Oxnard Vision 20/20; Plaza Arts Park and Oxnard Shores Pier Loop

How to Connect Oxnard’s Beach Communities with Downtown

By R.S. Rodriguez

With the advent and boom of mega-stores along Oxnard’s border fringes, stores such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Best Buy thrive while the historic and continual struggle of Downtown businesses seems evident. The recent plastic surgery of Plaza Park, with Oxnard political and business leaders tentatively holding scalpels, seems to be another ill-fated attempt to stimulate retail activity in Downtown Oxnard. Granted, this mean-spirited recession has not helped. Yet it seems as though the only businesses which are doing well in the newly conceived Plaza Park area are the mega chains (Subway, Starbucks and Cold Stone Ice Cream shareholders thank you, Oxnard).  The independent businessperson, however, seems to be on the cusp of having to shut their doors.

I’m not a supporter of Sara Palin, yet I will borrow a slogan she often used during her last campaign. The city seems to have once again placed “lipstick on a pig” when it comes to recent changes in Plaza Park.  I will not delve into the many attempts over the decades to solve the problems of Downtown businesses- let’s just say there have been many ill-fated, short-sighted attempts and there have been many a-pig with lipstick roaming around the area for decades! The bovine is still slogging about at Plaza Park.

While strolling through the area, one cannot help but notice the quick failures of some business within the “Downtown Theater District” (already!). Notably, the Peruvian-Thai and Escobar restaurants have folded within  months of opening.  The 5th Street Steakhouse seems to periodically have activity in the bar area, but I cannot recall the last time I saw many people actually eating in the restaurant.  The anchor of this facelift, of course, was the new mega-theater complex in Downtown, which I understand has only survived due to The City of Oxnard’s subsidies of the theater to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the age of the internet, DVDs, Hollywood and Blockbuster stores, was a mega theater complex viable in an era with high tech flat screen televisions? (Personally, I would much rather watch a film at home than in a theater complex listening to someone nearby slurp the last vestiges of liquid from their soda pops out via their straw.   I’ve noticed many teenagers patronizing the theater, who have a tolerance for such noises, but not a lot of adults, who have the financial wherewithal to stay after a movie and potentially enjoy the Plaza Park environment. But alas, this does not seem to be happening).

Rather than invest and subsidize the new mega theater complex, perhaps a refurbished old Vogue theater would have been a better investment and would have been aesthetically more pleasing.

Downtown, especially the Plaza Park and along “A” Street, often looks like an abandoned ghost town once City of Oxnard employees leave the area after putting in their eight hours of work.

One would have hoped when taking into consideration all of the historic struggles in recent decades of Downtown that our leaders would have stepped back and taken a grander view of that independent-business-locale quagmire. They did not.  I can envision in ten years the mega theater building being converted into a “Swap Meet”, which is now the unfortunately the fate of the once architecturally significant Vogue Theater.

If one were to stand in the middle of Plaza Park and look south, one sees “Plaza Laundry” and its’ eye-sore of a building taking up about half a block of the southern border of the plaza.  Looking northward, one is uninspired by the architecturally insignificant boxed concrete rectangle which houses Social Security Administrative offices, swallowing up most of the northern border of Plaza Park. To the east, of course, we find the Theater Complex and its adjoining retail chains and struggling eateries. Taken together, one is not swept off one’s feet and inspired to spend a lot of time in Plaza Park.  As Gertrude Stein once wrote about another place, “There’s no there, there.”

Granted, financing could have been at issue, but just imagine if the developers who built the hundreds of new homes, condos, townhouses and who dredged the new canals east of Oxnard Shores had worked with city and business leaders to develop a clear, well-thought-out vision on how to connect Oxnard Shores and other beach communities with Downtown Oxnard. Since these meetings probably did not happen, I’ll hereby contribute my vision on how to connect the beach communities with downtown.

