History by the Minute is an ongoing feature in the Hueneme ePilot, a weekly electronic newspaper delivered to subscribers’ inboxes free of charge with interesting and unbiased news about the Port Hueneme and Oxnard area.
HISTORY BY THE MINUTE
Let’s face it, we’re all busy people. We’d love to learn more about our hometown but who has the time? This column will feature highlights that can be read in a minute or two. And rest assured, the information comes from the considerable resources of the Port Hueneme Historical Society. If your interest is piqued to learn more, visit the museum on Market Street or send your questions via email to email@example.com.
Did you know Port Hueneme boasts 11 Ventura County Historical Landmarks? Among them are the Moranda House (1890), the Hueneme Women’s Improvement Club (1909), the Richard Bard House (1910) and the Hueneme Bank Building (1925).
The architect of the white neoclassical edifice at 220 N. Market Street that presently houses the museum was Myron Hunt, who is also credited with designing the Bard Mansion, the Mount Wilson Observatory, and the early buildings at Occidental College. The approximately 1600 sq. fit structure, tiny by today’s bank buildings, would not be constructed until 1925.
Back in 1889, however, when fewer than 9,000 souls resided in Ventura County, Hueneme was widely known for its four muddy streets and row of clapboard storefronts. Achille Levy was given the responsibility for erecting a brick building (the first in town) to serve as the Bank of Hueneme. The cement sidewalks surrounding the building were also a first. Hueneme was just starting to boom and Levy played an indispensable role in financing the houses, businesses, and farms springing up at the time.
Levy’s banking endeavors started in 1885 when Charles J. Daily, then the 20-year-old manager of the sprawling Patterson Ranch entrusted his life savings ($480) to Levy. Man more business clients, including most of the farming families whose names grace many of our Ventura County streets and roads would start banking with Levy.
Levy’s private bank wasn’t held to the rigid banking practices prescribed by law today, so this astute student of human nature issued loans not necessarily backed up by collateral but rather by the high moral character of the customer. Levy’s “character loans,” interestingly enough, rarely resulted in default.
Achille Levy came to the attention of Thomas Bard—the man who would construct Hueneme Wharf and owned most of the land that would become Port Hueneme—for a couple of reasons. Bard admired Levy for his integrity and his astute business know-how. After Levy’s stint as a co-owner of Wolff and Levy, an amazingly successful general mercantile concern, Levy would become a hybrid unusual even for the late-19th Century. He was not only a commercial broker but also a private banker.
The mechanics of Levy’s broker-banker business was simple. A farmer would sell his crop to Levy, but chose not to collect the full sale price. The farmer entrusted the remainder of the money with Levy and was given a checkbook to purchase merchandise, seed, farm animals and agricultural equipment from either Levy or another merchant (with Levy as the payer). If and when the weather failed the farmer, he could depend on Levy for credit until another wet year came around. Unlike other bankers nationwide, who delighted in foreclosing on farms that had been around for generations, in Hueneme, the farmer and the banker gambled on each other.
Business gurus in 2015 would credit Achille Levy, Hueneme’s remarkable late-19th Century private banker, with something called value added service.” In addition to giving his customers a checkbook (backed up by a deposit) to buy what they needed from himself or another merchant, Levy spent a small fortune at the telegraph office in order to get up-to-the-minute market prices. In that way, he could always ensure he was buying crops at the highest price.
When Levy noticed that the breweries in the Midwest had started buying barley closer to home, he talked his agricultural clients into switching from barley to lima beans. Not only did he save may Ventura County farmers from going under, but Levy also worked tirelessly on growing the national market for beans as well as finding reliable methods of transporting the perishable crop to market via rail or ship.
Despite, during the late 1800s, most bankers being targeted by the muckrakers and editorial cartoonists as lazy hogs greedily sucking up the efforts of hardworking farmers, Achille Levy was a notable exception. His reputation as an honest man remained unscathed and he headed up Thomas Bard’s list of partners when it came time to incorporate a bank in Hueneme.
