Ventura County weighs in on the overlooked corners of its history
A few weeks ago, a Reporter editorial asked readers to send in their own ideas of what they consider the most endangered historic places throughout Ventura County (See “We’re History,” Editorial, 5/22/08). We’ve already received a number of responses and we’ve teamed up with Stephen Schafer of the San Buenaventura Conservancy to produce an occasional series profiling endangered historic areas throughout the county.
Rather than focusing on historic landmarks that have already received a great deal of public attention — and, thus, resources for their restoration — we’d like to hear about the unearthed gems, those facing the wrecking ball. We want to tell the tales that might be drowned out by the call to progress.
Even though Ventura’s historic preservationists jumped to assist our project, we know there are so many locations throughout the county that could easily be lost if the public doesn’t make an effort to preserve and restore them.
We’re looking at you Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai, Oxnard (although your Frank Petit House gets a look this week), Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. Although we’ve received some ideas from our readers (and we’ve included their lists here), we know there are places we won’t be able to feature unless you speak up.
This week we’re focusing on three farm houses representative of the agricultural roots of Ventura County. We’re also including the first lists and reflections about areas that deserve preservation as submitted by members of the public after our original editorial.
What do you think we should profile in an upcoming edition? Old bank buildings? Quirky shops? Decaying theater buildings? Markets? Quaint streets? Idyllic country scenes? Favorite watering holes and gathering places?
If you have ideas of places you think should be included in future profiles please email your suggestions and any information you have about the locations to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Historic places.”
San Buenaventura Conservancy's 11 most endangered places
1. E.P. Foster House, 2717 Ventura Ave.
2. Mission Aqueduct exposed and underground sections from Downtown all the way to Canada Larga
3. Shisholop Chumash Village Site, End of Figueroa Street, Downtown Ventura.
4. Wagon Wheel Motel, 101 Freeway, Oxnard
5. Frank Petit Ranch Complex, near Channel Islands and Rose Avenue, Oxnard
6. St Mary’s Pioneer Cemetery (AKA Cemetery Memorial Park) 1700 block E. Main Street, Ventura
7. The Day House on Telephone at Kimball, East Ventura.
8. Avenue School, 2700 Block Ventura Avenue
9. Top Hat Burger Palace, 200 Block Main Street, Downtown Ventura
10. Nash Motor Sales Building (Old Truebloods), 200 Block Main Street, Downtown Ventura
11. The Majestic Ventura Theater, Chestnut Street, Ventura.
More information about the conservancy is available at www.sbconservancy.org
The Day House and "the best of shared heritage"
Built in the 1870s, the Day House is one of many endangered properties in Ventura County that the San Buenaventura Conservancy wants to preserve.
The Day House, located on the corner of Telephone and Kimball on Ventura’s East side, now faces a park, though the property used to be completely surrounded by farmland. According to the 1883 book History of Santa Barbara & Ventura Counties, the property once belonged to James A. Day. Its 80 acres had 8,000 fruit trees, which included apricots, lemons, limes and oranges, to name a few. An informational flyer available at the site noted that the house “represents our agricultural heritage and is a very significant example of Victorian agriculture.”
Conservationists fear that if it is not established as a landmark, the house will be taken down and not considered for inclusion in any development plans at the site.
Structures like the Day House are, “part of what makes Ventura unique,” said Dave Armstrong, Vice President of the conservancy. According to Armstrong, the architecture of these endangered structures is what makes them invaluable remnants of Ventura’s history.
The conservancy believes that “historic preservation is not about stopping change,” but rather more about retaining “the best of shared heritage.” The Day House is, according to the organization, an important representation of part of the community’s past.
Ventura County has already lost several farm houses due to new development, which raises the concern for properties like the Day House. All the county’s remaining farm houses could not make up a list of 10, according to Malinda Chouinard, a member of the conservancy and wife of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.
— Christina Semaan
Frank Petit Ranch property's fate still to be determined
Located at the busy corner of Rose Avenue and Channel Islands Boulevard in Oxnard are a group of seemingly-innocuous boarded up structures: two residences, an office, an implement shed, and a shop.
The structures may look abandoned, but they are actually considered on of the county’s endangered historic sites.
Together, they make up the Frank Petit Ranch property.
The city of Oxnard currently owns the property and is having difficulty determining whether to leave the remaining structures on site, demolish them, or relocate them.
The Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board is a strong advocate for saving the buildings. The panel’s first choice would be to see them remain on site with occupants using the homes as businesses or personal residences, but board members know the city may not want to take that direction.
“We are doing what we can to save the two houses on the property,” Kim Hocking, a senior planner for Ventura County, said.
Saving the structures likely means moving them to a new location.
“The city is working towards moving the structures,” stressed Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board Chairman Gary Blum, whose great-grandfather’s brother was Frank Petit, one of the first owners of the property.
Although the board would prefer the buildings stay on site and are adaptively re-used, they believe it is a positive sign that the city of Oxnard may be willing to move the buildings to allow for their preservation.
In 2005, Santa Paula-based consulting firm San Buenaventura Research Associates was commissioned by the city of Oxnard to prepare a report to assist the city’s compliance with California Environmental Quality Act historic preservation requirements as part of a master plan for development of a 75-acre regional park.
The report assesses historical and architectural significance of potentially significant historic properties in accordance with the National Register for Historic Places, the California Register of Historical Resources Criteria for Evaluation, and County of Ventura Landmarks criteria.
