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Ojai Article 1

The Ojai Oasis
by Christine Benedetti, Time Out Staff Writer
Friday, January 13, 2017

After navigating the exercise in patience that is the under-construction Los Angeles International Airport late on a Thursday night two days after the election, we drove into the Ojai Valley tired, frustrated and thirsty. Tucked into the foothills of the Los Padres Mountains, the town sits 15 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, and curvy roads made even trickier by the coastal mist added to the disorientation we were feeling.

“Did we just pass through the town?” my college roommate asked from the backseat. “Was sort of hoping for a snack and some wine.”

Though it was just after 11 p.m., everything was closed and the five of us — all college roommates gathered for a girls’ weekend — opted to check into our digs, the Caravan Outpost. Here, one of four owners had stayed awake to introduce us to Lala and Sam, our refurbished vintage Airstreams which would be home for the weekend.

“We have some leftover wine and food from a corporate group that was here this week,” he said, handing us a bucket of chilled rose and some granola bars. Paired with the Hawaiian folk album on vinyl in one of our trailers, the ingredients were enough to cure the travel blues.

Aspen residents may be familiar with Ojai, Calif., because the towns share the Crown family. While their influence in Aspen may be stronger as the owners of our largest employer, Aspen Skiing Co., they are also behind the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, a luxury property which features an award-winning golf course and spa.

We skipped the resort life altogether, and got to know Ojai the Aspen way: by foot, taste and drink. That meant starting out the day with a hike on the Cozy Dell Trail, a 2.-6 mile, 1,000-foot climb that peaked with views of latticed olive groves which blanket the valley floor and teased us for the tasting we would do later in the weekend.

Heading back to the town’s main area — a 19th-century Spanish colonial square surrounded by restaurants, shops and galleries — the sleeping street that we had questioned the night before was now bustling. Ojai, which has a population of around 7,500, has banned chain stores. Pottery shops, bohemian home stores and retailers catering to the 50-plus set line the avenue, interspersed with wine and olive tasting rooms. We later checked out the Ojai Vineyard Room and Casa Barranca to taste flights made in the surrounding Topa Mountain foothills and Santa Ynez Valley, just north near Santa Barbara.

Later that night we borrowed the Outpost’s cruiser bikes and pedaled the half-mile back into town for an unmemorable dinner, but made up for it the next morning at Knead, a family-run artisan bakery pumping out melt-in-your-mouth croissant sandwiches and bagels with lox. (The Farmer and the Cook is another must-stop on the breakfast train, serving organic, locally farmed Mexican food.)

But we were sure to leave some room for olive oil tasting. Ojai, which mimics a Mediterranean environment with hot summers yet rarely freezing winters, was planted with olive vineyards in the 1880s, and the Ojai Olive Oil Company restored one of these in the early ‘90s. They offer tours daily, and the quirky woman who gave ours was ripe with Italian harvesting techniques and advice on how to eat, and cook with, oil.

The drive from the olive farm to Topa Mountain Winery passed through citrus tree-lined roads shouldered with cyclists; the topography here and surrounding 8,000-foot mountains beckoned for road biking. Instead of heading into the mountains, we enjoyed their view from the winery’s patio, where a guitarist also took to the veranda for a Saturday afternoon set.

As we nestled around the campfire later that night at the Outpost, we talked about politics and the election which was still a fresh wound. The 11 Airstreams circled around us like wagons on the Western frontier, except we were at a boutique hotel, which is part glamping, part hipster retreat depending on how much experience you have in nature. The property is entirely surrounded by lush California plant life and palm trees, and it felt like an escape.

We raised our glasses and gave thanks for the opportunity to replenish on the fuel of friendship and locale. Ojai is an oasis to which we would return, and next time we’d be sure to skip LAX on the way.


Ojai Article 2

Ojai’s Golden Hour

California’s hippie hideaway is welcoming, mostly, its newcomers.

By PETER HALDEMAN

New York Times

July 11, 2015

OJAI, Calif. — On a recent Sunday morning the sidewalk in front of Porch Gallery Ojai buzzed with shoppers toting organic grocery bags to and from the nearby farmers’ market. Every now and then someone — a surfer dude with a blond topknot, a couple pushing a tricycle stroller — peeled off to snap a picture of “Before I Die,” an interactive installation outside the gallery in which viewers are invited to complete the sentence “Before I die I want to ….” on a large chalkboard mounted under an incense cedar. (One not atypical contribution: “Sound my barbaric yawp.”)

