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New Book Highlights Often Forgotten Parts Of South Coast City's Past

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It’s been a South Coast city for a half century, but its story really started nearly 150 years ago. A new book looks at the history of Camarillo, showcasing some surprising, yet little known stories. At one point, it was America’s lima bean growing capital. And, it once had an Air Force base intended to protect the West Coast from bomber attacks during the Cold War.

Camarillo’s origins as a community date back to the 1870’s, when Juan Camarillo paid nearly $40,000 for Rancho Calleguas. It was one of the last Mexican land grants in California. But soon, with his death, it would pass to his son, Adolfo Camarillo.

David Reel is author of “Past and Present: Camarillo," a thundred page book which tells the story mostly through historic pictures.

The railroad came to the edge of the ranch in 1899. Camarillo built a store which included a tiny post office. The U.S. Service wanted to know the name of the little development, and officials were told it was Calleguas, like the ranch’s name. But, the Post Office rejected the name, saying it was too hard to pronounce. So, they came up with Camarillo, a name that’s stuck for more than 120 years. 

You see Camarillo’s name all over the community. Also, drivers on Highway 101 will notice the name of his friend, and business partner, Joseph Lewis, as in Lewis Road.

Adolfo Camarillo was a huge part of the community for virtually all of his life. He served as a Pleasant Valley School Board trustee for more than 50 years, and on the Ventura County Fair’s Board for nearly 40 years. And, he was involved with a number of banks.

Another mostly forgotten part of Camarillo’s history is about what we know as Camarillo Airport. It was once called Oxnard Air Force Base, used for training, and during the cold war as a fighter base to protect the West Coast from bombers.

There’s also a section on the history of Camarillo State Hospital, a mental health facility which has been converted into what is now Cal State Channel Islands. Reel says he started collecting historic photographs of the city a few years ago.

When he created a website for them, he got a lot of interest, which led to the book. Part of what he’s done is taken historic photographs, and then teamed them with modern day pictures of what the same place looks like now. He believes it’s important to document the community’s history, because so many people don’t know that much about it.

Past and Present: Camarillo is now in selected bookstores, and online through Amazon, and Arcadia Publishing.

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