Life, commerce returning to former Press site, but no live music
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
Barring unforeseen obstacles there will soon be life again at the former Press location at 129 Harvard Ave. Escrow is due to close October 16, with Finney’s Crafthouse aiming to open in late 2024.
This according to Brad Finefrock (pronounced “Finney-frock”), 52, who with his twin brother Greg co-owns the seven-year-old Westlake Village-based restaurant chain. Finefrock, Finney’s director of business development and expansion, said the company has waved escrow contingencies and now has a pathway to close on the iconic 3,804 sq. ft. 1929 building. The price? Somewhere around $2.5 million, according to the latest listing on Loop.net.
Before we get any further, music fans should gird themselves for some bad news: Finney’s will not be hosting live music.
“I already hate the idea of upsetting the public by not having live music, but it’s just something that doesn’t fit within our concept,” Finefrock told me on Monday. Fair enough. It’s been more than three years since The Press — the last full time live original music venue in the City of Claremont — abruptly shut its doors in March 2020. Thankfully, the Folk Music Center still brings original acoustic music to town on some weekends, as it has for more than 60 years. The Back Abbey and Union On Yale also occasionally book original acoustic acts, and every now and then a songwriter plays the seasonal Friday Nights Live shows. Of course the Claremont Colleges always program a smattering of original live music (and oodles of classical stuff!) into their school years. But these bookings, while greatly appreciated and often well attended, are mostly sporadic. By now we’ve all begrudgingly grown accustomed to traveling elsewhere to hear noisy original electric music on a nightly basis.
Finefrock said there are no plans to expand the space or make any major structural changes at 129 Harvard Ave.
“We love the building how it is,” he said. “Of all of our stores — as I told the sellers — it’s one of my favorite buildings we have.”
The first Finney’s opened in Westlake Village in 2016. The brothers are also in Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Porter Ranch, Burbank, Orange, Camarillo, Laguna Beach, and Redlands. Claremont would be its 11thlocation.
Finefrock, who lives in Santa Barbara, first fell for the City of Trees three years ago when he was enrolling his son (now a junior) at Claremont McKenna College.
“And I just said, ‘Oh my gosh. How has it taken me 50 years to find Claremont?’ What a beautiful little town.”
Thus began a three-plus-year search for a suitable location. The Press was actually not the first choice. The brothers tried to make deals at what is now Casa Maguey, in the Laemmle Plaza; for the former Rhino Records spot on Yale Avenue that will soon open as La Popular, a chain Mexican restaurant; and in what would have no doubt been a shock to the system for Claremonters, at the Pizza N’ Such location in the iconic Verbal Building at Second Street and Yale Avenue. Thankfully for us Pizza N’ Such enthusiasts, that last option is now off the table, as rumor has it young Laura Verbal is the new owner of the beloved 44-year-old joint and has no plans to sell. Bullet dodged.
The brothers have been working with the city and owner on a deal for more than two months. Their architects are now drawing up plans that Finefrock hopes to submit to the city in early 2024, with a building permit likely to follow in the months ahead. He’s hoping to add outdoor dining on Harvard and along the pass through walkway to the south of the building, and new windows that would open out to the street and/or pass through area. All these plans are contingent on approval from the Claremont Planning Commission, and will be winding their way through that process in the coming months.
Finefrock singled out the exposed truss interior of the 1929 structure as particularly compelling, and said his team is working on incorporating the 24-year legacy of the Press into its design.
“Yeah, we love this space,” he said. “We couldn’t be any more thrilled to be part of such a historic landmark like the Press. Our whole design motif is 1920s Prohibition era, so anytime we get the opportunity to buy or become a tenant in a building that was built in the ‘20s or ‘30s it just speaks to the whole style and design of our concept.”
The brothers had a similar challenge when Finney’s opened in March at the former White House location in Laguna Beach, which before closing in 2019 had been the oldest restaurant in Orange County.
The Finefrock brothers also like historic downtowns — like Claremont’s — and have Finney’s locations in 100-plus year-old buildings in Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and the aforementioned Laguna Beach.
“We pay a lot of homage to the history of each of those buildings and surrounding downtown communities,” Finefrock said.
Putting aside my lingering sadness about the demise of The Press and live original music at that location, I can’t help but wish the Finefrock brothers well. The Village is changing to be sure, and there’s no stopping it. Longtime standalone landmarks like Rhino Records, Barbara Cheatley’s, and up the road a bit, Candlelight Pavilion, are gone for good. Small chain restaurants like La Popular and Finney’s are on the way in. I choose to look forward with hope that these new businesses will invigorate the Village for years to come rather than bemoan the losses, parking issues be damned.
Meanwhile, Pomona’s Glass House, Fox Theater, dba256, and others continue to bring us live original electric music right down the road. I’m both confused and intrigued to see Psychedelic Porn Crumpets at the Glass House October 7; Liz Phair brings her frank, explicit folk rock to the Fox November 3 on her “Guyville” tour, in which she’s playing her 1993 breakthrough “Exile in Guyville” in its entirety; and the scrappy little dba256 books all kinds of young bands with wonderfully catchy and strangely punctuated names such as Betray.Every.God., Calmgrove, and my favorite, Waiting For Cake.
It’s good to know Pomona still values bringing all that wild original musical diversity to town. See ya there.