OJAI MAGAZINE | SUMMER 2021
“All hail to the infant just born! And may she grow and prosper and become a sturdy giant among the municipalities of the county.” –The Ojai, July 29, 1921
his summer, the City of Ojai observes its centennial anniversary, celebrating one hundred years as an independent, self-governing municipality. Today, the city is home to about 7,500 residents, with another 22,000 living in the unincorporated areas of the valley. Its citizenry is both active and passionate, often packing city hall to debate issues such as bicycle lanes, short term rentals, and zoning restrictions. Residents take their role as citizens seriously as Ojai tackles the complex issues surrounding growth and the preservation of the city’s historic, small-town character. Of course, Ojai was a much different place 100 years ago. In 1921, the population of the town was just 728, with 1,500 living in the valley. It was a dusty, sleepy little village; most townspeople lived simple, work-a-day lives, with little thought given to municipal services or planning. In fact, nearly all
of the town’s early cultural and civic improvements — a library, social clubs, schools, hotels, parks, and public buildings — had been donated by wealthy, progressive outsiders like Edward Libbey, Sherman Thacher, H. Waldo Forster, Josephine Pierpont, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Nordhoff, and Charles Pratt. The townspeople counted themselves lucky to have such benevolent, wealthy friends, and were happy to accept and enjoy their contributions, but they were also content to let others make them happen.
by CRAIG WALKER Images courtesy Ojai Valley Museum
service was unreliable. What wealthy winter resident would donate a sewage treatment plant or a power station? In 1917, two major fires destroyed much of the town, triggering a mass exodus by both residents and visitors. It became evident that Ojai could lose everything if its residents failed to manage their town
By 1920, some of Ojai’s more civic-minded residents began to question whether relying on the largesse of a few wealthy benefactors was a sustainable approach to meeting the needs of their growing community. The town’s cesspools were overflowing and electrical