Claremont Chamber of Commerce celebrates 100 years – Part 3
by John Neiuber
Through the 1930s, 1940s and into the 1950s, the citrus industry and the colleges remained the major driving forces of the local economy. World War II saw the chamber, in conjunction with other civic groups, focus its attention on the war effort and relief. There were local victory gardens, drives for war bonds and campaigns for war relief agencies. Each town had a Red Cross war fund quota. Claremont collected $13,296, or 139% of its $9,600 quota. Five tons of clothing were donated to the united national clothing collection and a total of $548,481 in war bonds were sold in Claremont.
The period after WWII was a watershed for much of California and specifically Southern California. Change was coming and the chamber leadership knew that to meet the challenges ahead required action. The most significant influence on Claremont’s growth after World War II was the establishment of the Postwar Planning Committee by the chamber. Created in August 1944, and often called the “Committee of One Hundred,” it started with between 50 and 60 members and grew to 77. The chamber outlined its functions: “… involving projects for betterment of Claremont calling upon local organizations and individuals to aid in forwarding them, cooperating with city council and planning commission in matters that will be for civic good and working for welfare of the citizenry.”
The committee worked for over a year and its recommendations laid the groundwork for planning decisions that still inform the city today. Each member of the executive committee chaired a subcommittee that addressed areas such as the business district, finance, zoning ordinances, street trees, fire and police facilities, street maintenance, school district planning and parks. Additional recommendations included a professional rather than volunteer fire department, a city manager form of government, designation of street trees for specific streets, creation of a parkways and streets commission, creation of a parks and recreation commission, tightening of zoning ordinances, and a proposal for a memorial park to honor Claremont’s war dead. After bond issue to establish the park in November 1945 lost by 55 votes, the committee redoubled its efforts and the bond passed in April 1946 and Memorial Park was established.
Pressure for residential development of land caused the decline of the citrus industry and much of Claremont above Foothill and below the Village was converted to housing. The completion of the San Bernardino Freeway in 1954 made it possible for people not connected with the citrus industry or the colleges to live in Claremont. Changes in wholesale and retail business models eventually saw many local stores that once supplied the citrus industry and the colleges in Claremont not able to compete.
One of the main strengths of Claremont is its sense of community, largely due to the preservation of the Village, which once encompassed only the original town center. Chamber leadership responded to the changes in the economy and in 1959 undertook a campaign to capitalize on the uniqueness of the city’s core. The Village was not always the Village, it was more commonly called the central business district from the 1890s through the 1950s. The chamber launched a campaign to establish the downtown as the Village in 1959. The campaign, with the cooperation of city officials, sought to enlist all businesses to refer to the downtown area as the Village. As with any change, the campaign met some opposition. Businesses on Alexander Avenue (now Indian Hill) objected. Albert Scott, who owned business property on Alexander, represented the viewpoint in a letter to the chamber. He used the definition of village from Webster’s Dictionary to point out that a “village” was much smaller than a town or city, but larger than a hamlet. He also listed the definition of village as a “collection of burrows or habitations of animals; as, a prairie-dog or beaver village.”
He predicted that using the word village would bring the demise of the Village and the chamber: “Because if the Central Business District ever becomes a ‘village’ in fact as well as in name you won’t need a Claremont Chamber of Commerce.” He went on to write that “Over here on Alexander we have unpainted electric poles, railroad tracks, gas stations and a used car lot, etc; we have no burrows, prairie-dogs, beavers, villas, country houses or farms.”
Just as changing the name of the business district to Village did not spell out the demise of the city, the expansion of the Village west of Indian Hill did not doom the historic east Village. Instead, it thrived and attracted new businesses and customers. The chamber began its marketing of the uniqueness of Claremont in 1959 and that identity thrives today.
In conjunction with the hospitality industry and the city, the chamber worked to establish the business improvement district in 2009. The taxes collected by the hotels established Discover Claremont that markets the city and has made Claremont a regional tourist destination. Discover Claremont advertises in various media and places stories in magazines and newspapers promoting the city. The chamber also operates as the visitors and convention bureau. The chamber on average fields over 8,000 phone calls, assists over 6,400 walk-ins, distributes over 21,000 brochures and has over 89,000 page views on its website.
Over the years the chamber has supported and advocated for legislation that promotes a healthy community and business environment. It supported the redevelopment of Auto Center Drive, the Village expansion and the current Village south development. It worked with the city and businesses during the 2007 recession and during the recent pandemic to support and advocate for financial assistance programs and amenities such as parklets.
Today the chamber remains strong with nearly 500 members and continues its tradition of community involvement and remains steadfast to its historical beginnings: “. . . to provide strong leadership in serving the interest of business, promote the inter-relationship between business and community, and encourage business participation with civic and educational organizations and programs within the Claremont area.”