What’s in a name? Stories behind our parks and buildings
Our city’s oldest and smallest community park opened in 1926. The little park with the tennis court on Indian Hill Boulevard and Harrison Avenue was named for the Reverend JH Mallows, a retired minister who lived to 100 years old and lived nearby. The park was improved during the 1930s by the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to include a restroom, racquet court and picnic area.
Stuart Wheeler, a Claremont city councilman from 1930 to 1954, met his future wife in kindergarten at Sycamore School, just as his father and mother had met at the Village School nearly 30 years before. The extended Wheeler family has had a love affair with Claremont dating back more than 100 years.
Mr. Wheeler’s father, Frank Wheeler, was best known for his work in real estate and with the Foothill Boulevard Association in its effort to connect the portion of Foothill in Claremont with the rest of the highway. Stuart’s son, Roger Wheeler, founded Wheeler Steffen Real Estate in 1960 along with Claremonter Art Steffen.
Stuart graduated from Claremont High School in 1915, followed by two years at Pomona College. He moved to Jerome, Arizona for a few years, staying just long enough to earn enough money to marry. Once financially flush, Stuart returned to Claremont to pursue work as a citrus grower until the threat of city development thrust him into politics. In an effort to connect the small citrus town to neighboring cities, it was suggested by city leaders that Arrow Highway be built through the middle of his citrus grove. Stuart wouldn’t have it and, after a successful run for city council in 1930, he thwarted the effort. Stuart’s grandson, Paul Wheeler, a local architect, recalls stories of his grandfather’s remarkable political ventures.
“He was able to get Arrow re-routed,” Paul explained. “That’s why it jumps south between Arrow Route and Arrow Highway.”
This first success would result in a 25-year seat on the Claremont City Council. Stuart’s involvement in city development led to the practice of building city parks next to schools. Over his career, Stuart owned or managed more than 100 acres of groves in town and also dabbled in silver dusting.
After Stuart’s retirement to Mt. San Antonio Gardens, he traveled to more than 60 countries, taking photographs and gathering the histories of the countries he visited, only to return to Claremont to share his travel adventures with local elementary school children.
Wheeler Park opened in 1957 and is located at 626 Vista Dr.
Jack Andrew Griffith was still on active duty with the Marines when he and his family moved to Claremont. In 1959, Mr. Griffith signed on as city parks supervisor, the same year his wife began her 19-year association with the Red Cross as executive director. With a love of the outdoors as inspiration, Mr. Griffith was known for his success in securing funds to improve Claremont parks when city budgets were strained—an endeavor he continued with the city until his death in 1970. Griffith Park opened in 1961 and is located just east of Sumner Elementary School.
Once called a modern-day Ben Franklin, the Reverend Ralph Larkin had been a minister, missionary, astronomer, teacher, lecturer and author. According to an article published in the COURIER in 1958, Mr. Larkin’s ventures included conducting weekly classes in science and working as a missionary for three years in Asiatic Turkey. The Larkins returned from Turkey after his wife and one-month-old son were taken ill. Both died shortly after returning to the US. Mr. Larkin, who lived on Berkeley Avenue for many years, moved to Pilgrim Place in 1927 to care for his mother. After her death in 1934, he traveled for several years, lecturing throughout the United States. Upon his return, Mr. Larkin taught regular Saturday evening science classes to local junior high and high school students. His home was said to have been loaded with charts, experiments, diagrams and even an old printing press. He kept a radium microscope and telescope just outside his home so local kids could come and view the stars. He remained at Pilgrim Place from his retirement at age 70 until his death in July of 1958.
Larkin Park, which is located just north of the Joslyn Senior Center on Mountain Avenue, was opened in 1962.
James Arnold Blaisdell was summoned from Beloit, Wisconsin in 1910 to help revive Pomona College, which was in the midst of a financial crisis. Known for his exceptional fundraising skills and education philosophy, he was able to rejuvenate the college, leading the formation of “The Group Plan” that eventually became The Claremont Colleges. The aim of the Group Plan was to maintain a cluster of undergraduate colleges of limited enrollment, thereby creating the intimate, liberal arts environment we know today. Mr. Blaisdell and his wife were also active in the formation of the Padua Hills Theatre and owned 72 acres in north Claremont, now called Blaisdell Ranch. Mr. Blaisdell served as president of Pomona College from 1910 to 1927 and is the only college president to have a park named after him. Blaisdell Park was dedicated in 1964 and is located on the east side of College Avenue, south of Arrow Highway.
