New flavors in
old Oxnard The revitalization of Heritage Square By Mark Storer Principal photography by Kim Riddle
he foodie revolution has blown holes in stagnant city planning all over America. Industrial complexes have become hip hangouts with bars and tapas tables; strip malls have turned into destinations, luring big money to small restaurants in unlikely locations. It’s impossible to predict. The narrative changes—and people vote with their wallets and their stomachs. Heritage Square in Oxnard is a prime example. The Square is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year by introducing itself to a new demographic in search of sips and a taste of something new. Heritage Square was an aging city’s attempt to remember a bit of its history. Before housing developments began swallowing up vast swaths of land that farmers did not own, the city sought to protect a few of its founding family’s houses, built around the turn of the 20th century, and bring them to the downtown area, forming a kind of village courtyard that would allow residents to see, be seen, remember their past, and dream about their future. A funny thing happened on the way to that dream. Offset by the constant thrum of earthmovers drowning out the farm tractors, Oxnard’s growth in the last 20 years has been exponential. Housing developments sprouted like cabbage on the plain, and the city grew to more than 200,000 people. Heritage Square, which has 11 historical homes belonging previously to families including the McGraths and the Scarletts, was lost in the shuffle. The advent of Plaza Park, off Fifth Street, made the Square almost an afterthought. But business owners and entrepreneurs saw something else in the downtown Square that moved them to take risks and invite change to the area. Michelle and Greg Kenney moved La Dolce Vita restaurant (theldv.com) to Heritage Square’s McGrath House from Port Hueneme. The upscale Italian eatery and downstairs bar blends OldWorld food with New-World hip. Rancho Ventavo Cellars (rvcellars.com), one of the 20 wineries on Right: Orchietti pasta with marinated heirloom tomatoes (foreground) and a warmed ribbon zucchini salad paired with local wines during a recent Supper Club event at La Dolce Vita restaurant in Heritage Square, Oxnard.