Picture for article "History of Ojai"

History of Ojai


Ojai is a city in Ventura County in the US state of California. Located in the Ojai Valley, it is northwest of Los Angeles and east of Santa Barbara.

Image source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/03/realestate/ojai-calif-a-valley-of-wellness-but-no-chain-stores-in-ventura-county.html
Image source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/03/realestate/ojai-calif-a-valley-of-wellness-but-no-chain-stores-in-ventura-county.html

Initially inhabited by Chumash Indians, native American people who inhabited California's central and southern coastal regions, the site under Spanish rule was an outpost ranchería of the San Buenaventura Mission (now in Ventura). When the settlement was first laid out in 1874 by San Buenaventura businessman R.G. Surdam, it was named Nordhoff in honor of the writer Charles Nordhoff. Charles Nordhoff was a writer for the New York Herald who had seen and come to love the California Coast during his service in the US Navy. He extolled the State's health-giving qualities and wrote a book, "California for Health, Pleasure, and Residence, a Book for Travelers and Settlers." The book sold well and influenced many to come to the new State.

Early History

Most early settlers to the valley had one or more ill family members, particularly with respiratory illnesses, and the Ojai Valley developed a reputation for having healthy air quality. Many did get well after moving to the valley. Nordhoff grew and prospered; schools, a library, churches and restaurants, hotels and ranches flourished.

The Valley's climate and its seemingly mystical ability to soothe and heal the troubled soul attracted a number of very influential and prosperous men who gave generously of their time and money to advance the city's prospects. Nordhoff became a popular wintering spot for wealthy Easterners and Midwesterners. The elite Foothills Hotel, which catered to them, was built on a mountain overlooking the town in 1903. Visitors enjoyed dining, music concerts, horseback riding, and hunting and fishing trips into the backcountry. Some of these businessmen built homes in the Valley and contributed to the community's development.

Late History

Among these winter visitors was Edward Drummond Libbey. Steeped in City Beautiful ideals, Libbey began thinking about what could be done to beautify the existing rustic town. He bought up all the properties on the south side of Ojai Avenue and most of the buildings there were demolished. In 1916, he hired Frank Mead and Richard Requa of San Diego to transform Nordhoff into the Spanish-style town center seen today.

On March 2, 1917, the Men’s League of Nordhoff planned a day of celebration and thanks for the gift of Edward Libbey. They wanted to call it Libbey Day, but Libbey declined. He wanted it to be Ojai day. People had always called the valley Ojai and the town Nordhoff. A problematic issue proved to change the town name. But eventually, Ojai won out. On March 23, 1917, the community was renamed Ojai by the United States Senate. This name is derived from the Chumash word a’hwai (“moon”), and homeowners were encouraged to remodel or maintain their Spanish Mission style structures. Ojai later attracted artists and craftspeople as residents and various spiritualists and religionists advocating meditation, yoga, theosophy, naturalism, astrology, and holism.