Blood Moon

Is Ojai cool again? It’s been an awfully long time, perhaps not since Beatrice Wood was a girl. The dead hand of the Ojai Valley Inn and the sepulcher that is the arcade have made this town a very dull place indeed.

Alex Proud, writing in the Telegraph notes, “I have seen the future – and the future is Paris and Geneva. The future is a clean, dull city populated by clean, dull rich people and clean, dull old people”.

Make that Paris, Geneva and Ojai. Except that something wonderful is happening in the Valley of the Moon. Hipsters have arrived.

Now some of you may be thinking that this is not an unalloyed beneficence. Many may have experienced being pushed off of the sidewalks of Venice and Silverlake in Los Angeles and herded aside along the streets and avenues of Brooklyn by twenty-something, facially hirsute and tattooed young men and alluring, inked young women lurching from noisy bars to shade-grown organic, cold-press coffee houses to artisanal bakeries and restaurants with market-driven menus. When they take to the road (where their elders may sometimes be randomly strewn, dazed and confused by this generational putsch) they are on fixies, Jack Spade messenger bags flapping in the breeze.

Here in Ojai, lacking the overwhelming numbers they are able to muster in the hipster capitals of the world, they represent a piquant seasoning to the still predominantly old, dull and clean - or at least clean shaven, and sometimes wealthy population. They do not threaten, they enrich. They will forever be exotics not endemics. But their influence is keenly felt………..and it’s a good thing.

Now, fortunately for the future health of the planet, hipsters have little interest in driving cars but they are curiously attracted to the derelict and defunct infrastructure of an erstwhile, car-centric world. Thus Summer Camp, a general goods store specializing in the ephemera of a simpler, pre-digital civilization, sits atop the toxic waste of a long-ago service station. The House of Fixies’ showroom (signage confusingly proclaims it to be The Mob Shop) is in the service bays of a gas-station that used to actually fix cars as well as sell gas (how quaint is that?). The building is thus re-purposed to cater to the urge for self-propulsion for which the aforementioned purveyors of hipster comestibles provide the necessary fuel.

One of the enduring mysteries of the modern world is that the increase in cars has resulted in the radical reduction of the number of gas-stations. Used to be, in the 40’s and 50’s, one could barely drive half a mile through Ojai without being beckoned by a forecourt enlivened by colorful gasoline pumps and their boiler-suited jockeys (or so the number of such abandoned and now re-purposed structures leads me to believe).

Pedaling east and leaving the many chambered, non-hipster, retail crypts of the arcade behind, our exotic, ex-urban twenty-somethings are accosted by the unbearably charming Spanish colonial revival forecourt that serves as an annex to Knead which now sells, in lieu of petroleum, serious hipster fuel – delectable, artisanal baked goods. Next up, our single-speeder finds, on the left, a Pet Spa specializing in the grooming of very small dogs, housed, inevitably, in a very tiny ex-gas station and, across the street, CJ’s repairs the farm-trucks of yesteryear in the service bays of a larger, but long-dry gas station - nostalgic, artisanal kinds of vehicles that still gladden the hipster heart.

Apart from its abandoned gas-stations there are few buildings in Ojai that might stir the hipster-soul. Adam Tolmach’s Ojai Vineyard now occupies one such, the old Fire House on Montgomery, a landmark WPA brick building which served the Ojai Fire Department from 1936 -1979, and it is here that his fine hand-made wines may be tasted. Predictably, the much lambasted (in this blog, at least) arcade, post-office tower and Libbey Park pergola, once the defining architectural icons of Ojai, appeal largely to the old and dull. The Libbey Bowl, set in the park, resounded to the sounds of an echt hipster band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, for one brief moment -a magical night a couple of years ago - but customarily serves up, outside of its signature New Music festival, superannuated performers from the old and dull’s youth.

In the back of another brick building of only slightly later vintage than the Fire House Ben and Marissa, creators of Hip, a restaurant serving vegan food, have successfully bridged the gap between hippie and hipster and cater to locals as well as the Silverlake diaspora. The main room of this building (where once its owner Mary Goldberg ran her restaurant, Treasure Beach) is occupied by dba, a small design-driven architecture firm and P.Space where P.Lyn Middleton sells her stunning hand-made ceramics.

Now comes Warner Ebbink (owner of the Rocker-Hipster Coffee Shop 101 in L.A.), a serial restaurateur with an eye on the bourgeoning Ojai market, as the new owner of Mary’s building. His precise plans are shrouded in a too tight and too short hipster jacket of secrecy.

Topa Topa Brewery is optimistically proclaiming that its future space, the disheveled, barely roofed old plumbing workshop that has stood forlorn and empty for many a year on the Avenue, just west of Ojai Creates, will be open early in 2015. Some discerning residents consider this to be perhaps the finest of all the mid-century quotidian commercial structures in town but sadly its conversion to a code-compliant building will almost certainly eviscerate its charm. After a few craft beers (the young’s new wine), perhaps no one will care. Inspired to lurch west towards ersatz colonial arches, the buzzed throng might do well to visit The Hub - the single business that escapes the general opprobrium I have conferred on the arcade - a blue-collar bar that is ripe for a retro, PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) kind of revival.

Lodging for this youthful diaspora is now thoughtfully provided by The Rancho Inn, a motel from the 50’s recently infused with the early twenty-first century zeitgeist by two young, hip hoteliers. Regrettably, the new owners of The Capri, The Hummingbird Inn and The Deer Lodge have decided that there’s still gold in the old and dull hills. New publishers for Edible Ojai and Ventura have just replaced the perennially hip Jane Handel and they too, based on their first few issues, appear headed for those same hills. The two journals of Ojai real estate boosterism, the Quarterly and the Visitors Guide remain blithely unaware of the new kids in town, and continue to pitch their publications to guests at the Ojai Valley, rather than the Rancho Inn.

When Mike Kelley, the internationally acclaimed Los Angeles artist, visited town none of this mattered. His analysis of the place as evinced in a series of a dozen or more 8 ½ x 11 pencil drawings, currently on display as part of the massive show devoted to his work at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Gallery, depict three elements emblematic of this series of valleys - oil, oranges and the geomorphic shape of the enveloping mountains. All of which once seemed like the eternal verities of the area. Now, not so much: the presence of the oil industry in Ojai is an embarrassment to many while citrus is threatened by changing long-term weather patterns and a persistent drought – only the mountains remain un-moved by time, fashion or economic expediency.

The town too, is in flux. Kelley identified an arc that stretches from Thomas Aquinas College to the Libbey arcade at the center of town while citrus groves are shown quartering the East End. Hipsters who land here now favor the wilder reaches of Upper Ojai or the dramatic gorges of Matilija Canyon. The East End is dead to them, perceived as ground zero for the old and dull. For those youngsters with a more urban bent, Motown (Meiner’s Oaks) is an attractive, funky option with a growing array of hipster oriented services such as The Farmer and The Cook (Restaurant and organic produce); Book Ends (housed in a re-purposed Church) and The Coffee Connection.

The 150 artery, as Kelley discerned, is the life blood of Ojai but the arrangement of vital organs along its length is subtly changing: now the young are creating a new corpus corporis channeling energy to their favored haunts while the provinces of the old and dull slowly wither. It’s a brutal process, but one that is necessary for the continued relevance of our Lunar Valleys. This week's blood moon is a sanguinary harbinger.

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