It’s quiet these days at the old Teatro theater at 620 South Oxnard Boulevard, in the heart of Oxnard’s old business district. But close your eyes, and imagine…
The excitement of 90 years ago — March 21, 1929 — when Ventura County’s first “talkie” theater, the art-deco Boulevard Theater, opened with My Man starring Fannie Brice, with an admission price of 35 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.
Or decades later, when the Boulevard — known by now as the Teatro — became a music studio where albums were recorded or mixed by the likes of Willie Nelson (Teatro), Bob Dylan (Time Out of Mind), Neil Young (The Monsanto Years) and U2 (All That You Can’t Leave Behind).
Maybe you can remember the long-gone Colonial House. In the 1940s and ’50s, it was Oxnard’s premier dining spot, whose patrons included Mugu Game Preserve Duck Club members Clark Gable, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Bing Crosby, plus Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.
And we haven’t even mentioned Hollywood Beach, whose desert-resembling sand dunes were the site of dozens of films in the early 1900s, and became world famous via The Sheik, which by 1922 had become the biggest grossing picture in Hollywood history.
These stories and many more that detail the evolution of Ventura County’s largest city are addressed in A History of Oxnard, a new coffee-table book by local historian and Oxnard resident Jeffrey Wayne Maulhardt, the author of 14 previous books on various aspects of Ventura County history.
A fifth-generation descendant of two of the city’s founding families (Maulhardt and Borchard) who taught history for 30 years in local public schools, Maulhardt was delighted to participate in this project when he was approached two years ago by publisher HPN Books of San Antonio.
“I love doing this kind of work,” he says. “It taps into my passion for history, and for educating the public about our community.”
Already owning (or with access to) enough historic material and photos to rival a library, Maulhardt uncovered “newer, updated information to augment what I already knew” for this “broader scope of work.”
“So I researched more deeply, including places like Hollywood Beach and El Rio (once known as New Jerusalem). Many people, I think, know about Hollywood Beach as a location for movies, but a lot of earlier movie production took place there that many people probably don’t know.”
Such as Cleopatra, starring Theda Bara (1917), and Bound in Morocco (1918), made at the sand dunes of the Leon Lehmann Ranch, with 150 actors and 10 train cars full of special equipment brought from down south. A few years later, The Sheik, featuring Hollywood’s No. 1 star, Rudolph Valentino, cemented Oxnard’s place as prime movie-making territory.
But filming also generated interest from land developers, with 500 lots put up for sale at $200 each.
“That was the Hollywood Beach subdivision,” says Maulhardt. “And once the area began developing beach-side housing, that eliminated a lot of the sand dunes that were so iconic for use in the films’ desert scenes, and a lot of film production here was eliminated.”
Besides Maulhardt’s historical account, featuring dozens of historic photographs, A History of Oxnard also offers a collection of essays by 34 local “sponsors” who each paid a fee to the publisher. Sponsors, all with long-established ties to the community, include the Laubacher, Lopez, McGrath, Maulhardt, Naumann and Valles families, plus numerous businesses and organizations.
Such sponsorship, says Maulhardt, will enable all proceeds from sales of the limited-edition book ($49.95 each, with 400 copies for sale) to fund ongoing restorative work at the Oxnard Historic Farm Park, once partly owned by Maulhardt’s great-great granduncle, Gottfried Maulhardt.
“Having sponsors participate allows more complete stories to be told,” says Maulhardt.
He also selected images featured on the book cover, designed by local artist Lisa Kelly, whose murals are in the Pleasant Valley Historical Museum, the Avenue Center in Ventura and Yolanda’s restaurants (among other places).
“Hopefully,” he continues, “this new book will help develop the community’s interest in local history, and in the Farm Park. I do see more appreciation for history and our past, based on what some of my former students tell me, and visitors to the Farm Park say it connects them to their homesteads that they or their ancestors had back East or the Midwest. This book, I hope, builds an even stronger connection to our roots.”
For more information on A History of Oxnard, call the Oxnard Historic Farm Park Foundation at 805-844-9877 or visit www.oxnardfarmpark.org.