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Ventura's resident historian Glenda Jackson has a love for the Victorian Era
By Brett Johnson   - 05/31/2005

Ventura County Star

More Info on This Book: Ventura

If fire ever ravages Glenda Jackson's Ventura home, she'll grab her 1895 Dolly Madison rosewood mahogany parlor chair and her 1906 upright Bush & Gertz solid cherry wood piano.
On second thought, someone else will have to get the 750-pound piano. She forgot about her bevy of historic Ventura postcards. That settles it, she said, adding, "I'll have my postcards stacked on my parlor chair as I leave."
She does not wish for tragedy; it's just that she has this affinity for the past, especially the Victorian Era -- the 1837-1901 period during Queen Victoria's reign in England when, as Jackson put it, men were chivalrous and ladies were ladies and "wore these gorgeous gowns."
"If you believe in reincarnation," Jackson said, "I lived in that period."
She not only lives and breathes history, she wears it, decorates with it and gathers it with gusto.
Forget the latest trends; Jackson was buying vintage clothing even back in high school. Now 52, this self-admitted estate sale addict has been to hundreds of them -- "even if I only have $10, I'll go" -- and even wrote an article on how to attend one for American Country Collectibles magazine. She's also no stranger to flea markets, yard sales and, in one of her rare bows to something modern, eBay.
She has about 100 pieces of Victorian furniture and accessories. She lauds their craftsmanship, adding, "they don't make them like that anymore." She has some 200 items of Victorian clothing, including a lingerie collection that she terms "bizarre things women wore under their clothing" from the mid-1860s into the 1900s.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to collect a (Victorian-style) house," Jackson said, before adding with a laugh, "... well, maybe not in Ventura; I don't have $900,000 laying around."
Jackson, a 30-year Ventura resident, considers it almost a civic duty that "when people move to a town, they should learn as much about that town as they can."
To that end, she has for the past eight years given tours and presentations on Ventura's history, including the famous 1959 Ma Duncan trial that put the city on the world map, a murder case involving a pregnant woman cut down in the prime of her life and the mother-in-law, Duncan, who ordered the killing and wound up in the gas chamber, the last woman ever executed in California.
Jackson can tell stories of rum runners off Ventura County's coast during Prohibition. "It was pretty wet and wild here in the '20s," she said. "They'd come in late at night in their speedboats."
It was such a hotbed of activity that even into the 1950s, they'd discover cases and cases of old bottles on area beaches.
When those rum runners didn't meet their contact back in the day or the law was breathing on 'em, they'd just bury the booze in the sand. Just maybe, she said, a spare bottle or two is still there today; you never know what magic erosion might reveal.
She can tell you they used to hold horse races on the dirt road that is now Thompson Boulevard. Years later, in 1971, this is where Jackson got her first antique -- that parlor chair, an authentic highback with carved roses, velvet and tufting, for $150 after she spied it in a store while strolling the street on lunch break from her legal secretary's job. She put it on layaway; it took her six months to pay it off.
The plight of an old John Day house -- dating to 1882 -- out on Telephone Road brought an almost plaintive cry for preservation from Jackson. Lament oozed in her voice as she said both the widow's walk and the second-floor balcony have vanished. She termed it "a farmhouse in its death throes. ... It's going to be a horrible thing to see it go."
Jackson loves old buildings. The history of Ventura, she said, incorporates a lot of architecture, adding: "It's not like our cookie-cutter tract houses of today. You really could be different."
Jackson also leads the city's Victorian tours. And she does presentations and speaking engagements and talks high tea to civic organizations, antique clubs, garden groups and the like, all of them in costume.
She carries the Victorian theme in demonstrations at the annual Costume College conference in Van Nuys.
This September, it will be time to break out the bustles, hoops, corsets and chemises again, when Jackson will be the keynote speaker at a Victorian Elegance show in suburban Dallas.
Jackson also has a book, her debut, due out this fall about Ventura's vintage postcards.
Historic postcards, she said, are a collectibles rage. In smallish towns like Ventura, they are difficult to find.
"Talk about the search for the Holy Grail," she said, her voice weighted with experience. "You would not believe how sought-after Ventura postcards are. It's a gold mine when you find an old picture of Ventura. For some reason, you never see them at yard sales."
Among her rare gems is a photo of the E.P. Foster Library dedication from 1921. She also has an early-1900s shot of the old Schiappa Pietras mansion that graced the downtown until it was torn down in the '50s.
Another thing on tap is her 35th Hueneme High School graduation class reunion this summer. Jackson's going. What, you think she'd miss out on another date with history?


Buy It Now: Ventura $21.99




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