January 12, 2009

La Conchita

I have made the journey from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara dozens of times, but I've only recently started noticing a little town near Mussel Shoals named La Conchita. It's teeny tiny, and easy to zip by without noticing, but if you do happen to take a moment as you pass it, you'll find all the makings of a charming seaside village: handpainted signs for fresh produce and seafood (yesterday's offerings included avocados and lobsters), brightly colored but peeling paint on every house, and surfboards propped against old jeeps.I finally remembered to Wik up this little town today, and found a goldmine of California history (that made me miss 4th grade state history with Mrs. Leonard). Turns out that La Conchita is (unfortunately) best know for being the victim of two devastating mudslides in 1995 & 2005. Despite deaths, injuries, thousands of dollars of damage, a visit from Governor Arnold Schwarnzenegger, and the always impending threat of more mudslides, the town's devoted residents-- who Wikipedia describes as artists, beatniks, eccentrics, outdoor enthusiasts, and school teachers-- have remained lively and active, forming a community organization that is working on an oral history project documenting the unique history of this little town. Here are just a few of my favorite La Conchita facts:

- It was originally called "Punta Gorda," (massive point), a name first mentioned by a Spanish monk in 1817. It was first the site of Rancho El Rincon (lima beans being the principle product) and later an important destination for homesteaders in the 1860s.
- The first school was built in 1890, with 9 children in attendance (not bad considering there were only 17 children in the whole county.)
- The discovery of oil in Ventura County led to several attempts on the part of wealthy investors to mine oil in La Conchita, but no luck. The town remained a small and somewhat sleepy farming community and beachside vacation destination. In 1931, Mussel Rock Inn was built to serve visitors from Los Angeles-- it had a glass dance floor over the ocean. More and more beach cottages were built throughout the next few decades, many (foolishly) directly on the beach itself.
- There was no running water available until the construction of the Casistas Dam in 1959, but you could buy a jug of water for 25¢.
- In 1985, the La Conchita Banana Company was founded, and became a huge tourist attraction. Horticultural authories had claimed that bananas could not be grown in Southern California, but were proven wrong when over 50 exotic varieties were produced in La Conchita.
- Though it once encompassed a larger geographical area, today the town consists of only two streets parallel to the shore, and ten perpendicular. It is loved by residents for its breathtaking view of the Santa Barbara Channel, Mediterrean-like climate, accessibility to surfing, and community camaraderie.

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