Atomic Age footnote grows into 21st century

Times Staff Writer

Parts of old Moorpark look much the same as they did in the 1920s, and the area is still home to horse ranches and agriculture. But for one glowing hour in 1957, Moorpark was on the cusp of modernity as the first community in the United States to be powered by nuclear energy.

Bright spots

For the record:

12:00 AM, Dec. 20, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Decathlon winner -- An article on Moorpark in Sunday’s Real Estate section reported that the Moorpark High Academic Decathlon team won the state championship in 2003. It also went on to win the national championship that year.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 21, 2003 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 4 Features Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Decathlon winner -- A story on Moorpark in the Dec. 14 Real Estate section reported that Moorpark High Academic Decathlon team won the state championship in 2003. It also went on to win the national championship that year.

On Nov. 12, 1957, the lights went out in the town of then 1,100 residents. They came on 20 seconds later, fired by a sodium reactor in the Simi Hills. Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” television program broadcast the one-hour experiment two weeks later to 20 million viewers.

Moorpark garnered little additional notoriety until the mid-'90s, when the local high school’s Academic Decathlon Team started placing in state contests.


Drawing card

Moorpark, about four miles west of Simi Valley in Ventura County, still has room to grow. There is enough undeveloped land to easily accommodate a 20% growth in population, said Moorpark City Planning Manager David Bobhardt. Each development, however, must meet specific criteria for open space, traffic and other amenities.

“The fortunate thing for this city is that there are large parcels of land,” Bobhardt said. Development has taken place in large projects rather than piecemeal, he explained.

About 280 homes, a golf course and an equestrian center are under construction, and several projects are in the planning stages, including a development of 570 homes on 445 acres.


Yet Moorpark has kept its historic downtown nearly intact. Whitaker’s Hardware, a fourth-generation family business that opened in 1926, has remained a hub on High Street for longtime residents. Moorpark Melodrama has been restored as the Theater on High Street, with contemporary billings.

The Secret Garden, a French restaurant commanded by Michel Bardavid, formerly of the Bel-Air Hotel in Beverly Hills, is a newer addition to the eclectic mix of barbecue and Mexican restaurants.

Report card

The Moorpark Unified School District oversees six elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school and one continuation high school. The elementary schools’ 2003 Academic Performance Index scores ranged from 753 to 852. The Chaparral and Mesa Verde middle schools averaged 789. Moorpark High School, whose Academic Decathlon Team won the state championship in 2002 and 2003, scored 746.


The public Moorpark College hosts a variety of accredited two-year programs and an exotic animal training and management curriculum, which operates a zoo on campus open to the public. The college also has Ventura County’s only public observatory.

By the numbers

Moorpark was founded in 1887 by Robert W. Poindexter, who planted rows of pepper trees and named the community after a locally grown apricot. It incorporated in 1983 and today has a population of about 35,000. The per capita income is $76,000; the average age is 31. The city has 15 parks.

Good news, bad news


Gravel trucks from five local quarries still make frequent trips down Highway 23 and through town. Plans are in the works to establish a bypass road leading directly to the 118 Freeway, but state funding may not be available.

The city’s characteristic old pepper trees are in danger of falling and should be removed, arborists say, but there’s a grass-roots movement to save them or replace them.

Stock report

California Department of Finance estimates show Moorpark with 9,895 total dwellings. Of those 7,107 were single-family homes.


On the market

As of the second week of December, 31 homes were listed for sale ranging from a 935-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath condo for $265,000 to a 1,750-square-foot three-bedroom, three-bath home on 40 acres next to a golf course for $2.4 million.

Historical values

Single-family detached resales:


Year...Median Price







*year to date

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; David Bobhardt, planning manager, city of Moorpark;;;; U.S. Census Bureau and California Department of Finance.