Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
US Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles
District History (1989)
The site identified as the former Ojai
Valley Club was used by the US Army and subsequently the US Navy
between 1942 and 1946. The site was located at the southwest
corner of Ojai Avenue and County Club Drive in Ojai, California.
The property was leased by the U.S. Army from the Ojai Valley
Company in 1942. On 20 April 1944 the U.S. Navy took over the
lease from the U.S. Army.
The property was used for the field headquarters
of the U.S.Army. The U.S. Navy subsequently used the property
as an extension of the Acorn Assembly Training Detachment of
Port Hueneme. The site was renamed Camp Oak. Army construction
on the site consisted of barracks, a mess hall, a recreation
room and training facilities. The Army barracks, mess hall, and
recreation room were constructed in August of 1942. Construction
of the naval station facilities began 7 July 1944.
No disposal documentation was found. According to Mr. William
Bowie, librarian of the Ojai Museum Library, the Navy occupied
the Ojai County Club until 1946. Furthermore, a record search
at the Naval Facility Engineering Command Historian Office, Port
Hueneme, revealed no documentation making reference to the site
after 1946. Therefore, the lease probably terminated in 1946.
The site is being beneficially used by
the current owner for the Ojai Valley Inn and County Club. The
property is in good condition, according to the property manager,
and the site has been completely renovated since the Navy occupied
A company street
at Camp La-We-La-His. The Regimental Band, 134th Infantry Regiment
is on the right side of the street.
The World and Ojai Change Forever, from The Ojai Valley News, (1991)
Betty Jo Bucker Strong of Ojai was attending
services at the Ojai Presbyterian Church on December 7, 1941,
when news broke that Pearl Harbor had been bombed:
That Sundays afternoon
excursion for us teenagers was immediately canceled, and we all
just stood in front of the church absolutely numb, she
recalls. Within days, we were ordered to tar-paper our
windows at night, and we held regular air raid drills. My mother
learned to shoot a rifle.
Ojai on the Defensive
With the declaration of war, Ojai Mayor
Fred Houk issued a proclamation creating a Civilian Defense Council
to coordinate all war and defense measures in the city
and the community. Routine blackouts and air raid drills
were signaled by the bell in the post office tower, and civilian
wardens with whistles patrolled the outlying neighborhoods to
warn householders to douse their lights. Stores in the Arcade
conducted end-of-the-day business behind draped windows, and
cars were ordered to pull over and turn off their headlights.
Less than three months after the start
of the war, on February 24, 1942, the Ojai Valleys readiness
was put to the test when a Japanese submarine slipped into the
Santa Barbara Channel and fired 20 rounds from its 5-inch guns
into the Ellwood Oil REfinery near Goleta. Although there were
no casualties and little damage was done, the incident unnerved
locals when told that it was the first attack of the war on the
U.S. mainland. That February night, the all-clear signal for
Ojai and the Central Coast didnt come until almost dawn.
The blackouts became a nightly occurrence thereafter, and it
was several weeks before the standing order was rescinded and
Ojaians resumed normal activities after nightfall.
Residents of Ojai, as in all American
communities, threw themselves behind the war effort by raising
money for the Red Cross, purchasing war bonds, rationing rubber
tires, collecting scrap metal, nylon, and silk, sewing bandages
and comfort kits for the wounded, even collecting
cooking fat that was used to make munitions. Everyone was
involved in the war effort, remembers lifetime Ojai resident
Shirley Dunn Brown. She would soon leave Ventura College to work
as a radio contact for the civilian fire and aircraft spotters
at an observation post on the old Raymond Ranch near San Antonio
The Army Heads South
During February of 1942, a U.S. Army regiment
of some 3,000 troops moved south along the California coast from
Fort Ord, digging foxholes and patrolling several locations on
the beaches until it reached Seaside Park in Ventura, where it
established regimental headquarters in the winter of 1942.
Ventura resident Campbell Fahlman was
a 26-year-old private from Nebraska serving with the 134th Infantry
Regiment, a part of the 35th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army,
that had been federalized by the Nebraska National Guard to help
defend the California Coast. He remembers the temporary shelter
at the fairgrounds vividly:
We had no blankets or tents when
we got there, so we slept on the stadium benches of the fairgrounds.
