“Foster Park was a tiny community that sprang up like a blade of wild grass in the way of progress.” Those are the opening words to the introduction to Gwen Alferes’ Forgotten Foster Park, and they sum up quite succinctly the phenomenon that was the small township of a few hundred people near the intersection of Casitas Vista Road and Ventura Avenue. “Established” (the community was never formally incorporated) in the 1920s, Foster Park was gone some 40 years later, paved over to make room for Highway 33. Even longtime Ventura County residents are unfamiliar with the place and its history. But for those like Alferes, who grew up a stone’s throw from Foster Park Market and Okie’s Tavern, the town remains unforgettable. “I mainly wrote the book because I had such strong memories of it,” Alferes says, “and I knew other people would too. I wanted to share those memories and resurrect the town.”
Like much of the county, Foster Park was initially an agricultural area, where illustrious families like the Trains and the Canets grew apricots and walnuts and raised sheep. The Trains also operated a dairy. Cabins built for farm workers and hunters dotted the land around the Ventura River. The town came into its own with the 1920s oil boom. This “oil patch community” was populated by people from all over the country who came looking for work in the newly developed oil fields. Two markets, two gas stations, a Moose Lodge (later Okie’s Tavern) and a cafe soon followed, giving the area some structure and the residents a place to gather — and create a community.
Alferes brings this “microtown” to light in Forgotten Foster Park, published this past summer. Hundreds of images, many from Alferes’ own collection, show a lively community from a time gone by. Adults work, children play, families gather for barbecues and folks meet for a pint at Okie’s Tavern in this well-curated photo history. The author herself appears on page 49, seated on her mother’s lap. Detailed captions paint a picture of a friendly, lively, interconnected group. “A lot of people in the area thought the Foster Park people were a bunch of barflies hanging out at Okie’s,” Alferes recalls. “And that’s just not true. Most of them were family people.”
Author Gwen Alferes, a former resident of Foster Park, is pictured on her mother’s lap.
Photos courtesy of Gwen Alferes.
The town enjoyed a few brushes with fame as well. Johnny Cash, who moved to Casitas Springs in 1961, was a frequent visitor to Foster Park, and the Foster Park Market — the hub of town — was famous for years for its beef jerky. Boxer Ray “Windmill” White trained at the Foster Park Boxing Club. Next door to Okie’s was Shanty Tavern, operated by a group of bank robbers known as the Lavender Hill Mob. The town’s history was short but colorful.
Nostalgia was Alferes’ primary motivation for writing her book — she drives past her old stomping grounds several days a week, on her way to her job at Casa de Lago in Oak View. From the highway you can still see the palm tree that once grew in her backyard. “You get haunted by the memories when you go by there,” she notes. Research began close to home: She interviewed her parents and their friends about life in the bygone village, with many generously donating family photos. “The pictures are rare,” Alferes explains. “The town’s been gone for 60 years and many of the people are, too.”
Foster Park succumbed to the march of progress years ago, razed in 1966 to build Highway 33. Today it is celebrated in a photo history full of heart and personality. Forgotten Foster Park fills a void in the local archives, but it means something deeper to the people who lived it. “It’s been bringing back warm feelings of what that town meant to people,” Alferes says of the response her book has received. “Hopefully, the book will pass down to other generations. It’s a way of resurrecting the loved ones that are gone as well.”
To order Forgotten Foster Park call 746-5711 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A book signing will be held Feb. 3 at E. P. Foster Library.