A look back
Channel Islands Harbor turns 50
by Lyn Krieger
The official opening of Channel Islands Harbor occurred in 1965. What started as a sand collection point to solve erosion problems to the south became a harbor hosting thousands of boaters, residents and visitors.
In 1939 the Port of Hueneme in western Ventura County opened with a great celebration, offering opportunities for trade and jobs. What was not known at the time was that the northern jetty at the port redirected the sand that flowed naturally along the coast into a submarine canyon. With this sand no longer replenishing the beaches south of Port Hueneme, erosion occurred quickly. The city of Port Hueneme and the adjacent naval base experienced flooding and even loss of structures. By this time the federal government had taken over the port as part of the World War II Pacific front. In order to address the erosion issue, Congress requested a study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the goal of identifying a solution.
Group watching the start of construction on the penninsula
including Harbor Director Tim Volk at left,
former California Governer Earl Warren, center
and developer Martin V. Smith at right.
Photo taken from the book "Shifting Sands.
The Early Years of Channel Islands Harbor 1960-1965"
The report from the Chief of Engineers recommended a sand trap be located at what is now the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor. The development of the breakwater and jetty structure required to build the sand trap created a perfect opportunity for a harbor along this section of the coast. A deal was struck between the county and two longtime landowners, the McGrath and Bard families, for a combination donation and purchase of land where the harbor now sits. The federal government built the entrance structure for the sand trap beginning in 1959, while the county funded the construction of the initial harbor area. From that point forward, every two years the Army Corps of Engineers moved sand from the sand trap at the southern end of Hollywood Beach to Hueneme Beach. The sand then began its natural progression south, enriching the navy base, Ormond Beach and Mugu Naval Air Station.
In order to accomplish the scale of construction work required, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a public/private partnership structure to fund harbor development. Although owned and operated by the County of Ventura, the majority of the harbor is operated by businesses that have been granted long-term ground leases by the Board of Supervisors. Development in the harbor, such as hotels, restaurants, shops, etc., is done by investors, not the County of Ventura. The investors fund improvements, operate the businesses and pay rent to the county. As a result of this unique system, the Harbor Department is a self-sufficient entity, using the rents received to fund public amenities in the harbor and does not receive any property or sales tax revenue.
After initial buildout in the ’60s, harbor development moved forward in phases, with construction of the peninsula and the west side from Marine Emporium Landing to Harbor Landing through the ’70s. Harbor development continued with the first phase of Fisherman’s Wharf, opening on the east side in the late ’70s and additional phases of construction followed through the early ’90s.
Around 2005, 40 years after initial construction, major renovation began on the first projects constructed — starting with a complete rebuild of Channel Islands Harbor Marina, which was the first marina in service in 1963.
Rebuilding and redevelopment over the last 10 years has included Anacapa Isle Marina clubhouse, complete refurbishment of the former Casa Sirena summer annex building into a new waterfront Hampton Inn, renovation of the Paz Mar apartments in 2005 and again in 2015, replacement and expansion at Marine Emporium Landing, the addition of Toppers Pizza in a long-vacant building, relocation of the Maritime Museum to a fully remodeled facility, replacement of Channel Islands Landing boatyard and docks along with a new public promenade, the new Channel Islands Boating Center, and complete replacement of the public boat launch facility. Redevelopment to improve public facilities and services will continue.
Today, the harbor area encompasses 310 acres of land and water, with approximately 2,200 boat slips, as well as 10 boat marinas, three yacht clubs, restaurants, sport fishing facilities, boat yards, fuel dock, shops, yacht sales, marine supply, law enforcement (harbor patrol), harbor administration, a U.S. Coast Guard facility, search and rescue and a boating center operated by Cal State Channel Islands University.
The Marine Emporium Landing as it stands today.
