Claremont Chamber of Commerce celebrates 100 years – Part 1
by John Neiuber
The year is 1922. Warren G. Harding is president. In February the first issue of the Reader’s Digest is published. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is established. The Supreme Court denies a challenge to the 19th Amendment, securing women the right to vote. In the Bronx, construction begins on Yankee Stadium and in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Memorial is dedicated. The Hollywood Bowl opens. Gandhi is sentenced to prison. The California grizzly bear is hunted to extinction. The first automated telephone service begins in New York City. The first successful insulin treatment is given in Canada. T.S. Eliot publishes “The Wasteland.” Rebecca Felton becomes the first female senator in the U.S. for the state of Georgia. The Soviet Union is formed.
It is the Roaring Twenties. All over the world and all over the country, changes are in the works. Milestones are attained that will mark the advances in society and provide historic context for the future. Those cited above will have profound effects across disciplines and in history. In the “small pond” that was Claremont, the milestones may have created fewer ripples than the big splashes made in the vast ocean of U.S. and world history, but in the spirt of everything being relative, they were no less important to the small community.
Things were evolving in Claremont. Founded in 1908, the year after the city was incorporated, the Claremont Board of Trade was established via the town meeting process. The board acted in much the same manner as a chamber and was responsible for the first city plan. Prior to the inception of board, committees on stores and the downtown commercial area were established through the same process.
In retrospect, the Claremont Chamber of Commerce could rightfully claim to be celebrating its 114th year. Recent research of the chamber’s archives reveal that the Claremont Board of Trade had actually decided to change its name to the Claremont Chamber of Commerce in 1918 but did not officially become a chamber until it incorporated in 1922 as part of a campaign by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to help smaller communities establish their own affiliated organizations. By whatever name and anniversary, 114, 104 or 100, the chamber has played a major role in the civic, economic and social growth of the city.
The initial meeting of the chamber was held on June 7, 1922, with George Griswold serving as president. The first year was rocky, as the selection of a permanent secretary became problematic. Dr. H.E. Robbins agreed to serve until the opening of the college academic year in September. Summerfield McCartney was then hired, but he was only in the office a couple of months when George Cree consented to take the position. Due to illness, Cree had to resign and W.O. Hollister was retained as permanent secretary in January 1923. But he occupied the office only until August 1923. Hollister’s tenure was criticized by the merchants for the high fees for membership. In addition to the yearly dues of $12, supplemental fees were charged. A real estate broker and a garage proprietor paid an additional $120, a lumber yard paid $100, a bank paid $240 and a grocery store paid $80. The extra charges were abandoned when the chamber reorganized in late 1923, and Leila Ackerman was hired.
In 1924, the chamber took over where the Claremont Board of Trade left off and established the first planning commission to create a civic improvement plan, specifically a civic center. This action was prompted by the passage of a bond issue for a new fire station, which raised questions about its location and design. The chamber pledged $500 for the development of an artistic plan. Meetings of local citizens were arranged to discuss subdivision regulations, city landscaping, paved streets and the location of business, industry and residences.
A front page story titled “City Planning Commission Aims to Beautify Claremont” in the Claremont COURIER of October 2, 1924, reported that “Finding later that its mission was intimately involved with the functions of the city trustees, that body later adopted the commission and by the passage of an ordinance, perhaps at the trustees’ meeting tonight, will give it official status.” In February of 1925, the city board of trustees passed an ordinance establishing a city planning commission and appointed five official members. Claremont, with only 2,000 residents, became only the 16th city in California to have a planning commission.
As the commission was being developed, meetings were held by architect and city planner David Allison to discuss the possibility of designing compatible civic and residential buildings. The community was responding to the same forces that had created the “City Beautiful” movement that was prevalent throughout the United States at that time. City planning, rather than haphazard development, was the driving force behind the establishment of the planning commission and the discussion of how the city’s buildings should be designed. The COURIER recognized the motivation for the movement in Claremont: “There are towns that are pleasing. They didn’t grow so by chance. Behind it all there was directing and designing intelligence. Other towns are not so pleasing in appearance; some are positively ugly. But in Claremont, we have a natural setting and a fine beginning for a city beautiful.”
Ackerman, longtime secretary of the chamber and member of the chamber’s planning committee, reported in a 1925 COURIER article:
“‘What Oxford thinks, today, England thinks tomorrow’ is being paraphrased by citizens of numerous Southern California cities, into ‘What Claremont is doing today, California will be doing tomorrow.’ At every meeting someone exclaims when he learns I am Claremont that our work is being watched and with care and interest. ‘It is only natural for a college town to take the lead in civic government,’ said a man from Riverside. ‘We are watching your work, especially in planning, with much interest because you are beginning while the town is small.’”
To be continued.