The Claremont Inn: 1906 to 1968
by John Neiuber
It is Christmas in 1906, and most people are enjoying dinner at home with family and friends. However, you have recently arrived to Claremont, and are facing a new year filled with immense promise in this little town that is just one year away from incorporation as a city.
Perhaps you are a Pomona College student away from home for the holidays or a professor who has just joined the faculty. Maybe you came to Claremont to open a new business in the bustling Village or have just purchased a tract of lemon groves in the still-growing and burgeoning citrus industry. You are settled in, but without family and friends, and Christmas dinner is just not the same.
Fortunately, the Claremont Inn had opened in the fall and you head there for Christmas dinner. At the Inn, you find other students, faculty and townspeople, like yourself, coming together to enjoy the holiday fare. For just 75 cents, you enjoy the Christmas menu that will not change much over the next 60 years:
Sweet pickles, celery, mission olives
Salad—Lettuce with mayonnaise
Roast turkey with walnut dressing
Roast loin of pork with applesauce
Browned sweet potatoes
Ice cream and cake
In 1903, after three years of discussion, development, revisions and amendments, an exact procedure for the Town Meeting form of government was adopted. Procedures were now in place to expedite the work of committees such as water supply, library, streets and sidewalks, hotel, finance, street trees, sanitation and cemetery. The Town Regulations of Claremont put in place the impetus to move forward with many projects and spurred the citizenry toward incorporation.
At a town meeting in 1905, the citizens approved the Hotel Committee’s plan to build a venue that would serve both the college and the city. Much had changed since 1889, when the first hotel in Claremont sat empty after the land boom and bust of the mid-1880s.
The Hotel Claremont and the surrounding acreage was given to Pomona College and was the college’s first building, becoming Claremont Hall, and later Sumner Hall. In just 15 years, the town now needed a center and hotel for visitors, and the college was in need of a dining hall. The Town Meeting and Board of Trustees of Pomona College entered into a joint venture to build The Claremont Inn.
The Claremont Inn Company built a beautiful, wooden Craftsman-style inn with 12 guest rooms at the northwest corner of College Avenue and Bonita. Wide steps flanked by rock cheek walls led to the large covered porch and the entrance. The porch had rockers and benches that allowed visitors to sit and look out across to Pomona College. Above the porch was a terrace that wrapped around the north end of the building. The apex of the hip of the roof was rounded, as were the dormers, giving a nod to the English Craftsman movement.
In 1907, the Claremont Inn Company, unable to operate at a profit, turned over the operation of the Inn to Pomona College. After incorporation in 1907, the city maintained partial ownership until 1910, when the college became the sole owner. The inn became the center of the community, thus cementing a close relationship between residents and the college in the early days.
In 1912, a wing of rooms was added, giving the inn accommodations for 40 overnight guests, and included a guest dining room and club room. The dining facilities could serve up to 250 people. College students who were not boarding in town were required to eat at the inn.
The inn was a very popular and convenient hotel for both residents and the college given its location, a sort of bridge between the Village and the college. Brochures described it as “a friendly family inn” and “a quiet hotel of the New England type.” Pomona students were hired to wait tables and meals were reasonable. In 1940, the menu advertised rice croquettes with chipped beef for just 40 cents. And, if one really had gourmet tastes, a rack of lamb would set one back 75 cents. In the 34 years since the inn opened, the Christmas dinner had increased to only $1.25. Smoking was not permitted at the inn when it opened but, by the 1930s, guests and diners alike were allowed to enjoy a pipe or cigar.
The inn’s guest quarters were closed in 1965, after it was determined to be a fire hazard, but dining continued until 1968. Pomona College conducted a feasibility study that indicated renovation to be an impractical option, and the dining room closed on June 30, 1968.
Many civic and fraternal groups had begun efforts to restore or preserve the building, but all failed. Other feasibility options were explored, but none came to fruition. In July of 1968, Pomona College demolished the Claremont Inn that had served the community and the college for 62 years.
The demolition of the Claremont Inn and the Claremont Library, among other lost structures, prompted the beginning of the preservation movement in Claremont. Active citizens began work to establish the first historic district in Claremont in 1971. These events also spurred the founding of Claremont Heritage, through whose efforts the first historic resources survey was conducted.
We now know that it is possible to save and restore historic buildings and that wood structures can be fire proofed. We now know that it is possible to restore, adaptively reuse and maintain historic buildings that might be leveled otherwise.
Judy Wright wrote, “people were worried about the health of the Village during this period, because without the inn it was felt that people would no longer gather and stop in the Village.”
We now know that it took 40 years before there was another inn in the Village and a public plaza for citizens to gather.