Others joined the crowd mingling over prosecco and sticky buns inside, where a jazz pianist in a gray hoodie riffed on “My Favorite Things.” “We get musicians and chefs and poets,” said Lisa Casoni, one of Porch Gallery’s directors, surveying the crowd with her co-director and wife, Heather Stobo. “It’s a different way of having a gallery, but people respond to it.”

People, particularly people belonging to Generations X or Y, are responding to Ojai as a whole with a collective barbaric yawp. The idyllic valley town, about 90 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles (and picturesque enough to play the role, for a few seconds, of Shangri-La in Frank Capra’s film version of “Lost Horizon”), has long drawn seekers, including the Indian sage Jiddu Krishnamurti and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. But the last few years have seen a sharp uptick in pilgrims who favor Hal Hartley movies and fixed-gear bicycles.

Among the newcomers are millennial movie stars (Emily Blunt, Channing Tatum), offbeat heiresses (Aileen Getty, Anna Getty) and hippie-chic designers (Ramin Shamshiri, Channon Roe). They come from as near as Silver Lake, in Los Angeles, and from as far as Sweden. They are rehabbing crumbling storefronts and repurposing overgrown lots. And they are converging on Ojai because — well, that would depend on whom you ask.

“I think it mainly has to do with the boho craft movement that existed in Ojai and California in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” Mr. Sewell said, keeping an eye on a carpenter mounting a sculpture inside Chief’s Peak, the inn’s bar. “I think there’s a resurgence of that.

Channon and Bianca Roe, an actor/designer and model/actress, respectively, moved here two years ago with their son, Marlon, and recently opened In the Field, a store specializing in handcrafted, locally sourced wares — including tepees. Ms. Roe believes the migration relates to parenting trends. “The schools are phenomenal,” she said, singling out Oak Grove, the vegetarian boarding academy founded by Krishnamurti, where Marlon is in preschool.

The interior designer Paul Fortune and his husband, Chris Brock, a ceramist, who are from Los Angeles, have taken to country life somewhat in the manner of Lisa Douglas adapting to Hooterville in “Green Acres.” (They tool around town in a 1967 Rolls-Royce, painted brown, Mr. Brock said, “to fit in with the valley.”) But the pair fully embrace Ojai’s more ethereal offerings, like qigong classes and chakra cleanses.

Mr. Fortune thinks Ojai’s “electromagnetic vortex,” a supposed force field generated by plate tectonics, may be a part of its popularity. “What if it’s just one of those places that people are literally drawn to?” he said. “Wouldn’t that be kind of great?”

Certainly, the Chumash people, who gave Ojai its name, felt the pull of what they believed were the valley’s healing properties. So did Krishnamurti and his disciples, the Theosophists, who settled here in the 1920s. Edward D. Libbey, a glass manufacturer from Ohio, who in the same decade rebuilt downtown Ojai in the Spanish colonial style, was lured primarily by the mild winters.

A transcendent strain survives in everything from the local “shoppes” proffering crystals and incense to the hushed tones with which residents speak of the valley’s cinematic “pink moment” sunsets against the Topa Topa mountains.

I wouldn’t use the word ‘spiritual,’ but there’s definitely something magical about those mountains,” said Eric Goode, a New York hotel and restaurant mogul. Mr. Goode, whose father taught at the Thacher School in the 1960s, remembers hunting for reptiles in the Topa Topas as a child and visiting the pottery studio of Beatrice Wood, the so-called Mama of Dada and Ojai’s most famous resident artist.

In 1989 Mr. Goode bought his own place, a Spanish-style house in the still-bucolic East End, where he runs the Turtle Conservancy, a sanctuary for rare and endangered chelonians. “One of the lovely things about Ojai is it hasn’t changed a lot,” he said. For decades the city has successfully battled efforts to run a freeway through the valley. There are no billboards, and the only franchise in sight is Jersey Mike’s, the sandwich purveyor, which slipped through the cracks of a chain-store ban Ojai passed in 2007.