It wasn’t difficult for Bard to convince Levy and other leading merchants that their best interests would be served by a much larger local bank. The only other financial institution in Ventura County was the bank of William Collins and Sons which was opened in 1887 but was located in San Buenaventura.
Bard argued that trade at the wharf had expanded beyond private banking limits and that traveling all the way to Buenaventura to transact banking business was hazardous to one’s health. Not only could robbers waylay merchants and relieve them of their gold, but the local newspapers were frequently filled with tragic tales of possessions, animals, and human being lost to quicksand or seasonal flooding.
Even though the Bank of Hueneme, which opened its doors on August 6, 1889, was bigger ($100,000 in capitalization) and grander (housed in Hueneme’s first brick building), for Achille Levy, it was business as usual. He was allowed to co-mingle his brokerage accounts with bank funds as well as his own personal assets as he saw fit—totally unhampered by present day banking industry standards. Yet not one single person ever claimed that Levy cheated him—something that bankers today can hardly contend, despite the astronomical number of federal and state regulations.
Levy lived on Main Street in Hueneme with his wife Lucy and six children until 1912. His public service to the Friendly City by the Sea included an early stint as postmaster, membership on the Hueneme School Board, supporting the Hueneme Club (the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce), and as Ventura County Supervisor during the contentious time that the sorely needed Santa Clara River bridge was being proposed and built.
Levy entertained the idea of running for State Assembly but a falling out with Thomas Bard—when Levy favored the railroad over Bard’s Wharf for transporting perishable produce to market—-may have dried up Levy’s support. Historians have also suggested that a move to Sacramento would have interfered with Levy’s attention to family and customers—two top priorities for the banker—and which may have caused him to withdraw his name as well.
Lucy Levy, the bride Achille brought back from Paris in 1881, was totally unimpressed with the modest clapboard house Achille shared with Moise Wolff (and an occasional clerk or two). Bear in mind she had just gone through the awful experience of descending the Conejo Grade in a stagecoach. To be totally truthful, she was forced to walk down the muddy, rutted road in her beautiful French gown and silk shoes since the horses couldn’t handle the steep decline with passengers on board. Achille had employed one of the most expensive matchmakers in Paris to find him a wife, so Lucy, expecting to be the wife of a rich man, was shocked when she first set her eyes on the yet-to-be-civilized Wyneema where her husband had chosen to live.
Lucy quickly made friends with Mollie Bard, the wife of Thomas Bard—who had built the wharf that brought ships from all over the world to her doorstep as well as founding the Bank of Hueneme. The two women had a great deal in common. They were only separated by five years in age, with Lucy being the older. They both grew up with culture, comfort, and the convenience of servants in cosmopolitan cities (Paris and San Francisco). Both were, at the age of 18, plucked out of a pampered existence and compelled to adapt to a dirty little wharf town once they agreed to wed. their entrepreneurial husbands, who each held different but compatible visions for the future of Ventura County. Both had voyaged across the Atlantic (Mollie and Thomas had honeymooned in Paris), both women’s brothers were invited to Wyneema to become part of the family businesses, and Mollie and Lucy teamed up to work on the Women’s Improvement Club, to establish the Hueneme library, to plant trees and establish a social life in the burgeoning community.
The Second Oldest Monterey Cypress Tree
Didn’t your mother used to tell you “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” But when the Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” experimented with the power of words, nice or otherwise, on plants, they proved the opposite was true. Not only do plants do poorly when you ignore them, but they also thrive when you choose to use a little sweet talk from day to day.
The Port Hueneme Historical Society has no way of knowing whether the first residents of the Hueneme area spoke words of love, so soft and tender, as they strolled under the canopy of Monterey Cypress trees on what is now Market Street. We do know that the last remaining tree, later christened “Grandpa” by the municipal workers who tended to its needs, reached the ripe old age of 375 years. At its demise, the tree was acknowledged as the “second oldest Cypress in California.”
