Renwick House placed on National Register of Historic Places
by John Neiuber
Claremont has an inventory of historic buildings in excess of the city’s relative small size.
This phenomenon is the result of several factors. First, the Colleges had respected architects that completed many projects. Secondly, the arts movement that flourished at mid-century, due to the influence of the Scripps College Art Department under Millard Sheets, brought additional architects to the city. Lastly, there has been an active, and mostly successful, preservation movement in Claremont since the early 1970s.
Because of the rich history of the city, the architecture, the culture and the people who have shaped its growth, a number of structures have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. On April 18, 2016, the Helen Goodwin Renwick House, 211 N. College Avenue, was unanimously approved by the State Historical Resources Commission and subsequently placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Helen Renwick was a philanthropist, noted for her involvement in the development of the city. Ms. Renwick was involved in Pomona College and gave generously to build Renwick Gymnasium (now demolished) and when the Rembrandt Club at Pomona College was raising funds for a building, she donated the lot on which Rembrandt Hall still stands. But it was not Pomona College that brought her to Claremont; it was her religious affiliation and other alumni of Oberlin College, where she attended, who resided in Claremont.
From the beginning, she was immersed in the community. Her home became a gathering place for both the community and the Colleges. She hosted lectures on art, ice cream socials and community gatherings in her beautiful garden, once located north of the house. She taught Sunday school, hosted missionaries, and was a member of and supported The American Board of Foreign Missions. It was in her house where she wrote two published books of poetry.
Above all, she was civic minded. Judy Wright tells us, “When Pilgrim Place was still a dream, its forerunner, the Claremont Missionary Home, began where Scripps College is today. Helen’s gift of several lots on Columbia Avenue served to crystallize the plan and give it reality.”
When Scripps was being planned, James Blaisdell persuaded the Pomona trustees to purchase the Missionary Home and the proceeds were used in 1924 to purchase the 20 acres of undeveloped land along Berkeley and Harrison Avenues, which is now Pilgrim Place. Ms. Wright notes, “Harrison Stephens, in his book, A Song of Home, says that ‘Many others helped to start the missionary home, but the Porters, Blaisdells, Nortons and Mrs. Renwick were the main energy.’”
Ms. Renwick was also involved with the Women’s Union of the Claremont Congregational Church in both of Claremont’s barrios where, in one, a community house was developed that was named Su Casa, touted as a house of friendship for all nationalities.
In 1928, a Claremont COURIER article reported, “From the very beginning of the enterprise, Mrs. Renwick’s interest and gifts sustained the house.”
Originally built and owned by the Korean Church, Ms. Renwick and A.G. McKenna purchased the house and then surrounding lots and small houses for the project.