Ojai’s Mayberry flavor — its population is just 7,600 — is catnip to big-city tastemakers, who are buying houses by some of California’s most notable architects. Ramin Shamshiri, a founder of the haute-hippie design collective Commune, and his wife, Donna Langley, the chairman of Universal Pictures, live in Mr. Libbey’s old Craftsman-style hunting lodge, built by Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey in 1908. The designer Barbara Barry is restoring the glass-walled home of the Case Study architect Rodney Walker. And Aileen Getty (granddaughter of J. Paul, aunt of Balthazar) recently acquired the Ford estate, a Paul Williams-designed compound so romantic that it might have sprung from the head of Helen Hunt Jackson.

The cultural opportunities are keeping pace with the influx. Just down the street from Porch Gallery Ojai, the two-year-old galerie102 shows conceptual work by emerging artists. Both galleries host community events ranging from performances to yoga classes. The Roes installed hay bales behind In the Field to accommodate movie screenings, and the same vibey spirit prevails at three recently opened “mindfully curated” boutiques: Modern Folk Living, Summer Camp and Tipple and Ramble.

Yet Mr. Sewell’s Rancho Inn is the epicenter of the youthquake. With its shuffleboard court and rooms decorated with tie-dyed curtains and ceramic pendants, the Rancho would seem to be targeting an Ace Hotel-ish demographic, but Mr. Sewell demurred.

“The Ace is a place where people go to sit by the pool and party,” he said. “Instead of having a D.J. cranking out the xx, we have something called Folk Steady, with musicians coming in and doing, like, Neil Young covers, and families on blankets with their plate of cheese and glass of rosé.”

The 92-year-old Ojai Valley Inn and Spa is still the place to go for golf and a detox body wrap. But there are less corporate options for visitors who are not on a budget. In the lush East End (a vintage-fruit-crate label come to life), an Iraqi-born single father named Calvin Zara has conjured Thacher House, a ranch house and cottages set amid olive groves and lavender fields roamed by goats and chickens. He rents the cottages out to groups eager to “reconnect with the universe” through activities like sheep milking and olive-oil pressing.

Curiously, given its farms and its locavores, Ojai’s restaurant options lag behind its retail offerings. The Farmer and the Cook may be the signature New Ojai eatery, serving up organic Mexican fare to throngs happy to wait half an hour or more for Swiss chard enchiladas or cabbage leaf tacos. There is also the artisan bakery Knead Baking Company and the Hip Vegan Café, with its funky sun-dappled back patio.

“Ojai in general is difficult for us,” said Warner Ebbink, a restaurateur from Los Angeles who hopes to open an outpost of his bistro Little Dom’s here, as well as another dining spot and country mart in an old massage school. “They don’t allow you to increase traffic coming in or out of town. Not by one car. That’s how they keep it small.”

If the city has not made it easy for fledgling businesses, neither have Ojai’s old-timers uniformly embraced the latecomers. The pushback ranges from anonymous Facebook complaints about “the Hollywood crowd” to more public grousing. “People will walk in the door, check out the store, give you their feedback and leave,” Ms. Roe said. Something along the lines of “damn hipsters”? “Pretty much,” she said.

Dave Del Negro, who has lived here over 50 years and has spent much of that time working as a chef at the Ranch House, Ojai’s first farm-to-table restaurant (he made a chocolate cake for Beatrice Wood’s 100th birthday), believes the tensions will work themselves out. “There’s the old guard who doesn’t want any change,” he said. “But Ojai has a long tradition of keeping itself itself. The people who don’t fit in will leave.”

Like the veterans, those who choose to put down roots seem to like the place pretty much the way it is. Yes, there’s a historic drought — Lake Casitas, the city’s primary water source, is just over half full — but Ojaians, however long they’ve been around, are keeping faith with the California dream.

At Edward Libbey’s old estate in the Arbolada, an oak-studded neighborhood near downtown, Mr. Shamshiri has fashioned a bohemian idyll for himself, his wife and their two young sons, Paulo and Adelo. While the house has been given the full Commune treatment (goatskin rugs, Native American textiles, handcrafted furniture), the five acres surrounding it function as a kind of New Age playground for the boys. A “city for kids” designed by Christopher Haskins incorporates a play mound, a mud pit and a treehouse with a zip line. There is also a tepee.