“Grandpa” was a skinny sapling in 1622. The tree sprouted 79 years after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo died on Christmas Day on Santa Catalina Island (which he called “San Salvador”) but 250 years before Thomas Bard laid out the town he called “Hueneme” (from the Chumash word for “resting place”) because it was located halfway between the two large Chumash settlements at Malibu and Ventura.
When Grandpa was still a seedling, the Chumash lived in over 150 independent villages along the central coast. They spoke variations of the same language and much of their culture consisted of basketry, bead manufacturing and trading, cuisine of local abalone and clams, herbalism to produce teas and medical reliefs, rock art, and the sacred scorpion tree.
Nearly 400 years later, on August 4, 1997, a steady stream of Port Hueneme residents filed past “Grandpa” to reminisce, mourn, and pay their last respects to the Friendly City by the Sea’s oldest citizen. “Grandpa” had finally succumbed to an evil colony of bark beetles that had taken advantage of the frailty that comes with old age. The following day, 80 people attended a “wake” for the tree. They held lighted candles aloft as members of the Chumash tribe burned sage and gave thanks to the tree.
So why was “Grandpa” chopped down after 375 years? Western cedar bark beetles, about the size of a grain of rice, are reddish black and shiny, with minuscule teeth on their wing covers and black heads. The adult version often bore into Cypress twigs to feed before burrowing beneath the bark to lay their eggs. The tiny white larvae resemble miniature grubs and are found beneath the bark, tunneling around inside the soft inner layers of wood and destroying the tree from the inside out.
Felling the tree was no easy decision for city officials. While some of the arborphiles in town claimed that the hard-hearted bureaucrats were solely motivated by an intense allergy to potential lawsuits, they couldn’t deny that “Grandpa” had lost one limb after another to the beetles. In fact, eight years of intensive care by the city had failed to revive the diseased and parasite-ridden tree.
The Public Works Department even removed a portion of Market Street in 1991 in a last ditch effort to save “Grandpa.” But eventually officials were forced to deem the treasured tree, which stood next to the Chamber of Commerce building and the city’s museum, “a liability and safety hazard.”
On August 4, 1997, City Manager Dick Velthoen hired arborist Jon Cook to climb 100 feet up the trunk (which had grown to a staggering 19 feet in circumference) and employ his chain saw to dismember the landmark tree, cut by cut.
On the day “Grandpa” was cut down, crews utilized a fourteen-ton crane to transport six-foot sections of weathered wood and what little green foliage remained across the street to a vacant lot, where residents were free to preserve pieces of the ancient Monterey Cypress for posterity.
An eight-ton section of the trunk was shipped to a wood sculptor in Ojai, a podium was constructed for the city that featured a heart-shaped cross section in the front, and various and sundry branches became walking sticks (two of which were recently donated to the Museum by Nancy Cozza.)
Since the cypress had exceeded its usual 100-year life span almost three times over, Oxnard horticulturist Jaime Rodriguez collected seedpods and cuttings in order to unravel the secret to “Grandpa’s” longevity.
According to Port Hueneme Park’s and Recreation employee Matt Bender, unfortunately the podium with the heart-shaped cross-section from Grandpa’s trunk disappeared from the Dorril B. Wright Cultural Center around the same time that Pacific Coast Entertainment, a film production and distribution company, bought the facility from the City of Port Hueneme.
I say “unfortunately” because moving that particular podium to City Hall, especially at this contentious time in Port Hueneme’s history, might have served as a physical cue to speakers at City Council meetings. The lectern, made from a section of the second oldest Monterey Cypress in California, should remind them that sweet talk, if not (at least) respect and civility, is the expected norm within that sacred chamber. That is, of course, if residents want the City of Port Hueneme to thrive as long as the 375-year Monterey Cypress tree.
If you harbor any doubts about the power of words on either plants or people, call the MythBusters. They’ve already made the case and they didn’t even have to blow anything up.
Her father was a powerful Chumash chief and her tribe lived on one of the Channel Islands. Princess Hueneme was so beautiful that she collected many love-struck suitors but she chose a handsome young man who lived at a place called Point Magu to be her husband.