1939 – Port Hueneme constructed
1945 – Army Corps of Engineers works on plan to control coastal erosion
1953 – Congress approves coastal sand trap north of Port Hueneme to mitigate erosion
1953 – Ventura County Board of Supervisors approves public/private partnership structure to fund harbor development
1959 – Outer breakwater and entrance jetties are constructed by Army Corps of Engineers to create sand trap
1960 – Dredging begins to create harbor entrance
1963 – First slips open at CI Marina and CI Landing
1963 – Annexation Agreement with City of Oxnard regarding infrastructure
1965 – Harbor grand opening: 500 boat slips, Channel Islands Yacht Club, chandlery, launch ramp, small harbor patrol office
1966 – Harbor Department offices built (housing Patrol only)
1965 – Villa Sirena first phase constructed (Now Paz Mar Reserve)
1968-1970 – Channel Islands Yacht Club building constructed
1971 – Bahia Cabrillo Apartments (now Paz Mar Select)
1971 – Dredging of Phase III waterway
1972 – Construction of Casa Sirena Hotel Phase I and Lobster Trap restaurant
1973 – 74 Marine Emporium Landing constructed; chandlery relocates from Bluefin Circle
1974 – Anacapa Isle Marina
1975 – Anacapa Isle apartments/ later converted to condominiums in 2001
1974 – Whales Tail Restaurant ISSUE WITH THIS.
1975 – Boat launch ramp relocated and expanded
1977 – Casa Sirena Annex opens to accommodate seasonal demand
1977 – 1989 Harbor Landing shopping center construction
1978 – Fisherman’s Wharf shopping center opens
1979 – Port Royal Restaurant opens
1983 – Restaurant at Peninsula Road and Porpoise Way: Hilltop Restaurant, Harbor Lights, Golden Dolphin open
1984 – Vintage Marina constructed – opens 1985
1984 – Pacific Corinthian Marina and Yacht Club construction, open January 1985
1989 – Completion of construction of additional phases at Fisherman’s Wharf
1991 – Maritime Museum opens at Fisherman’s Wharf location
2001 – Conversion of Anacapa Isle Apartments to Waterfront Condominiums with complete reinvestment
2002 – Replacement Kiddie Beach Restroom
2006 – Anacapa Isle Marina Renovation
2006 – After complete remodel, Hampton Inn opens at former Casa Sirena Annex site
2006 – Renovation of Paz Mar Apartments
2007 – Reconstruction of Channel Islands Harbor Marina replaces docks originally built in 1964
2008 – New Marine Emporium Landing building replaces original construction lost to fire in 2004
2009 – Marine Emporium Landing adds new building to accommodate a day spa and restaurant/wine bar
2010 – After more than a decade of closure, restaurant at Porpoise Way is completely renovated and reopens as Toppers Pizza
2011 – Remodel of Harbor Department Maintenance facility
2013 – Maritime Museum relocates to expanded facility at former Port Royal restaurant
2013 – Channel Islands Boating Center opens
2013 – Channel Islands Landing & Catalina Yacht Anchorage Rebuilt, with new waterside public walkway
2014 – Reconstruction completed of boat launch facility
2015 – Second renovation of Paz Mar Apartments
the past, present and future
The future of Channel Islands Harbor lies at the sites of the former Lobster Trap, Casa Sirena Hotel and Fisherman’s Wharf
by Michael Sullivan
Carmen Guerrero was a teenager born to Mexican farmworkers living in Oxnard in the late 1960s when the Lobster Trap at Channel Islands Harbor started to gain traction in the community as the next big thing. Guerrero recalled when she would flip on the radio, there would be Englishman Victor Marzorati, the self-proclaimed “Prime Minister of the Peninsula,” referring to the center strip of land dividing the harbor, hyping up the latest additions to the harbor, the fine dining Lobster Trap and neighboring Casa Sirena Hotel. Maserati was the spokesman for Martin V. “Bud” Smith, Oxnard’s visionary responsible for developing much of Oxnard from the 1960s through the 1990s, from harbor hotels, restaurants and apartments to the high-rise towers and the Wagon Wheel Motel by the 101. (In fact, by 1995, he had over 200 properties between Santa Maria and Calabasas worth more than $150 million.)
“I loved his distinguished accent,” Guerrero said, recalling Marzorati on the radio as she delved in the memory bank of times long past. “I always wanted to go to the Lobster Trap but it was beyond my means. I used to think that only the wealthy could afford to dine there. I dreamed of the day I could afford it. I do remember the first I went to the Lobster Trap. It was in the late 1980s and I was in awe.”
After years of anticipation, when she finally did go, though she can’t remember what she ordered, she has held on to the memories of it being special and unique. And that’s the way it goes for many; though the memories aren’t exactly vivid, unique experiences such as listening to author Ray Bradbury at a college district conference at the hotel or going to brunch at the Lobster Trap with what was apparently Ventura County’s first big seafood spread, or being seated next to Bud Smith and Hans Weeren, captain of Smith’s boat, the Dry Martini.
