A new stage of coming together

“It takes a Village.” It really does.

It not only took the Claremont Community Foundation, the Claremont Village Marketing Group, the Claremont Chamber of Commerce and Wheeler & Wheeler Architects, as well as RKA Consulting Group, MC Alyea Construction, Holliday Rock, STL Landscaping and Anglemyer Crane Rentals.

It also took Joan Bunte, the Burgis Family (Laura, Rick, Elizabeth and Riley), Bridget Healy and Sonia Stump and Bob Fagg, in addition to Bardot Restaurant, Hendricks Pharmacy and Walters Restaurant. And also the city of Claremont, Claremont Kiwanis, Claremont Noon Rotary and Claremont Sunrise Rotary.

It has taken all these people. It has taken all these businesses and merchants. It has taken all these organizations and clubs. And it has taken many others.

This is evident in the names etched in the bricks that line the new Claremont Lincoln University Community Performance Stage in Shelton Park. The bricks will be a reminder, an eternal reminder for generations to come, that this park and its new outdoor stage in the Village really was the work of the community—that it really did take a village.

It was also evident two Saturdays ago when Diana Miller said it at the dedication ceremony for the stage.  “It takes a village” wasn’t just a famous quote that Ms. Miller, the co-founder of the Claremont Village Marketing Group who headed the committee that steered this project, tossed off in her comments kicking off the afternoon. Indeed, as she pointed out, for Ms. Miller and her fellow committee members, it was the end of almost five years of seeing people, businesses and other entities come together for this project, making this idea, this vision, a reality.

The resulting reality that afternoon was a thing of beauty, with the community coming together to celebrate its achievement. The chilly weather and the threat of rain didn’t stop the celebration, with a bustling and excited crowd. It was a true gathering, faithful despite the cold, gray skies, with people greeting each other again and enjoying snacks provided at least in part by Bardot Restaurant.

It was a thing of beauty to see Ms. Miller speak, capping the effort and thanking the many people involved and handing out commemorative bricks to them and having them cut a ribbon and unveil plaques. In addition, she had junior high school boys and girls from El Roble come up and plant flowers flanking the stage—a thing of beauty, if not a miracle, indeed!

She was assisted by Randy Lopez, who has become a go-to emcee for Claremont and who introduced instrumental and vocal performances by Bear Brass, Ophelia’s Jump, Inland Valley Repetory Company and the El Roble Orchestra, breaking in and blessing the new stage.

It was also a thing of beauty to see that the colleges have been integral in the building of the stage.  One of the plaques unveiled on the façade names Claremont Lincoln University. It was noted that, as new as the school is, it is most eager to be involved in the community. Pomona College also had a hand, as did Claremont McKenna College and Scripps College.

In a place like Claremont, “town-gown” is very much a part of the vocabulary, practically an everyday phrase. This is all the more so in this college town, with there being five undergraduate colleges and four graduate schools here. Indeed, “town-gown” is more than an everyday phrase in Claremont; it is a core value or at least a core ideal. From the time I was growing up here, I remember talk of the town-gown relationship—how to maintain it, how to make it better.

With the new community performance stage, “town-gown” is more than a phrase and more than a central value and ideal. It is reality. This is truly a town-gown endeavor.

In the same way it makes “it takes a village” more than a famous quote. That’s what was being celebrated at Shelton Park. This coming together to make the stage and new park a reality, with it taking a village and town-gown cooperation, was something beautiful to see, something definitely worth celebrating.

What’s more, the results of this beautiful coming together—the stage and the renovated Shelton Park—are also a thing of beauty. This cooperation and working together made a piece of art. 

The CLU Community Performance Stage is handsome in a clean, simple way. It reminds me of Shaker furniture or perhaps an Eames chair, with its stark, bold lines in red brick and dark wood beams against a white adobe-like backdrop. This blends in quite nicely with the surrounding Mediteranean greenery, not remarkably lush and not drawing too much attention to itself.

It could be said that it draws attention in not drawing attention to itself. The focus is to be the performances on it as well as its naturally beautiful setting.  Like Shaker furniture and an Eames chair, and also a Greene and Greene house, the stage is beautiful in its lovely simplicity and functionality.

To accommodate the stage, Shelton Park has been more or less redone and, to boot, arguably improved. Some may lament that this more informal, in-the-rough park has been prettified, with plantings here and there and a prim, artfully meandering path. But this is no tame rose garden. There is still plenty of the wild left, at least enough for the town center. A bit like with “the Woods,” the beloved wild grove of trees which used to be where Pomona College’s Hahn building now is two blocks north. The accommodation not only didn’t ruin the site but is also beautiful in its resulting creation. (Do people now mourn “the Woods,” much less remember them?)

Another beautiful thing about the park now, as was pointed out at the dedication, is that it’s a model of sustainability. The area of lawn has been halved, limited to an inviting circle at the lot’s center, beckoning an audience for a performance. The circle is lined with the neat yet organic dirt path, which, in turn, is bordered by a good number of the trees previously in the space and also drought-tolerant plant groupings and rock settings.

Notably, John Fisher’s huge sculpture, “Simple Gifts,” has been moved to the north, now in almost its own alcove. The creation of the sculpture some 20 years ago, with the artist hammering and chipping away at the massive block of marble from Italy onsite and inviting passerby to include their hand-prints in the work, was, like the addition of the stage, an exciting event, drawing the community together. 

As Ms. Miller mentioned, moving the sculpture was almost as thrilling, involving a giant crane. It may have been put aside, but it’s certainly not forgotten; rather, it’s just one artwork in a park celebrating the different arts as well as the art of nature.

That’s what this park is for. There is no playground equipment, but there are benches and tables. This is a nice place to take a break on a busy day to read a bit or chat with a friend, as I’ve done and seen in these last couple weeks, as well as enjoy live music and other performances. I’m looking forward to it being used frequently and regularly, including (and not only) as a Friday Night Live venue. That will be a whole lot nicer than hanging out on the sidewalk to catch a band. 


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