They were living happily ever in his dwelling until one of the Point Magu clanswomen, a powerful witch, became jealous of Princess Hueneme’s beauty and goodness. She decided to use her evil powers to cast a spell on the young husband and compel him into running away with her.
With her husband gone, Princess Hueneme became inconsolable and felt she had no choice but to return to her Channel Island home. But as each day dragged by, Princess Hueneme tried but she could not forget how happy she had been with he husband.
Princess Hueneme decided to swim to the mainland and search for him. She eventually found the young brave at a place called San Fernando, where he was dancing with the witch at a special festival. When the witch caught sight of Princess Hueneme, she just laughed at her.
Admittedly, Princess Hueneme couldn’t have looked worse. Having exhausted herself during months of searching and wearing rags that had seen a long ocean swim and miles of dusty roads, she no longer resembled a beautiful princess. Furthermore, Princess Hueneme was so humiliated by the witch’s laughter, she turned away and conceded defeat. Yet it was at that precise moment that her husband was finally able to resist the witch’s evil spell. He just could not allow Hueneme to walk away. Together the couple returned to their dwelling at Point Magu.
But even though she tried, Princess Hueneme was too immature and wounded to forgive and forget what her husband had done. She kept seeing her husband making love to the witch. Although he did everything he could, the husband couldn’t regain the trust his wife once had in him. It soon became apparent that the couple would never be able to capture the bliss they had once shared.
In despair, Hueneme jumped into the sea and was immediately turned into stone. She became the landmark we know today as Magu Rock. When Hueneme dove into the sea, her husband didn’t hesitate. He followed her into the ocean and his long hair became the seaweed that can be found encircling Magu Rock. Their prayers were answered. In only this way, or so the Chumash legend goes, could the two star-crossed lovers be together forever.
Hueneme’s Libraries and Ray D. Prueter
Did you know that the Ray D. Prueter Library made the national news back in 1996?
It seems the wife of a 60-year old print shop worker from Tulsa presented her hubby with an old children’s book she turned up at a yard sale. Burdette “Pete” Payne, who had never even heard of the city of Port Hueneme, noticed the pocket card in the back of “Bomber Pilot” had been stamped with a long ago due date—December 20, 1944.
The World War II aviation buff had his heart set on hanging on to the children’s tome but his better angels prevailed. A few months after he posted his package to the Port Hueneme Library, he received a thank you note from librarian Mary Lynch.
The odyssey of the little book remains a mystery, but Lynch suspected that the child of a sailor stationed at Port Hueneme during World War II must have checked it out and failed to return it. The families of military men, who have historically received special treatment under the law because of the nature of their work, would not have been held responsible for the fine, which was calculated, just for fun, in the amount of $3,640.
Apparently, nobody at the library noticed that the book had gone missing in 1944. Six years later, when the population of Port Hueneme started to explode and many of the newcomers were ardent readers, the situation would have been much different. Mrs. Sidney Hamiter, librarian at the tiny Port Hueneme library located in the Women’s Improvement Club, reported that during the month of July in 1958, the library had checked out a grand total of 3,089 books. That statistic becomes even more remarkable when you realize that the library only housed around 4,000 volumes.
A copy of the deed now cherished by the Port Hueneme Historical Society Museum reports that Mary “Mollie” Bard not only donated land on the street named for Thomas Scott (Thomas Bard’s employer) but also in 1914 had a Craftsman bungalow (listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989) constructed to serve as both a clubhouse and a library. She sold it to the Women’s Improvement Center for one dollar.
Travel back in time with me, though, to the turn of the 20th century, when the population of Hueneme was dwindling to fewer than 200 souls. The decision by the Oxnard brothers to build their sugar beet factory (a major local employer) miles out of town was disastrous for Hueneme. Former residents not only moved their businesses to what would become Oxnard but also their houses. And as folks departed, they left behind vacant lots, broken fences and out-of-control shrubbery and weeds.
