Erle Stanley Gardner's Ventura Tour hosted by Richard Senate

RICHARD SENATE'S GUIDED VIRTUAL TOUR TO 
ERLE STANLEY GARDNER'S VENTURA

by Richard L. Senate
Photographs by John Anthony Miller

The entire text of this page   Richard L. Senate 1999. The entire text or portions thereof may be used only with permission of the author. All Rights Are Reserved.

Photographs John Anthony Miller 1999. Photos may be used on any website or other information retrieval system, but only if  we are contacted prior to use.

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Erle Stanley Gardner was born in Malden, Mass, On July 17, 1889. He moved west to California at the age of ten and though he traveled though out the world he considered himself a lifelong Californian. He passed the bar at the age of twenty-one practicing law in Oxnard, California where he established himself as a force to be reckoned with by his brilliant and unorthodox defense of the Chinese Community. After his marriage he moved to Ventura where he went into partnership with Frank Orr establishing a prosperous law firm that still exists today.

He began to write in the mid 1920's as a way to augment his income writing stories for pulp magazines such as Black Mask. He worked as a successful and respected trial lawyer by day and a writer by night until he was recognized as one of the foremost creative forces in the pulp fiction market. Starting with the publication of the first Perry Mason Novel in 1933 Gardner turned to writing books becoming one of the most prolific writers in American history with an average of three books produced each year, as well as short stories, articles and correspondence with people all over the nation. He kept three secretaries busy transcribing his many literary works he dictated via the Dictaphone.

His books were well read by all segments of society from those seeking escapist literature to fellow lawyers who were attracted my his unfailing legal authenticity. One of Gardner's books gave a State's Attorney a tip that resulted in the conviction of a murderer in Arizona!

After his separation from his first wife, Natalie, in 1933 he moved to the Los Angeles area finally settling on a ranch in Temecula where he continued writing and advocating reforms in the criminal justice system. Upon the death of his first wife in 1968 he married his secretary Jean Walters, whom many believe to be the inspiration for his character, Della Street. He passed away in 1970 after one of the most successful careers in the annals of American Literature.

This work is dedicated to the memory of Robert Browne who taught me respect for the past. Art and Layout by John Anthony Miller would like to thank the following in putting together this publication: Jane E. Gilbert, Ruth Moore, Mark Bass, Charles Johnson, John Whyman, Charles Davidson and Debbie Christenson Senate.

Erle Stanley Gardner came to Ventura when the community still had unpaved streets. At that time one was more likely to encounter a horse drawn wagon or buggy than to see an automobile. Ventura was then a divided city with the "have's" living east of California Street and the "have-not's" living west. The town had approximately five thousand people then. It was the county seat and firmly rooted in an agricultural economy. It was a place with few crimes and few past times. One of the most popular places to go, then as now, was the beach. Here lovers strolled and clam bakes and fish fries were a common way to pass a summer's evening. Some would pitch tents on the sand and spend an entire weekend at the edge of the surf with blazing campfires of drift wood and sing-a-longs every night. There was also the Wharf, now a fishing pier, it was in the early part of the century a working wharf where ships docked. Here locals purchased their Christmas trees directly from schooners from Washington State. Fishing, then as now, was popular. Though the people didn't have portable radios, wind-up Victrolas and guitars filled the Wharf with music and song. Life really wasn't slower then, it only seems that way in retrospect. There were stresses in farming, raising a family, sicknesses, as well as floods and fires. It seems slower because people took the time to read every page of the thin local newspaper. Lacking TV, Radio, and computers, individuals had time to develop the fine art of conversation. It was a skill they used daily at their place of business, over the back fence, in the barber shops, beauty parlors, and even the parks. Everything was fodder for discussion, one's neighbors, politics, scandal, the newest trial at the courthouse, new fashions for women and the daring new swimsuits that showed the knees! News of such modern wonders as the airplane, motion pictures and the newest development in electric lighting thrilled the young.

"Old-timers" gathered in the park to play chess and talk about the War, the Civil War. Older residents could remember the review on Main Street of the 1st Native California Cavalry, "Company C," as it rode off to fight in the War to preserve the Union.

