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Hollister Family Donates Former School Property to Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute

The former Vista Del Mar Union School in Gaviota will provide a permanent home for a marine mammal rehabilitation center

The Hollister family announced during a reception and news conference Friday that it has donated the 2.81-acre Vista Del Mar Union School property in Gaviota, the last of the family’s once vast agricultural holdings, to provide a permanent home for the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute.

The institute rescues and rehabilitates sea lions, seals and dolphins in Ventura County and may transport them to its headquarters at the former school.

John James “J.J.” Hollister III said turning over the deed marked the end of his family’s long history of ranching since his great-grandfather purchased 150 acres in Santa Barbara County in 1864.

“I wanted to be sure my footprint is solid on the South Coast,” Hollister said Frida at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill. “I had a duty to my grandfather to keep all of the uses consistent.”

Gangs drank and broke windows in the school after it was abandoned in 1985 because of toxic pollution from a nearby Chevron processing plant, Hollister said. A Vietnam War veteran squatting there also wrote his life story on the walls in permanent marker, according to Ruth Dover, director of business operation for the institute.

The once-polluted property has since been cleaned up but still serves as a junction for an oil pipeline, said Hollister, adding that after the county returned the property to the Hollister family, it was rezoned for agriculture or related uses such as oil or veterinary medicine.

“Thank you, J.J.,” said Sam Dover, the institute’s executive director and chief veterinarian. “Obviously, all the work you have done for us over the years we can never repay, but we’ll do our best to take care of this facility.

“The donation of the Vista Del Mar Union School from the Hollister family and the heirs is monumental.”

Dover and his wife, Ruth, met Hollister through Fred Benko, owner and captain of the Condor Express in 2003. They proposed the idea of using the school as a marine mammal rehabilitation center and have been leasing the property for the past seven years.

“We think this is a perfect marriage between the old family and the new,” Hollister said.

Since coming to the Gaviota property, the institute has been able to renovate the former school and install two pools for its rescued seals and sea lions. It hopes to have a working dolphin quarantine pool it acquired from Sea World if it is awarded a $100,000 Prescott Grant from the Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program in the next month.

“This idea came to my brain when I was in college,” said Dover, a former Sea World veterinarian. “It’s kind of nice to know you’ve achieved your goals.”

Dover said the real work starts now, however. He would like to see the facilities’ capacity grow to 100 animals from the current 25 in the next 10 years. Ruth Dover said the institute hopes to start rescuing marine mammals in Santa Barbara County as soon as it receives permits to do so.

Currently, volunteers exclusively run the nonprofit institute and rescue animals with their own vehicles. If the institute receives the Prescott Grant, it would be able to purchase an official vehicle and hire its first employee.

Ruth and Sam Dover first discovered the Gaviota schoolhouse in 2002. The two sat on top of their car at the time discussing the possibility of turning it into a marine rehabilitation center.

“We didn’t even know who owned it,” Ruth Dover said.

Today, the center treats a range of species suffering from the effects of boat strikes, malnourishment, fishing lines, shark bites and red tide.

Dover makes his living doing contracted marine veterinary service. He recently returned from Las Vegas where he cared for the dolphins of the Mirage Resort & Casino.

“I was 5 years old and the cat would bring in a baby bunny and I’d try to save it,” he said. “I’m doing the same thing, just on a bigger scale.”

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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