Across town, in the East End, Mr. Goode is living out a childhood fantasy of his own. “I’m a secret turtle lover, or herpetophile, I guess they call us,” he said, explaining how he came to share his succulent gardens with the speckled padloper, the Roti Island snake-necked turtle and 30 other threatened species. Mr. Goode, whose 1928 hacienda is decorated with tortoiseshells and mounted butterflies, recently started putting up guests in the several cottages scattered around his property, but he only takes in fellow herpetophiles.

Farther up the valley, on Sulphur Mountain, Mr. Brock and Mr. Fortune share a bungalow with two trailers out back. One of the vehicles accommodates visiting friends, and in the other one Mr. Brock pursues that definitive Ojai pastime: throwing pots. “You’re driven inward here,” he said, discussing his new, unhurried lifestyle. “You have to be inclined toward such a journey.”

While both men indulge in the sort of gauzy interior excursions that Ojai encourages, they’'ve come to appreciate the town’s down-home diversions just as much. “There’s a cute little Fourth of July parade, with Mexican boys on horses doing their lassoes,” Mr. Fortune said. “It’s just sweet. Not ironic sweet. There’s nobody trying to twist it and turn it into something else. Not yet.”


Ojai Article 3


About Ojai

From July 2000 By Erik Torkells

http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/the-happy-valley

Just look at it, a valley so beautiful Frank Capra used it to represent Shangri-La in his film Lost Horizon. No, forget Lost Horizon: the movie that comes to mind in Ojai today is Pleasantville, in which two kids get sucked into a fifties sitcom. Where else will you find a downtown where the locals actually hang out, an independent department store, fast-food restaurants that don't advertise on national television?Shops are staffed by well-adjusted youths; cars stop religiously for pedestrians. But in other ways, Ojai's been updated: there's a film society, a farmers' market (fresh fenugreek!), countless cafés offering soy milk, and something called a yogaversity. How's this for a perfect example of small-town trust?The night before the Fourth of July parade, everyone marks a place with a chair and leaves it there overnight.

Perfection on that level is dull, though, and Ojai (pronounced "oh-high," by the way) delivers on the quirky front, too. The Ojai Valley, you see, has long drawn people yearning to go deep. "The magnetic center of the earth is here," the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1878. "Spirit-minded people come to reach the God centers in themselves." A partial list of the groups that have called it home: Church of Tzaddi, Life Divine Center, Sufi Order, Vortex Institute, Science of the Mind, Siddha Yoga Dham, ECKANKAR, Church Universal and Triumphant, Sathya Sai Baba. On top of that, you have a layer of hippies and artists; ceramist Beatrice Wood—often called the Mama of Dada—lived in Ojai, where she was a follower of resident Jiddu Krishnamurti, thought by some to be the next messiah. Krishnamurti, with Aldous Huxley and others, founded the Happy Valley School here in 1946 (it's one of at least 20 private schools in the area). Then there's a thin layer of celebrity frosting. Anthony Hopkins, Bill Paxton, Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche all have houses here.

When I proposed to the editor of this magazine that I write a story on Ojai she smiled beatifically. She looked away or inside or somewhere but definitely not at me, and whispered, "Ojai." Then she paused. "I had such a wonderful bike ride there." Pause. Smile. Pause. I had to know: What is it about this town that blisses people out?

Way back when, the peaceful Chumash Indians ruled the valley; they were conquered by the Spanish, who were conquered by the Americans. By 1923, the town had been conquered by one Edward Libbey, a glass manufacturer from Toledo, Ohio. He first came in search of a winter retreat, and proceeded to commission the post office tower, the arcade of shops, the pergola, the Ojai Valley Inn, the El Roblar Hotel (now the Oaks, a spa), Civic Center Park (now Libbey Park), and several other buildings. "Without Libbey," says David Mason, florist and unofficial historian, "Ojai would just be another little Western town."

