Downtown Tour

Cluff Vista Park sits just past the Chantico Inn at the entrance to downtown Ojai. The small triangular site that had once been a gas station had become an eyesore. In 2001, a group of community citizens in collaboration with the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and the City, raised funds and hired landscape architect firm, Bostrom and Associates, who collaborated with Van Atta and Associates of Santa Barbara. They designed a park that incorporated native plants, spiritual themes, and public art. In addition to its public art, Cluff Vista Park features six different gardens; a butterfly garden, a sage-scented garden, a hummingbird garden, a riparian landscape, a chaparral landscape, and a deergrass meadow.

A: Cluff Vista Park

A-1: West End Guardian Spirit:

Standing sentinel at the entrance to the park on the west end is a tall basalt column. Master stoneworker, Paul Lindhard, was commissioned to install an obelisk at this entrance to the park and another at the east end. Lindhard selected a basalt stone that elicits a powerful sense of place strongly connected to the surrounding natural landscape. Lindhard is founder of Arts City in Ventura, a studio of close to 20 local artists. You will find a second Guardian Spirit (A-5) as you exit the park on the east end.

A-2: Corona de Robles:

As you pass under the park’s pergolas, look up  and you will see beautiful copper oak branches and leaves entwined around its pillars. Hand-forged out of stone, copper, and wood, Corona de Robles (Crown of Oaks), was designed by Jan Sanchez, a master welder, metal artist, and noted neon artist.

A-3: Overlook Circle Fountain:

The round shape of Overlook Circle Fountain symbolizes the sun. An omphalos stone, believed  to be a vortex that facilitates connection with the spiritual world, sits in the middle of the fountain. The stone’s opening was tooled by Paul Lindhard and allows water to cascade gracefully over its surface.

A-4: Trail of Discovery:

Scattered throughout the park on walkways and  curbs are impressions of animal and bird tracks as well as imprints of leaves, fossils, and reptiles. Can you spot the coyote chasing a road runner?

A-5: East End Guardian Spirit:

The East End Guardian Spirit stands at the park’s  lower end next to a crescent shaped waterfall. This fountain represents the moon and is the counterpart to the sun-shaped fountain in Overlook Circle. Notice that the East End Guardian Spirit sports an onyx cap. Fiber optic lights inside the cap glow at night.

B: The Ojai Valley Museum Courtyard

The Ojai Valley Museum is a Mission Revival style former church and rectory. The property was designated a City of Ojai Historic Landmark in 1993, and the museum opened in 1995.

B-6: Museum Side Gates:

Crafted of hand-forged steel by artist, Doug Lochner, the side gates are a four panel bi-fold  design echoing the “river of life” curves found in the museum’s carved wood entry doors. The side gates further compliment the curved forms of the main entrance as well as its bell tower arches.

B-7: Condor and Youth Soaring for Freedom:

A life-sized California condor flanked by a young man dressed in contemporary clothing was  created by sculptor, Carlyle Montgomery. The condor was sculpted from a 9000 pound slab of Belgian limestone acquired from Art City owner Paul Lindhard (Guardian Spirits). Montgomery found the red serpentine for the condor’s head while hiking in the Sespe Wilderness, the endangered condor’s last known natural habitat. Montgomery passed away in 1998 at age 50. In his last few months, many artist friends helped to complete the piece that took two years to finish. The sculpture evokes the spirit of freedom.

B-8: Mountain Dreamer:

A sleeping brown bear rests in the Museum’s front courtyard. Ojai artist, Dennis Shives, conceived of  the sleeping bear while working on sand sculptures at the beach. Roger Embury, of Rock and Water Creations Inc., manufactured the sculpture and donated it to the Ojai Va­lley Museum. The 800-pound sculpture is constructed of fiberglass reinforced concrete. A replica of Mountain Dreamer can be purchased from Rock and Water Creations. (info@rock-n-water.com)

B-9: Museum Entry Gates:

Designed by Doug Lochner of “Art That Works”, the two-panel, hand-forged steel gates reflect several architectural elements of the museum including the arched tower, the plaster relief  above the front door, and the “river of life“ carved into the wooden main doors.The gates visually elevate the site adding interest and establishing a unique persona to the courtyard’s front entrance.

Please Cross Ojai Avenue at Ventura Avenue using the pedestrian crossing lights, exercising extreme caution.

C: The Ojai Valley Library

One of Ojai’s historic buildings features an iron silhouette of a boy perched atop the library sign. He reads a book as a symbolic welcoming to visitors. The whimsical metal artwork was designed by Major John Dron Sr. in 1931.

C-10: California Quail:

A large tile mural of a California quail highlights the library’s west wall. The mural, by artist Vicki  McCaslin, a native American Yaqui Indian, transports the viewer from city life to nature. McCaslin’s tribal ancestry, symbolism, and philosophy of living in harmony with nature are themes that inspire her work.

C-11: Charlotte’s Chair:

Inside the library at the end of the east corridor is a door leading outside to “The Secret Garden”. Here rests an extraordinary broken tile chair. Storybook characters, fanciful animals, salt and pepper shakers, beads, and pieces of Eaton family china come to life in the oversized chair. Ceramist, Merilee Eaton of Whale Rock Ranch in Ojai‘s east end, created Charlotte’s Chair in memory of Charlotte Bronstein, an accomplished actress, film director, and storyteller who spent her retirement teaching children theater arts. Local stone-mason, Allen Shook made the chair’s base out of steel, wire mesh, and concrete.

