Old house has new home next to Wilderness Park

A piece of Pomona College history was once again on the move last week, but not in one of the college’s typical gallery exhibitions. The center of the latest traveling display is a historic, 30-square-foot building.

Known to many as the Replica House, the little, white one-story structure was removed from the Pomona College campus in the middle of the night last week as the campus prepares for the construction of its new studio arts facility. Purchased by Claremont resident Bruce Mills, a Pomona contractor, the old-town structure has been transplanted to a hilltop at the end of Mills Avenue in a coincidental example of shared names.

Last week’s move was not the first for the old model house, which was transported once before some 50 years ago. With its latest and farthest move, near the entrance of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, Pomona officials are pleased to see the piece of the college’s heritage placed where it can be enjoyed by a wider audience.

“The Wilderness Park gets a lot of visitors. Dozens of people will see it, and I think that’s what I like most [about the move],” shared Bob Robinson, assistant vice president and director of facilities and campus services at Pomona College. “It’s a neat little house and a part of Pomona College history.”

Pomona College students and other spectators came out to watch the small house carted off on truck bed, which was quite a sight, noted Mr. Robinson of what he estimated to be about a 10-hour, $40,000 affair.

“It’s quite an undertaking,” he remarked.

While the house has become the focus of quite a bit of attention, such pomp and circumstance has not surrounded the historic structure in nearly 80 years. The Replica House was built in 1937 to honor Pomona College’s 50th anniversary. Modeled in the image of one of the college’s first buildings—a rental house—the simple, one-story replica was first built for use as a museum. Among its interior features were the counter and sink used in the chemistry laboratory of that first rental house. A front-page story published in the COURIER in December 1937 recalls the college’s newest addition.

“History makes to repeat itself this week on the Pomona College campus as President Charles K. Edmunds announced that a replica of the college’s first home, the rented cottage at the corner of Fifth and White Avenues in the town of Pomona, will be constructed in Claremont,” the story states. With the construction made possible by an anonymous donation, the 4-room structure would be built “as a permanent home for the anniversary museum.”

The building did not stay on the southeast corner of College Way and Fourth Street, nor did its original purpose ever fully come to be. The building was taken over by KSPC, Pomona College’s student-run radio station, in the late 1950s.  About a decade later, the little house was uprooted and moved to Amherst and Fourth, where KSPC continued to operate in Replica House. In the 1970s, KSPC moved into its current studio located in the Thatcher Music Building, but continued to use the little house for storage.

Though used for storage, and seemingly neglected in years following, the house received some upgrades in the early 2000s, earning Pomona College an award from the city in 2003 for excellent in design. As part of the Claremont Architectural Commission’s annual Excellence in Design Awards, Pomona College was recognized for achieving its goal “to highlight and enhance a once overlooked area of the Pomona campus.”

Unfortunately, further plans to enhance the campus did not include the replica. In 2011, the college announced its plan to build a new $10 million studio art center in the place where the Replica House sat—it was apparent to Pomona College administrators that the building needed to be sold and moved once more. Administrators sought to find a spot in the Claremont Village, but lack of space to house the building and code requirements proved to be a difficulty, according to Mr. Robinson.

“Certain code requirements made it hard to use the building in a modern sense,” he explained.

After much searching and help from the city and Claremont Heritage, Pomona College sold the building to Mr. Mills. After 2 years of plans, the house has finally made its way home to its new owner. The roof of the building was removed as the house was lifted from its foundation and carried with a truck down Mills. Though the Replica House is no longer a fixture amid the buildings of Pomona, Mr. Robinson maintains that selling the building will allow the college’s history to live on while the campus grows and changes.

“The fact that we are able to preserve that history and still move the college forward in a different way is a win-win situation,” Mr. Robinson said. “It would have been terrible to tear it down. So glad we were able to find it a home.”

—Beth Hartnett



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