We all know that Ojai is a gem of a town, with visible architectural delights as well as many others tucked into all manner of nooks, crevices and winding roads. Some are obvious and readily accessible to one and all, such as downtown Ojai’s pergola, arcade, post office and St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel (now home to the Ojai Valley Museum), designed by Mead and Requa. Others are private retreats that, until now, have not been revealed to the general public.
Even City Hall (not featured in this tome) is an architectural treat that I discovered for the first time while picking up a copy of the recently released Ojai By Design: Fine Architecture of the Ojai Valley. The Ojai City Arts Commission and Ojai Valley Museum are the forces behind this effort.
The thoughtfully designed, 78-page paperback book begins with a marvelous and informative forward by Craig Walker. Walker, who writes with approachable authority, was the perfect author for this book. Not only is he a member of the Society of Architectural Historians, Southern California Chapter, he actually grew up in one of the stunning modernist houses featured in the book. (It was designed by his father, Rodney Walker.) The author profiles 23 buildings that were thoughtfully selected, putting each architect in historical context, which includes citing other examples of his or her work in Southern California.
Buildings by important noteworthy 20th-century architects run the gamut, and include works by Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame), George Washington Smith (Montecito’s Casa del Herrero) and well-known modernist Richard Neutra (Kronish House, Beverly Hills). Toss in Reginald Johnson, Lutah Marie Riggs and Carleton Winslow (this trio did a lot of Santa Barbara homes as well) and you get the picture. But lesser-known architects of importance are also featured, and styles range from Queen Anne to Spanish Colonial Revival to mid-century modern.
Interestingly, a number of important designs included were for Ojai’s spiritual destinations, including Meditation Mount (1977); Pine Cottage, the former home of philosopher J. Krishnamurti (now the Krishnamurti Library); and the Krotona Institute of Theosophy (1924). It makes sense that many of these “cathedrals” of architecture invite appreciation and contemplation. There’s also the Spanish Colonial Revival-style Ojai Presbyterian Church (1930) by Carleton Winslow on Foothill Road, which still welcomes worshippers. The earliest example cited is a former Ojai Presbyterian Church (1884), presently inhabited by Bryon Katie.
There are nods to patrons as well. Glass industrialist Edward Drummond Libbey (Libbey Bowl is named after him) played a vital role in creating Ojai’s downtown business district, which set the tone for the town’s feel as well as providing inspiration for subsequent buildings in the valley. His own Craftsman-style “hunting lodge,” designed by Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey (1909), is profiled. Thanks to other wealthy patrons who created Ojai retreats, we get to peek inside homes and view exteriors such as the Ford Estate, a 1920 mansion designed by noted African American Los Angeles architect Paul Revere Williams.
Edward Libbey, as Walker notes in his forward on the glass manufacturer’s timeless downtown fingerprint, might have been the most influential of them all: “Libbey’s impressive new civic center, with subsequent additions, succeeded in inspiring the town’s citizens to continue beautifying their valley and take an active part in civic affairs. Ojai became known far and wide as a ‘small town with a big vision.’ A once-nondescript frontier village became remarkably cosmopolitan, drawing philosophers, artists, writers, reformers — and architects.”
This informative book belongs on bookshelves (and in libraries!) far and wide for anyone interested in architecture, as well as those interested in the history of Ojai and how it became — and remains — the natural and human-enhanced Shangri-La that has “spoken” to so many over the decades.
Thanks to current-day Ojai visionaries, who worked tirelessly on this book, these talented architects are celebrated. Historical photos, architectural drawings and current photography by Dawn Rosa along with the well-composed text all add up to a pleasurable and informative armchair stroll through Ojai’s architecturally important buildings of yesteryear.
Ojai by Design: Fine Architecture of the Ojai Valle by Craig Walker is available at Ojai City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St., 646-5581, www.ojaicity.org; and the Ojai Valley Museum, 130 W. Ojai Ave., 640-1390, www.ojaivalleymuseum.org.