D: Libbey Park

Since 1917, Libbey Park has been the heart and soul of Ojai. The seven and a half acre park, bisected by the Ojai Valley Trail,  is home to the Libbey Bowl (redesigned in 2009 by architect, David Bury) and a venue for the Ojai Music Festival. In addition to some of Ojai’s most iconic public art, Libbey Park includes a bandstand, tennis courts, a playground, picnic areas, and a central plaza with a beautiful gardenia fountain. 

D-12: Fun for All:

Fun for All, by Doug Lochner, features three pieces: a cast concrete lizard, a lady-bug, and an archway reminiscent of children’s building blocks that sports a mirror ball. The pieces effectively separate the toddler area from the rest of the playlot while providing seating and creative play surfaces. If you look closely at the alphabet blocks, you may spy the letters F-A-E, the name of the artist’s granddaughter.

D-13: Trimpin Sound Arch:

When the City’s Public Art Ordinance qualified the 2011 Libbey Bowl renovation to include public art, a nationwide competition was held. Internationally acclaimed artist, Trimpin, was chosen for his innovative 12-foot high Sound Arch that visually  echoes the curved arch of the bowl itself. The arch “sounds” by means of a motion activated sensor. Percussive sequences are chimed on 24 reclaimed metal tubes of varying lengths. The Sound Arch can be pre-programmed by musicians performing at the Bowl to play a specific theme. Also, an iPhone app allows passers-by to chose a tune from a select list. (Look for instructions on the base’s bronze plaque.) Trimpin was a recipient of a McArthur Genius Grant. His innovative artworks are found throughout the United States and the world.

E. The Ojai Arcade

Text Box: E. The Ojai Arcade

Fronting the stores in the downtown Ojai business district, the historic Mission-Revival style Arcade was designed in 1917 by architects, Frank Meade and Richard Requa. In 2002, a major renovation was completed, and today the back of the arcade is a lovely plaza for strolling or sitting.

Archways featuring RTK tiles are featured throughout downtown Ojai on fountains and mosaic plaques. Here, they grace the Ojai Avenue Arcade entryway as well as the back entryway to the plaza. RTK Studio owners, Richard Keit and Mary Kennedy, have perfected an ancient Spanish Moor technique called “cuerda seca”, or dry cord. A bulb syringe filled with a mixture of oil and magnesium is used to outline each color in the pattern. When the tiles are fired, the mixture evaporates leaving the signature charcoal outline.

E- 14: Matilija Poppy Fountain:

Award winning artist, Sandra Kay Johnson, created the bronze Matilija Poppy Fountain as  the centerpiece of the Arcade. To achieve the correct texture of each petal, Johnson crinkled heavy paper and sculpted it in wax to form molds that were later cast in bronze. Finally, the pieces were welded to a stainless steel base. Johnson’s fountain uses the flow of light on water to capture the feeling of Arcadian places inspired by the serenity of nature.

E-15: Early Bird Shopper:

On a rock base near the rear entrance to the plaza stands a a cast-bronze sculpture by  iconic Ojai artist, Sylvia Raz. Early Bird Shopper is the playful interpretation of an eagle that honors the bird life in the valley. The eagle’s traditionally styled clothes reflect the Chumash Native Americans. A chocolate kiss serves as a hat that represents the sweetness of Ojai. The artist tells us that if you rub the little gold button on her purse, it will bring you good luck. Early Bird Shopper disappeared from its plaza position early in 2008 only to be discovered, months later, glued to a high rock on Shelf Road that overlooks the valley. To the relief of all, the statue was rescued and bolted (vandal-proof) back on its proper perch.

E-16: Elliot the Bear:

A pedestal at the east end of the Arcade features a corten steel sculpture of a bear that lumbered its way into downtown Ojai and climbed a tree on the corner of Aliso and Ventura Avenue. Eventually, the bear was tranquilized, causing it to fall from the tree suffering injury. It was euthanized. Mark Benkert, a metal sculptor, who owns the property where Elliot took refuge, forged a memorial piece. The Ojai community sought and won a permanent home for the sculpture on what had been the Arcade’s changing art pedestal. It features a mirror image of the words “A Hard Day’s Night.”  Benkert’s highly abstracted sculptures draw inspiration from iconic forms and shapes and are inspired by the themes of family and spirituality.

E-17:  EVO-3:

In front of Sane Living Center, a seamless stainless steel sculpture that slopes from a height of 8 to 4 feet, EVO-3, takes the form of a question mark lying on its side. A compass represents the question mark’s “dot” under which a time capsule is buried – to be discovered in some  distant future. More than 100 laser-cut images represent the three stages of evolution as envisioned by Sane Living Center developer, Aubrey Balkind and public artist Ray Cirino; nature, homo sapiens, and artificial intelligence. Cirino, featured in LA Weekly as the “innovative mad scientist” of LA, has public art installations at the Children’s Garden at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. His “Water Woman” sculpture was featured in the Smithsonian Magazine.

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