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MRS. OWEN'S NEIGHBORHOOD : Each House Tells a Tale

November 01, 1990|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS

The oil business was booming. The value of real estate was soaring. And Carl Simpson, who had inherited a chunk of farmland just north of Ventura Avenue, decided in 1925 to make the most of those circumstances.

He sold off the land to businessman Joseph M. Argabrite, and in the next five years about 211 houses rose on the Simpson Tract, a ready-made neighborhood for the hundreds of blue-collar oil workers new to Ventura. The houses were built in Mediterranean Revival and California Bungalow styles--six blocks of stucco, wooden window trim, arched entrances and tiled roofs. They reflected, a city analyst later wrote, "both the economy and the architecture of that era."

Now, 65 years later, the oil tide has receded and the demographics have diversified. But 182 of those Simpson Tract homes remain, protected by a city ruling that they make up a historic district. Mabel Owen, who campaigned for that ruling last March, has seen her home on Simpson Street designated Ventura Historic Landmark No. 76.

With the economy in flux and plans up in the air for a state university, the Simpson Tract's future is unclear. All around Mabel Owen's neighborhood, meanwhile, another generation takes its place.

* On West Center Street, 11-year-old Lynette Rangel, above right, keeps an eye on her 13-month-old niece Breanna Valdivia.

* On West Simpson Street, a '50s car complements a house that is typical of the tract.

* William E. Taylor, left, 75, came to the avenue in 1941. "I was working for Continental Oil," he says, "running a bulldozer, building rig sites."

* Taylor and his wife, Joyce, share their porch with Rudy Freeman, 76. One way or another, the oil business brought all three to the neighborhood. "I've been on the avenue since 1955. My ex-husband was a welder on the oil fields," says Joyce Taylor, 55. Today, she says, "this is the cheapest rent you're going to find" and crime "is not that bad."

* Teofela Cortez, bottom left, a committed gardener, works in her yard on West Center Street.

* Diana Berber, below, who is 1 year old, is one of the younger residents of West Simpson Street.

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