City on the hill: Padua Hills design
The enclave of Padua Hills was founded when HH Garner, who, along with a group of like-minded friends, purchased over 2000 acres of land in the northern area of Claremont. The group incorporated in 1927 as Padua Hills, Incorporated.
The land at the foot of Mt. San Antonio, better known as “Old Baldy,” was named after the city of Padua, Italy, whose patron saint was St. Anthony and, like Claremont, was home to higher education.
The corporation members actively promoted the cultural aspects of Claremont. Dramatists formed the Community Players and performed plays at the home of HH and Bess Garner. Members involved with the Colleges and in community affairs felt they could make part of this land available to those wanting to build in the hilly area. Their hope of having a community center, complete with dining room, a theater for the Community Players and retail space eventually found its home on a mesa three miles north of town. Elevated at 2000 feet, the mesa afforded good air quality and unsurpassed views of the foothills and valley.
The Padua Hills Theater was designed by renowned Pasadena architects Marston and Maybury in the Spanish Mission Revival style. The olive trees planted in 1887 by early settler Henry Palmer had by then reached maturity, and a grove of them sheltered the south side of the dining room.
The theater opened on December 2, 1930, with sold-out performances and a full dining room. The Pomona Progress-Bulletin reported this beguiling description: “Nature itself responded to the auspiciousness of the occasion, bathing the surrounding foothills and mountains in full moonlight, and the valley below, with its twinkling lights from many communities, was spread out before the entranced throng who attended. The setting of the beautiful playhouse, on the brow of Olive Hill, is in itself an inspiration.”
The setting was indeed lovely. The elevation ensured the location didn’t suffer the oily smoke emanating from the smudge pots in the citrus groves below. Advertisements to sell lots to homebuilders mentioned this as one of the many advantages to living in Padua Hills. An ad from a 1950 Claremont COURIER pulled no punches: “Smudge bother you? When it is blackest, say 7 a.m., drive up to Padua Hills. Try the Kleenex test on the shrubbery.”
By 1931, the Padua Hills property subdivision was complete. In his book Padua Hill, a Short History, Lawrence Woodruff writes that the area just around the theater was reserved for arts and crafts studios and shops. Below that, the land was zoned for single-family residences. Mr. Woodruff has lived in Padua Hills since 1983, in a home designed by Theodore Criley and himself. His book came about to preserve the unique atmosphere of the neighborhood.
For many years, the compact, congenial group of artist, architects and Colleges professors had shared the same vision for their neighborhood. But as they began to die out, new residents moving in were unaware of the vibrant history and rich legacy of they had just bought into. Mr. Woodruff feared that history would be lost if not written down. The Board of Directors of Padua Hills agreed, and new residents now receive a copy of his book.
The Covenants, Conditions and Retrictions (CC&Rs) of Padua Hills, Inc. included a preamble by Mr. Garner stating his belief that “there is a place for the home of great wealth in Padua Hills but we believe equally that there is a place for the artist, the craftsman, the scholar who, while his home may be of moderate cost, will appreciate having it in the best possible surroundings where he and his friends can most readily contribute to a rich and varied community life. Therefore, instead of cost restrictions, we provide that Padua Hills Community Association and Art Jury approve each and every building to be constructed on the tract. We believe that this provision will further the harmonious and attractive development of the tract—be a burden to no one— and act for the best interests of the individual lot owner.”
In this spirit, Mr. Garner kept up his efforts to attract people from Claremont and the Claremont Colleges to build homes along Via Padova below the theater, often making arrangements to mitigate costs for new residents. Mr. Garner built his own home in Padua Hills in 1953, and lived there until his death at age 95.
Craftsmen, artists and scholars came to settle in Padua Hills, creating the foundation for what became a truly golden age for the arts and architecture in southern California. The end of World War II brought many artisans to the Claremont Colleges to study under the GI Bill, giving them an opportunity to support their families while completing their studies and practicing their craft. The CC&Rs of Padua Hills were of great importance to Mr. Garner, and he upheld them vigorously for nearly half a century.
Starting in 1953, local artists held the annual two-week Padua Hills Art Fiesta. On July 19 of that year, the Los Angeles Times ran a four-page spread with the headline “Artists Prepare to Welcome Throngs of Visitors to Padua.” And the crowds did come. There were over 30 artists listed, most recognized professionals, who sold their work and interacted with Fiesta patrons about their process. These days, the Art Fiesta is produced by the Claremont Museum of Art and will take place this year on November 3 on the grounds of the Padua Theater.
4215 Via Padova
Albert & Marion “Hoppy” Stewart
Albert and Marion Stewart came from New York to Claremont in 1939 to take positions at the Scripps College Art Department under Millard Sheets. Mr. Stewart had studied at the Beaux Arts School in France and Ms. Stewart had attended Vassar College and taught weaving while in New York.
Mr. Garner, eager to promote Padua Hills as an art community, urged the Stewarts to build a home there. Albert Stewart enlisted local architect Theodore Criley to design it, and Mr. Garner provided workers to help build it.
