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Commentary: Magical Claremont

by Steve Harrison

Many towns and cities have magical elements which make them special, transporting the resident or guest to another place or attitude. The way the pink afternoon light hits the San Gabriels, views of Half Dome in Yosemite peeking through low hanging clouds, different colored cement buildings cascading down San Francisco’s hilly streets to the bay, shimmering in gray rain, or moonlight, or brilliant summer sun. Visitors are struck by our views and tourists come from miles around to see.

Frequently, cresting the Pomona Hills on the 57 looking up toward Baldy, John and I will remark that if we were traveling, tourists to this area, we would be taken with views that as daily residents we take for granted. Claremont offers many a magical place and experience that we savor, helping to root us here for good.

Annually, we make our pilgrimage to Luminaria Nights at California Botanical Garden. It is indeed magical, transporting us from daily concerns, city traffic, Village life. The first time we went after 30 years living here, we couldn’t believe that we were two miles from home. As one strolls through paths, now widened and lit by strings of lights and solar luminary lights, cold numbing our noses and toes, we thought of Santa Fe’s town square. Reality blurs the darkened edge of the garden, Steve Rushingwind’s magical notes floating from stage to hearts.

One forgets the elevation at the heart of our town, but you are aware of life further afield, across the valley, seeing twinkling lights off to Chino and Pomona hills. Tourists and townspeople grab a Some Crust cookie, some hot chocolate or tea, and full of good cheer, we all wander the paths, smiling at one another, marveling at this seed repository, this wild garden, this artful presentation of landscape, and sculpture, of music and light. And we are lucky to have it in our town.

There are many special spots like this in Claremont. The Padua Theatre hanging on the edge of a northern hillside, surrounded by olive trees, surviving naked ladies in surrounding gardens, the sitting and brooding native girl in the courtyard can transport us to decades past when Mexican players lured Los Angeles city dwellers to a little known or populated town on the county’s eastern edge. Its views still delight, spiritual and artistic impulses still energized by a stroll through its paths or views from its patios. Many an engaged couple tie the knot there, my own first acquaintance with Claremont came as a wedding attendee.

Sitting in restaurants such as Viva Madrid or Uno Tre Otto provide a close-to-home gateway to cafes in century-old eateries in Portugal or Spain. Both provide unique and tasty dinners and bites in a truly unique atmosphere not found in many of Southern California’s strip malls or along its busy streets. Walking through the college campuses, one can’t help but think of all those students across the country and around the world stepping out into their own: here, Harvard Yard, Cambridge, and Oxford. Passing Little Bridges, the hall inspires thoughts of those classical music venues where gifted musicians compose and perform, allowing the listener respite or challenge from daily grinds within architecture that seems classically old world.

Magic has power and so does our town. Winter is my favorite Claremont season, a chill allowing for ski jackets and scarves. Of course, I did see a bare-chested runner trotting down Mills this morning, 40 degrees and misting, on my way to pick up a breakfast treat. You’ve got to love the juxtapositions Southern California provides.

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