The Fisherman’s Wharf on the corner of Channel Islands Boulevard and Victoria Avenue also used to draw decent crowd, with a fresh seafood market and restaurant, seashell and novelty stores, and the famous Castagnola’s restaurant — its whole design was kitschy but fun, akin to something you would see at Disneyland. Built in stages from the 1970s to the 1990s, the Fisherman’s Wharf, however, never gained as much popularity as the Lobster Trap and when the anchor tenant, Castagnola’s Restaurant, failed, so did just about everything else with the exception of Spudnuts and a few other businesses.
Great blue herons guard over the old Lobster Trap and Casa Sirena, which look reminiscent of what the scene might look like at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl after nuclear disasters. The herons’ cackles and calls fill the eerily quiet air while this deserted urban jungle tells stories of better times. The empty pool and adjacent pool house conjure up images of kids in inflatables with moms in relatively modest bathing suits while dads fetch fruity drinks with little umbrellas. Dim lights in dirty casings still light the once-glamorous overhang where valets would earn cash to park cars and deliver luggage to rooms. In a conference room, ceiling tiles lie broken on the floor with chairs and mini-fridges scattered about.
Over at the Lobster Trap, closure was apparently made post-haste. A full bottle of Tabasco with its contents now separated sits on a linen covered table next to fallen salt and pepper shakers. Linens and napkins are thrown haphazardly on tables. Seat cushions are worn and dirty. At the server station, cups and glasses remain in their trays from the dishwasher. In a meeting room, the words “Beers and Titties” are written in large letters in blue market with chairs askew.
At the Fisherman’s Wharf, a few tenants are making it work. There are Missy’s Cupcakes and a private investigator. Spudnuts remains tried and true. The Elite Theatre Company has taken up the space where the Channel Islands Maritime Museum was born and operated in for years. (The museum is now located operates across the harbor in the former Port Royal space at 3900 Bluefin Circle.) The Channel Islands Psychic has made it her home away from home, plus a gallery or two. But the Fisherman’s Wharf is quite an oddity, with some life stirring about surrounded by shells of buildings. Inside many of the abandoned buildings, it’s as if an immediate exodus happened, with half drunk sodas left on window sills and postcards still sitting on their racks. It looks like whoever had once been there had washed their hands of whatever they were attempting to do and ran.
Lyn Krieger has watched over the Channel Islands as its director for the last 20 years. She has seen the Marine Emporium vibrant, burned down, completely gone and then built back up and running again — it’s now at full occupancy. She has overseen the move of the Channel Islands Maritime museum. She was there when the Lobster Trap and Casa Sirena Hotel closed in 2010 but was also there when the Casa Sirena annex, which was built for summer overflow, was sold to an investor group, rebuilt and then reopened as a Hampton Inn in 2007. She has seen many development cycles in the Channel Islands Harbor and with the economy finally viable, she says, the future of the harbor is at Casa Sirena, Lobster Trap and Fisherman’s Wharf.
While the hotel and restaurant have been sold and resold over the last decade or so, Kreiger said the latest investor group, Brighton Management, which also owns the nearby Hampton Inn, plans to tear down the structures and replace them with another hotel of approximately the same number of rooms, 200, but to go up one level. Also, she emphasized a need for a walkway around the property close to the waterfront, which it has not had.
“The investor group approached the county to look at the replacement of the hotel and will be coming forward to the board with a completed lease in July,” Krieger said, noting that the county owns the land. “We were hoping it would be [this month], but if it turns out it is July, we will be doing public outreach then.”
Krieger said that it could be about a year to get approvals from the county as well as the Coastal Commission to start construction. The Fisherman’s Wharf project is a bit more complicated as the plan is to change zoning from retail to mixed use with residential units. The idea, the need to have housing instead of just retail, is that the residents would essentially support the retail. Both projects are still in conceptual phases, but the wharf project is about six months, if not longer, behind the hotel. Because of the complexity of the wharf project, Krieger could not give any firm dates for progress and neither project had renderings.
Krieger said that those were the only two major developments underway at the harbor, with the exception of a new building for administration.