It squats under the shady oaks of Ojai's Libbey Park, a windowless concrete bunker with 8-inch-thick walls and a formidable steel door.
The old city jail, a beige box built in the 1920s, may lack the architectural grace of the town's Mission-style arcade or the stately beauty of the post office tower.
But members of the Ojai Historic Preservation Commission say the tiny lockup matches those structures in historic value, and they want it preserved as a city landmark.
In a report that will go to the City Council this summer, preservationists say the jail has a colorful history and represents how Ojai dealt with crime in an earlier era.
"It is somewhat unique," said commission Chairman Terry Hill, a longtime Ojai resident.
From the time it opened in the 1920s to its closure in the early 1970s, four-cell jail served as the town's sole detention facility. It housed about 650 small-time offenders over those years, without a single escape.
By day, inmates worked on maintenance projects in the park or around town. At night, they were locked two-to-a-cell, sleeping on bunks that dangled from ceiling chains.
Over the years, inmates scrawled graffiti on the concrete walls, and much of their writing remains there today, including lyrics from Bob Dylan songs and a musing that "LSD is here to stay."
After the 1970s, the old jail, which measures 23 feet across and 15 feet wide, was occasionally used when newer police facilities in town were full. Now, most people who are arrested are taken to Ventura County's main jail in Ventura.
The push to preserve the old jail began years ago when a landscape architect hired by the city described the building as "atrocious" and recommended knocking it down.
Commissioner Betty McAllister was horrified.
"I just felt it was part of our history," she said recently.
The drive is not without precedent. Across California, historians have moved to preserve law-and-order landmarks as reminders of efforts to tame the lawlessness that went hand-in-hand with westward expansion.
In Placerville, a stump marks the site of Hangman's Tree, where Gold Rush vigilantes hung men suspected of jumping claims in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
A rush of quicksilver mining operations in Lake County, just north of Napa, prompted townsfolk there to erect the Lower Lake Stone Jail in 1876. Also a state historic landmark, the jail is said to be the smallest in the nation.
And then, of course, there is Alcatraz, the former maximum-security federal prison built on a rocky island in San Francisco Bay. It housed some of the nation's most notorious inmates.
The prisoners held in Ojai's little jail were far from infamous.
McAllister writes in the draft report that in the early 1920s, most inmates were "fighters, drunks or horse thieves."
The concrete jail replaced a wood jail built in 1873 by Constable Andrew Vancuren. According to historians, the townspeople replaced Vancuren--and he refused to let them have the jail. The original wood jail was moved and now stands behind Cold Springs Tavern in Santa Barbara County, Hill said.
"That one got away from Ojai before we really had a focus on what historic buildings really mean to us," Hill said.
Preservationists aren't about to let that happen again.
In recent years, volunteers have renovated the city jail's interior, carefully preserving the graffiti, wash basins and toilets. They also have repainted the outside walls and erected an informational kiosk and metal benches.
The steel door was recently welded shut to prevent vandalism--though preservationists hope to open the jail during special events in the future.