When the editorial staff at the Ventura County Reporter began preparing for its 30th anniversary issue, they were surprised to find that their paper’s history, in-house, went back only five years. The oldest issue archived didn’t even pre-date the current presidential administration.

After scouring the paper’s archives — housed in a small, unnaturally warm room behind the production department — the go-to guy seemed to be film critic, calendar editor and 30-year Reporter veteran John Larsen.

And, at one time, Larsen was able to supply the first ever Reporter. Five years ago, he brought his impressive collection to the paper’s office, where old headlines would be quoted, covers scanned and reprinted. But a quick flip through the 25th anniversary Reporter shows no evidence of these vintage papers, and they appear to have been lost in some bizarre, intra-office black hole around the time the last anniversary edition was published. Whether it was negligence on the management’s part, or a sentimental employee pocketing what amounts to nearly 1,300 papers, the disappearance of Larsen’s personal archives remains a mystery.

Like Larsen, those in the offices of the Reporter felt a heavy sense of loss, forced to conclude that perhaps the progressive feel of the paper kept staff from more practical concerns like fireproof cabinets or stashing away an extra couple issues each week for posterity.

Larsen was unable to supply the Reporter staff with any tangible artifacts. However, he was able to help them buff up on their publication’s history.

According to Larsen, the paper originally began as The Tower View, published as a newsletter by Oxnard city father Martin V. Smith. Former Reporter owner Nancy Cloutier, who had been running the Marina News, elected to work with Smith in 1975 to create The Marina & Tower View. By Larsen’s estimation, the paper went through about five changes in nomenclature, landing on the Ventura County Reporter to acknowledge that the news radar had expanded to include Westlake and Thousand Oaks.

Along the way, Larsen maintains that the Reporter did some pioneering. Initially, no other area paper released a Thursday edition for calendar listings, and Larsen’s video review column, which dates back to 1982, was, in his view, the first of its kind on the West Coast, potentially in the country, as videos were a fairly rare commodity.

With the Reporter’s history duly noted, the search for the oldest existing issue continued last week: Amy Alkon, better known as the Advice Goddess, kept only clippings of her own articles; syndicated astrologer Rob Brezsny had no old editions to contribute. It was only after a spirited e-mail exchange with former editor David Rolland that a stack of decade-old papers and cover proofs mysteriously appeared on the desk of one of the staff writers.

The oldest full issue, then, proved to be the November 13-20 edition from 1997. The cover is a film noir treatment of a sultry nightclub scene featuring local chanteuse Julie Christensen.

It is an issue in which John Larsen gives Starship Troopers a $4 rating (ticket prices nine years ago averaged $4.90) and called his rental review list Video Views; it was that magical time when $5 would buy you five Arby-Q sandwiches from the local barbeque eatery. Back then, Chris Jackson rated new album releases on a five-ear rating system and dining reviews were accompanied by mug shots of nervous-looking wait staff.

The cover proofs, leftover from production archives, went a little further back: The oldest is dated May 23-29 of 1995. The paper is marketed as Ventura County & Coast Reporter and, surprisingly, images of former president Ronald Reagan are plastered across the cover. The paper purportedly provides in-depth coverage of the Reagan Presidential Library, the 7th in a series entitled “Museums Among Us.”

As the Reporter’s staff packs up and prepares for a big office move later this week, they can only hope to stumble upon a large, mysterious carton packed tight with evidence that the paper existed before some of them were even born.