When Erle Stanley Gardner moved to Ventura there was still a Chinatown, it consisted of a huddled village of wooden shacks grouped near the old Spanish Mission. It was a mysterious place to most residents, a place of exotic smells and whispered dangers. The Chinese worked as farm laborers and laundrymen, as well as servants to the rich. They were a common sight in their blue smocks and straw conical hats. At that time it was common to fear what one didn't understand and so the Chinese were viewed by many with apprehension. The five wash houses in Ventura's Chinatown did much of the laundry for those families east of California Street. There was a library, on the second floor of the City Hall building located at the North west corner of California and Main Streets. It contained almost as many books as there were citizens in the town. There was also a playhouse where amateurs performed between visiting theatrical companies from as far away as San Francisco and Chicago. In 1903 the city of Ventura had banned the sale of alcoholic beverages attempting to shed its former image as a 'cow town'- not that it was impossible to buy a drink so long as one knew where to go and who to ask. The friendly proprietor of the cigar store might have an extra bottle of something wet behind the counter--for the right price.

Into this community came a man who had made his mark in the boom town environment of Oxnard. He had shown what imagination and a quick wit could do in a courtroom. His spirited defense of the local Chinese was known all across the county. He knew that a move to Ventura could only improve his chances of success. Erle Stanley Gardner was 28 years old when he came to Ventura to go into partnership with Frank Orr. He had been married five years to Natalie Talbert Gardner and they had a four year old daughter, Grace. The law practice would prove to be a successful one and would lead to many life long friendships in the community. It was here that Gardner would make his mark as a lawyer as well as a writer of fiction. The experiences he had in this coastal community would provide ideas, plots, and characters for his hundreds of short stories and novels.

If Erle Stanley Gardner could somehow return today to the city of Ventura he would find that many things had changed but, many things still remain the same. This guide book is designed to give visitors an ides of what the city was like when Gardner practiced law and wrote his way to the title of 'King of the Pulps'.

START: The Self guiding tour starts at the one structure that most influenced attorney Gardner and his later writings. The walking tour segment is designed in a loop and can be joined at any part for a complete tour of the downtown haunts of Gardner. For the best impact it is suggested that the tour begin at the former Ventura County Courthouse, presently Ventura's City Hall.

THE VENTURA COUNTY COURTHOUSE, 501 Poli Street. Located at the head of California Street. "If the walls of that old courthouse could talk, they could tell many a story," lamented Erle Stanley Gardner in 1968. Much of his legal career centered on this one building. It was here that he won some of his major legal triumphs. It was brand new when Gardner began his legal practice in Oxnard. He may well have been present when the structure was dedicated in 1912. 
One of the world's most beautiful buildings...-

Built by popular Los Angeles Architect Albert C. Martin it is designed in the neo-classic Beaux-Arts (commonly called City Beautiful in some literature.) Style. The building is decorated with 24 monks' faces, a unique feature added to remind viewers of the Spanish Padres who founded the community. The marble staircase knew Gardner's step and it is featured in one of his biographies as the place an established lawyer took away Gardner's new automatic pencil and snapping it in two and tossed it down the stairwell. The older lawyer was angered by Gardner's constantly taking notes. He refrained from his note taking after that lesson. The superior courtroom, presently the council chambers, saw Erle Stanley Gardner's victory in the high  profile Magby vs. New York Life Insurance Company trial and in the 1926 Slander trial of Fairchild vs. Burnham. It was in this ornate chamber that Gardner developed his skills as an expert cross-examiner. In narrating his many Perry Mason Novels and stories he may well have had this one courtroom in mind as the raced the plot to its climax. Notice the high domed stained glass elements in the ceiling. In the center of each are the symbols of the law: The sword, scales, and law book. Restored by the city of Ventura for almost three million dollars the building still holds the same atmosphere as it did when Gardner walked the marble halls defending clients and cutting deals. Oral history holds that the building influenced the sets on the popular Perry Mason TV series. The set designer, on advice from Gardner, visited the old courthouse making sketches for the sets. In viewing the programs there are many similarities in the sets and some of the decorative elements in the halls and courtrooms of the building. One of the world's great buildings.

Proceed out of the building heading south down California Street past the statue of Father Junipero Serra. The statue didn't exist when Gardner resided in the city. It was first erected in 1936. The triangular section where the figure stand was part of California Street and Gardner was known to walk up and down this street four or five times each day. 

