The San Buenaventura Mission may be older and better known, but the Mitchell Block--a row of beautifully restored century-old buildings--occupies its own special niche in Ventura's history.
The block, situated downtown on Thompson Boulevard across from Plaza Park, is named for three Irish immigrant brothers who once owned the land.
The block, including the park, was declared a National Historic District in 1982. It is the only intact and relatively unaltered block of houses remaining downtown, according to city records.
Once the historic value of the deteriorated residences was recognized, renovation began.
"At the time the district designation occurred, the block was discovered and experienced a renaissance, which is what we wanted," Miriam Mack, redevelopment administrator for the city of Ventura, said.
The oldest house, on the corner of Thompson and Chestnut, was built in 1883 but was enlarged and the Colonial style front added in 1925. The second oldest, at Thompson and Fir, was built in 1886. Five others were added between 1903 and 1905.
Among those who helped revive the block were Robert and Jeannie Fortin, who until this year owned the 102-year-old house at 670 E. Thompson Blvd.
Recalling the condition of the house when they bought it 12 years ago, Jeannie Fortin said, "It was an old flophouse at the time."
Another pioneer, Ken Neary, who bought 658 E. Thompson Blvd. in 1976, remembered the row as a wreck.
"When we moved in you could have bulldozed the block and no one would have missed anything," Neary said. "Only a couple of the houses had been kept up."
Neary, his wife, Cheri, and sons, Keith, 15, and Adam, 12, are the only family now living on the block. The other houses have been converted into offices.
The homes with the largest porches and with thick, square columns are done in the California Craftsman style, which continues inside some of the houses with the extensive use of wood moldings, door jambs and bookcases. Decorated gabled roofs and some Classical Revival elements also can be seen.
Unique window treatments set off several of the houses. The stained glass doors and windows at 632 display a Mariposa Lily design, and the bay window at 644 is set with leaded glass.
Across from the park, Eugene Radding enjoys the view from his curved corner window at 682. Moving to Ventura, living at the beach and buying an old building to use as an office had long been his dream. It came true when he left Burbank and opened his law practice in the old Sittel house 10 years ago.
Another lawyer, John Gilman, enjoys practicing law from offices at 692 Mitchell.
"It's the real heart and soul of the city," he said.