Village parking, ‘Tooch’ Martin, and the end of Claremont

By John Neiuber | Special to the Courier

The title of this column is a reference to the long-running game show that first aired in 1956 and ran in various iterations through 2022. I was concerned only older people would get the reference, although I am pretty sure the demographic for the show has always been older.

And I am pretty sure the readership of this column is older given that I receive many positive comments, but mostly from older residents and rarely from 20-, 30-, or 40-somethings. That assumption is hardly scientific, but I am also pretty sure that the demographic of my age, if I were to mention Bad Bunny, would immediately think a rabbit had gone wrong, or comment on the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

While researching the three-part series about the 100th anniversary of the Claremont Chamber of Commerce last year, I tasked myself with reading the minutes of chamber board meetings from 1920 to the present. As I read, I made a few discoveries and was struck by some recurring themes.

Spanish Mission style buildings that once lined First Street are long gone. The second building from the left was Powell’s Dry Goods Store. Sumner house is in the distance. Photo/courtesy of Claremont Heritage

Of course, the biggest discovery was that the chamber was not 100 years old. It was actually 114 years old. It began as the Claremont Board of Trade in 1908, a year after the town was incorporated. In 1920, not 1922, it changed its name to the Claremont Chamber of Commerce. It affiliated with other chambers in the San Gabriel Valley in 1922. So, to tell the truth, happy 115th to the chamber this year.

One of the themes encountered each decade, which will come as no surprise to anyone, was parking and traffic in the Village. In the early years, it consisted of issues between autos and horse-drawn wagons and carriages. Knowing the adage that as much as things change, they remain the same, we can simply replace horse-drawn vehicles with bicycles, as evidenced by social media posts and letters to the editor.

The perspective on parking by our citizens is as diverse as the number of opinions about it. A friend of mine often says with a knowing smile that Claremont has no parking problem, only a walking problem. That insight rings true as I often hear the complaint that someone could not find a parking spot in the Village and had to park two blocks away. A full two blocks away! Oh, the humanity.

Another recurring theme I will call “the end of Claremont” revealed itself. This theme of impending demise occurred every decade, sometimes two or three times. Typically, it had to do with the loss of something, an industry, a building, a business, or with the construction of something, a building, or residences.

The end of the citrus industry was among those events forecast to end the town. The groves gave way to housing, and it was tract housing, heaven forbid — another sign of the end of Claremont! Today those tracts are attractive, well-built, and highly sought after homes.

Shortly after we arrived in Claremont the entire town was in mourning the closure of Powell’s Hardware store, and many still do to this day. Powell’s started out on First Street as a small dry goods store that couldn’t compete with grocery and clothing stores, so it became a hardware store and moved to Yale. Twice it foretold the end of Claremont!

Looking north up Yale Avenue and First Street in the 1930s. Photo/courtesy of Claremont Heritage

The business district was originally called the Village, and then over the years it became the central business district. In 1959, the chamber and local businesses pushed for it to be the Village again. Letters to the chamber predicted that changing the name to the Village would be the end of Claremont. Recently, Rhino Records moved, ending a 47-year run in town. What did we hear? Yup, the end of Claremont.

Which brings me to William “Tooch” Martin, known as the first Anglo settler in Claremont. To see the often published photo of Tooch sitting in front of a shack with drying furs tacked to the walls is to think of him as a mountain man. The shack photo was most likely a hunting shack near Mt. Baldy. Will the real William Martin please stand up?

William T. “Tooch” Martin was a justice of the peace, civic leader, and Los Angeles County Supervisor. Photo/courtesy of Claremont Heritage

Tooch purchased 160 acres in Claremont that he farmed and where he built a house for his wife and seven children near Indian Hill and 11th Street. He was first a teacher, then justice of the peace, founded the Masonic Lodge in Pomona, was a civic leader, and was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

To tell the truth, the Chamber is 115 years old, the Village has a walking problem, the end of Claremont is not imminent, and “Tooch” Martin was not a Gabby Hayes character. Darn, now I have to explain Gabby Hayes …


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