In 1909, fifteen of the little town’s most prominent women (including Lucy Levy, Mrs. J. E. Dewar and Clara Gerberding) founded an organization they called the “Women’s Improvement Club.” WIC members tasked themselves with rounding up stray cattle and horses, boarding up abandoned properties, painting over graffiti, mending fences and sidewalks, planting flowers, shrubs and trees as well as in later years providing dance lessons to the young people, contributing to the Red Cross during the war years, and opening a public library to fill the need that arose when the library located at Berylwood, the Bard family home, was no longer open to the public.
The Museum features a photograph of a beautiful woman in Victorian garb looking out the window of Bard’s library at a veritable winter wonderland. She has been identified as Sarah Blanchard, the eldest daughter of Nathan Weston Blanchard and his wife Elizabeth, who donated the money to build the Santa Paula Library, originally named after their first child Dean Hobbs Blanchard. The Blanchard Community Library opened to the public in 1910, and Sarah served as the first librarian.
Back in Hueneme, the book collection that comprised the WIC library in 1909 was initially housed at the Ancient Order of United Workers hall until the Scott Street house was finished in 1915. “Miss Annie (Bagust), the sister of Clara Gerberding, was given the largely unpaid job of librarian (1909 to 1923). The modest holdings were housed in the Women’s Improvement Club and operated as a branch of the Oxnard Library. By 1923, library circulation would reach 1100 books and the new librarian would be paid the princely salary of $20 dollars a month.
In 1936, the tiny Port Hueneme Library at the Women’s Improvement Club became part of the Ventura County Library system with Ann Haycox (her husband Arthur was Hueneme’s postmaster) installed as librarian. Not only were the WIC holdings greatly expanded as a result of joining the Ventura County Library system, but the WIC was paid rent which the women would reinvest in the community. By 1917, a Men’s Improvement Club also started meeting at the Scott Street house. Not much is known of their activities except that they paid the light bill in lieu of rent.
The Craftsman bungalow that served as the Women’s Improvement Center (listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989) still survives at 239 E. Scott Street in Port Hueneme. The tree (recently cut down) in front was planted in 1926 to honor the first librarian Miss Annie. The Club disbanded during the early 1990’s and eventually was replaced by the nonprofit organization called Hueneme Beautiful, which is still active today.
During the Fifties, when the population jumped from 3,024 to 11, 067, it became obvious that the number of books at the Women’s Improvement Club were proving totally inadequate. One of the folks who decided something had to be done about this problem was Ray D. Prueter, a community leader who labored tirelessly to serve all Port Hueneme residents—but especially those who loved books as much as he did. And Prueter prevailed—in fact, he was instrumental in erecting an 18,750-square-foot library on Park Street. The Port Hueneme library, which was dedicated on April 4, 1960, was expected to provide space for a staggering (at the time) 15,000 volumes.
By 1989, however, it was time to think about an even bigger library. The then City Council decided to erect a building which was not only five times larger than the 1960 facility but also boasted the capacity to house 65,000 volumes. The old building was demolished and the new library built on the same site. It also seemed appropriate to the powers-that-be that the new library would bear the name of the man who invested so much of himself in order to provide Port Hueneme citizens with a first class facility.
You may be aware that such civic structures as the Orvene S. Carpenter Community Center and the Dorrill Wright Cultural Center pay homage to former long-term mayors, but it was Prueter who wielded the gavel at a pivotal time in the Port Hueneme’s history—from 1962 until 1974.
As Anthony Volante, former city councilman from 1994 to 2006 and two-time mayor, remembers: “Ray and the City Council and Redevelopment Agency saw the less attractive sections of Port Hueneme torn down and replaced with beautiful homes, apartments, and businesses.”
Even though the usual practice is to designate buildings in the name of folks no longer numbered among the living, that’s not the way things were done during the last century in Port Hueneme. So Ray D. Prueter was able to enjoy the occasional visit to his namesake library—in fact, he cherished his strolls among the stacks. As then head librarian Cathy Thomason recalls, “Ray was very proud of the library; he laughed about telling the children he was Mr. Prueter … and the children [aware of his commanding portrait in the library lobby]—their eyes would get really wide when he told them this.”
