Claremont Heritage celebrates 40 years
Oftentimes, when I’m thinking about something, or in a conversation or when something happens, a song title or lyric pops into my head. So, I am researching the history of Claremont Heritage for its 40th, and Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” pops into my consciousness:
“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”
“Big Yellow Taxi” was released in 1970, around the time that the preservation movement was gaining traction, not only in Claremont but across the nation. In 1966, congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act. The National Trust for Historic Preservation created the Preservation Services Fund in 1969 to provide assistance to communities. The first field office was opened in 1971 in San Francisco. Certainly, during the late 1960s and into the 1970s, awareness of historic preservation was coming to the forefront. The same was true for Claremont.
The historic preservation movement in Claremont was the outgrowth of the loss of three distinct historic buildings. The Claremont Inn at Bonita and College was demolished in 1968, the Claremont Library at Harvard and Second Street in 1974 and the Woodford House at Seventh and Yale shortly thereafter. These actions prompted an active group of citizens to work to establish the Claremont Historic District in 1971, and for a revision of the ordinance governing the district in 1976.
Claremont Heritage was founded in 1976, and it was through the efforts of Heritage that the first historic resources survey was conducted. At that time, the historic resources survey was limited to the Claremont Historic District and a few outlying historic structures throughout the city, mostly represented by the stone, grove houses and the historic ranches of the citrus industry.
The city of Claremont was also involved in preservation efforts in the 1970s. City hall was renovated and the post office was saved. These two acts of preservation were critically important to the economic health and viability of the Village, especially in light of the demolition of the Claremont Inn. Downtowns require one important thing—people. Without the employees of city hall to use the services and without the foot traffic generated by a post office, coupled with the loss of the Claremont’s gathering place the Claremont Inn, it could have spelled the beginning of the end for the Village as we know it.
From 1979 through 1984, and under the leadership of the late Judy Wright, the Claremont Historic Resources Center worked on the Historic Preservation Element for inclusion in the Claremont General Plan, an element that remains largely the same today as when it was developed.
The center coordinated the survey of historic buildings, staffed Claremont Heritage, wrote historic policy documents for the city and published the first edition of Judy Wright’s book, Claremont: A Pictorial History.
While Ms. Wright was doing all of this, she also served on the city’s planning commission and chaired the general plan committee for the third general plan, adopted in 1981. She later went on to serve on the city council for 13 years and as mayor for three years. She was also the chief preservation advocate for saving the Santa Fe Depot on First Street.
Since 1976, Claremont Heritage has been an integral part of “Keeping Claremont’s history alive.” Many of the founding members have been active in several preservation efforts such as oral histories, historic Claremont zoning, establishing a collections library and home tours. It was because of Claremont Heritage and the city of Claremont that the State Office of Historic Preservation awarded a grant for the survey of the city’s historic resources in 1977.
Today, Claremont Heritage carries on that tradition, having just submitted a list of 40 structures to the city to be included in that same historic resources survey that began 40 years ago. And as soon as that list of 40 is acted upon, Heritage is ready to submit another list.
The preservation movement was the impetus for the creation of Claremont Heritage. The movement helped to create the local historic register, the Preservation Element of the General Plan and the Village Design Guidelines. The preservation movement, a progressive city government and subsequent community effort, created the climate necessary in 2014 for the city of Claremont to receive an “A+” on the Preservation Report Card from the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Preservation attracts people to our city. It has helped create a unique business and residential environment. Preservation attracts investment and revitalizes aging structures and neighborhoods. It has created for Claremont what is known as “Cultural Heritage Tourism.” It is one of the drivers of our economic engine. Preservation is sustainability. It is environmentally responsible.
Judy Wright said it best: “To stand in Bridges Hall of Music, a house in the Russian Village, or in Denison Library is to stand in the same physical environment as those who lived before us. We may think that such items as the stone curbs, the levees in the Pomona Valley Protective Association acreage, the mural in the post office, or one of our last original eucalyptus trees are insignificant, but these are parts of our culture that accumulate to create the essence of our existence. These ‘things’ tell us their stories.”
Claremont Heritage kicks off its 40th year with the theme, “Claremont Matters.” This theme, with its intended double-meaning, is meant to inspire citizens to discuss those things about Claremont that matter to them, and to also initiate discussion about development and historic matters that affect us all.
The preservation movement reminds us not to repeat the mistakes of the past, like those that took place in the ’60s and ’70s. Preservation is a one-way street, because once an historic site is gone, it is gone forever. And once it is gone, we can only lament, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”