Monterey County California Genealogy and History

Monterey County: Biographies


Unique among the artistic attractions of industrial Santa Cruz is undoubtedly the studio of John N. Otar, the widely-famed Otar The Lampmaker, of 143 Pacific avenue, who has found Californians the best of patrons of the highly idealistic. Mr. Otar was born in Georgia, city of Tiflis, in Transcaucasian Russia, May 26, 1891, the son of Nicholas and Louise Otar and was left motherless at the age of two years. The father, who was a wholesale hardware merchant, survived her many years, and died, highly esteemed, in 1914.

John N. Otar enjoyed better educational advantages than many, attending the high school of his district; afterward matriculating at a private college and supplementing that with a rigorous commercial course in a business college. He was so well equipped for the battle of life that he left home in his sixteenth year to travel throughout much of the world for the next four years. In 1910 he chanced to be in London, and while there decided to come to the United States. For eight months after reaching our shores, he went from one place to the other, and for a short time he tried his luck with the mail-order business. In 1913 he engaged in manufacturing patented articles but after a year returned to his native country. Then came the World war and he entered the service of the Anglo-Russian Supply Division, but when the United States threw her vast weight into the scales of justice, he offered his services to this government and was connected with the Amatol Arsenal in New Jersey until the end of the war. He was next with the Ordnance Engineering & Testing Company, doing experimental work for six years in connection with explosions, but after that he went to Boston, where he was engaged in the making of lamps, thoroughly qualifying himself for artistic work in the studio.

In 1919 Mr. Otar came west to San Francisco, principally for the sake of seeking a location, and after traveling through much of the state, he decided upon Santa Cruz as the city offering the greatest advantages. For seven months his first little shop was on the ranch of Mr. Sims, but friends induced him, on seeing the quality of his workmanship, to come closer to the business section, and he located at 86 Locust street, from which, after a year, in response to the urgent demands of his increasing patrons, he removed to his present location, at 143 Pacific avenue. As a world-traveled man, Mr. Otar is broad-minded and public spirited, and in political affairs ha is an independent, always holding himself above any party and its commands.

A local newspaper is a pretty fair guide to a man's real standing in his community; and it may be worth reprinting the highly entertaining article that appeared in a recent issue of the Santa Cruz Evening News concerning Mr. Otar and his high grade work. "Came one who stood before the most unique doorway in Santa Cruz, and gazed at its Spanish colorings, its broad bronze hinges, and its old-fashioned latch, and looked through the tiny window which in Cavalier days would have served well some dark-eyed Senorita, looking the love she could not speak to a knight clanking his armor down a narrow, stilted way.

"This is the door which Otar the Lampmaker built and set like a gem to intrigue the curiosity of the passerby. Cunningly he devised the door, for well he knew that its invitation spelled success to its maker. A door is an expressive thing, and Otar the Lampmaker put into his door sufficient expression to tempt tourist and citizen to seek the reason for its existence.

"Once, Otar the Lampmaker toiled in a tiny space. His hammers beat a tattoo to the swift thoughts which coursed through his mind. Pictures rose before him of spacious places where his artistic creations might grow beneath the patient labor of his hands and the hands of his assistants. He envisioned houses and churches, lodges and mountain retreats, cottages and bungalows, each bearing within its shelter the finished products of Otar the Lampmaker's skill and artistic ability. But, days pass swiftly and the longest dream runs to its close, a close which spells wakefulness and disappointment, or wakefulness and success.

"To the gods of close application had Otar the Lampmaker addressed himself while laboring in that tiny place, and the gods smiled upon his efforts for tourist and citizen, friend and stranger began a pilgrimage to the tiny shop of Otar the Lampmaker, and the demand for his lamps became so great that he had to avail himself of a little more space in which to ply his art. So came the time when he had Allen Collins, Santa Cruz architect, design the most unique doorway in Santa Cruz.

"The wares of Otar the Lampmaker are seen in other places than in Santa Cruz. At Carmel-by-the-Sea, where the Seven Arts have congregated in order that art may have a central home in California, a generous display is made of door-knockers which might have been wrested from some ancient casa in Andulasia, aged and rough-hewn pieces such as Moorish men were wont to rouse the echoes with when they thundered for admittance, lamp brackets such as were forged beside the blue Mediterranean in the days when Roman galleys plied its coasts, rich rare designs of grilles and hinges, andirons and fire-tongs - a varied assortment of the wares of Otar the Lampmaker."

Source: History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925, 890 pgs.