It was cold and damp, and a lot of guys caught the flu. It was
The regiments 1st and 3rd battalions
occupied on line positions on the beaches from Gaviota
to Malibu, practicing stand-tos, alerts, and
patrols. Officers filled their intelligence journals with notations
of alleged submarine sightings (which were later proven to be
only sea lions) and mysterious lights reported along the blacked-out
Distictive Unit Insignia
of the 134th Infantry Regiment (First Nebraska). The unit's motto
meaning the strong, the brave in the language of
the Nebraska Pawnee became the camp's name.
Camp Lah We Ha Lis
Meanwhile, Colonel Frank Dunkley was ordered
to take the 2nd battalion inland as a reserve force. Seeking
a location for the battalions training base, he discovered
the Ojai Valley Country Club, which operated at that time as
a winter resort. Ojais weekly newspaper then known as The
Ojai reported that Army officers had visited the valley
during the first week of May to scout locations for a small
unit of soldiers.
The telegrams flew back and forth
from Ventura to Toledo, Ohio, recalls Fahlman, as the Army
sought permission from the Edward Drummond Libbey estate to occupy
the private property. Three weeks later, a battalion of 1,000
men took over the former country club. Everyone thought
we were going to O-jay, remembers Bob Branch, a longtime
Ojai resident who was then a young operations sergeant. We
were all from out of state, and we didnt know how to pronounce
the word, not even our commanding officer, he chuckles.
A plea went out to Ojai homeowners with
extra rooms or cottages to rent to make them available to the
wives of soldiers who had followed their husbands to the new
base. Many Ojai residents remember the influx of military visitors.
David Masons grandmothers house on Fox Street had
a parlor that was diode into apartments for 4 army wives, and
Shirley Dunns mother rented out rooms in their large family
home in the Arbolada.
Military tents blossomed on the Country
Club grounds. Enlisted men set up over 125 tents on the southwest
side of the golf course, while some 20 line officers were housed
in the clubhouse. Bob Branch remembers erecting the platform
tents with wooden floors brought up from the Seaside Park headquarters:
It was a typical army tent camp with six enlisted guys
in a tent. Each of the 4 companies first stationed thereE,
F, G and Hhad their own mess tent. Systems of open latrinesslit
trencheswere dug into the golf course. Wooden barracks
were added a few months later.
The new camp was soon dubbed Camp
Lah We La His, meaning the strong, the brave
in the language of the Nebraska Pawnee, which was the 134th regimental
motto. Roads were built between the barracks and the officers
quarters and were respectively named Dunkley Road for the battalion
commander, and Miltonberger Road for the regimental commander.
Second Battalion Field in front of the clubhouse was designated
the official parade ground, and the long, tree-shaded entrance
road tot he former country club was renamed Nebraska Road in
honor of the regiments home state. In time, the camp constructed
a dispensary, a chapel, kitchens and recreation halls.
An officers club was set up in the
clubhouse bar, which at that time was decorated like a British
pub with tartan plaids and English prints on the walls. According
to Shirley Dunn, who met and dated Army Capt. Rodney Brown while
he was stationed there, it was very cozy, very British-looking,
and it just dazzled all those farm boys from the Midwest who
had never seen anything like it!
Romance and Pranks
More than a few couples recited their
wedding vows before base chaplain Capt. John Reents, whose little
daughter often stood in as a flower girl. Wedding receptions
were held on the patio of the former clubhouse. Other romances
bloomed between local women and the soldiers stationed in Ojai
and led to weddings held out of state when the men were transferred
to distant locations. Ojaian Shirley Dunn Married Capt. Brown
in 1944. Bob Branch we Norma Nichols of Ojai the same year, and
Pvt. Fahlman married Madge Kilbourne, daughter of the newspapers
editor, in 1943.
One night a young Betty Jo Buckner joined
a group of her school friends who dared each other to sneak up
the the Country Club to spy on the Army. Armed sentries
stood guard every night at the three entrances to the property:
at the intersection of Country Club Road and Country Club Drive,
at the service entrance further south on Country Club Drive,
and at the greenskeepers house on Highway 33 and Ojai Avenue.
