You might say that the modern history of Ventura County began 150 years ago with the founding of the City of San Buenaventura.
In April of 1866, Ventura was an emerging commercial center built around the mission. Cattle ranching was the biggest industry and the discovery of the prolific Ventura Avenue oil field was still 50 years in the future. City Council minutes were kept in Spanish.
For the first seven years, Ventura was part of Santa Barbara County. Getting to the county seat was an adventure. It meant fording the Ventura River when stream flows were low enough to allow stagecoaches to pass, or winding up and down through Casitas Pass. That’s a major trek to file a lien or a lawsuit.
In 1873, a group of Ventura lawyers and entrepreneurs pressed the California legislature to carve Ventura County out of Santa Barbara County, with the city of Ventura as the county seat. The rest, as they say, is history.
One of the people to recognize the importance of Ventura’s 150th anniversary is former Mayor Cheryl Heitmann, who worked with city staff to set in motion a series of commemorations.
Although her term as mayor ended on Dec. 31, Heitmann remains on the council and is coordinating festivities that will culminate in a citywide picnic and concert on April 2. The 150th program will kick off the evening of April 1 at the Museum of Ventura County.
The Pacific Coast Business Times is working with the city to publish a 150th anniversary magazine as part of our Legacy Publishing Division. It is being produced as a public-private venture funded by advertising. I’m proud of the fact that both graphic designer Cory Pironti and lead writer Tony Biasotti live in Ventura.
One of the really cool ways that Heitmann is engaging other Ventura residents is via a web site called www.venturakindness.com. She’s asking individuals and groups to post one million acts of kindness during the year. “We wanted the program to be community focused,” said Heitmann during a phone interview.
When I asked Heitmann to name something that surprised her as she was working on the 150th anniversary, she said she was impressed to learn just how much manufacturing and production takes place in the city. “There is a lot of industrial activity that happens without attracting a lot of notice,” she said.
Some of the city’s expertise in manufacturing traces its roots to the discovery of oil in the early 1900s, something that Heitmann said was “truly a game changer.”
The Ventura field, now operated by Aera Energy, remains one of the most productive in the history of California. But innovation in agriculture, high tech and other fields just seems to be part of the entrepreneurial DNA of the Central Coast.
Today’s economy increasingly blends technology, tourism, media, our surf culture and creative arts, so it’s possible that this year’s celebration marks the transition to a post-modern Ventura.
“If I had one wish it would be to continue economic development in a sustainable way,” she said. That means creating jobs and housing that sustain families and the community.
Even as the 150th year gets under way, Heitmann has been planting the seeds for Ventura’s 200th anniversary. Partly that involves creating videos and using our 150th anniversary publication to record the stories of people who still remember the pioneers who created the modern Ventura in the late 1880s.
But she’s also talking to families with roots in the area about recruiting a group of 5-year-olds who can take the idea of the city’s 200th anniversary under their wing and produce something really special when they are 55. Now that’s thinking ahead.
You can learn more about the Business Times 150th anniversary edition by contacting Publisher Linda le Brock at [email protected] It will be published as a special section in the Business Times on April 1.
You can learn more about all of the events for the city’s 150th celebration at www.visitventuraca.com/ventura150.
• Reach Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]