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Oxnard Plans Yearlong Party to Mark the City's Centennial

Birthday: Weekend events, including unveiling of a restored landmark, will kick off the activities.

June 28, 2002|SUZIE ST. JOHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As Oxnard heads into its 100th year, city officials Saturday will mark the milestone with a birthday bash filled with music, comedy, history lessons and, of course, a very large cake.

Beginning with this weekend's celebration at Plaza Park, Oxnard will host a year of events commemorating its June 30, 1903, incorporation. A special event will be held each month in honor of the birthday. Activities will include sporting events, a black-tie dinner in the spring and a parade next summer.

Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez said Saturday's free centennial event--from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at C and 5th streets--will allow the community to come together and celebrate the city's rich history.

Comedian George Lopez, star of a self-titled ABC sitcom, will give a sample of his stand-up act beginning at noon. Also scheduled are performances by several local music groups, along with children's activities, a Wall of History display and a 5-foot-tall birthday cake large enough to feed 1,000 people.

"One hundred years ago most of the rest of the cities in the county weren't established, so people came to Oxnard for many of their needs," said the city's community affairs manager, Jeanette Villanueva-Walker, chairwoman of the event. The city "really has a fascinating history and hopefully people will learn more about it."

The Wall of History, 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide, features a montage of photos that cover the city's history decade by decade. The display includes vintage photos of a sugar beet factory built by Oxnard brothers in the late 1800s; the town as it was being built, including such early businesses as the Bank of A. Levy and Poggi's Drug Store; and the commercial and yacht harbor built by the Oxnard Harbor District after its formation in 1938.

The community's history dates from the 1500s when it was inhabited by Chumash Indians. Drawn to the warm climate and fertile soil, early European settlers developed the coastal plain in the mid-1500s into a major farming area with lima beans as a primary crop.

That changed when Henry T. Oxnard introduced sugar beets to local farmers in 1897 and two years later built a factory to process them. A town of new workers soon sprang up. From there, churches, stores and banks were built, and the Oxnard Union High School District was formed in 1902. Today, Oxnard is Ventura County's largest city with about 180,000 residents.

Musical acts scheduled Saturday include local band Persuasion, which will offer oldies and contemporary tunes, the Sal Cracchiolo and Melanie Jackson Sextet playing Latin jazz, and a performance by the Oxnard High School band. There also will be an 11:30 a.m. concert by Darin Spencer, who performs songs for children.

Other activities include a kids' corner with arts and crafts, storytelling and historical skits performed by youngsters.

The event will also mark the unveiling of the park's refurbished pagoda, a historical landmark built in 1910. The Asian-themed structure was designed by Alfred J. Preist, a Los Angeles-based architect, and in 1971 declared the county's Historical Landmark No. 17. It was originally built as a decorative structure around a tank used for storing water for the park's trees, shrubs, flowers and grass. It was designed as a bandstand.

"To me, the pagoda is an icon of the community, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Empire State Building in New York," said longtime Oxnard resident Gary Blum, manager of the city's historical Heritage Square. Blum will emcee Saturday's event.

For the past six months crews have restored the structure with a new roof, electrical repairs, seismic upgrades and new paint. Most of the work will be completed by Saturday, with only the custom roof requiring a few more weeks of work, Blum said.

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