Ralph and Goldy Lewis of housing development fame have their contributions honored with Lewis Park. Mr. Lewis, as noted in the COURIER in 1958, began in the building and development field in 1956. Mr. Lewis partnered with Robert Olin to create the Claremont Highlands and the Claremont Cinderella housing developments. At the time, a three-bedroom, two-bath home in the Cinderella tract located at Arrow Highway and Indian Hill Boulevard sold for $16,750. Considered by many to be a visionary, Mr. Lewis felt the area between Foothill Boulevard and Base Line Road provided a location that “could someday be solidly residential.” Turned off by the “gingerbread-style” homes of the 1950s, Mr. Lewis predicted that these homes would soon be replaced with “cleaner, less frilly lines.” His plan to build in north Claremont—then considered the area between Indian Hill Boulevard and Towne Avenue, just north of Foothill—came to fruition after he and a new business partner, John Lusk, set out to build a subdivision comprised of more than 180 homes in the Condit School neighborhood. Lewis Park was opened in 1966 on a site donated by the builder.
Claremont’s earliest city planners would find great satisfaction in our City of Trees. Claremont hosts 23 parks in all, each designed with imagination and an attention to nature. One city park, located west of Indian Hill Boulevard on Mt. Carmel, was named for the city’s first director of parks and recreation, James P. Higginbotham.
Mr. Higginbotham worked for the city of Claremont from 1959 to 1973, with 10 of our parks opening during his tenure. He was a pioneer in developing fee-sponsored recreational activities in California. Mr. Higginbotham was described as an innovative thinker with the ability to foresee a city’s future parks and rec needs and to plan accordingly. Credit is given to Mr. Higginbotham for his planning and creation of Claremont’s now expansive activity schedule. The park was opened in 1976.
Chester G. “Chet” Jaeger was known for his outgoing personality, generosity and, as lovingly described in Pomona College’s publication Pomona Today, “His songs, his music, his verse, the limericks and, Lord, those awful puns!” A mathematics professor with a remarkable ability to make courses easy to follow and fun to attend, Mr. Jaeger made sure his home was a place where students could freely stop by for visits. He was Pomona’s mathematics chairman from his arrival in 1931 to his retirement in 1961, after which he joined the faculty of Claremont’s Men’s college for six years. Mr. Jaeger balanced academic and civic life well, serving as Claremont’s mayor and city councilman from 1950 to 1968.
Mr. Jaeger earned his doctoral degree from the University of Missouri and stayed on as a professor for seven years as well as teaching courses at Tulane University. He had served as an artillery officer in France during World War I and, during World War II, was chairman for courses in mathematics for an Army Air Force program offered at Pomona College. After the war, he taught at an American Military University in Italy. His son, local jazz musician Chet Jaeger, was also a mathematics instructor.
Jaeger Park is located in north Claremont, west of Mills Avenue and north of Miramar Avenue. The park was open in 1978 and was said to be one of Mr. Jaeger’s greatest honors.
Claremont has just one park named for a woman, June Vail. Known primarily for her work with the Girl Scouts, Ms. Vail received the park dedication in 1978. However, the unveiling didn’t occur until 1983. In addition to her involvement with the Girl Scouts, Ms. Vail taught botany and biology at Mt. San Antonio College and had previously been enlisted in the US Navy. Her association with Girl Scouts spanned 17 years, most of which were spent attending to Senior Troop 111. Vail Park is located on Grand Avenue, north of Base Line Road.
Former Pomona College President David Alexander once wrote, “The life of Leonard ‘Agee’ Shelton is, like that of all persons of noble character, much more than the sum of its parts.” Home to the John Fischer sculpture, the little grass park in the Village was named in honor of the former Pomona College trustee and longtime Claremont resident. Mr. Shelton was a founding partner at the law firm of Allard, Shelton and O’Conner in Pomona and worked as an attorney until his retirement in 1993. During his career, he had served as city attorney for Claremont, Pomona and Glendora.
Mr. Shelton spent most of his life in the area, attending school in Glendora and then earning his bachelor’s degree from Pomona College in 1932. He stayed on at Pomona as a board of trustee member from 1956 to 1981, as general counsel and secretary to the board from 1981 to 1991 and as an honorary trustee until his death in 1994. He was awarded an honorary law degree from Pomona in 1981.
Mr. Shelton was an avid birdwatcher and conservationist, serving for many years on the National Board of the Audubon Society and on the board of directors of the International Crane Foundation.
Shelton Park, located on the corner of Harvard and Bonita avenues, was opened in 1997.
