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Oral History Project Features Tales of Conejo Valley Pioneers
Oral History Project Features Tales of Conejo Valley Pioneers

Roy Hoover takes it slow, crossing from Thousand Oaks into Hidden Valley in his big old pickup truck. He has a lot to remember about the place, having first arrived there in 1936 as the new foreman of W.T. Kester's cattle ranch.

"My son was born right here," Hoover said, pointing out a tiny white house in the shadow of one of the newer mansions in the wide green valley.

Just across the sweep of rich meadow was the landing strip Hoover used to swoop down on in the 1940s when he became foreman--and part-time pilot--at the John McMahon ranch.

And along Potrero Road, not far from the homes of movie stars such as Sophia Loren and Robert Wagner, is the spot where he and his wife, Marie, bumped into movie actor Richard Widmark.

"Here comes this little pickup down the road," Marie Hoover said. "And it stops. I said to him, 'Get out and see who it is. Maybe it's a movie star.' So he gets out and they shake hands and the fellow said 'I'm Richard Widmark.' I just like to died."

Now the Hoovers live in Newbury Park, but Roy still makes a daily trip through Hidden Valley, usually on his motor scooter. He doesn't make too many stops to chat--people have got work to do, he says--but he keeps an eye on new homes being built and who might be moving into his much-loved valley. Of the original Hidden Valley pioneers, he said, he is the only one still living.

"Everybody is gone," Hoover said. "I'm the only one. I'm the only first-timer left."

Along with the tales told by other pioneers, Hoover's unique perspective is part of an ongoing oral history project of the area being sponsored by the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation.

Project coordinator Tina Carlson, a member by marriage of one of the area's oldest families, hopes to compile up to 30 interviews with early residents of the Conejo Valley. The interviews will eventually be available in transcript form and possibly on videotape at the Thousand Oaks library.

"We want to record things that aren't a matter of record," Carlson said.

The goal of the project is to conjure up a time when Thousand Oaks looked not at all as it looks today, when elephants from Jungleland wandered across what is now Thousand Oaks Boulevard, when there was one telephone in town and when people ordered their clothing from a Sears catalogue instead of J. Crew.

The people Carlson is talking to are former ranch hands, business owners, farmers and entrepreneurs. Through their voices, she wants to tell the story of what day-to-day life was like, long before housing developments began to spring up in the valley.

"These are just down-to-earth, practical, hard-working people," Carlson said. "They were the pioneers."

Carlson said the common thread running through all the interviews she has done to date is love of the physical beauty of the area.

"Almost everyone says they chose Thousand Oaks because of the beauty," Carlson said. "They loved the oak trees and they loved the weather."

The first time Cecilia Hodencamp and her husband came to Thousand Oaks, they were taking a day trip from Los Angeles. It was 1943. They drove through the San Fernando Valley, territory they had covered before.

But before that day they had never ventured beyond Agoura; gas rationing during World War II had limited how far they could drive. On that day, they had enough fuel to keep going.

 

"There was a sign," Hodencamp said. "Thousand Oaks, population 1,600. The country was so free, that we kind of stopped and looked around and bought a piece of property that moment."

Hodencamp, like some of the other participants, has a city landmark--Hodencamp Road--named for her family. But as she explained it to Carlson, it was more a result of growing up with the town than a tribute.

After they had been here a few years, she and her husband bought a second property, a one-room cabin. They went to City Hall in Ventura to ask to have electricity run into the cabin, which was on an unnamed road.

"So the officials or whoever was at City Hall said, 'We're going to name that Hodencamp Road,' " she told Carlson. "I didn't know for sure. I didn't say anything. I thought they were probably kidding me. Sure enough, it was on the map, the first thing we noticed."

That casual attitude at City Hall extended to developments as well. After Hoover left ranching he went into construction, building homes all over Thousand Oaks.

"We used to have to go to Ventura to get permits for the grading," he said. "I remember going down there and trying to lay out a plan for what we were going to do, and the guy said, 'Well, you know more about it than we do, so just go ahead and do it like you want to do it.' "

For Tina Carlson, the job of coordinating the project has been made somewhat easier by the fact that her father-in-law, Fred Carlson, 75, knows most of the pioneers who are still living. Carlson opened his building materials store on Thousand Oaks Boulevard in 1946. By selling sand, gravel, blocks and steel, he bumped into just about everybody in the town.

 

Conejo Valley

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