The young pranksters managed to stay hidden from the rifle-toting
guards, but by the time they got close enough to see anything
interesting, their courage had disappeared and they ran back
to town. Nevertheless, the life of a soldier must have impressed
her, because two years later, Betty Jo Buckner became the first
local woman to enlist when she joined the U.S. Army Air Forces
as a field locator and was stationed for the duration of the
war at a bombardier training base in New Mexico.
Anti Tank Company,
134th Infantry Regiment undergoing a field inspection on one
of the former fairways
Training and Readiness
While very little information was made
public about the military activities inside Camp La We La His,
those who were stationed there recall many days spent in combat
training exercises in preparation for the expected enemy invasion.
Whenever a Japanese submarine in the Pacific was lost on American
radar screens, the 134th Infantry was put on alert. They
trained with 60- and 80-mm mortars, machine guns and rifles,
remembers Bill Bowie, a long time resident of Ojai and activist
at the Ojai Valley Museum. At one time, I was a fire marshal;
and I went along with the troops when they held artillery practice
out by Rancho Matilija or up in the Sespe. My job was to report
any brush fires that the ammunition might ignite.
Pauline Emerson Farrar was fresh out of
Nordhoff High School in the summer of 1942 and was working at
Bill Bakers Bakery.
Wed often look out the store
windows to see small squadrons of armed soldiers sneaking through
town from doorway to doorway, on special training maneuvers,
she remembers. We had to remind ourselves that they were
practicing military techniques for dodging enemy fire! Of course,
we never interfered, but it always gave me a start!
Pageantry and Parades
The regiments commanding officer,
Col. Butler B. Miltonberger, a lover of military pomp and circumstance,
quickly organized an unofficial regimental band. Private Campbell
Fahlman joined as a drummer. Some 35 musicians, playing the drums,
tubas, trumpets, trombones, saxophones and cymbals, were decked
out every Sunday in white spats and dress belt and sash for the
colonels formal Guard Mounts and Parade Retreats, marching
in formation on the golf course in front of the flag pole. Ojai
townspeople were invited to attend the ceremonies and remember
the soldiers who were still dressed in their heavy winter uniforms
in the middle of the summer. The summer sun was brutal
on those boys, says Pauline Emerson Farrar. There
were always a few who would faint in the heat.
Others remember the pageantry that stirred
unabashed patriotism in the hearts of the local spectators. Writing
at the time in a letter to the local editor, pastor George Marsh
of the Presbyterian church described the superb setting
which suggests something of the grandeur and beauty of the far-flung
expanse of our fair Americathe green stretch of the beautiful
golf links rising to the rolling hills which mounted to the noble
range of the Matilija, and the mountains touched with the glory
of the setting sun. An officer in the camp was quoted as
claiming, No camp in the United States has a finer setting.
Valley Hospitality Blooms
In town, a hospitality center serving
coffee and doughnuts was opened for the soldiers at Russ and
Ruth Brennans electrical shop on Signal Street, where the
Dancers Studio is located today.
Villanova School made its pool available
to the Army for swimming and diving, and softball games were
organized at Sarzotti Park between the soldiers and local teams.
Dances were held at Nordhoff High School (then located where
Matilija Jr. High School stands today).
As a coed attending Ventura College in
1942, Harriet Grout Kennedy remembers marvelous times
getting to know the soldiers who arrived in Ojai that spring.
The bowling alley was located at 312 E. Ojai Avenue where
the Village shops are today, and we organized bowling leagues
to include the Army boys, she recalls. We went to
the movies at the Ojai Playhouse, and we also used to get out
to the Maggie Hunt stables which were next to St. Josephs
Hospital and take the officers on horseback rides.
It wasnt long before the community
volunteers running the little hospitality center out of Brennans
Electrical Shop moved their activities to the larger Jack Boyd
Club, then located next to Libbey Park at the present site of
the Bank of America [now Nomad Gallery], which became Ojais
official U.S.O. headquarters. An Army dance band, formed out
of the larger regimental band, practiced at the Boyd Club and
played at the frequent dances held in the clubs basement,
at the high school, or at other county U.S.O. locations. Campbell
Fahlman, who played in the dance band, remembers those parties
with special fondness. I used to play the drums and watch
this pretty girl who danced with all my buddies, he recalls,
so I decided Id better figure out a way to meet her.
He did, and married her a year later.
