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What it doesn’t take to raise a village

by John Pixley

 

When is a train station not a train station? When it’s a museum—and not a train museum.

I was thinking that this could be a kind of a joke, sort of like a knock-knock joke. Except then a friend came to spend a weekend recently.

My friend got here on the Metrolink. Actually, he came from northern California, above Sacramento, on Amtrak and then took Metrolink here when he got to Union Station in Los Angeles.

This was the idea, really. This was what it was all about: having the Metrolink come here and revive the old Claremont Depot. The idea was to link Claremont with LA and the rest of the state and the country and the world, even, without a car and the freeway. My friend showed that it can be done.

It was a good thing, though, that I met my friend when he got off the train. Otherwise, he may have been confused, even a bit lost.

He probably wouldn’t have felt welcomed, it being his first time in Claremont, at least not with a sign on the train station saying that the train station is no longer a train station and will be the home of the Claremont Museum of Art sometime in the future. And not with the sign saying that the available public restrooms are at least a block away, if city hall is open, and listing one in a park several blocks away.

There is also the issue of what bus passes, which used to be available at the station, may or may not be available once one, as also directed by the sign, makes it up to city hall. Whether or not the pass issue is resolved, this is not exactly welcoming. At the very least, it is a bit confusing.  

Yes, there are kiosks where train tickets can be bought and train schedules can be consulted, and this is what’s available at most of the other stations along the line. But why have a train station no longer be a train station at a train station? If this is a joke, it’s a gotcha joke.  

While my friend was here, I took him on a tour of the Colleges. Yes, I’m proud of what we have here in the Colleges. We also went to the spring dance concert at Pomona College. I was having fun showing off. My friend was pretty impressed, remarking that he had no idea how close they are to each other. He said that he was reminded of Haverford College, where he went to school and which is affiliated with Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr like the Colleges here. But those colleges aren’t nearly as close to each other, almost merging into one another, as the Colleges here.

Yes, we have something special here, he agreed. The somewhat unusually cool weather helped, along with all the spring blooms and verdant abundance, even in the drought-tolerant landscapes. The busy-ness of alumni weekend at the Colleges—I didn’t realize that Pomona wasn’t the only college hosting this event that weekend—also added pizzazz.

But I wondered if the Village could be even more special. I often wonder about this. And not just because of the train station that is not a train station.  Take Indian Hill Boulevard—please!—from the railroad tracks to Bonita. It is anything but special. It’s a hot mess.

Okay, maybe it’s not a hot mess, but it’s at least something of a hiccup, a snag, a stumbling block in a good time. The problem is that it feels like it’s for drivers, not pedestrians, with the lights taking forever to change. Then again, when I’m out in my van, I avoid Indian Hill and all those damn lights, one right after the other. (To be fair, I also avoid Indian Hill in Pomona for the same reason.)

I don’t know if having roundabouts at the lights on First, Second and Bonita would help to make it more pedestrian-friendly. The idea was shouted down, almost with no chance or time for other voices to come about and be heard, when a roundabout was tried at the Bonita Avenue intersection about 20 years ago. (I still remember the phone message Judy Wright left me, anguished that people weren’t giving the round-about a chance.) Perhaps it’s time to try again.

But nobody really wants to try anything that will make it easier for people to navigate the Village. Yes, there has been silliness, like the trolley that was tried out some years ago, but that doesn’t mean other ideas aren’t good and worth trying.

Yes, we have a nice, lively farmers’ market in the Village, but it was only allowed to be on the street like most other farmers’ markets, grudgingly and tentatively, after years of being cramped in the Rhino Records parking lot. And the Wednesday evening street fair was bringing in a crowd, but there were those disturbed by hot dogs on a stick and inviting “carnival folks” in to Claremont.

It’s not that there aren’t things perking up the Village—much more than in the sleepy days and even sleepier evenings when I was growing up here—like the many restaurants offering music and other entertainment, the monthly Art Walk and Friday Nights Live, not to mention Village Venture and a few other annual events. But there could be even more. I was excited to see the new stage in Shelton Park but, so far, I’ve only seen it used by the occasional passing guitar-toting transient and Bible thumper.

Then there’s the storm over Pomona College wanting to build a museum just inside of the Village, on the land behind the library the college owns. I can’t understand the objections to this addition—this exciting, attractive venture by the college, this gift to the community—being on the west side of what has become the sacrosanct line of College Avenue, south of Bonita Avenue, that is.

Meanwhile, back at the old Depot, it appears that something is being tried out way before it should be tried out. Apparently there will be a new station built east of College Avenue, supposedly to accommodate the addition of the Gold Line light rail extension from Pasadena. That may be all well and good, but it could be a while—it could be years—before we see the new line and the new station here. Why didn’t we keep the old station until we have the new one?

It’s not that I’m against the Claremont Museum of Art. I’m all for it, but why is it holding the station in limbo like this, and wouldn’t a train museum or a Claremont history museum, focusing on the city’s connection to the railway, be more appropriate for this historic venue?

Even if the new station east of College doesn’t include a transit store, at least it won’t be a cruel joke. What’s more, with this new station, a railroad bridge likely won’t be needed over Indian Hill Boulevard, since the crossing gates there won’t have to come down for so long. There’s an example, for sure, of how not to make the Village more friendly and lively. 

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