Magazine article Sunset

The Town That Citrus and Oil Built

Magazine article Sunset

The Town That Citrus and Oil Built

Article excerpt

Santa Paula is a classic example of small-town Southern California

Lots of towns do quaint, but Santa Paula comes by its charm honestly. Maybe that's because it stands so alone, far removed from the sprawl that has consumed similar small towns. To reach it, you must drive through miles of orange and lemon groves, past hills dotted with bobbing oil wells. Its feeling of relative isolation is surprising considering it's only 65 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

In town, Queen Anne and Victorian homes line the streets of old neighborhoods, with a few Craftsman-era and Spanish-influenced houses mixed in. Downtown has a Main Street, in name and spirit, a freeze-frame of century-old commercial architecture, housing mostly businesses that cater to Santa Paulans rather than tourists. Walk around, and you get the unmistakable sense that this is classic small-town Southern California, built upon a bedrock of citrus and oil, with quiet ways and a perfect ocean-cooled climate.


Visit Santa Paula for the day, or stay the night at one of its historic inns. For maps and guides to town, stop in weekdays at The Depot (10th and Santa Barbara streets), an 1886 Southern Pacific building that's also the home of the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce. For more information, call (805) 525-5561.

One of Santa Paula's best-known attractions is the Santa Paula Union Oil Museum (10th and Main streets), itself the site where Union Oil was founded in 1890. At the museum, you'll learn how Santa Paula boomed in the late 1800s with the railroad's arrival in 1887, and about the growth of the oil industry and farmers' discovery that citrus would thrive in Santa Paula's climate. Pick up a copy of Neighborhoods and Neighbors of the Past ($4) at the museum's store. This architectural guide, created by the Santa Paula Historical Society, focuses on historic residential areas, including the stretch of Santa Paula Street between Mill and Seventh streets. The museum is open from 10 to 4 Thursdays through Sundays; admission is free. For more information, call 933-0076.

Main Street has many other historic buildings from the late 1800s, though the 1906 Petrolea Fire destroyed about half of downtown. After the fire, the city passed an ordinance that banned wood in favor of brick, steel, and stone (much of it local Sespe brownstone). These materials give downtown Santa Paula its special feel. A walk here reveals a street that has been spared the ravages of careless redevelopment typical of many small towns. …

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