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Inventing Ojai: Placemaking Through Architecture
SAH/SCC Exhibition and Home Tour
Sunday, March 19, 2017

Road trip! Jump in your car and meet SAH/SCC in Ojai for a stimulating day of history and architecture. We begin the day with a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibition “Inventing Ojai” at the Ojai Valley Museum (Mead and Requa, 1918). Museum president and historian Mark Lewis will join us as we explore the legacy of Edward Drummond Libbey (1854-1925). A relaxing lunch will be followed by a tour of downtown Ojai and selected residences.

In the early 1900s, Libbey, the glass magnate from the Midwest, hired Myron Hunt (1868-1952) and Elmer Grey (1872-1963) to design and construct a Craftsman-style vacation home for him in Ojai. The town at the time was known as “Nordhoff” and consisted of a ramshackle group of vernacular wooden buildings. In 1916, inspired by a discussion with friend and oil magnate Harry Ford Sinclair (1876-1956), Libbey decided to do something for the community: remake it into a quaint Spanish town in the spirit of early Californian and Mexican settlements. Libbey hired architects Frank Mead (1865-1940) and Richard Requa (1881-1941) to remake the town. Shortly afterward it was renamed Ojai, a derivation of the Chumash word for “moon.”

Taking a page from the popular City Beautiful movement, to which Libbey had been fully exposed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Mead and Requa unified the town through architecture. They designed a façade for the north side of the main thoroughfare, a new post office with Spanish Colonial Revival bell tower, a Mediterranean-style pergola, and a new park. Their St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel was added in 1919. Over the years, architects, such as George Washington Smith (1876-1930) and Wallace Neff (1895-1982), continued the idea of placemaking in Ojai through architecture, which Libbey set in motion with residential commissions that complement the early California vision.

Among the sites we will visit is one of the three speculative Maravilla Company Houses constructed for Libbey’s Arbolada development. To prevent the construction of a sawmill near his own Ojai residence off Fairview Road, Libbey purchased the tract of land and converted it into 360 parcels for large homes with winding roads. Arbolada, or “the woodland,” was first offered to Libbey’s friends and colleagues, then opened to the public. Maravilla Company House B (George Washington Smith, 1921) was constructed in Spanish style to set the tone for the development. We will also visit the Harry Sinclair Residence (Mead and Requa, 1914/17).

This is a drive-yourself event to provide maximum flexibility for tourgoers who want to make more of their time in the Ojai Valley. You are welcome to make it a day trip or spend the weekend in this little piece of paradise.

Please note that a substantial amount of walking will be involved. Unfortunately, we will not be able to accommodate people with special needs or those who require handicapped access.

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