Continue to the offices of:

BENTON, ORR, DUVAL & BUCKINGHAM, 39 North California Street. This was Erle Stanley Gardner's law practice. Formed in 1882 by Orestes Orr (former California State Senator) it was the firm that Gardner started when he went into partnership with Frank Orr in 1915. It would grow to become Orr, Gardner, Drapeau and Sheridan one of the most active groups in Ventura County. Gardner had left the law to write when the firm was established in this building, built as the offices of the Gas Company in the 1920's. Gardner may well have visited this site in his Ventura years to pay his gas bill. There is a photograph of Gardner hanging on the wall of the conference room along with other former partners. 

The Phantom Bookshop was formally located just down  Tragg Alley (to the right, in the photo) from this site. City Hall is just a few feet up the hill to the right, and his old law office, where the Mason books were typed on the third floor is to the left, just a few feet down the hill) 

Proceed down California Street to the corner of California and Main.

HOTEL VENTURA, 487 East Main Street. This imposing Neo- Spanish building was built in 1926 at the height of the oil boom. It was constructed on the site of the 1903-1925 City Hall and Library. Gardner is believed to have researched some of his early stories in the library housed on the second floor of the old City Hall. The Hotel was built by Mr. Gus Berg, the owner of the De Riviers Hotel in Santa Barbara. The building has many Spanish elements including the double arched entry and columns. Gardner's Law firm defended the hotel right after it opened on charges that the owners were selling illegal booze to its customers! As the most opulent hotel in the city everyone of merit stayed here. Silent-movie heart-throb Theda Bara spent a night here with her husband, they had breakfast and she proclaimed Ventura "a pretty nice place." As in his Perry Mason novels, Gardner may have met clients in the hotel lobby as well as sipped coffee in the hotel restaurant. He may well have used this hotel as the model for those in his mystery stories. Today the hotel has been converted into a residence for senior citizens. 

Proceed west on Main Street to the El Jardin Plaza.

The El Jardin. Phantom Bookshop is through the door. In back of that is Tragg Alley.

THE EL JARDIN PATIO, 451 East Main Street. Built in 1925 this Spanish revival shopping environment was a first for Ventura. The Pacific Coast Architect Magazine, July 1928, declared: "Entering the commercial court, the shopper feels in another world. Here is a fountain (now gone), trees, and flowering shrubs. . . . where shopping becomes a pleasure." In Gardner's time it housed a large flower shop where he may well have purchased flowers for his wife and secretaries.

 Today the flower shop was the original location of the famous Phantom Bookshop where many of Erle Stanley Gardner's books were once  featured for sale.  Phantom Bookshop was located at the end of the beautiful dilapidated courtyard, next to Zoey's Tea Room (where they once featured "Erle Stanley Gardner's Bread Pudding" as exacted from his original recipe).  No sales and high overhead forced the bookshop into a true phantom reclusion. Today, the site of the historic Phantom Bookshop has recently become another garden shop, Through The Garden Gate, one of the many that have proliferated downtown Ventura in recent months.

Oddly enough, the doomed shop was located just a few feet from the law office, down Tragg Alley,  where Gardner was in partnership with Orr. 

Proceed west on California Street to:

THE BANK OF VENTURA BUILDING, 16 Oak Street, Today it is the beautiful renovated "Villa Tasca." Just recently remodeled in authentic style, this structure was built in 1904 by Achitect J. H. Bradbeer. This two story building held one of the first banks in town. The offices on the first floor, according to local tradition, held the first Ventura law office of Erle Stanley Gardner when he and Frank Orr began their long partnership in 1915. The former Erle Stanley Gardner law office now house the real estate offices  of "The Becker Group" who are involved in real estate redevelopment and exploitation in the local downtown area. 

Proceed west on Main Street to the Old Mission San Buenaventura approximately two blocks.

