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Park View: Preserving Local History in the Conejo

Nearly 150 years ago, in 1874, the Grand Union Hotel — which later became known as the Stage Coach Inn — was built by James Hammel as a rest stop for stagecoach passengers. What started as the first business in the Conejo Valley is now known as the Stagecoach Inn Museum. The Conejo Recreation and Park District (CRPD) acquired the site in 1968 and the adjacent neighborhood park in 1985. CRPD partners with the Conejo Valley Historical Society to maintain and operate this facility, which is a California Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

That’s far from the only historically interesting place in the Conejo Valley.

In 1995, CRPD acquired the 280-acre McCrea property after the owners first donated 73 acres of open space to the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency in 1981. In the early 1930s, Joel McCrea and Frances Dee built their home on the site, now known as the McCrea Ranch. CRPD later built an interpretive center on the site, which shares information about the McCrea family and facts about the ranching history of the property. The McCrea Ranch Foundation, along with CRPD, helps to support and manage the facility. All of the buildings on the Ranch have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Crowley House most recently served as CRPD’s Therapeutic Unit and Independent Life Skills office. At one time, it was the home of Frank and Mae Casey Crowley; however, it has also been used as a real estate office, a convalescent home, and the home of the late Louis and Kathleen Goebel. Built in 1910 on the Newbury Ranch, the building and site were acquired by CRPD in 1986 and were designated a Ventura County Historical Landmark the same year. The adjacent park, El Parque de la Paz, was completed in 1989.

For centuries prior to these historical buildings beginning their legacies, the Chumash Indian community had already established the Conejo Valley as their home. During the planning of the Lang Ranch Development in the 1980s, significant Chumash cultural sites were discovered and eventually set aside as Oakbrook Regional Park. Part of the arrangement with the County of Ventura was the construction of the Native American Interpretive Center, which first opened in 1994. In 2002, the park was transferred to CRPD. The Oakbrook Park Chumash Indian Corporation manages and operates the Museum and Center in cooperation with CRPD.

Our local history continues to be a favored topic for residents of the Conejo Valley. In daily conversations around town, you can often overhear folks proudly stating how long they have lived in the area. With our rich heritage and beautiful community, we all should be just as proud of our invaluable resources! Just this month, Nellie Cusworth and Bill Ackerman gave a presentation at the Goebel Adult Center entitled “How Thousand Oaks Grew Up!” They covered a wide range of interesting historical topics.

While these historical buildings might be old, they are not inactive! Each facility has a multitude of activities available to the community throughout the year. In August, the Conejo Valley Historical Society held its Grand Union Hotel Fiesta (previously known as the Fiesta del Triunfo) at the Stagecoach Inn Museum, recognizing the Don and Doña volunteers of the year; this is one of many annual events held at this site. Old-time movies featuring Joel McCrea, Frances Dee and their contemporaries are shown once each month at the McCrea Ranch during the summer. Although the Crowley House is temporarily closed for repairs, visitors are still welcome to visit El Parque de la Paz Park, which borders the property. School tours are a regular activity for students at the Chumash Indian Museum, and guests are invited to explore the grounds and tour the interpretive center during regular hours of operation.

Participate in CRPD programming, contact the facilities directly, or stop by while you are out, but make time to learn about our local history. Our community has been enriched by these amenities, maintained by CRPD staff and other joint partnerships to ensure the Conejo Valley’s heritage is preserved and enjoyed.

Doug Nickles is a director/board member for the Conejo Recreation and Park District, the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency, and the California Association of Recreation and Park Districts. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the district, agency or the respective boards.


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