Imagine if our political and business leaders had lobbied those developers to build a fishing pier at the end of 5th Street. Said pier could have been used for fishing, for taking a stroll at sunset and could have been anchored by restaurants and shops just as beautiful as those at Huntington and Redondo Beaches in Orange County (it might have been necessary to buy out the owner of the Shores Mobile Home Park, thus freeing up lots of space along Fifth Street at the beach).

How to connect the Fifth Street Pier to Downtown? Free trolley rides!

We have fabulous weather in Oxnard. Consider open-aired double-decker trolley (think London) buses taking people from the Fifth Street Pier, continuing east with views of the Topa-Topa Mountain range as one scuttles about at 15 miles per hour. Looking northward, those views would not be blocked, as Fifth between Harbor and Victoria on the both  sides are agricultural fields, thereby giving pristine, unencumbered views of those grand mountains.

Now take the trolley all the way to a new, revamped Plaza Arts Park (with emphasis on the arts). Imagine if the blight currently bordering Plaza Park was razed with the park itself becoming a true loop. The Soviet-era-like Social Security building would be razed, as would all of the other insignificant building surrounding the park.

This now circular park would be bordered with architecturally pleasing-to-the-eye structures similar to those imported into Heritage Square. The park would now be surrounded by refurbished Victorians with many housing art galleries and other shops intended to bring people from all over into the new Plaza Arts Park. (The current configuration is simply not conducive to enjoying the park. One is not inspired to spend time at the park, peering south at Plaza Park Landry). The anchor of the new Plaza Arts Park would be The Carnegie Art Museum, one of the few significant buildings left standing in downtown Oxnard (perhaps suggesting Carnegie reconfigure its’ stairway allowing access via the Plaza Arts Park, and not from C Street). The lower floors of these refurbished historic homes could house art galleries and specialty shop and the top floors could be rented out as living spaces so that those living at Plaza Art Park provide a sense of community.

Once consumers left the park area after hopefully spending many hours shopping and strolling about, they could hypothetically stop at predetermined stops along the Fifth Street Corridor.  Perhaps stops could be made on Fifth Street by the Historic District, allowing people to walk up and down F and G Streets to admire those historic homes. Another stop could be made at the old Oxnard High School. Consider the current name of  the old high school location, Campus Park.  Certainly an open space is an improvement over the old abandoned educational buildings. Yet Campus Park doesn’t inspire. Imagine, if you will, if that space was use for the Oxnard or Channel Islands Botanical Gardens or Japanese Gardens, or a combination thereof.  People would come from all over to stroll and enjoy a well-maintained botanical garden: a splendid reason to hop off the trolley.

Continuing on Fifth westward, along the Oxnard Airport, perhaps one or two of the giant warehouses could be converted  to house the new Oxnard Aeronautical Museum with the Oxnard Farm Museum next door. The trolleys would stop at those designations, as well. All of Fifth Street could become a viable commercial, retail and residential hub with vision (and with a pier on one end and a beautiful park at the other, surrounded by the splendor of Victorians).

Fifth Street would need to be cleaned up, of course. The housing complex across from the old OHS could be improved upon by planting many more trees along its sidewalk. Dozens of new lovely palm trees have been planted along Fifth just east of Harbor-perhaps more palm trees could be planted all the way to H Street along the center divide.

(In an earlier post, I proposed western Ventura County incorporate a 49 Mile Scenic Drive route similar to San Francisco’s. The new Fifth Street Pier of course, would be part of the route).

The Fifth Street Corridor might become a hip place to visit.  Such an improved Fifth Street might inspire wineries and other businesses to setup shop.

Vision, grand vision, is what Downtown Oxnard needs from its’ leadership. Historically, that vision and leadership has lacked in Oxnard and the trend seems to continue.  Imagine how beautiful the Plaza Arts Park would be if surrounded by Victorians.  A jazz club or two opened at night to attract people to the Plaza Arts Park.  Perhaps structures important to the city’s history could be refurbished and brought in- buildings like the historically and architecturally significant Pettit Farm House. Oh darn! My bad, The City of Oxnard gave permission to our fire department to burn it down to ashes for fire fighting training a few months back.

Such is Oxnard.