County records claim the stone-sided house in Ojai’s east end was built in 1947, but Kim Wachter has her doubts.
“I think it was built in the early 1900s,” she says, citing the property’s two basements and the decidedly antique feature of a kitchen fireplace. There’s also the fact that several residents have stopped by — many of them of advanced age — to relate their memories of playing in this house.
“Everyone remembers upstairs,” Wachter marvels. Now, as current owner of the Day Spa of Ojai, she shows off a traditional two-story residence that has been renovated as a healing retreat, but whose character remains true to original form. Former bedrooms have been transformed into quiet massage areas, and the upstairs that everyone seems to remember now accommodates couples massage sessions and mud baths.
But the steps leading up are still steeper and more narrow than in modern homes, and upstairs, the womb-like structure of the gabled ceilings creates the ideal atmosphere for children at play or grown-ups looking to relax in the comfort of a home. “You can see why someone would remember playing here!” Wachter says.
Nearly 10 years ago, Wachter’s mother, Lola Vance, founded what was then called Healing Alternatives and the Day Spa of Ojai with a medical doctor who focused on alternative medicine. After Wachter, herself a massage therapist, retired from a 17-year career in sales, she became involved in the spa and took it over two years ago. She still retains the services of a medical director, clinical psychologist and chiropractor, in addition to 13 fellow massage therapists.
“All people who work here are passionate about what they do,” she says, explaining that each therapist has one or more specialties, including cranial sacral, polarity, reiki, lomi lomi, shiatsu and Thai massage. While preserving the spirit of her mother’s establishment, Wachter shifted much of her focus outdoors. By any view, the back property is tranquil and welcoming, but the part-Chumash Wachter soon realized that her attraction to it was intrinsic.
“This was a major village for the Chumash,” she says about the spa’s location. Recognizing the century-olds oak tree as a meditative center for past tribes, Wachter began offering massages underneath it. The area has a decidedly nurturing feel, and Wachter acknowledges its heritage with the addition of a Chumash grinding stone that her landlady found in the earth on the grounds of the neighboring property.
Wachter says that John Johnson, Santa Barbara Museum’s curator of anthropology, often knows more about a native descendents’ heritage than they do. Using DNA, Johnson was able to trace Wachter’s family lineage, placing her ancestors in the Matilija Canyon, Santa Paula and Ojai. Wachter herself has lived in Ventura County her entire life but has become an avid traveler, venturing everywhere from Machu Picchu in Peru to Jerusalem, places that, to her, hold the same deep spiritual pull as her native Ojai Valley.