Editor’s Note | By Bret Bradigan
Ojai Spirit on Display
Real Estate Values Correspond With Cultural Values
The Wall Street Journal’s Nov. 25th edition contained a story headlined “To Discover an Up-and-Coming Neighborhood, Look for the Museum.” The story by Alina Dizik states, “A number of cities around the globe have discovered that a new museum or arts district that a new museum or arts district not only revitalizes downtowns, they improve real-estate values as well.”
To emphasize this point, the Grey Lady herself, the New York Times, ran a long and interesting feature about the Ojai Valley Museum’s latest exhibit, “Trial by Fire,” in its Nov. 18th edition. It’s oddly fitting, and disconcerting, that the retrospective about the Thomas Fire, once the state’s largest wildfire, opened while the Camp Fire, which replaced it on the top of that list of dubious distinction, still raged. Welcome to the new normal.
The Wall Street Journal’s story was more optimistic than the dire accounts of the houses burned and lives laid waste. Instead, it showed that Ojai has long been on the right track. The Ojai Valley Museum is a community treasure. The former St. Thomas Aquinas Church was designed by famed architect Wallace Neff on behalf of Edward Libbey’s makeover of Ojai into one of California’s earliest, and most successful, planned communities. The splendid architecture of our community is set against the astonishingly beautiful natural backdrop. Our lives are enhanced every day by the thoughtful intentions of our founders as well as the natural setting -— the two work together in a mutually reinforcing synergy loop. No wonder that Ojai is known around the world for our superb artists and musicians, actors and architects, dreamers and believers.
The WSJ calls it the “Bilbao Effect,” after the economic surge that followed the construction of the Guggenheim Museum in the Basque city in the north of Spain. Stephen Sheppard, an economics professor at Williams College, was quoted about his research, which shows that property values of homes near museums rise by 20 to 50 percent over the course of five years. That seems about right, if you look at the recent housing developments in Los Angeles around the Broad Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition that two of our nation’s preeminent papers of record had stories on museums and the fire. “When we started talking about this exhibit earlier this year, I don’t think it occurred to us — we didn’t even think about it — that it would be fire season,” said Wendy Barker, the director of the Ojai Valley Museum, as quoted in the Times.
It’s sad that the Thomas Fire was the focus of the exhibit, but it serves as a reminder of our past travails and a warning about the future ones. The fact is we learned that no fire can extinguish our spirit. Instead, it merely reinforced our resolve to endure, even to flourish. Now we’ve got actual financial value to back up our community values. That comes as no surprise to the Ojai watchers among us, but it’s still gratifying.