No motor boats or outboards here to frighten the fish.

At the base of Matilija Dam is Matilija Hot Springs. Here are found hot sulphur baths, a pool, barbecue pits, tables and a wonderful trout stream reserved for children under 16 years of age.

Camp Comfort, located on Creek Road, offers about 40 acres of park area with forty barbecue pits, three hundred tables, a pavilion, volleyball courts, horseshoes, swings and slides, restrooms, concession stand and game rentals.

Within the city limits of Ojai is Sarzotti Park, jointly run by the city and county, with barbecue pits, tables, restrooms, swings and playground equipment and a baseball diamond. The Jack Boyd Club, located on this 11-acre park, is a community center for all age groups, community and service organizations. This club is supervised by a full-time director who operates a year-round recreation program supported by funds provided for in the City budget.

In the upper valley, on highway 150, overlooking the Ojai, is Dennison Park with camping, trailer parking, barbecue pits, tables, playground equipment, etc.

The northern and eastern boundaries of the Valley join the 284,744 acres of Los Padres National Forest. Approximately 67,000 acres are open to deer hunting and fishing streams extend over about 150 miles.

A hunter overlooks the rugged valley of the Sespe River. Behind that range of mountains beyond the river is Ojai.
A hunter overlooks the rugged valley of the Sespe River. Behind that range of mountains beyond the river is Ojai.

There are closed areas, due to fire hazards, during the dry season and the Sespe Wildlife Area remains a closed area at all times. This is perhaps the largest remaining nesting area of the condor of North America. Latest count reveals some 50 to 60 birds in the Whiteacre Peak Area.

Camp grounds within the forest include Wheeler Gorge (70 camp units) and Lion Canyon (20 units), where water is good at all times; Sespe Gorge (12 units), Sandstone, Pine Mt. Area (6 and 17 units). Throughout the forest, where trails have been developed, are at least 64 camp grounds suitable for trail camps in open season.

On each side of the Valley are privately owned trout farms.

Available to members and guest of the Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club is one of the best 18-hole golf courses in the country.

Mountain views rival the golf at Ojai Valley Inn & Country Club. The course's back nine is world famous.
Mountain views rival the golf at Ojai Valley Inn & Country Club. The course’s back nine is world famous.

Many auditoriums and halls are used for parties, dances and varied program activities, including the school auditoriums, the Ojai Valley Grange Hall, American Legion Hall, Ojai Art Center Gallery, Woman’s Clubhouse and the Masonic Hall.

Many quiet road and country lanes provide safety for the cyclist or the person who prefers to just stroll in an uncrowded rural community.

Ojai’s Gold Rush!

Ojai Succumbs To Its Own Gold Rush by Ed Wenig

Miners Rush to the Hills

Nordhoff and vicinity is in a ferment of excitement over the hiding place of an immense ledge of gold-bearing quartz which runs from the Coyote and Matilija canyons to the Sisar Canyon. Old miners say they believe it to be an extension of the Piru district strike, and are trying to locate the leads on the ledge, while the greenhorns are generally staking out claims at random.

The Ojai on March 13, 1897.

The gold fever had started the previous Wednesday afternoon when some old prospectors from the Wilsie ranch in the east valley appeared with some likely looking rock, the main street of Nordhoff was literally crowded with men, hot with the gold fever. The editor of THE OJAI announced to the crowd on the street that he would print some location blanks for use in posting possible claims. By 10 p.m. they were off the presses and were sold to the waiting crowd which had gathered in his shop during the evening. The editor was wakened at frequent intervals during the night to make further sales, and by 7:30 a.m. on Thursday he had disposed of 163 location blanks. (By noon the following Saturday he had sold over 380.)

A Mining Camp

In describing what took place on Thursday, the editor wrote:

The usually quiet little village of Nordhoff has suddenly become an excited mining camp. Fully seven-eights of the male population of the village were scouring the Chaparral. Many struck out in the middle of the night to get ahead of the “other fellow.” And in the early morning they dotted the hills like a flock of blackbirds in a cornfield.

Some came back early from the hills discouraged, but when some one came into town with some bits of gold, all would rush off again to the hills. Sometimes they seem to go stark, raving mad, –plumb crazy, reported the newspaper. Rumors added to the confusion. One such indicated that the Southern Pacific was getting ready to sell through tickets to the Ojai mines. Already men from Ventura, Santa Paula and Santa Barbara had arrived. That evening at a mass meeting in the office of George Stewart, plans were laid to form the Ojai Mining District. The boundary of the district was to include the territory of all the school districts in the valley, including Sisar, Upper Ojai, and Santa Ana. The United States Mining Laws were to govern the district. The following prominent men were among those who signed the resolution: W. E. Wilsie, George R. Coe, Earl Soule, W. F. Parrish, B. Ward Blumberg, John J. Burke, J. F. Dennison, S. B. Rose, and D. J. Raddick. Unfortunately for Mr. Stewart, by the close of the meeting, someone had made off with a little nugget he had placed in a showcase.

Shot full of Holes

The Ojai Gold Rush had both its dramatic and humorous sides. A miner from Santa Paula put up this notice on his claim site: Anybody who attempts to jump this claim will be shot full of holes. Commented E. S. Thacher, “How can a free silver man expect a hearing when he undertakes to suppress the new-kindled desire of our community for gold? Wee may vote for silver, some of us, but when it comes to posting notices and digging, and pounding, we all want gold, and we are determined to have it.” Dan Smith startled a crowd on the street by saying he had a claim that went $30 a ton at one foot below the surface. When asked for proof, he pulled a big potato from his pocket! For the next three weeks, except for an item about the Ojai Mining District assay of $11.30 to the ton, the newspaper was strangely silent about gold mining activities. Then in the issue of June 12 appeared the statement:

The gold miners of the Ojai Valley have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It develops that apparently gold is not present in sufficient quantity to pay for the working, and as a consequence the mines have petered out.

Within weeks, Ojai pioneers were back to normal, listening to the gramophone at George Mallory’s store, planning a concert of the Ojai band, and participating in community dances. Years after the gold boom John Dron Sr. reported uncovering in the foothills a can containing a mining location blank which had been filled out by some disappointed miner. So far as is known, all mining stakes have disappeared from the Ojai Valley.

Source: Ed Wenig, “Ojai succumbs to its own gold rush”, The Ojai Valley News, March 11, 1970