San Marcos Pass
The earliest recorded mention of the San Marcos Pass was in the early 19th century as the connection between Mission Santa Barbara and its farm at Ranch San Marcos in the Santa Ynez Valley. John C. Fremont and his troops traveled the pass during the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848) on their way south from Monterey to Los Angeles. By the late 1860s the demand had grown for improved roads over the pass. Mr. Llewellyn Bixby and others incorporated the Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Turnpike Road Company in 1868 and operated a stagecoach company that provided passenger service and carried mail. The turnpike company completed construction on the San Marcos Pass Road by 1870. The horse drawn stage line ceased operation in 1901. Motorized vehicles took the place of the stagecoaches and so passed one of the most romantic eras of our American history. If you look carefully you can still see the ruts from the wagon wheels in the stone along the old pass.
Cold Spring Tavern
What is now the Cold Spring Tavern began operating as a stagecoach stop in 1868. The original structure is believed to have been built in 1860 and included the Long Room, RV Room and Kitchen. Ownership of the Tavern during the early years is not well documented. Records indicate the Doulton family purchased 160 acres, including the Tavern, for $10 in 1900. The Doulton’s transferred ownership in 1907 to the Miramar Corporation, which went bankrupt and lost the mortgage in 1934. Caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Green, oversaw the property until early 1941.
Adelaide Ovington, a former actress and writer, purchased 40 acres surrounding the Tavern in 1941 for $2,000. She said “I want to buy that door and whatever comes with it!” She was also the wife of Earle Ovington, a Santa Barbara aviation pioneer and the first United States airmail pilot. Adelaide ran the Tavern alongside her daughter, Audrey Ovington, until her death in 1972. Audrey, a legendary personality and writer, was the sole proprietor until her death in 2005. Wayne and Joy Ovington Wilson, third generation and current owners, take pride in maintaining the Tavern in its historical state.
Road Gang House
Located behind the Tavern is the old “Road Gang House” which 11 Chinese immigrants built in 1868 and where they bunked while paving the toll road through the rugged San Marcos Pass. By the 1870s the building was abandoned. It briefly housed a French ballet school. A man called “Doctor Lawrence” opened the first restaurant in 1880 and named it the Hermitage. It may not have been a legitimate business since he was known to be a bank robber and horse thief. The building used to be much larger but was partially destroyed by a large bay tree. You can see the footprint of the original building bordering the patio.
Across from the Road Gang House is the Ojai Jail, which was built by Constable Andrew Van Curen in 1873 in his backyard. This tiny structure had two rooms and was said to hold up to eleven prisoners at once. Clara Koch purchased his property and, realizing its importance, offered the jail to the city of Ojai at least three times. For whatever reason, they did not accept. Audrey Ovington was happy to receive it as a gift in 1959. It was once featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” as the only jail that ever crossed a mountain.
The few storage buildings at the back of the property are all that remain of a ghost town called Gopherville . The construction of the Gaviota to Buellton pass in 1951 decimated the town. Audrey Ovington purchased these buildings and moved them to the Tavern. She said, “I feel like I bought the entire town!”
Three packing crates were purchased in 1941 for $23. One 16x7x8 crate was used as a cook shack. Adelaide and Audrey lived in the White Room of the Tavern until they decided to renovate the crate in 1947. Audrey named their new home “Blisshaven”, which means “peaceful home” in Dutch. She and her mother lived there until 1961 when they moved down to Santa Barbara. The other two shipping crates are still on the property but no longer in use.
Log Cabin Bar
Originally there was a water bottling plant in the Log Cabin Bar from 1945-1953. The proprietor went out of business and simply left all the machinery behind. The Ovington family removed the end wall so that the large machinery could be pulled out. In place of the wall is now a beautiful stone fireplace. The bar began operating in 1955.
BUNKHOUSE (Treasures and Trash Gift Shop)
This building was used as a bunkhouse for the stage drivers when they stopped to add or take off horses. A gift shop named Treasures and Trash now occupies this space.
The Tavern sits nestled within the Los Padres Forest. This historical treasure seems to always be in the path of forest fires and has valiantly survived over the years, due largely to the efforts of our amazing firefighters.
- Cold Spring Fire (1922) – The empty tavern was reportedly used as a staging headquarters for the firefighters.
- San Marcos Fire (1941) – This fire occurred as the Ovingtons were in the process of bidding on the Tavern. Other parties in the bidding discouraged them by saying the Tavern had been burned. They chose not to believe this and ultimately won the bid.
- Refugio Fire (1955) – The Ovingtons were on fire watch at Blisshaven with the Zia Indians, who were there to set back fires. Chief Jose Lasero asked Audrey how long they would need to stay. She said, “Until we can roast marshmallows in the fire.” The Indians set a backfire near 154 and the story goes that they indeed roasted marshmallows there.
- Coyote Fire (1964) – The toll collector for the old stagecoach road, Emmett Kinevan, was told to leave his ranch but refused. The fire was only 2 miles from the Tavern.
- Zaca Fire (2007) – The Tavern was wrapped in flame retardant material (like a baked potato) and was closed for one week while this fire destroyed 240,207 acres. The Tavern also closed that year for a month because of a mudslide.
- Whittier Fire (2017) – A temporary sprinkler system was used throughout the property. In this fire and the Zaca Fire, a dedicated team of firefighters were assigned to protect the Tavern. Once again the fire came within 2 miles.
- Thomas Fire (2017) – This is largest fire in California history burning 281,893 acres. The Tavern was not officially closed, but because Highway154 was closed no one could get there.