Ventura, officially the City of San Buenaventura, is the county seat of Ventura County, California, United States. The coastal site, set against undeveloped hills and flanked by two free-flowing rivers, has been inhabited for thousands of years. European explorers encountered a Chumash village, referred to as Shisholop, here while traveling along the Pacific coast. They witnessed the ocean navigation skill of the native people and their use of the abundant local resources from sea and land.(p36) The eponymous Mission San Buenaventura was founded nearby in 1782 where it benefitted from the water of the Ventura River. The town grew around the mission compound and incorporated in 1866. The development of nearby oil fields in the 1920s and the age of automobile travel created a major real estate boom during which many designated landmark buildings were constructed. The mission and these buildings are at the center of a downtown that has become a cultural, retail, and residential district and visitor destination.
Ventura lies between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara along U.S. Route 101, which was one of the original U.S. Routes. The highway is now known as the Ventura Freeway, but the original route through the town along Main Street has been designated El Camino Real, the historic pathway connecting the California missions. During the post–World War II economic expansion, the community grew easterly, building detached single-family homes over the rich agricultural land created by the Santa Clara River at the edge of the Oxnard Plain. The population was 106,433 at the 2010 census, up from 100,916 at the 2000 census with the median age being 39. Ventura is part of the Oxnard–Thousand Oaks–Ventura, CA metropolitan area.
Archaeological discoveries in the area suggest that humans have populated the region for at least 10,000-12,000 years. Archaeological research demonstrates that the Chumash people have deep roots in central and southern coastal regions of California, and has revealed artifacts from their culture.(p11) Shisholop Village, designated Historic Point of Interest #18 by the city at the foot of nearby Figueroa Street, was the site of a Chumash village. The Ventura Chumash were in contact with the Channel Islands Chumash; both mainland and island Chumash utilized plank-sewn seagoing canoes, called Tomolo, with the island people bringing shell bead money, island chert, and sea otter pelts to trade for mainland products like acorns and deer meat.
In 1769, the Spanish Portolà expedition, first recorded European visitors to inland areas of California, came down the Santa Clara River Valley from the previous night’s encampment near today’s Saticoy and camped near the outlet of the Ventura River on August 14. Fray Juan Crespi, a Franciscan missionary traveling with the expedition, noted that “we saw a regular town, the most populous and best laid-out of all that we had seen on the journey up to the present time.” Archaeological records found that the Chumash village they encountered was settled sometime around 1000 A.D.
Junípero Serra, first leader of the Franciscans in California, founded Mission San Buenaventura in 1782 as his ninth and last mission established near the Chumash village as part of Spain’s colonization of Alta California. The mission was named for St. Bonaventure, a Thirteenth Century Franciscan saint and a Doctor of the Church. San Miguel Chapel was the first outpost and center of operations while the first Mission San Buenaventura was being constructed. The first mission burned in 1801 and a replacement building of brick and stone was completed in 1809. The bell tower and facade of the new mission was destroyed by an 1812 earthquake. The Mission was rebuilt and functions as a parish church. Historic tours of downtown include the mission compound.
The Mexican secularization act of 1833 was passed twelve years after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821. Mission land was sold or given away in large grants called ranchos. Rancho Ex-Mission San Buenaventura was a 48,823-acre (197.58 km2) grant that included downtown Ventura. Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado granted Rancho San Miguel to Felipe Lorenzana and Raymundo Olivas whose Olivas Adobe on the banks of the Santa Clara River was the most magnificent hacienda south of Monterey. Fernando Tico also received a Mexican land grant for Ojai and a lot near the river in downtown Ventura.
California became a territory of the United States in 1848 and the 31st state in the Union in 1850. After the American Civil War, settlers came to the area, buying land from the Mexicans, or simply as squatters. Vast holdings were later acquired by Easterners, including railroad magnate Thomas A. Scott. He was impressed by one of the young employees, Thomas R. Bard, who had been in charge of train supplies to Union troops, and Bard was sent west to handle Scott’s property. Not easily accessible, Ventura was not a target of immigrants, and remained quiet and rural. For most of the century following the incorporation of Ventura in 1866, it remained isolated from the rest of the state.
Ventura had a flourishing Chinese settlement in the early 1880s. The largest concentration of activity, known as China Alley, was just across Main Street from the Mission San Buenaventura. China Alley was parallel with Main Street and extended easterly off Figueroa Street between Main and Santa Clara streets. The city council has designated the China Alley Historic Area a Point of Interest in the downtown business district.
Ventura Pier was built in 1872 at a cost of $45,000 and was the longest wooden Pier in California. In 1914 a ship severed the pier. It was rebuilt to a length of 1,700 feet (520 m) by 1917. An active wharf for 64 years, it was reinforced with steel pilings after 420 feet (130 m) of the pier was destroyed by a storm in 1995.
The Union Oil Company was organized with Bard as president in 1890, and had offices in Santa Paula. The large Ventura Oil Field was first drilled in 1919 and at its peak produced 90,000 barrels per day (14,000 m3/d). The development of the oil fields in the 1920s, along with the building of better roads to Los Angeles and the affordability of automobiles, enabled a major real estate boom. Contemporary downtown Ventura is defined by extant buildings from this period. In this bustling oil boom town Ventura Theatre opened in 1928. During this decade, many other buildings were constructed: the Hobson Brothers Meat Packing Company (1923), the First National Bank of Ventura (1926) (commonly called the Erle Stanley Gardner Building), the Ventura Hotel (1926), the First Baptist Church of Ventura (1926), the Elks Lodge – B. P. 0. E. #1430 (1928), the Mission Theater (1928), the Hotel Washington (1928), the Swift & Company Building (1928), and the Masonic Temple (1929).
Located between the Ventura River and the Santa Clara River, the soil is so fertile that town boosters claimed that citrus grew better here than anywhere else in the state. The citrus farmers joined Sunkist Growers, Incorporated, the world’s largest organization of citrus producers. On March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, 54 mi (87 km) inland, failed catastrophically, creating a flood that took over 600 lives as it flowed down the Santa Clara River to the ocean. The flood reached Montalvo (a settlement that is now a neighborhood of Ventura) about 5:30 a.m., almost two miles (3 km) wide and traveling at a speed of 5 mph (8.0 km/h) per hour. Ventura has a Mediterranean climate, typical of most coastal California cities, with the sea breeze off the Pacific Ocean moderating temperatures. It is not uncommon for the city to be affected by Santa Ana winds off the Transverse Ranges on occasion, which increase temperatures dramatically.