    MISSION SAN BUENAVENTURA 211 East Main Street. Though founded in 1782 the present church was completed in 1809, reconstructed and remodeled after the great earthquake of 1812 into its present form. Gardner, an Episcopalian, didn't attend mass in this church but it can be assumed that he visited the site and may have been on good terms with the rector. The two Norfolk Pines were first illuminated with colored lights during the Christmas season of 1929. Gardner and his law partners were the first to contribute for this display that has become a Ventura tradition. The tree still stands today and annually bears decorations.
Beautiful Mission San Buenaventura

 The lights have been dimmed only three times--once for the second World War, for the 1972 Oil Crisis and due to budget cuts in 1995. A visit to the small museum attached to the Mission is well worth the time. Displayed are Chumash baskets and the remains of two bells made of wood, mysterious relics that might challenge the creative skills of Erle Stanley Gardner. 

Cross Main Street South toward the Historic Peirano Market.

THE PEIRANO MARKET 204 East Main Street. The first brick building in Ventura it was constructed in 1877 for Italian Merchant Alex Gandolfo. His nephew , Nick Peirano, took over the store in 1890 and the family operated the business for almost a century. Gardner and his family shopped here for all of their goods. For many years Nick Jr. boasted that he owned a desk once used by Gardner to write some of his mystery stories. The building is now the location of the famous "Jonathan's Restaurant." 

Proceed south down Figueroa Plaza to the Knights of Columbus Hall.

KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS HALL Built as the Mission Theater in 1927, it was a popular movie house. Mrs. Gardner loved films so while she saw the current feature film, she would have their friend DeeLee Marshal babysat their daughter while Gardner wrote. 

 

Continue south down Figueroa to the empty lot south side of Knights of Columbus Hall.

 

SITE OF VENTURA'S MYSTERIOUS CHINATOWN

 The Chinese had a great friend in Erle Stanley Gardner and it can be assumed that he did spend time here patronizing the two Chinese restaurants that once stood here or perhaps visiting the Chinese Taoist Temple that once stood on what was then Figueroa Street. Chinese friend Ah Gee once hid Gardner's daughter Grace in Chinatown when Erle was angry at her. He only returned the child when Gardner had cooled down. Chinatown was established about 1866 and continued as a distinct quarter until the late 1920's. It may have provided inspiration for Gardner's many stories of the Chinese and their ways. Gardner visited the site of Chinatown in 1966 in his last journey to Ventura before his passing. 

 

Continue south to Santa Clara Street to:

CARLO HAIN HOUSE, 211 East Santa Clara Street. This Victorian home was built in 1912 and today houses a popular restaurant. It was built for Mr. Carlo Hain and has many Eastlake style elements. When Gardner lived in Ventura it was a residence but, oral tradition hold that there was once a murder in the home and Gardner used that real case as a basis for a fictional short story. It was called in his fictionalized version "The Storm House." Return back north to Main street through Figueroa Plaza to continue tour. 

Turn Left and continue down Main street to the County museum.

 

VENTURA COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART AND HISTORY 200 E. Main Street. The story of Ventura comes to life in this fine collection of local artifacts. Among the historical library's collections are photographs of Erle Stanley Gardner. In his time the museum, somewhat smaller, was housed in the basement of the Ventura County Courthouse. It can be assumed that he did see the collection from time to time trying to secure ideas for his many short stories. The collection was moved to this site in 1975. 

Cross street to the Albinger Archaeological Museum.

ALBINGER ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 113 East Main street. This small museum contains artifacts from the Chinatown and early mission eras but when Gardner called Ventura home this was the site of a large used car lot. Local tradition states that Erle purchased his specially built van at this site. The van, a living space built upon the back of a model "T" Ford truck, was perhaps the first RV in history. Gardner's close friend Sam Hicks wrote that the van was constructed by two ladies of the night as a moving brothel.

 They found the pickings slim in Ventura and sold the portable house of ill repute for anything they could get so as to return to the red light district in Los Angeles. Gardner saw the van and recognized its potential as just the thing for his expeditions into the desert to write. He made the bath tub into a desk and carpeted the floor with Navaho Rugs. He kept the big black machine parked in front of his Buena Vista Street home. 

Re-cross Main Street and proceed East up Main Street to Oak, three blocks.

THE BANK OF ITALY 394 East Main Street. Built in 1924 in the popular Beaux-Arts style this two storied structure was built for the Lagomarsino Family. Erle was a good friend to John Lagomarsino and used the building's features in at least one of his short stories. The marble bas relief were imported from Italy. Formally "The Italian Cafe," it still holds much of the atmosphere it had in Gardner's day. 