When Prueter, who passed away in April of 2008, and wife Laura retired to Montana, the Friends of the Prueter Library presented him with the greatest of all possible gifts—the greatest of all possible gifts for a bibliophile, that is. The organization created an ongoing book fund in the amount of $1,000 per year for the purchase of selected tomes in the couple’s honor.
Further, Prueter would have been pleased and grateful, especially during the almost decade-long economic downturn, that his library was still gifting the citizens of Port Hueneme with recreational reading material, employment information, movies, storytimes for children, book clubs for all ages, help with homework and sorely needed internet access. He also loved reminding people, with a twinkle in his eye, of the words of his favorite Henry Fielding: “Read in order to live.”
Many Port Hueneme folks recognize the name of Ray D. Prueter because it appears in huge metallic letters on the front of the glass-walled structure with all the books located at 510 Park Street.
Many more, especially during the nearly 60 years Prueter resided in Port Hueneme, however, called him “friend.”
A position as auditor at the Bank of Hueneme brought Prueter and his new bride Laura Margaret O’Donnell here in 1950.
Prueter retired for the first time in 1991 after 35 years with Flesher-Lawrence-Prueter-Dodds Insurance. He retired for the second time in 2001 as founder and executive director of the Ventura County Contractors Association, which created a scholarship in his name.
He was the kind of man who was more interested in learning about others and their personal passions than he was in talking about himself and his accomplishments, which were both numerous and extraordinary.
Not only did Prueter head up the city during the pivotal years in Port Hueneme’s history (1962-1974), but he also held the distinction of being one of only two mayors in Ventura County to be elected president of the California League of Cities.
As mayor, Ray D. Prueter faced a plethora of problems. The previous decade saw a veritable population explosion—from 3,024 in 1950 to 11,067 in 1960. In fact, by the end of 1963, Port Hueneme became the fastest growing city in Ventura County. Yet the 4.5 square-mile-city was too small to support an industrial base, income levels were lower than state or county averages, and renters significantly outnumbered owners.
How could “a seedy little sailor town” amass the resources that the vigorous port city envisioned by Port Hueneme’s leaders would require?
Expansion of the harbor became Prueter’s top priority. He did not consider development a four-letter word. Not only was a planned senior community realized with Hueneme Bay and adjacent shops on Channel Islands Boulevard but Prueter also paved the way for the upscale condos along Surfside Drive which would generate badly needed tax dollars and boost property values.
Owners of neglected properties and ramshackle buildings were introduced to code enforcement. Blighted neighborhoods were replaced by a series of urban renewal projects that changed the face of Port Hueneme.
A community center provided a gathering place and a spanking-new post office replaced the 27-year-old structure on Market Street. The pier, which had become “sand-locked,” was extended. Finally, the development of 20 acres of prime beachfront property offered recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
Ray D. Prueter, who passed away at the age of 87, would have cheered the resurrection of the Hueneme Pilot—first as a print weekly from 2008 to 2011 and then as an electronic newspaper in 2015—for restoring a sense of identity to Port Hueneme. He never got over the fact that during his first year in office, the original Port Hueneme Pilot (1951-63) unceremoniously closed its doors and Dama Hanks, the editor, would have to settle for writing the “Pilot Section” of the Press-Courier as a special feature every Thursday.
Prueter was an individual who managed to get along with nearly everyone—a skill that would be sorely tested during “Annexation Wars” with Oxnard and the seemingly never-ending skirmishes over the Port.
What was his secret? According to two-time mayor Anthony Volante, “Ray, who was a mentor to me, did not consider himself a politician.”
Yet Prueter and his council were not always successful. Looking to annex the beach communities west of Channel Island Harbor, they ultimately lost battles with both Oxnard and the Navy, whom they hoped to persuade into permitting a public right of way through the base.
