The restoration and strengthening of the celebrated arcade that dominates downtown Ojai is nearly complete after five years of contention and five months of work. The party begins today.
The festivities start with a ribbon-cutting at 9:30 a.m., followed by three days of receptions, sales at downtown stores and visits from such varied figures as resurrected town benefactor Edward Drummond Libbey and Mr. Jelly Belly, a promoter of Ronald Reagan's favorite candy.
"Everyone is very relieved that it's done," said Alan Rains, owner of Rains' department store and grandson of one of the Hickey brothers, who founded the store 75 years ago. "It looks great cosmetically. But more importantly, it's structurally sound."
The arches of the two-block, Spanish-style arcade became a liability to the city and its merchants after a 1985 study by engineer John Nelson found that its hollow tile arches could not withstand an earthquake. Nelson found that the 13 buildings connected to the arcade also needed to be upgraded and reinforced.
A series of 30 public hearings ensued, with public and private squabbles over whether the work should be done at all and who would foot the $1.6-million bill.
"You have to consider that the people of Ojai almost define the community by the arcade," City Manager Andrew Belknap said.
Belknap helped settle the dispute when he put together a plan that called for the city and downtown property owners to share costs. The arrangement was approved last January.
The city's Redevelopment Agency paid $1 million and downtown property owners paid the remaining $600,000 through a benefit assessment district that the city formed.
"We expect that to trickle down to the merchants," said Joanne Caldwell, owner of Ojai Ice Cream. But for now, she was glad to have clean sidewalks again and the scaffolding down from the front of the building. Her business, like most others, was disrupted during construction.
"I'm just glad it's over with," she said. "The safety factor was the biggest thing. The merchants and people at large feel better now."
Mr. Jelly Belly, promoting jelly beans, will greet the public at the ice cream store on Saturday, Caldwell said.
Ojai actor Henry Reisner will portray Edward Libbey, who helped establish the arcade, the historic post office tower and Libbey Park. Reisner, as Libbey, will preside over festivities at Rains,' acting as host and answering questions about the city's history.
Other activities include a Friday night champagne reception at Ojai Table of Contents, a downtown bookstore on Ojai Avenue. Merchants will give away glasses etched with a drawing of the arcade to shoppers who hold coupons from local newspapers.