This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Ojai's cover got blown this year: A secluded getaway long favored by Hollywood insiders, the sleepy burg of 7,500 residents is now on the radar of tweens and reality-star fans nationwide. In July, paparazzi pinpointed the Ojai estate of Reese Witherspoon as her friend Robert Pattinson's safe haven during the height of the Kristen Stewart cheating scandal. Then, this fall, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' Botoxed beauties stayed at a private estate on the grounds of the historic Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. Said star Kim Richards (a longtime Ojai fan who organized the trip) on air, "I think it would be a good place to bring everybody together to mend some wounds."
Most in the industry -- including married couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, who just bought a four-bedroom solar-powered house for $2.15 million -- migrate to secluded Ojai for far less dramatic reasons. A desire for fresh air, oak-dotted landscapes and a sense of community top the list. Located in a 10-mile-long interior valley at the base of the Topatopa Mountains about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Ojai remains the Sonoma to Santa Barbara's Napa, an affluent town that doesn't flash its wealth.
"Everybody is there for everybody. My neighbors watch over my property when I'm not there, and if somebody goes to pick fruit, they'll go: 'Excuse me? Hello?' and invariably it's someone I know," says publicist and part-time resident of five years Nancy Seltzer. Among those who regularly get away to the area are HBO's Sue Naegle, Universal Pictures' Donna Langley and her husband, interior designer Ramin Shamshiri, Malcolm and Kelley McDowell, Judy Ovitz (who owns a horse-breeding farm and an aspen-grove ranch), Cops creator John Langley, manager Mary Goldberg and Jerry and Linda Bruckheimer (on a $20 million, 400-acre ranch). "You go hiking, and it almost feels as if you are in Italy. Everything is scented with orange blossoms, lavender and sage," says actress Mary Steenburgen, who owns a house in the area with husband Ted Danson. Adds Donna Langley of the town that stood in for Shangri-La in the 1937 Frank Capra film Lost Horizon, "It's incredibly idyllic."
Prices have rebounded in the Ojai area. For September to November 2012, the median residential sales price was $425,000, up 4 percent compared with the same period in 2011. "Our biggest problem is, we don't have many listings. We have more buyers than we have houses to sell," says Coldwell Banker Property Shoppe agent Nora Davis. Last year, she sold a 1926 Spanish-style house by architect Wallace Neff, set on four acres, for $4.9 million (the pocket listing never went to market). Just as chain stores are prohibited, home building is limited by a slow-growth policy. Davis says she has had clients wait as long as four years for the right house.
Two celebrity-owned properties are currently for sale. Not long after Pattinson holed up there, Witherspoon put her seven-acre ranch with its own Neff house on the market for $8.9 million. The actress bought the estate, built in 1923 for glassware mogul Edward Libbey (the developer of Ojai's quaint Spanish-style downtown), for $5.8 million in 2008 from Million Dollar Decorators star Kathryn M. Ireland.
Apropos for a town with a haute-hippie reputation, there is a strong emphasis on green living. In 2003, Larry Hagman, who died in November, installed a solar-powered energy system on his 43-acre mountaintop property, reducing the annual electric bill from $37,000 to only $13. The semi-secluded compound, which features wells, a helicopter pad and a pool that winds through the property, was offered for sale in October 2009 for $11 million. The house is now on the market at $6.5 million. It's situated in Upper Ojai, a more rural area east of town where parcels typically are 20 acres. Two other desirable areas are Persimmon Hill, a manicured three-street neighborhood near downtown, and the East End, where most lots run from a half to a full acre. In the equestrian community of Saddle Mountain Estates southwest of town, veteran character actor Bruce McGill, best known for playing D-Day in Animal House, recently listed a 1987 Spanish-style house with tennis and sand volleyball courts and a screening room for $1.68 million. It has just been reduced to $1.63 million.
Multiple spas, including the recently renovated 31,000-square-foot one at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, and spiritual retreats such as the Meditation Mount center reinforce Ojai's reputation as a place to unplug. "We probably have more meditation points and yoga studios concentrated into a small area than anywhere else," says Ojai Valley Real Estate broker Carol Blanton.
Particularly magical, say residents, is the famous "pink moment" when the setting sun casts rosy hues on the mountainsides. Rules of Engagement star and part-time resident Megyn Price paints her own picture of how Ojai transforms her: "I look like a Saint Bernard when I go up there. When the orange blossoms are out, it smells like heaven on Earth. I'm literally like a dog with my snout out the window."