Girl Scouts ponder sale of historic La Casita property

Long considered a Claremont institution, La Casita has served the Girl Scouts of the community for nearly 70 years. Nestled against a hillside at the base of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, the cabin and the semi-rural five-acre site on Pomello Drive has helped to create irreplaceable memories for local Girl Scouts and their families since 1947.
“When I was a Brownie 40 years ago, I camped at La Casita with my troop,” says lifelong Claremont resident and Scout Leader Cecily Campbell Gonzales, “In May, my daughter Keira and 150 other Girl Scouts participated in the Spring Sing at the program center. It’s got the old school Girl Scout feel to it with the cabin and the campfires, it’s just so cozy there.”
Now the fate of La Casita remains undecided as the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles (GSGLA) considers how to proceed with 10 program centers and four mountain camps. The properties were “inherited” through a merger of legacy councils in 2008, which left the organization with many properties in certain geographical areas and none in others.
In the spring of 2013, the GSGLA launched “Voices to Vision” to address the problem, creating a Property Strategic Planning Taskforce with a mission to align properties, program and membership in a fiscally responsible manner.
“It’s been an 18-month process working with 60,000 members in conjunction with a volunteer taskforce to determine what is the best of use of the properties,” says Carol Dedrich, Chief External Relations Officer with GSGLA. “It’s not been an easy decision.”
Made up of Girl Scout volunteers and parents, key industry property professionals, and GSGLA board members and staff, the Taskforce relied heavily on input and feedback from members through surveys, one-on-one interviews, town hall meetings, and focus groups, to determine their property recommendations.
The Taskforce developed certain criteria for which the program centers needed to meet in order to be retained by the GSGLA. Cost-effectiveness and affordablility, accessibility to members, capacity for utilization and basic infrastructure needs were just a few and the Taskforce determined La Casita provided the least alignment with their criteria and that it had very limited potential to do so in the future.
“There were some cosmetic repairs that were done recently but the property needs about $400,000 in major repairs,” says Ms. Dedrich. “There are also potential liability and safety issues involved.”
Lending itself to troop meetings, council programs and trainings, La Casita is a favorite among Scouts and leaders. The 1,200 square foot, single-story adobe brick structure features a recently renovated kitchen, ADA compliant restroom, meeting room, fireplace and concrete exterior patio as well as a campground with a covered patio, and fire and BBQ pits. Sitting around the campfire under the stars and being a part of nature are a few of the amenities offered at La Casita.
“We went for a hike and saw bunnies and squirrels and deer. And we saw a fox,” says Keira, a Girl Scout Brownie. “If they close La Casita and put something up there, it would disturb the wildlife. It’s a really cool place and I want to share it with my new troop.”
A Spanish Trails Council historical document reveals that the idea for La Casita cabin was first originated in 1928. As told by Mary Johnson, the first troop leader in Claremont, the scouts had dreamt of someday having a cabin and, following their first meeting, they started a cabin fund. “Everyone gave what she had with her and it amounted to around 35 cents, but it was the start of the substance of our dreams,” she recalled.
Then in 1947, the dream was realized when Ms. Johnson received a call from Lee Pitzer, asking if the Girl Scouts would like to have five acres of land north of Base Line, against the foothills. Ms. Johnson accepted. She then approached architect Hugh Walker, who donated the plans for the cabin, and a nearby company making adobe from Claremont soil who agreed to give the ladies a good price on the material if they hauled the bricks themselves, which they did. The La Casita groundbreaking, featured in the COURIER, took place on August 29, 1947, with Mr. Pitzer turning the first shovelful of earth.
Despite it’s age and historical significance to nearby Girl Scouts, La Casita was never registered locally or by the state as a historical site.
“Many years ago, we worked on categorizing the old citrus area but we never got up that far above Base Line,” says Ginger Elliot, former Executive Director of Claremont Heritage. “We never thought of it as being endangered. If we had known, we would have moved to put it on the local register.”
With La Casita’s proximity to the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park (CHWP), the city of Claremont has been monitoring discussions by the Girl Scout Council on the future of the property. Recently informed by concerned citizens that the program center may be sold, city staff reached out to the Girl Scout Council for information on the details of their plan.
And while the city does not currently have the funds to purchase the property, city staff has been in contact with Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office about funding a potential acquisition of the property and exploring partnership options.
“We had a productive meeting with Supervisor Molina’s staff [Wednesday], where we had the chance to  go up and see it,” explained Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor. “Based on the meeting, city staff will be filling out grant paperwork for County Prop A funding for potential acquisition of the property and continuing to work with the county staff.”
Ppreservation of the property as open space and inclusion in the Wilderness Park is the city’s ultimate goal, if funding can be acquired, Mr. Tudor emphasized.
If the city were to purchase the property for inclusion, it would fall in line with a recommendation from the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy (CWC) regarding the CHWP master plan. In their provisional position statement published in July, the Conservancy encouraged the city to secure additional parcels of hillside properties in order to preserve the integrity of the park’s ecosystems and maintain a continuous wilderness corridor along the San Gabriel foothills.
However, La Casita isn’t for sale…yet.
“We can’t do anything until we have the ratification vote,” says Ms. Dedrich. “We’re trying very hard to be as thoughtful and as inclusive as possible. Nothing will be done overnight.”
With a ratification vote slated for October 25, local Girl Scouts are doing what they can to try and save La Casita and hope the Claremont community will show their support.
“We’ve got a couple of different troops together writing letters, we’ll be going to the city council meetings and we’ve approached the city about getting involved,” Ms. Gonzales said. “It would make me sad if it ends up being sold but I’d rather it became part of the Wilderness Park than sold to a developer.”
A ratification vote by the registered Girl Scout membership (ages 14+) will be held Saturday, October 25 from 10 to 11 a.m. At least one registered member from every Girl Scout Service Unit is encouraged to attend. Interested parties should RSVP no later than October 16 to Montclair Service Center, 9525 Monte Vista Ave., Montclair, CA 91763.
“La Casita means a lot to many people in Claremont,” says Ms. Gonzales. “Some girls don’t get to go out into nature, they don’t get to go camping or build a fire. It’s a great place with a lot of history. It would be pretty amazing to get our community together to try and save it.”
—Angela Bailey
news@claremont-courier.com

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