Drive-by history

Drive-by history

Audio driving tour explores Ojai’s cultural and historical highlights

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer 01/23/2014

 

There’s no lack of interesting things to see in Ojai. With a history that includes the Chumash, agriculture, spiritual enlightenment and the arts, the valley has a surprising number of notable places within a fairly small radius. Using “Ojai à la Car” as a reference, even the uninitiated can readily visit several of them from the comfort of their vehicles. The audio tour on CD can be played in a car stereo, and guides visitors from downtown Ojai to the East End and Upper Valley before looping back toward the main section of town. Fifteen sites are highlighted in all, with background and commentary provided to get a sense of history and place.


“I thought Ojai had something to offer that most people rarely see and don’t know about,” explains Don Anderson, who created and produced “Ojai à la Car” for the benefit of the Ojai Valley Museum. “There have been several pamphlets and books done on Ojai history, and the CD is just one more tool in the arsenal.” Anderson had been a writer and editor in Los Angeles, working for the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated and CBS before retiring to Ojai in 1991. He’s been very active on the local volunteer circuit, and involved with the museum for years. A driving tour seemed like a unique and interesting approach to chronicling Ojai’s eclectic past.


Luminaries such as Jiddu Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, Beatrice Wood and Edward Libbey (of Libbey Glass fame) all called Ojai home. Numerous movie stars and film industry professionals have made the valley their “home away from home.” Director Frank Capra was so captivated by Ojai’s tranquility and beauty, he made it his Shangri-La for the movie Lost Horizon. “Of course, the Ojai footage got cut out and never made it to the screen. But we still live on the reputation,” Anderson relates with a chuckle. The CD pays tribute to all of these people and places, with a narrative that is entertaining and informative.


Anderson first proposed the project three years ago to Ann Scanlin, Ojai Valley Museum board president. It took a few years — and several volunteers — to pull the final product together, but Scanlin feels the work has paid off. “Ojai doesn’t have landmarks like D.C. or Chicago do,” she says. “But there are fun stories and interesting places. [The CD] really promotes Ojai and Ojai businesses.”


Scanlin credits Anderson with both the idea and the realization of it. “He wrote the script, got all the people to get involved, and he paid for everything. It was a gift [to the museum]. It’s a win-win for everyone.” The numerous locals who offered their time and talents to “Ojai à la Car” include producers Steve Grumette and Stuart Crowner, narrators Peter Bellwood (Highlander) and Laurie Walters, and renowned Ojai historian David Mason.


The tour’s route is smartly laid out and easy to follow. Each stop receives its own audio track, making starting and stopping the CD a breeze — perfect for tourists who want to get out of the car to explore a little, or take a break for lunch. It also includes a fold-out map and a list of all stops, with addresses that can be punched into a GPS unit and detailed driving instructions. The CD itself is less than 40 minutes long; Anderson estimates that the complete tour, taking in driving time and sightseeing, should run around two hours.


“Ojai à la Car” costs $15, and is sold at the museum and several downtown businesses, including Rains, Kindred Spirit and the Village Pharmacy. There are plans to make it available at several area hotels and motels as well. Scanlin hopes this will provide a steady income stream and give tourists both an enjoyable experience and greater insight into the area’s history and culture.


Many of the stops (Thacher School, the Ojai Valley Inn) are well-known landmarks, but some bits (the birthplace of the AARP, the site of a one-time brothel) may come as a surprise to even longtime Ojai residents. Another aspect that might surprise many users is the lighthearted tone of the narrative. Puns, jokes (delivered deadpan by Bellwood) and humorous asides pepper the script, which can, at times, be a little corny. But that’s by design: Anderson intended for the tour to be fun as well as educational. Which seems about right for a city filled with as much character and as many characters as Ojai. 


For more information or to purchase the CD, contact the Ojai Valley Museum at www.ojaivalleymuseum.org or call 640-1690.

 

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