There’s more to Oxnard than you might think. A lot more. Most people the monkey knows actually don’t think too much about Oxnard. It’s one of those places you drive through on the way to someplace else and if you do think of this coastal city, it’s unlikely that heritage and history come to mind. Strawberries and bean fields surround the city. Migrant farm workers earn their living bent over crops on the large agricultural enterprises on the fertile Oxnard Plain. There’s an upscale marina district with homes and condos on the ocean but mostly Oxnard’s image is a ramshackle collection of auto repair shops, used car lots, fast food Mexican takeaways, and used furniture stores. Out by the Ventura Freeway are some fancy California malls but you probably don’t think “history” or “heritage” when you think of Oxnard. Well, the monkey learned something today about that and it turns out there’s quite a bit of history and heritage in Oxnard.
In the center of Old Oxnard is Heritage Square, a collection of restored period homes built by local pioneers from the 1870s to just past the turn of the century. Eleven homes, a church, a historic water tower, a pump house, and more were moved to the site and Heritage Square opened in 1991. It is a successful integration of local history enthusiasts, the business community, city government, and a strong association of dedicated volunteers.
When Kongo visited the square on a hot Saturday morning it turned out that he was the only one there! He had the entire historic center to himself. Well almost. It turns out that the head docent, local historian, and site organizer maestro Gary Blum was there too and he gave Kongo a personal guided tour of the neighborhood. While sharing the local history it came out that Gary is actually the great grandson of one of the original home owners! Talk about combining history and heritage!
Gary is an enthusiastic champion of Oxnard and preserving its history. He is full of facts and figures about the previous owners and the significant logistical efforts that went into moving all the structures to the square and restoring them. He oversees a small crew that keeps everything looking old and historic in a nice way.
This Pfeiler Water Tower was built in 1877 on a ranch in the La Colonia district of Oxnard a few miles from Heritage Park. Originally it had a windmill to pump water up into the 3,000 gallon tank atop the tower that supplied the large ranch with its water needs. Only the tank is original. The supporting structure, copied from the original, has been updated to meet California earthquake standards.
The Justin Petit home shown above is a fascinating Queen Anne-style Victorian with more than 7,000 square feet. Built in 1896, it has more Victorian bells and whistles than fabric folds in a old-style dress bustle. The rooms have fancy porches, curved glass windows, dentil facia under the eaves, a tower, and a widow’s walk on top. If its Victorian, it’s here.
Incorporating the Prairie style of architecture, the Petre house featured a recessed screened in sleeping room for hot nights in the summer.
The Perkins/Claberg house combines Queen Anne and Stick Style architecture. The wife of President McKinley, Ida, used to visit friends here and having the First Lady in Oxnard was quite a big thing!
This to-die-for leaded window is part of the Scarlett house built in 1902.
Stained glass windows inside what was originally the Christian Church built in 1902 and was used for a variety of venues. It now serves as the town hall for Heritage Square.
There is plenty more to see if you’re an architecture junkie. While touring, Gary will tell you all about how Oxnard became a town. It was founded by Henry Oxnard and incorporated in 1903. Henry was an extremely wealthy sugar baron and Oxnard was to be the site of a processing plant for sugar beets to fuel America’s sweet tooth. He built a huge $2M factory here in 1897. Oxnard originally wanted to name the town “Zachari” — the Greek word for sugar. Frustrated by the hassle of naming something Greek in Southern California he finally just named it after himself. The Oxnard family never lived here. It was a company town and the Oxnard’s had sugar factories all over the country.
Most of the original pioneers were wealthy ranchers. The Oxnard Plain is incredibly fertile and even today agriculture is a major industry and employer in the area. The temperate climate enables crops to be grown year round and if you’re eating strawberries right now they most likely came from Oxnard. Eighty-five percent of the strawberries consumed in the United States come from Oxnard. Lima beans are another big crop but since the monkey doesn’t eat lima beans he really doesn’t care about those statistics.
This home has broken glass and mirrors embedded in the stucco like something Antoni Gaudí would have done in Barcelona. (See Kongo’s blog post about this here)
Most of the homes at Heritage Square incorporate local business. There’s a restaurant, bar, wine tasting, a hair dresser, and even a dental office.
Heritage Square is a great half-day trip. It’s located in downtown Old Oxnard just south of the city’s historic district at 715 South A Street. There’s plenty of free parking and it’s open all the time. Docent tours are available by appointment and Saturdays 10-4 and Sundays 1-4. Learn more at http://heritagesquareoxnard.com.
Travel Safe. Have fun!