Recognizing the importance of maintaining
close understanding and high morale between the U.S. armed forces
and the civilians among whom they are stationed, Col Miltonberger
assigned a Pvt. Gorfkle and a Sgt. Lorimer to submit occasional
army news items to The Ojai for publication.
Although the exact number of troops stationed
in Ojai was never revealed, nor were the destinations of the
almost constant arrivals and departures of the various companies,
military promotions were routinely reported, and community leaders
active with the local Red Cross and U.S.O. were invited to the
camp to discuss their volunteer projects with the officers. Col.
Miltonberger was a stickler for discipline and insisted on the
meticulous appearance of his troops at all times. The camps
log records his almost-daily admonition to his officers: Any
member of this unit found dead in battle will be found properly
The troops were immensely popular with
their Ojai hosts.
During December of 1942, locals teamed
up to furnish two recreation halls on the baseone was was
remodeled from the old garage building of the country clubby
contributing a piano, tables and chairs, rugs and curtains, books
and games, and had them both ready for use by the holidays, complete
with fresh fruit and nuts. Trees provided by the Forest Service
station in Ojai were decorated with paper chains and popcorn
made by Ojai school children. Ojai churches sent their choirs
to sing at the base chapel.
Rumors circulated that the 134th would
soon get orders to overseas duty. Some 1,000 townspeople turned
out to watch would be the regiments last ceremonial parade
on January 10, 1943. Within days, Ojais beloved Army
group, as one newspaper editor wrote, was abruptly pulled
out in January 1943, leaving behind them an almost deserted camp,
many local friendships, and not a few sweethearts. The soldiers
of the 134th 2nd Battalion were sent to hot spots in both the
European and Pacific theaters of war. Some were assigned to the
Aleutian Islands, while most joined the ground divisions that
ultimately merged with Pattons Third Army in France.
During the eight months the 134th 2nd
Battalion had been stationed at Camp La We La His, Ojai Red Cross
volunteers had mended more than 2,000 uniforms for the soldiers,sewed
military piping on 1,000 of their caps, and helped find rooms
and employment for Army wives. Hospitalization and baby equipment
were arranged for expectant Army mothers. Valleyites collected
hundreds of rags that the soldiers used to care for their equipment,
and gas heaters were donated to warm the wooden barracks during
the winter months.
Camp Oak is Born
By May of 1943, a convoy of new Army units
from the 174th Infantry arrived in Ojai from Fort Dix, New Jersey,
with hundreds of raw recruits hailing from upstate New York.
The promptly renamed their new home Camp Oak. The social schedule
of popular U.S.O. dances and Army band concerts were resumed,
along with the collection of donated furniture for the camp facilities.
Sports events were played again at Sarzotti Park between the
soldiers and local teams. The bases new Army Chaplain,
Lt. Frederick E. Thalmann, performed still more weddings at the
Much of the daily routine in Ojai again
centered around the presence of the soldiers. Joe Sarzotti, whose
family farmed many acres in the Ojai Valley, had been granted
exempt status from the draft because his agricultural work was
considered critical to the war effort. I was just 20 years
old when the war started, he remembers, and we worked
from one season to the next harvesting barley, oats, citrus and
about 40 acres of apricots. Almost every bit of it was sold off
to the governments quartermaster corps and wound up as
C-rations. I dont know why we had to bother with the middle
man, we could have trucked it all to downtown Ojai and sold it
directly to the soldiers at the Ojai Valley Inn.
Joe did participate in at least a few
bartering sessions that had a more perusal touch. He befriended
several soldiers while they were stationed in Ojai, and they
struck up a typical war-time deal: he swapped his much-coveted
gasoline ration coupons for their cigarette coupons. I
was a smoker at the time, and those city boys said they definitely
wanted to spend their precious leave time out of town!
Not all the soldiers were so eager to
leave the little quiet town. There were more than a few
romances that bloomed during the war years, he says. My
sister Mary met a 1st lieutenant at a U.S.O. dance at the Boyd
Club, and they dated for several months until he was shipped
out. Thats the way it was during the war: here today, gone
Sarzotti remembers several soldiers with
the 174th Infantry from New York who used to make fun of the
unglamorous life in the Ojai. They thought it was the worst
hick town they had ever seen! he laughs, but when
they left, they cried. The people in Ojai were so nice to those
young men, inviting them home for dinner, organizing social for
them. I guess they werent used to that kind of warmth and
Here Come the Seabees
By the end of January 1944, the 174th
Infantry had pulled out of Camp Oak and was assigned duties in
Oregon, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Alabama. Life in town quieted
down again, until word came that the U.S. Navy had allocated
$80,000 to improve the camp for the Navys use. Seabees
from Port Hueneme spent several weeks working on the barracks
and the clubhouse and even adding two swimming pools.