Continue East on Main Street to:

RAINS SHOE COMPANY on East Main Street. This shoe store is like walking back in time with the same wooden paneling Gardner would have seen when he paused to try on a new pair of brogans or wing tips in the 1920s. The relaxed comfort of another era fills this throw back from the days of Erle Stanley Gardner's law practice.

Proceed East on Main Street to Dexter's Camera Shop.

TOWNSEND'S CAFE 484 East Main Street, this was a popular cafe with the Gardner family in the 1920's. Gardner would have lunch here when he didn't go home to eat. He would sit in the back booth and order his favorite dish on the menu--a hot roast beef sandwich. Gardner's daughter, Grace, remembered visiting the place and looking at all the candy in the very front of the eatery. The location proved to be difficult to find due to the fact that the street numbers had been changed over the years. At one time the location was thought to be next door at the popular Busy Bee Restaurant but photographic evidence settled the argument once and for all. 

A photograph of the block, now on display at the "Atelier de Chocolat" shop at 442 E. Main Street, clearly depicts the true location of the cafe. The chocolate boutique also sells "Podunk Candy" from time to time. It was Gardner's favorite candy. The red arrow marks the old law office of Erle Stanley Gardner on the corner of California and Main Streets.

Proceed east down Main Street to the corner of Main and California Streets.

California Street looking south. North is City Hall.

FIRST NATIONAL BANK BUILDING/ERLE STANLEY GARDNER LAW OFFICE  494 East Main Street. The four story building on the corner of Main and California was the location where the first stories of the fictional Perry Mason character were typed by Gardner's secretary and made ready for his publisher

It was here that Gardner brought his Dictaphone cylinders from his home and had them typed up for the very first Perry Mason novels, The Case of the Velvet Claws and  The Case of The Sulky Girl . This Renaissance revival style building replaced an earlier bank building in 1926. It was the most impressive structure in town when it was completed and boasted the very first elevator in the whole county. Gardner's Law firm occupied most of the third floor.

 

Gardner's corner office (Room 306) is a mirror image of Perry Mason's fictional office. Once the small corner office held the largest desk in all Ventura County, specially made for Gardener by the People's Lumber Company in Ventura. The rooms rented by Gardner for typists to transcribe his recordings served as a model for the offices of the fictional detective Paul Drake, (Room 314). It was this building that inspired Gardner's first and only super hero--Speed Dash. When Gardner witnessed a "human fly" climbing the outside of the structure as a stunt he came up with the idea for a detective who was also a human fly. That didn't seem enough so he endowed the fictional super hero with a photographic memory! He would solve mysteries by climbing skyscrapers and looking in the windows and memorizing the crime scene! He would write 20 "Speed Dash" Novelettes over the next decade. All of the Speed Dash stories always were titled with the words "The Case of" in the title. It was a system he would employ in his popular Perry Mason Novels in later years. 

Proceed south down California Street to the Sportsman Restaurant.

ASTOR HOTEL AND CENTRAL MARKET (SITE) 53 South California Street. Built in 1927 the first floor of the building housed the Central Market with the second and third floors used as the Astor Hotel. Gardner may well have shopped here and visitors may have checked into the hotel in the years that he worked in Ventura as a lawyer. During the Second World War the market was used as the headquarters for the Ventura Civil Control Center. This local group was responsible for black outs and air raid drills. 

Proceed south on California Street past Santa Clara street to the Bombay Bar and Grill.

U. S. POST OFFICE (SITE), 143 So. California Street. Formerly the site of the post office, it was here that Erle Stanley Gardner had his Post Office Box "Y" and it was here that he mailed out his manuscripts and began collecting rejection slips. It was from this site that the first Perry Mason Novel was mailed to the publishers in New York. The present Post Office (located at 675 East Santa Clara Street) was built in 1936, after Gardner had moved on. Still, the Santa Clara Street building is decorated with a 

set of murals painted by Santa Barbara Artist Gordon Grant and restored by Franz Trevors, deceased friend of John Anthony Miller, owner of The Phantom Bookshop. They depict the major industries in Ventura County in the 1920's and 1930's and would reflect things Gardner saw in his Ventura Years. 