Prueter may have been a Rotarian, a 50-year member of the Port Hueneme Chamber of Commerce, and Port Hueneme’s first Citizen of the Year, but he, along with other local businessmen, wasn’t above garbing himself in glitzy women’s apparel for the infamous Harbor Days’ “Men’s Follies.” If you are interested, there are photos on file at the Port Hueneme Historical Society Museum. In addition, Prueter valued his lifetime Hueneme PTA membership, met regularly with the Channel Islands Navy League and served on the board of the Friends of the Thomas R. Bard Mansion.
Rainbow Bridge and Flight 261
The Chumash Creation legend maintains that Hutash (also known as the Earth Mother) created the first Chumash people on the island of Limuw (now known as Santa Cruz) from the seeds of a magic plant. Males and females sprang full-grown and began to populate the island.
The husband of Hutash, also known as Alchupo’osh or Sky Snake (now known as the Milky Way) gave the Chumash the gift of fire. The people prospered and multiplied to the point that the island became too crowded. Furthermore, the noise of their shouts and laughter kept Hutash awake at night so she decided to send them all away.
When Alchupo’osh asked how the people would get to the mainland, Hutash replied that she would create a Wishtoyo or a Rainbow Bridge that would span from the tallest mountain on Limuw to Tzchimoos, the tallest mountain near Mishopshno (now known as Carpinteria). Hutash promised that although the trip across the Rainbow Bridge would require the families to walk for an entire day but after they arrived at Mishopshno, they would find endless land and plenty to eat.
But the people were afraid and balked at crossing the bridge. Some were afraid of being so high in the air that the fog licked their toes. Others were afraid of falling and drowning in the ocean. But Hutash promised she would take care of them, so they packed their belongings in baskets, donned their fur and leather clothing, and held hands as they started across the Rainbow Bridge.
Even though Hutash had warned them to keep their eyes focused on the other side of the Wishtoyo, some of them doubted her. They started to fell dizzy or nauseous and made the mistake of looking down. As a result, they lost their balance and fell into the dark sea far below. To save them from drowning, Hutash transformed them into dolphins so they could swim to safety. And that is also why the Chumash, to this day, call dolphins their “brothers and sisters.”
James “Bud” Bottoms was a mere boy growing up in Santa Barbara when he fell in love with the Chumash legend of the Rainbow Bridge. Looking back, it’s quite understandable that the prominent 75-year old sculptor would return to this enchanting story for inspiration when he was invited, along with 39 other artists, to design a memorial in Port Hueneme. It had only been a year earlier, on January 31, 2000 when Bottoms along with the rest of the country became painfully aware that 88 crew and passengers aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 261 had plunged into the Pacific Ocean between Anacapa Island and Port Hueneme.
For the project honoring the Flight 261 victims, Bud Bottoms designed a 30-foot-wide cement plaza with a curving sand wall that featured a sundial with a bronze dolphin family leaping out of its base. The perimeter of the sculpture also includes small bronze plaques naming each of the Flight 261 dead.
But the Port Hueneme sundial was not the first sculpture crafted by Bud Bottoms to employ dolphins. You can find the winsome marine animals frolicking at Sterns Wharf (Santa Barbara), the Long Beach Aquarium, the Monterey Plaza Hotel, the Shriner’s Hospital (Los Angeles) and the fountain in front of Puerto Vallarta’s city hall—the landmark where a number of travelers on the doomed flight were photographed only hours before taking off.
Today, his monument of remembrance, which is situated on the east side of the pier near Parking Lot B, is surrounded by gently rolling sand dunes covered in ice plant and which commands a stunning view of Anacapa Island. Approximately $400,000 to build and maintain the memorial was donated by the surviving families and friends, Ventura County residents and Alaska Airlines. The site was donated by the city of Port Hueneme. The monument was not only intended to serve as a tribute to the lives of loved ones lost aboard Flight 261, but was also meant as an expression of gratitude from the families to a community that has never stopped grieving with them
Bud Bottoms has always maintained that dolphins signify joy and the sight of them can’t help but lift your heart. Perhaps that is why the Flight 261 sundial is also located within view of the Hueneme Beach Park swings, where children, much like the first Chumash, continue to fill the air with shouts and laughter.