The city views the parcel the structures sit on as a blank canvas for beneficial development, but no decision has been made about how to proceed because of the remaining questions about the historical value of the Petit structures.
The report said the 114.25-acre property where the present buildings are located was purchased by Frank Petit from Thomas Bard in 1883 and three generations of Petits went on to farm the land for nearly 100 years.
In 1981 the County of Ventura purchased a 40-acre portion of the Petit Ranch property and later the remainder of the land that included the structures. The county sold the property to the City of Oxnard in 2000.
The fate of the property today comes down to the Oxnard City Council.
Miguel Fernandez, an architect for the board, said “I am a proponent of saving cultural buildings for adaptive re-use.”
In addition to the cultural heritage board, some other members of the public have expressed concern that ridding the county of historical farm houses such as the Petit house would destroy part of the county’s heritage.
Tranforming the property for use by non-profits or small businesses would require the support of residents to influence the city’s decision, and the city still may not want to go that direction if the council sees a greater benefit in moving the structures or demolishing them.
— Lauren Julian
Barker Bros. store underappreciated
To the list of endangered places I would consider adding at least an honorable mention for the Barker Brothers building at the north end of the Pacific View Mall.
It is an example of 60s architecture that seems to get short shrift in Ventura. Barker Brothers employed designers of note at the time, which was reflected in the designs of its furniture and buildings in Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.
Since it was built in the 60s it is most likely over 40 years old at this point. If Midtown Ventura were to have a historical resources study, this building would most likely qualify for inclusion.
It is a shame that the building has been allowed to sit decaying for probably 15 to 20 years when it might have been put to use again as an arts center or performing arts venue, for example. Now it is hidden behind our decaying transit center and could well disappear soon, depending upon Macerich’s (the mall owner) development plans.
— Katherine Warner, Ventura
Foster Home deserves appreciation
The E.P. Foster family residence, on upper Ventura Avenue, is in dire need of attention. Eugene P. Foster was so good to the people of Ventura County, but it appears that the people of the county have neglected to keep his memory alive through the much needed renovation and preservation of the house, now boarded up and subject to vandalism.
E.P. Foster bought land throughout Ventura County, only to turn it over to the county for public use. He personally persuaded land owners to give a portion of their property for parks for the public to enjoy. Grant Park, Camp Comfort, Seaside Park, Dennison Park, Faria Park and Foster Park are among them. The Fosters also bought the land for and helped to build Ventura’s first library and City Hall. And most citizens of Ventura do not know that the trees at “Hobo Jungle” on the west bank of the Ventura River were all planted by E.P. Foster and R. Gird Percy, who were part of the first state forestry commission in the area.
I think it is time we show our appreciation for the hard work and efforts E.P. and his wife Orpha Woods Foster made for our pleasure and for the conservation of our natural environment.
The Foster House, when restored to its former beauty, can be used as a museum to tell the story of the family and all the wonderful things they unselfishly accomplished in their lives spent here in Ventura. The Foster House can also be used for educational purposes. For example, children can attend classes related to wild life and learn about conservation and the endangered species right here at the Ventura River.
The Dudley House and The Olivas Adobe are a glorious homage to those families and to local history. Why then are the Fosters, so important to the foundation of Ventura’s development, so neglected and forgotten?
I propose that a committee be formed to research and apply for grants, and create fundraisers so as to bring attention to this place, one of the most important of all the threatened landmarks in our county.
I personally have been working hard to bring attention to the need to restore the Foster House and to encourage the community to remember and celebrate the wonderfully generous couple E.P. Foster and his wife were. I have created a Web site centered on conservation and have dedicated a part of it solely to the cause of the Foster House Restoration. Visit www.fragilesands.com.
To encourage community awareness, I am curating an exhibition of photographs of the fading treasure “Hobo Jungle”, by photographer Phil Ranger, the great-grandson of E.P. and O.W. Foster. The exhibition will include other interesting art and educational materials based on the theme of “Hobo Jungle,” and will have its reception on E.P. Foster Day — Sept. 5, 2008 — another of the forgotten aspects of the Foster legacy. The exhibit will show in the new Tool Room Gallery at Bell Arts Factory, 432 N. Ventura Ave, from Aug. 28 through Oct. 12. Artwork created by children attending the Fragile Sands conservation art classes, given through Bell Arts Factory’s Youth Arts Program will also contribute to the exhibition.
Of archeological significance
John Foster of Greenwood and Associates, an archeology firm with decades of experience in Ventura County, submitted the following list of sites of concern:
1. Mission Aqueduct Downtown all the way to Canada Larga and beyond. Special emphasis should be given to the segment at Canada Larga, which is being eroded.
2. Mission Garden wall foundation, south of Thompson, east of Ventura and West of Palm, and a segment through Mission Park.
3. Shisholop Chumash Village site, end of Figueroa, Downtown Ventura.
4. Mission Park, mission foundations, aqueducts, and garden gate.
5. Eastern compound and activity areas of Ventura Mission, west of Palm Street and north of Main Street
6. Chinatown, south of Peirano’s Grocery (now Jonathan’s), both sides of Figueroa Plaza.
7. Schiappapietra Mansion Foundations, parking lot south of Main Street
8. Mission fountain, east of Peirano’s and south of Main Street
9. Mission aqueduct down Figueroa Street to Thompson
10. Mission garden adobe, under Paddy’s, southwest corner of Ventura and Main Street.
11. San Miguel Chapel Site.