Biting the collegiate hand

by John Pixley

It’s a project that “would violate the character and destroy the history of Claremont.”

That’s not all. “Here’s the reason for the proposed location: somebody has a lot of money to put into a project and they want it to be in the most prominent location with their name on it. In contrast, the stated reason for locating it there are weak.”

To top it off, if the man proposing the project “truly believes the proposed changes would ‘not be a dramatic change,’ he must either be delusional or is lying.”

Who is this guy? This shifty conniver out to pull one over on Claremont. The guy who wants to pull the wool over our eyes and sell Claremont, with all its rich and unique history and character, down the river? What is this big-money project, focused on a prime location, that is being foisted on us? Who is going to “violate” and “destroy” Claremont with their pet project?

It could be Walmart—yes, Walmart, trying to build a megastore in the Village. Yes, Walmart wants to put a big-box emporium in the Village, and woe to the shops left to try to compete. Or perhaps it’s a gas refinery or a power plant. Or perhaps it’s General Motors wanting to build a distribution center—or even a factory, heaven forbid—in Claremont.

It could be. That’s what it sounds like in the letter in these pages about a month ago. But it’s not.

The man who “must either be delusional or is lying” (either way, he’s not someone to be relied on or trusted) is David Oxtoby, the president of Pomona College. And the project, which will “violate the character and destroy the history of Claremont,” is a new art museum the college wants to build.

More specifically, the college wants to raze the old, small college-owned bungalows on the corner of College and Bonita Avenues behind the Claremont library and build a new museum. The new museum will replace Montgomery Art Gallery, which is deemed outdated and cramped and will reportedly be torn down along with the Thatcher Music Building next door on the east side of College Avenue. The proposal has been dubbed by one man as “the Oxtoby Plan.”

No, this isn’t Walmart or an energy plant, but the letter-writer, Charles Hepperle, and others over the last several months don’t see much difference. They tend to see and portray Pomona College and President Oxtoby as a greedy and scheming entity with nefarious intentions to encroach on, if not invade, our town.

Although Mr. Hepperle questions the need for a new museum, going so far as to say, “This is a college art museum, not a world-class gallery of masterpieces,” most of the concern has been not about the new museum itself but about its placement on the west side of College Avenue. As if in a desperate attempt to stop the spread of a maleficent blob, those who have expressed concern point out that there are only houses along the west side of College Avenue south of Fourth Street, with most suggesting that the museum be located where there is a baseball field on the northeast corner of College Avenue and First Street (handily pointing out that the site isn’t far from the Metrolink station). Never mind that these houses and the land are owned by Pomona College and mostly have institutional uses. 

Pomona College isn’t the only murky entity apparently out to have its dubious way with Claremont. In a lengthy Viewpoint on the next page in the same August 28 COURIER edition, Claremont Lincoln University is put under a harsh light and suspected of having less than honorable intentions.

The new graduate school wants to expand and is proposing to build on land owned by the Claremont Unified School District next to La Puerta Sports Park.  In order for the plan to be feasible, according to CLU, the school wants to switch, or flip, property with the park so that it will have an Indian Hill Boulevard address. This, posits the writer, Tony Neilpovich Sr., “is a very bad idea.”

Mr. Neilpovich not only presents a detailed list of the hardships and inconveniences the plan would entail for him and the other neighbors (bright lights, partying after 9 p.m, remote-controlled aircraft with cameras, view of “public restrooms every time you open your front door,” etc.) He makes a point of saying that when the school’s architectural representive spoke about the building’s height, “either he was being disingenuous or he was demonstrating a new form of comedy,” which is akin to saying Pomona College’s President Oxtoby “must either be delusional or is lying.”

It is also alleged that CLU is engaged in “all of this glad-handing,” along with school district and city officials, which “doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Is it not clear that the Colleges are some power-hungry entity that can’t be trusted and is out to have its way and take over Claremont? If not, Mr. Neilpovich spells it out early in his piece: “Some of the colleges in Claremont may believe that they have enough clout and leverage with the city to get what they want; perhaps they do, but not this time and not without a fight.”

Really? The Colleges are an evil force with “enough clout and force to get what they want”? So much so that the rest of us have to “fight” them off? This is war, with College Avenue roughly the line of battle? Really?

I wonder if many people remember, let alone miss, “the Woods.” This was a small grove of trees behind Pomona College’s Carnegie Hall, north of Fourth Street on, yes, the west side of College Avenue. When the college proposed razing a number (but not all) of the trees on this college-owned land to make way for the Hahn building, there was considerable squawking, with concern that the Village would be ruined. Now the building is just part of the Village environs. And not only is it surrounded by a good number of trees, I would argue it is more attractive than the office building along First Street and the bunker-like library, which replaced a previous charming building and which Mr. Hepperle labeled “brutalism-style” in his letter. (No, it didn’t improve things when the copper band around the exterior turned green, as was promised or rumored at the time).

The same can be said about Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker building—another controversy that isn’t. There are plenty of others. And there was the storm over the Bernard Field Station on the college-owned land along Foothill Boulevard. Yes, there was a fight, but the Colleges didn’t really dig in their heels and use their “clout and leverage with the city to get what they want.” The Keck Institute settled in at another location. (This could be what happens in the CLU case.)

It is hard to believe that the Colleges are out to take over Claremont and to “violate the character and destroy the history of Claremont.” Wouldn’t they want Claremont to be a nice, unique, small college town that is pleasant to live and work in?

After all, the Colleges are why Claremont is a nice, unique, small town. They put Claremont on the map. As Don Fisher pointed out in the same COURIER edition, “the several Claremont Colleges are collectively an intrinsic and integral part of our lovely town.”

It goes without saying that the Colleges have much invested in this and in being part of “the character and history of Claremont.” Would they really mess it up?


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