So why isn't the town called Libbey?Because it was originally named after Charles Nordhoff, a travel writer who toured California in 1871. His pied-piper prose brought so many tourists that valley residents were inspired to incorporate as Nordhoff. The name lasted until World War I, when Nordhoff sounded too German for comfort and was changed to Ojai, possibly a Chumash word for "the nest" or "moon," depending on whom you ask.

Local Hero, one of Ojai's three independent bookstores, becomes my preferred place for coffee breaks. "Be careful," says a clerk after I tell her my theory that this is heaven on earth. "You might have an accident like I did and end up staying. I came for a month and I've been here four years." I figure her for the town malcontent until she points out that it's a hard place to live if you're in your twenties, since 30 percent of the residents are retired.

That could suck. So I wait a full hour before deciding that I'm going to move here. I've got it all figured out. I'll take a year off, soak up the vibe, maybe work at Local Hero, and write a book not unlike John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Berendt stayed on the hardcover best-seller list for four years, and this place is so kooky I won't even have to fudge the truth the way he did. All I need is a drag queen and a murder.

I head over to the Krotona Institute of Theosophy to do some research. Krotona was founded by Albert Powell Warrington, a Virginia lawyer who thought Ojai was "impregnated with occult and psychic influences." This leads me to think about Rosemary's Baby, Mia Farrow, and that Vidal Sassoon haircut that was supposed to be a sign of her madness but instead made her look pretty darn chic. Suddenly, a bird flies into the picture window and stumbles off, dazed. A sign?But of what?

The main spiritual figure in Ojai history is Krishnamurti, who came to town in 1922 and died in 1986. Originally trained by the Theosophists, he never claimed to be a prophet, writing instead that "truth is a pathless land." If the photo on the wall is any indication, his resemblance to Tyrone Power might have inspired more than one follower.

The librarian, Lakshmi, comes over. I explain my quest to find out why Ojai makes people so happy. "I believe it was the Chumash's peaceful way of living that has brought us all here," she says.

"The Indians?" I say, forgetting that it's not kosher to call Native Americans "Indians," especially to someone from south Asia. I change the subject. "I'm hoping the weather holds," I say. "I want to see the pink moment." The pink moment, when the sun bounces off the mountains at dusk and bathes the valley in pink light, is a matter of intense local pride.

"We will pray," she says.

I'm staying at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a cush resort on 220 acres. My room is huge, and the grounds are lovely—the place is a popular wedding site, and you can immediately see why. Though I like it, I'm already mentally spending the advance I intend to receive for my book (tentatively titled High Noon in the Happy Valley). Since the money will go only so far, I'm relieved to find that I also dig the less expensive Blue Iguana Inn, just outside town. Although the rooms aren't as luxurious as those at the Ojai Valley Inn, they're decorated with works by local artists. Besides, some rooms have kitchens, and the restaurants in Ojai aren't all they could be. The town is funny that way: it has an effortless sophistication—and easy access to fresh ingredients—but hasn't made the gourmet leap of, say, Napa Valley.

Before I switch over to the Blue Iguana, I indulge in a trip to the spa, added to the Ojai Valley Inn two years ago. I try the kuyam, the spa's signature treatment. Joel, the young worker bee, sits me down on a tiled chaise and pours dark, rich, soft mud into my hands. "It's Hungarian," he says. "It's been whipped!" Then he leaves me alone to listen to a meditation tape. I'm about to tune out the voice altogether—"Let your internal organs relax" sent me over the edge—when I realize that underneath it is another voice, at a subliminal volume. I swear I hear it say "Lucy is wrong." I think of Mia Farrow, Vidal Sassoon, Lakshmi, and the bird that flew into the window. "Lucy is wrong." What can it mean?My book may be taking a Twin Peaks turn, meaning there will be no answer. A pathless land, indeed.

At my lowest point, I come upon one of the most together people I've ever met. His name is Marlow, and he's an acting director at the Ojai Foundation, which has been helping people get back to nature since 1979. Think eco-spiritual retreats for schools and corporations. As Marlow shows me around the 40-acre compound, our conversation is Socratic. I ask a question; he asks one back.

"Why do you think spiritual people are drawn here?"

"I like that you're thinking this way. Why do you think that you're thinking this way?"