In May 1944, units of the Acorn Assembly
and Training Detachment from Port Hueneme moved in under the
command of Capt. Marshall B. Gurney and Lt. Cmdr. Lloyd R. Saber.
Like the Army soldiers before them, the sailors became an important
part of Valley life, even spending their liberty time helping
local ranchers with the harvest during the summer and fall. Ojai
firefighters could always count on extra help during an emergency
from the Camp Oak Navy personnel, and the high school football
games were regularly attended by the Navy doctor and a pharmacists
In November of 1944, when a commercial
airstrip was approved for Ojais Dry Lake in Mira Monte
(locally known as Henderson Field), the Navy loaned the heavy
equipment that was used to grade the landing strip.
In April of 1945, locals were thrilled
to be invited to Camp Oak to watch an exhibition match played
on the camps 9-hole course by radio and film stars Bob
Hope and Bing Crosby. Proceeds raised from the $1 tickets went
to the Navy Relief Welfare Fund. Cmdr. Creighton, one of the
Navys finest golfers, paired up with Bing Crosby, while
Hopes partner was Gabe Burbank, a former professional golfer
who was stationed at Camp Oak at the time.
Some 3,000 spectators, civilians and servicemen
alike watched the 12-hole match that was marked with the antics
of the famous comedians. At the end, the Hope and Burbank team
won the contest by the margin of one hole. It was an extravaganza
of stars and military brass that focused enormous media attention
on the little town and its former country club.
Nine days later, on May 8, 1945, VE-Day
was celebrated by all Americans, and three months after that
VJ-Day brought an end to five years of combat on every continent
of the world.
Still, it was months before the Navy at
Camp Oak made known its intentions about its continued use of
the property, although fewer and fewer sailors were seen in town.
Rawson B. Harmon, local resident and manager of the Libbey interests
in Ojai, announced that the Libbey estate would no longer keep
the property but insisted that the Navy restore the links and
the buildings to their original condition. Numerous private investor
groups made offers to purchase the country club on the assumption
that the military would son be gone.
But it was not until late summer of 1946,
15 months after the end of the war, that the U.S. government
finally auctioned off over 50 barracks buildings and quonset
huts, some of which were purchased by locals. Villanova School,
which was facing an unusually high enrollment for its first postwar
term, bought two large barracks to use as dormitories, and others
can still be spotted in the Ojai Valley today as converted residences,
workshops and places of business.
From Fort to Resort
In October 1946, the Navy returned the
property to the Ojai Valley Company, and one week later Rawson
Harmon, representing the Ojai Valley Company, announced the sale
of the Ojai Valley Country Club to Don B. Burger, Willard Keith
and Associates of Beverly Hills. An article in The Ojai
assured locals that Mr. Burger and his associates will
operated the property in accordance with standards established
by the Libbey interests and have expressed a sincere desire to
cooperate in every way with the Ojai community in making the
country club one of the finest developments of its kind in the
Work on the reconstruction of the golf
course began in December 1946 under the supervision of William
P. Bell of Pasadena, the original architect of the famed course,
and took seven months to complete. A new swimming pool was built,
and tennis courts, stables and riding trails were completely
reconditioned. Inside the charming old clubhouse, the dining
room, bar, and guest rooms were restored by a team of local workers,
including a recently discharged Army sergeant who knew the property
better than anyone.
Campbell Fahlman had returned to Ojai,
the hometown of his bride Madge Kilbourne, and drove straight
to the country club where he had been stationed five years before
he was sent to join Pattons Third Army in Europe. Fahlman
was hired on as part of the crew that worked on every inch of
the 200-acre property throughout the winter and spring months;
and on June 7, 1947, the former country club, that had been briefly
known as Camp La We La His and Camp Oak, was officially reopened
as the Ojai Valley Inn, leaving behind forever its place in the
history of World War II.