Mr. Criley, being a small-town architect, would design nearly anything that came to his office. His plan for the Stewart house demonstrates a wide-ranging exploration of form and the new ideas that were being seen in California during this period. The spaces flowed from inside to outside, and were arranged according to function instead of being imposed by the exterior style.
The materials used and the location of the lot greatly influenced the design of the house. It sits on a ridge overlooking the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and demonstrates an artist’s eye for the relation of background to foreground. A screened room attached to the living room provided a transition between the indoors and outdoors.
The house was built of large, rough bricks and was capped with a flat wooden roof. The front entry was extra wide and tall to allow Mr. Stewart’s large works to be taken straight out of his studio. His studio formed the center of the house, walled with thick concrete intended to protect the artwork in case of fire. It was tested during the Grand Prix fire of 2003, which damaged the house but left the studio and its contents unscathed. According to Mr. Stewart’s protégé Steve Svenson, local artists helped to rebuild the home after the Grand Prix fire.
Another notable feature of this property was the kidney-shaped pool in the backyard. The free-form shape became an iconic example of 1950s swimming pools. The design was first intended for a home by designer Isamu Noguchi in 1935 at a Richard Neutra-designed house, although the pool was never built. Mr. Stewart’s and Mr. Criley’s use of the shape in this particular case is extremely early.
Sculptor Jim Coffman bought the house in 2010 and lives there with his wife Catherine Fleming. The home has seen some changes, most notably the alteration of the front door placement and entryway. Mr. Stewart’s studio is intact, as is a separate studio built for Ms. Stewart’s use in 1947, now used as a bedroom. The Coffmans now enjoy the same spectacular foothills view from the living room, and the walls are lined with art, including a sketch portrait of Catherine by Australian artist Christine Hingston. The grounds feature many of Mr. Coffman’s large sculptural stones and statues amid native landscaping. The small kidney-shaped pool has now morphed into a large hot tub.
4206 Via Padova
Harrison & Marguerite McIntosh
Harrison McIntosh came to Claremont to study with the Scripps College faculty after World War II. His wife, Marguerite, had studied at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, and was at Pomona College on a Fulbright scholarship when she and Mr. McIntosh met in the Scripps ceramics lab. They became engaged in 1950 and were married at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Claremont. Mr. McIntosh recently turned 100 and was feted at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, with over 500 guests in attendance.
The McIntosh home was designed by Fred McDowell, along with Mr. McIntosh himself, who ensured that the scale of the home, including doorways and counters, were appropriate for the 5’4” McIntosh and his 5’1” wife. The property is marked by a towering Italian stone pine, planted as a seedling by Mr. McIntosh in 1958. Currently occupied by his daughter Catherine McIntosh and her husband Charley, the home’s interior could be a time capsule for a 1950s Sunset Magazine. The walls and shelves are filled with art by many McIntosh comtemporaries, included furniture by Sam Maloof, paintings by Milford Zornes, ceramics by Rupert Deese and sculptures by Betty Davenport Ford.
In the early days, Mr. McIntosh’s work was displayed and sold in the Artcraft Shop just south of the Padua Theater, a helpful outlet for selling pieces. The McIntosh studio he shared with Rupert Deese for 67 years had its own kiln, and several others on the hill also fired their works at home for sale in the shop. Ceramicists William Manker and Betty Davenport Ford made use of the workshop and retail space as well.
4003 Padua Hills
Millard and Mary Sheets
Millard and Mary Sheets had built their home in Padua Hills, three miles north of Claremont in 1942. They had moved to Claremont following Mr. Sheets’ completion of art school in 1929 at Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles. Mr. Sheets is perhaps most famous for the architecture and mosaic designs of more than 40 Home Savings & Loan buildings, built throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
The Sheets home was designed and built in a style and with materials that were ahead of their time. The home featured high ceilings and a flat roof, giving the building a sleek look. The view overlooked the canyons and mountains to the north with citrus groves to the south as far as one could see.
The house was constructed using rammed earth, a method with which Mr. Sheets had been experimenting. He decided on this type of construction for the Padua home because there was a large amount of adobe clay soil on the property. This method required building of inner and outer vertical forms for each wall of the house, into which damp adobe clay was then placed. The clay was then rammed with pneumatic hammers and compacted into a solid wall. Once the outer forms were removed, the remaining structure would be self-insulating and structurally sound.
In 2003, the Grand Prix fire swept through the foothills above Claremont, destroying all but three homes in Palmer Canyon, just north of Padua Theater. The fire continued south and roared down Via Padova, destroying the Sheets’ home. Dr. Gerald and Barbara Friedman, working from the original Sheets’ plans, had the house rebuilt.
The past and current residents of Padua Hills recognize its role in fostering and housing – literally —a great many artists and craftsmen whose work is now part of private and museum collections around the world. It is a place, still, of wild beauty, native flora and fauna, and thoughtful design that make its location a breathtaking one.