Continue south down California Street to Thompson Street, then turn Left on Thompson go west one block to the entrance of Plaza Park.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER'S SECOND VENTURA HOME (SITE), now the location of the freeway on ramp across the street was where a small wood frame house once stood. In 1917 Gardner had tried his luck in business and had failed. He returned to Ventura in 1921 to go back into partnership with Frank Orr. He rented a house on this site for his wife and daughter using money from a bank account established by an unknown Chinese merchant, in Gardner's name. He never discovered the name of his benefactor who may have remembered the work Gardner had done for the Chinese community in Oxnard. The house was moved to another location in 1981 
   Now a Freeway Entrance to Los Angeles.

Proceed though Plaza Park North East.

                     Plaza Park with the cannon

PLAZA PARK was established in 1866 and reflected the boom that saw the city grow at the turn of the century. A wooden bandstand once graced the center of the park and Sunday concerts were popular as were political speeches on the fourth of July. It is said that John Philip Sousa once played in this park and that President McKinley gave a speech weeks before his assassination. Gardner and his family may well have packed a picnic and enjoyed such simple entertainments in his early years in Ventura. Oral tradition has it that Gardner would take a family photograph in this park every Christmas to send to his snowbound relatives on the east coast. Dee Lee Marshall remembers holding the sign for one such picture in the late 1920's. Gardner was an avid photographer with a dark-room built into his house. He won prizes at the Ventura County Fair for his photography.
The park also holds an old Spanish Cannon, a war memorial of the Spanish American War of 1898. It was placed in the park in 1903 but originally stood on the other side of the park pointing towards the Post Office---the old gun was moved when people noticed it look rather unpatriotic. The old cannon may have served as subject for one of Gardner's many photographs.

                

 Proceed to Fir Street going North to Main Street, stop at the corner of Main and Fir.

 

GARDNER'S FIRST VENTURA HOME (SITE) 692 East Main Street. Today the 1937 building houses the popular Rosarita Beach Restaurant, but in 1915 it was the site of a wooden clapboard house rented by the Gardner Family. They lived at this location until Gardner's ill fated venture into business in 1917. The section of Main Street in front of the house was still dirt when the family moved here from Oxnard. It was here that Erle Stanley Gardner suffered a humiliating automobile accident when he smashed his brand new Model "T" Ford right though the garage and into the garden. It is only fitting that his home site should house a Mexican Restaurant as Gardner loved Mexican Cuisine. 

Proceed east on Main Street one block to the corner of Main and Ash Streets.

ELKS LODGE 11 South Ash Street. Gardner was a life long member of the Elks Lodge and was part of the team that selected this site and style for the building. Constructed in 1930 it was designed by architect C. H. Russell in the popular Spanish Colonial Revival Style. Gardner was known to have played cards here and it was here that he was invited to speak in 1966. It was to be his last visit to Ventura before his passing in 1970. Note the elaborate entrance with cast ropes and arches, decorated, fittingly, with an elk's head. The stained glass windows are filled with fraternal insignias and symbols. 

Proceed across Main Street and continue to the white house beyond the Ash Street Coffee house.

THE JAMES BLACKSTOCK HOUSE 835 East Main Street. Originally built on Poli Street on the location of the present City Hall, then the County Court house, it was moved to this location in 1912. This stately colonial revival style home was built for James Blackstock, the owner of the Central Cash and Meat Market. He served as president of the Lion's Club and in 1931 was elected mayor of Ventura. His son, Charles, was born in the house and became a prominent lawyer, elected district attorney and lastly becoming a judge. He was a good friend and hunting companion to Erle Stanley Gardner who, it can be assumed was a frequent visitor in the early years. The home is today a private residence please do not disturb! 

Proceed back west on Main to Ash street then North up Ash to Poli street. Turn to your left on Poli Street, west to the corner of Main and Ash Streets. Look north.