It's both enlightening and maddening, for Marlow rarely finishes a thought before moving to the next one, quoting Rilke on the way. But his intelligence and calm are inspiring.

"Does the geology have something to do with the energy here?"

"Isn't that a bit woo-woo for your magazine?"

Touché! We pass a blindfolded girl learning to trust, a rickety old phone booth, a yurt with a male menopause book by the bed. "I don't know why the valley has attracted so many artists," he says, "but it has. Beatrice Wood, of course, and Malcolm McDowell, Larry Hagman." I laugh, and then explain that when he said "artist" I didn't think "Larry Hagman" would come next.

"Larry Hagman," he replies, "has done a lot of good . . ." followed by something or other about disadvantaged children. Mortified, I stammer that Continental was showing an episode of I Dream of Jeannie on my flight out West and that at the time I thought Hagman was underappreciated. I go back to town, where I obviously belong.

I finally find someone—Suza Francina—who agrees unequivocally with my theory that Ojai is Shangri-La. She's the mayor, though, so she would. "This is a power spot, a sacred place," says Francina. "I feel it when I wake up at dawn."

We meet for tea. I start off by apologizing for my grimacing: I'm still sore from my hike (four hours, 4.3 miles). Francina offers to "stretch me out"; the mayor is also a yoga instructor and the author of The New Yoga for People over 50.

How has Ojai managed to stay the same?"The real secret," she says, "is we fought the four-lane highway. It's our argument against development: we can't support the traffic. If you want to save your town, don't widen the road.

"I first came to Ojai forty-three years ago," she continues. "I remember when it wasn't touristy. We recognize the danger of being too dependent on tourists." I start to worry that High Noon in the Happy Valley might do to Ojai what Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did to Savannah: bring in busloads of tourists and annoy the locals. "Of course," says Francina, "a lot of the tourists become citizens."

The patron saint of Ojai was probably Beatrice Wood, who died in 1998 at the age of 104. (Longtime residents, including Francina, boast of having known "Beato.") She was friends with Marcel Duchamp and other artists, and eventually became an artist herself. I could take or leave Wood's pottery, but am charmed by her secret for longevity—a diet of young men and chocolate.

A lot of artists live in Ojai, perhaps because of the vibe or the light, perhaps simply because other artists are here. One of my favorites is Carmen Abelleira-White, who makes artworks in a 1920's schoolhouse with things she's found around town. When turned down by Ojai's official art tour, she started the Art Detour. But even the rebel's in love with the town.

"Many people quit their jobs and move here," she says. "Until three months later and they can't get Indian food at ten P.M. I've moved away and come back. I feel nurtured here, at home. If I lived somewhere else, I'd probably still be teaching instead of painting."

I used to paint.

"Someone recently asked me," she continues, "'Is your life what you hoped it would be?' And I thought, Yes."

It is perhaps too easy to end this story at sunset, with the pink moment. But here I am at Dennison Grade, where Capra filmed the valley as his idea of Shangri-La, the perfect place.

Ojai isn't Shangri-La, I know that. Heck, I can tell that from the empty Zima bottle rolling around by my feet. (Dennison Grade, I guess, is where local kids go to be bad.) But it is close to perfect, at least to me. People seem to have their priorities straight here; they live well but modestly, and with poise.

Does the land draw a certain kind of person here?Or does it change the visitor into that certain kind of person?I wouldn't be surprised if both were true. The Ojai Valley is relentlessly beautiful, with the light shining down through the mountains all day long. Speaking of the light, everything has turned the most delicate shade of pink.

The answer, I suppose, is as I supposed. There is no answer. As Van Morrison sang, "It ain't why, why, why. It just is."

Back at local hero, I run my theory by the sweet teenager behind the café counter. "I'm here writing a story for Travel + Leisure," I say. "I believe this is the perfect town."

She scoffs, evidently unaware how rare it is for a town of 8,000 people to have three independent bookstores. "I can see why you think that," she says. "But there are the usual troubles."

I let it go. When I finish my decaf I make my way back to the counter, suavely stuffing a dollar into the tip jar. "So, um, what did you mean about troubles?"

"The girl?" she says, speaking in questions. "That was murdered?" She lowers her voice. "She went off . . . No one knows . . ."