Piru (pronounced /ˈpaɪruː/) is a census-designated small town located in Eastern Ventura County, California, in the Santa Clara River Valley near the Santa Clara River and State Route 126, about seven miles (11 km) east of Fillmore and about 13 miles (21 km) west of Interstate 5. The population at the time of the 2000 census was 1,196. Lake Piru, in the Los Padres National Forest, is the main recreational attraction.
The area was originally inhabited by the Tataviam Indians. They left information about themselves chiseled into and painted on rocky overhangs and secreted caves throughout the local mountains. By all accounts a peaceful tribe, the Tataviam were christianized under the San Fernando Mission. Later they worked on large Spanish ranchos such as Rancho Camulos.
The town was founded in 1887 by David C. Cook, a wealthy publisher of Sunday School tracts and supplies from Elgin, Illinois, who wanted to establish a "Second Garden of Eden" in this part of the Santa Clara River Valley. He specified, tradition says, that the acreage be planted with fruits identified with the Biblical garden—apricots, dates, figs, grapes, olives and pomegranates. That same year, Cook built his first home, a Colonial Revival structure, at the southwest corner of Main and Center Streets.
The Postal Service established the post office at Piru in 1888. Legend has it that the pronunciation was changed by conductors of Southern Pacific Railroad trains, who would shout out, "Pie-roo!" when pulling into town. Another story tells of a Piru restaurant known for good pies. The owner hung a sign proclaiming, "We Put The Pie In Piru."
In 1890, Cook built a lavish Queen Anne Style home a few blocks northwest of his original home, which came to be known as the Piru Mansion. A strict Methodist, he provided for construction of a church on the north side of Center Street, just west of Main. His home at Main and Center became the Piru Hotel.
For her novel Ramona (1884), Helen Hunt Jackson had used nearby Rancho Camulos as one of the settings. Portions of the 1910 silent movie, Ramona, starring Mary Pickford were shot there. During the production, Pickford, D.W. Griffith and others of the cast and crew, stayed at the Piru Hotel. The hotel later became known as the Mountain View Hotel. The name was later changed to the Round Rock Hotel, because of a large, round boulder located in the northeast corner of the front yard.
Juan José Fustero (b. ca. 1836), who called himself "the last full-blooded Piru Indian," died on June 30, 1921. In 1961, a plaque to honor him was placed in Piru Canyon near the place where he lived most of his life.
On December 17, 1922, Jenks Harris, a would-be cowboy actor, and a gang of partners in crime, robbed the bank in Piru of $11,000. He said, when later caught in Los Angeles, that he conceived of the idea while on location at Piru with the film company Universal.
In the 1950s, the Round Rock Hotel became the Round Rock Rest Home for elderly tenants, which it remained until 1989. It is now the Heritage Valley Inn.
Piru has been used for shooting countless film and television productions over the years, including Desert Fury (1947) starring Lizabeth Scott, John Hodiak and Burt Lancaster, with Mary Astor and Wendell Corey. Location scenes were shot with the northwest side of Center Street, at Main, used as the exterior of Fritzi Haller's saloon and casino; the Piru Mansion was used as the Haller home and the historic Piru bridge, crossing Piru Creek on the east side of town, was used as the locale of the car crash. Piru was also used in the scene in A Star Is Born (1954) starring Judy Garland and James Mason where Jack Carson's character, Libby, finds them after they are married.
Piru stood in for Clarksburg, California, in the 1974 TV movie, The California Kid. It was used for exterior shots in the 1975 Filmation children's series The Ghost Busters. Scenes in The Dukes of Hazzard were sometimes filmed on location in Piru, as were scenes in Murder, She Wrote.
In Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), the scenes of the rest home in the "Kick the Can" segment were filmed at the historic building that is now the Heritage Valley Inn. Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone filmed scenes for their movie, Rhinestone (1984), in Piru. With the exception of a few scenes, the entire comedy film, Happy, Texas (released in 1999), was filmed in Piru. Scenes of Bubble Boy (2001), the chase scene in Enough (2002) starring Jennifer Lopez, and scenes of the movie Torque (2004) were filmed in Piru. The 2005 movie The Moguls (aka The Amateurs) starring Jeff Bridges was largely filmed in Piru, which continues to be a popular location with film companies. Piru has also served for some on the scenes on Reno 911! and for scenes set in the town of Bon Temps, LA in True Blood.
Piru was struck by two major disasters in the 20th century. On the night of March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, to the east in Los Angeles County, broke, sending a torrent of water through the Santa Clara River Valley and causing the deaths of 400 people, many in Piru. The Northridge earthquake of January 17, 1994, destroyed several buildings in the historic downtown area.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 2.3 square miles (6.0 km²), of which, 2.3 square miles (6.0 km²) of it is land and 0.43% is water.
Elevation: 692 feet (211 m).
Piru is located in Santa Clara River Valley.
As of the census of 2000, there were 1,196 people, 308 households, and 263 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 514.5 people per square mile (199.0/km²). There were 328 housing units at an average density of 141.1/sq mi (54.6/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 53.51% White, 0.25% African American, 3.01% Native American, 1.67% Asian, 38.38% from other races, and 3.18% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 67.89% of the population.
There were 308 households out of which 52.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 67.2% were married couples living together, 12.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 14.3% were non-families. 9.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.88 and the average family size was 4.11.
In the CDP the population was spread out with 35.1% under the age of 18, 11.3% from 18 to 24, 28.4% from 25 to 44, 17.5% from 45 to 64, and 7.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28 years. For every 100 females there were 99.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.0 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $41,490, and the median income for a family was $40,703. Males had a median income of $32,303 versus $17,159 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $14,337. About 16.4% of families and 27.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 36.5% of those under age 18 and 16.1% of those age 65 or over.