Memorial Park, Garner House
Herman and Bess Garner were active Claremont residents from 1925 until the early 1950s. In the mid-1920s, the Garners purchased an orange grove with an adobe-style home situated on the property where they could raise their three sons. With dreams of constructing a park on this centrally-located property, the city of Claremont offered to purchase the land in 1946. Partway through settling their assets due to divorce, the Garners agreed to sell. Mr. Garner operated the manufacturing business Vortex on Indian Hill Boulevard for many years.
The city’s human services department was settled in Garner House until 2002 when Claremont Heritage moved in. Memorial Park and the Garner House are now home to Monday night concerts in the park, the Claremont Heritage office, the Ginger Elliott Exhibition Space and virtually every major city celebration.
Joslyn Senior Center
Although he never lived in Claremont, Marcellus L. Joslyn made a grand offer the city couldn’t refuse. Through the Joslyn Foundation, and an additional donation from Robert Garrison, Claremont was able to establish The Joslyn Senior Center in 1985. The center offers services to Claremont’s elderly that extend from daily meal programs to tai chi and watercolor painting classes. Outside his philanthropic efforts, Mr. Joslyn was an attorney in Santa Monica. On its opening day, January 28, 1985, the Joslyn Center provided 100 meals for older people and their guests. An opening celebration was held just a few weeks later with a parade and the release of homing pigeons, all under the slogan of “We did it together.”
As the late Stephen Zetterberg described him, “Robert Garrison was a quiet man with a great breadth of vision about what might be done with local money.”
In 1963, Robert and Catherine Garrison funded the construction of Garrison Theater. Mr. Garrison and Mr. Zetterberg had served together, along with an eight-member board of directors, on the Claremont Medical Research Foundation, an organization that provided grants and scholarships to medical facilities for brucellosis research. Later renamed simply The Claremont Foundation, financial support was expanded to include other endeavors. It was said that Mr. Garrison was the driving force behind all of the foundation’s work. Large donations were given to local concerns, including the Joslyn Center, which received a significant grant to complete construction during its early expansion. After Mr. Garrison retired from the board, the group disbanded.
Garrison Theater was later expanded to include a second stage—one for practice and one for performance—after another financial gift from Mr. Garrison.
Garrison Theater is now owned by Scripps College and is located at 231 E. Tenth St.
Former mayor and city councilman Alexander Hughes, as many saw it, was the link between city government and schools in Claremont during his tenure. Opened in 2001, the Alexander Hughes Community Center offers activity rooms, an art gallery, dance and photography studios and a full catering kitchen. Most city classes are held at the Hughes Center, along with the famous Padua Room, which has become home to most every civic meeting where more than 75 guests are expected to attend.
Mr. Hughes was an affable and friendly community activist on many levels. He came to Claremont in 1966 as assistant principal for student activities at Claremont High School. He was principal from 1968 to 1975, then moved to the district office as administrator for personnel services. In 1981, he was named CUSD assistant superintendent for educational services, a role he filled for eight years until he was appointed associate superintendent for the district. In additional to his academic life, Mr. Hughes was a member of the city’s architectural and planning commissions, served on the city council, and as mayor until his death in 1989.
Mr. Hughes was affiliated with the Claremont Presbyterian Church, both as a member of the board of elders and in the church choir. He was also known to visit classrooms and child-centered agencies dressed as Santa Claus during the holidays.
The Hughes Center, which is adjacent to Larkin Park, is located at 1700 Danbury Rd.
Walter P. Taylor spent many of his years as a city councilman working to acquire parklands for Claremont. His efforts were successful and, paid in part by a controversial bond measure in 1966, Taylor Hall and Cahuilla Park were opened. Mr. Taylor was a Claremont City Councilman from 1960 to 1964.
As an early environmentalist, Mr. Taylor often criticized the Automobile Club of Southern California and the All-Year Club for their emphasis on attracting new residents to southern California. The increasing number of residents, he argued, would tarnish life in the Golden State. He was an advocate for Planned Parenthood and served on the faculty of the Claremont Graduate School.
It has been said the love between parent and child compares to no other. For Mr. and Mrs. Appleton S. Bridges, this sentiment couldn’t have been more true. Their daughter Mabel, who died at a relatively young age, had once declared that the happiest years of her life had been spent at Pomona College. That was motivation enough for the Bridgeses to donate funds for the Mabel Shaw Bridges Memorial Hall in 1916. When first built, Bridges Hall sat 800 people, with pew seating down the center rows and parliament-style benches lining the walls. In 1931, the Bridges family donated the organ, the same year Pomona had completed the construction of the neighboring Bridges Auditorium. Affectionately known as “Big” and “Little” Bridges by locals, both buildings are used for music, theater and other creative performances.