Residents proud to be Claremonters

The slender rectangle of land cut off from the rest of the Claremont by the San Bernardino Freeway is so obscure that many Claremont residents assume it to be part of Pomona.

The Rodney Dangerfield, “I can’t get no respect” neighborhood, has been given some unflattering nicknames over the years, Baja Claremont and Claremona being the most popular. Names that undoubtedly make its residents scowl. Even the Claremont Summer Guide 2015, mailed to every household by the city, includes two maps that unceremoniously cut the neighborhood in half.

It’s really no surprise the people who actually live there describe a mostly quiet community with friendly neighbors and safe streets. Driving the area you can’t miss the well-maintained yards and obvious civic pride.

Built in the 1950s during a period of great expansion throughout southern California, the single family homes line streets named after elite east coast colleges such as Bryn Mawr Road, and Brown Drive. The population boom also brought a need for more efficient roadways, and so the San Bernardino Freeway cut through the region, severing every existing town along the way.

At first there may have been little to distinguish the neighborhood from the other nice homes in north Pomona. However, as Pomona began to enter a state of decline in the 1970s and 1980s, Claremont was on the rise and soon the distinction was hard to miss.

David Von Fleckles has lived in the area for years and has seen it grow and change. With his new bride, Sharman Van Zandt, the couple settled into their home just south of his bachelor pad on College Avenue.

He describes the appeal of the area: “Nice older homes built in the fifties, 90 percent owner occupied, it’s been a really nice place to live.”

Back then it was extremely quiet, but beginning in the early 1990s, traffic problems started to increase. There was only a stop sign at Indian Hill Boulevard and American Drive, and there was a big Costco just across the border in Pomona, but the current major commercial developments had yet to come. Now American Drive is a major thoroughfare providing access to both the Super King shopping center and the freeway onramps, and the traffic on Indian Hill during the commute can be unbearable.

“From 3 to 6 p.m. I don’t even try to go that way, I use Mills instead,” Mr. Von Fleckles said. Traffic regulations seem to be ignored—when turning left into the Starbucks, drivers just run the red light or even block the intersection, he added.

The location has also affected property values. “Move my house to the other side of the freeway and the price goes up $200,000, but that is how it goes,” he said.

That same relative affordability brought Heather and Darvin Gomez to the neighborhood in 2012. The couple was renting near Oakmont Outdoor School but wanted to buy a house and start a family. They settled on Drake Avenue on the western edge of the residential area. Over their back wall, the commercial development begins, including a large hotel.

The Gomez family praises the neighborhood as quiet and the people as friendly. However, their frustration with the traffic on the Indian Hill corridor and some of the seedier elements associated with the hotels frustrate them.

“They want to build another hotel, but can’t handle the one they have,” said Mr. Gomez

“We love Claremont, that is why we bought here. We do all of our shopping at Sprouts and Trader Joes. We go out in the Village, we even send our daughter to preschool in Claremont,” said Ms. Gomez.

Even so, they do not understand why the city chooses to bend some of the rules in their neighborhood, yet stands firm in others areas.

“This is kind of a forgotten area,” said Ms. Gomez. “Its also the only place they allow drive-through (restaurants.) The exceptions to the rules make it challenging for us to maintain our Claremont lifestyle.”

For example, Mr. Gomez points out the new electronic billboard that was recently approved for Auto Center Drive even though it is against city codes. But a billboard for the retail development on Towne Avenue and Base Line Road was defeated.

“There’s a freeway up there too, it would have been good for revenue,” he said.

Revenue is key because the businesses on Auto Center Drive provide 32 percent of Claremont’s sales tax receipts.

“Norms is busy 24-7,” said Mr. Von Fleckles, referring to the popular eatery just off the freeway. Add to that three car dealerships, the ever so popular Super King market and a host of smaller businesses and one can imagine the congestion problem.

“The thing that really kills you is the traffic. The shopping center has done well and that is good, but they didn’t think it through. If everyone comes through the same side, of course it will back up,” said the Gomez’s neighbor Lyndon McDow. He would like to like to see an additional exit from Auto Center Drive to the west to ease the traffic on Indian Hill.

The noise and the congestion get to him sometimes, “If it’s not the freeway, then it’s the hotel or the planes from the airport,” he said

“Seems like people are less respectful these days,” said Mr. McDow complaining about the loud parties that take place at the Motel 6 just over his back wall. “I would never let my boys make that kind of noise and this is coming from adults.”

Mr. McDow didn’t report any direct issues with the hotel’s clientele other than the occasional domestic disturbance. He did note that the police patrol the parking lot frequently.

The 58-year-old raised twins with his wife Mary on Drake Avenue, where the couple still lives. He has been around long enough to know some of the “old timers,” the people who lived there when the homes were new. One man had a job building the freeway and he would just jump the fence to get to work. People moved away and others moved in, but it has remained a nice place to live.

A pedestrian tunnel off college that travels under the freeway provided a small lifeline by connecting the neighborhood with the rest of the city.

“It was convenient to get to the rest of the city through the underpass at College, but in the 90s they started locking it after six and on the weekends due to graffiti and crime. After that you couldn’t get to the rest of the city and had to go around,” according to Mr. Von Fleckles. This only furthered the notion of being cut off from Claremont.

The Gomez family thinks the underpass should remain open, and Mr. Gomez even helped defeat a proposal to close it permanently by speaking in front of city council. His wife noted that the city has been easy to work with.

“It’s a 20-minute walk to the Village and you avoid the traffic on Indian Hill,” said Mr Gomez.

Mr. Von Fleckles’ greatest claim to fame may be the name he gave his neighborhood when coining the phrase “Baja Claremont.”

In the 80s, he commented to his then fiancée that the city never ran the sweepers in their part of town, yet kept on building more businesses. “It’s like we’re in Baja California,” he quipped, “and that just became Baja Claremont.”

—Steven Felschandneff


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