THE ELIZABETH BARD MEMORIAL BUILDING 121 North Fir Street. This Moorish style 1902 building was built as a hospital by Dr. Cephas L. Bard. When Gardner lived and worked in Ventura it was known as the Big Sister's Hospital. Gardner's wife Natalie was once admitted here with a severe case of poison oak. Gardner passed this way almost every day going to his office and to the court house. The building was used as the County Health Department and has been converted into office space and affords one of the best views in the city. 
                                 The Bard Hospital

        The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Proceed west on Poli Street towards the City Hall, stop at Parking lot of the E. P. Foster Library.

THEODOSIA BURR SHEPHERD GARDENS (SITE) Gardner thought highly of Attorney William Shepard. An attorney who was known to defend the rights of minorities. Unfortunately, his clients couldn't afford to pay for their legal fees and his family faced financial ruin. His enterprising wife Theodosia began a flower seed business using an old piano crate she converted into a green house. She started a company that became known nation wide. This entire block were gardens with exotic trees and plants from all around the world. 

So extensive were her gardens that they became a tourist stop for visitors coming to Ventura. Though Theodosia passed away in 1906 the gardens must have been an inviting place when Gardner lived in Ventura. It can be imagined that he passed some time under the trees that still grow around what is today a parking lot. 

Proceed west on Poli Street to the steps of City Hall to complete the tour. 

Many of the sites linked to author Erle Stanley Gardner are too far to include in a walking tour and they will be featured in a special driving tour of the city of Ventura and environs.

Start below...


Tour begins at the Erle Stanley Gardner Ventura City Hall, formerly the Ventura County Court House.

VENTURA COUNTY COURTHOUSE 501 Poli Street. Here Erle Stanley Gardner tried cases and developed his talents as a cross examiner. When the citizens learned he was trying a case they would pack the courtroom because they knew they would be given quite a show. His daughter Grace saw him in action only once as a lawyer. Because her presence un-nerved him she was forbidden to come to court and watch her father in action. The building was constructed in 1912 and served as the center of justice in Ventura County until 1962--ten years later it was converted into the City Hall for Ventura. Drive west on Poli Street turning south down Palm Street to Main. As you progress down the steep hill look to your left to the old town Livery.

PHOENIX STABLES SITE 34 North Palm. Built in 1906 as a stable by Newton Sanborn it may well have been the stable used by Gardner in his early years when he would come to Ventura from Oxnard via buggy, leaving the animals and rig to be tended while he was at the court house. It was purchased by the county in 1921 and used as a garage until it was sold and remodeled in 1982 and converted into shops. The mural on the wall was painted by local teens and depicts the history and cultures of the city. Turn right on Main Street and drive west until you arrive at the Ventura Avenue. You will pass: THE OLD MISSION SAN BUENAVENTURA established by Fray Junipero Serra in 1784. Gardner may well have visited the site in his 15 year stay in Ventura. Known for its fine paintings and wooden bells, the only ones known to exist in the whole southwest.

THE VENTURA COUNTY MUSEUM OF HISTORY AND ART. Listed as one of the best small museums in the state, it has a collection of photographs of Mr. Gardner on display as well as artifacts from the Native Chumash people, mission era and pioneer days. It is well worth a visit. Turn left and travel south on Ventura Avenue to Santa Clara Street. Turn Left again and proceed west on Santa Clara Street you will pass: The site of the MAY HENNING SCHOOL (now the Ventura School District offices on your right) This was the grammar school which Gardner's daughter Grace attended.

THE CARLO HAIN HOUSE (corner house, 211 East Santa Clara St. ,) Today a popular restaurant it was built in 1912. It is rumored to have inspired one of Gardner's early murder mystery stories.

SAINT PAUL'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH (SITE) Corner of Oak and Santa Clara, 420 East Santa Clara. Only the parish hall still stands as past of the senior center. It contains a colorful mural of Mission San Buenaventura. This was Gardner's church and the only one he ever attended with any regularity. Dick Landon, a good friend was the minister and Gardner supported him with his attendance. Late in life he openly stated that he was, of all the churches he attended he was an Episcopalian and would stay at home on Sundays for no other faith. This was also the church of William "Hap" Gilbert, Gardner's friend. The location was moved to the east end of Ventura in the 1950's. Proceed west on Santa Clara to California Street, turn right heading south towards the ocean, turn left on Harbor driving east until you reach the next site.THE WHARF, Front Street. In Gardner's Day the fishing pier was a working wharf with ships and barges tying up to load and unload cargo. But, then as now, visitors and residents walked the wharf as recreation. Grace, Gardner's daughter remembers learning how to fish with her dad at the end of the pier. Sometimes, in the summer, Gardner would take his whole family to the beach, set up a tent and spend several days camped near the water. Proceed east on Harbor to Sanjon Road, turn left, traveling north to the next site:

