Interfaithfully speaking: Larkin Place is opportunity for belonging, dignity
by Katrina Mason | Special to the Courier
In July 1963 — 60 years ago this month — the brand new Claremont Friends Meeting House at 727 Harrison Ave. welcomed Friends for the first time. Previously the Friends had been worshipping in a room at Scripps College. Now they had their own building designed by renowned Claremont architect Fred McDowell, whose wife Emily was a member of the congregation.
While most Quaker worship rooms are simple squares or rectangles, McDowell liked to design around a theme. As one old-timer recalls, Friends had suggested the theme of a circle, evoking inclusion, important to Quaker worship and practice. For building purposes, the circle was transformed into a hexagon. The room itself is a large hexagon. Look up and you notice three hexagons nesting one within another at ceiling level, surrounding the hexagonal opening to the cupola that rises above the roof, letting in natural light.
Those who remember the move from Scripps to the new meeting house recall a growth in the congregation, especially of young families, drawn by the possibilities for children’s programs in rooms designed just for them, with an outside space for running and a tree enabling even the smaller children to sit on a branch surrounded by green leaves.
The year 1963 was a heady time. Three books published that year brought new ideas to the forefront: Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” (women’s rights); Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” (environmentalism); and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America,” (poverty in America).
In the South, Civil Rights demonstrations made headlines as marchers demanding the right to vote, full access to jobs and education, and an end to segregated public accommodations, were met by resistance and violence.
A major event of the summer — likely on the minds of some of the Quakers walking into their meeting house for the first time — was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that would bring 250,000 people of all ages and races to Washington on August 28 to join together seeking civil rights for African Americans. When, at the end of the summer of ’63, Bob Dylan sat down to write a song that reflected the mood that he saw around him, the result was “The Times They Are a-Changin.’”
The last 60 years have brought many more changes, including the dramatic rise in homelessness and the divisiveness in many communities about how to deal with it. For Claremont Quakers, the worship room, furnished only with chairs that could easily be lined up against the wall to provide a large open space, offered an opportunity. In early 2014, member Mary Cooper had what we call a “leading” — a strong sense of the right thing to do. Mary suggested that the meeting open our worship room every night to the homeless men and women in the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program. Meeting members embraced the idea.
For over six years — until the pandemic brought the program to a halt — formerly homeless men and women lived right next door to the empty lot that will become Larkin Place. There were no serious incidents. What did happen was the development of friendships, of people helping each other. There was a sense of community, a sense of belonging, a sense of individual dignity.
This can happen again.
Larkin Place, the apartment community to be built by Jamboree Housing Corporation on land owned by Pilgrim Place adjacent to the Friends Meeting, offers an opportunity. Just as Friends welcomed CHAP participants to the Meeting House nine years ago, today Meeting members look forward to greeting Larkin Place residents as next-door neighbors.
Katrina Mason is a member of the Claremont Friends Meeting and is its liaison to the Claremont Interfaith Council.