THE PIERPONT INN, 550 Sanjon Road. The Inn was where Gardner would come to celebrate his courtroom victories with a steak dinner. It was here in the lobby of the Inn that he met his second wife, Jean Walters, in 1923. She was working as a dinning room hostess and desk clerk. Later she would come to work for Gardner along with her two sisters, Peggy and Ruth, as secretaries. The Inn opened its door in 1910 and its reputation for good food and lodgings has always been high. George Bush and his wife Barbara are listed as staying at the Inn among a number of celebrities. The steaks are just as good now as when Gardner first walked in the doors. Return down Sanjon, back to Harbor, turn left and proceed down Harbor for the next three miles until you reach the entrance of the Ventura Harbor. Turn left, north on Olivas Park Drive to our next site.

THE OLIVAS ADOBE GUN CLUB 4200 Olivas Park Drive. Today the 1847 adobe home of Don Raymundo Olivas has been restored and opened to the public as a museum but, in Gardner's day it was a private duck hunting club called the Old Adobe Gun Club. As an avid hunter, and always ready to join a club that catered to the well-off and fun-loving crowd, Erle may well have shot ducks here as oral tradition states. Further rumors hold that wild parties went on here in the 1920's as it became a place to enjoy illegal spirits. The place was purchased and restored in 1927 by the wealthy 'Yeast King' Max Fleischmann. It was given to the city of Ventura in 1961. Rumor also states that movie star Clark Gable once shot ducks here in the surrounding marshes. Turn back on Olivas Park drive left to Harbor, turn right on harbor to Seaward Ave. Turn right again and proceed north. Proceed north on Seaward to Main Street, turn left traveling west to Catalina Street, Turn right. On you right you will see:

VENTURA SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL. This was the school Gardner's daughter Grace attended. In Gardner's time it was also a Jr. College. Proceed north up Catalina Street to Foster Drive, turn right to end of road.

GARDNER'S LAST HOME IN VENTURA 2420 Foster. (Today a private residence. Do not disturb residents ) It was this house that Gardner purchased in 1930. Of the five houses he is associated with in Ventura this is the only one still standing yet it has been remodeled. It was in Gardner's study over the garage that he dictated the very first Perry Mason book he originally called Reasonable Doubt They had also lived at the house on the site of 2396 Foster while the other house was under construction. That house was demolished and another constructed on that site. Return back down Foster to Catalina Street, turning left proceeding back to Poli Street. Turn right on Poli street to the Presbyterian Church.

This Romanesque church was built in the 1920's and was the church that Grace Gardner attended with regularity. She remembers walking to church on Sunday mornings. The building is known for its ornate murals and fine organ. Continue driving to Community Memorial Park, on the left side of Poli Street.

This was the City cemetery from 1869 to the 1940's. People Gardner knew were interned here over the years. One Chinese friend of the family , Ah Gee, was buried here, a victim of the 1918 flu epidemic. It can be assumed that Gardner may well have visited the site during his years in Ventura. It may have served as a model for stories that called for a graveyard. The tombstones were removed in the late 1960's but most of the graves remain, few were moved when the cemetery was converted into a city park. Proceed west down Poli Street to our next site.

THE SHERIDAN HOUSE 1029 Poli Street. This traditional California bungalow was built by Gardner's law partner E. M. Sheridan in 1913. He was also editor of the Ventura Signal Newspaper. Mrs. Sheridan became the associate editor of SUNSET Magazine. They were widely traveled and the house slowly became filled with the many artifacts they collected from all over the world. Gardner was a frequent visitor to the house over the years he practiced law in Ventura. Today it is a private residence, Do not disturb. Proceed west on Poli street to the City Hall at the head of California Street completing your tour of Erle Stanley Gardner's Ventura--the driving tour. I hope you have enjoyed discovering some of the places linked to Mr. Gardner, places that may well have influenced his many books and short stories over the years.