The National Register of Historic Places

by John Neiuber

One cannot walk or drive very far within the city without encountering historic buildings or places. From the Packing House and Harvard Square in the Village, to Little Bridges and the Huntley Bookstore at the Claremont Colleges, one encounters iconic buildings and settings at every turn. 

Some are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to our history; some are associated with the lives of significant people in our past; some embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction or represent the work of a master architect or are of artistic value; and some may yield information important to our history.

Meeting one or more of the above criteria is what defines a building or place as significant, and therefore historic. The criteria was authorized in 1966 by the National Historic Preservation Act, which established the National Register of Historic Places, that is administered by the National Park Service and is the official list of the Nation’s historic places.

It is the responsibility of the National Park Service to evaluate the eligibility of properties proposed for addition to the National Register. Each State Historic Preservation Office reviews NR nominations prior to forwarding them for National Register consideration.

That National Park Service evaluates both individual properties and entire districts for inclusion on the National Register. The NR lists tens of thousands of individual properties and thousands of historic districts. Districts are established because the collection of buildings within their boundaries have a significance that is greater than that of all of the individual properties.

A NR district may recognize a thematic context for a district. For example, it could be a Craftsman residential neighborhood like Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena, or it could be a warehouse district of a certain era, or a commercial center, much like the Claremont Village. Properties within the district are then identified as either contributing or noncontributing to the district.

Many will be surprised to hear that an NR property or district actually offers little real protection for the historic resources. Protection is afforded only to an NR property or district that is supported by federal funds or involves a federal agency. Protection of historic resources usually falls to the city in which the assets are located. Protections are typically afforded local and national register properties through such vehicles as preservation ordinances, design guidelines and architectural reviews, which are oftentimes adopted by cities with inventories of historic resources.

There are also financial benefits that come with NR listing. Almost all local, state or national charitable foundation grants for preservation activities require the property be listed individually on the National Register or, if in an NR district, that it be a contributing property.

There are seven Claremont properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are more properties per capita in Claremont that any surrounding city—approximately one property for every 5,000 residents. Ontario, with a population of 164,000, has four properties on the register or one for every 41,000 residents. Pomona has 11 properties on the register or one for every 13,500 residents. Upland has four properties on the register or one for every approximately 18,000 residents. La Verne has two properties or one for every 15,000. Montclair has no properties on the register.

The seven properties in Claremont are:

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Station: Built in 1927, it was placed on the NR in 1982. This Spanish Colonial Revival building is now home to the Claremont Museum of Art.  

Padua Hills Theatre: Built in 1930, it achieved National Register designation in 1998. It was designed by prominent architects Marston & Maybury.

Pitzer House: Located at Towne and Baseline, it was built in 1912, and was placed on the NR in 1986. Noted architectural historian, Robert Winter called it the finest stone house in all of southern California.

Russian Village District: Begun in 1923, the district achieved NR status in 1978. This NR District on south Mills, consists of 15 “folk architecture” homes.

Scripps College Historic District: Built between 1926 and 1939, the ten major academic and residential structures, designed by Gordon Kaufmann, were added to the NR in 1984.

Intercultural Housing District: Built beginning in 1947, and added to the NR in 2015, the cultural and historic significance of the District is derived from its role in Latino civil rights and anti-segregation movements in Claremont.

Helen Goodwin Renwick House: Constructed in 1900, and placed on the NR in 2016, the home is significant because of the contributions of Helen Renwick to the greater community.

What is eye-opening about the NR list for Claremont is that it does not include some of the most iconic buildings and districts in the city. Sumner House? No. Bridges Auditorium? No. Little Bridges? No. College Avenue? No. Garrison Theater, Millard Sheets Studio, Pomona First Federal Bank (US Bank), Huntley Bookstore and the Post Office? All no.

Why preserve buildings, places and neighborhoods? Preservation is environmentally responsible. As is often stated, the greenest building is the one that is already built. The embodied energy in historic buildings cannot be replaced by new construction. It is lost and causes the use of even more natural resources to build new. Preservation is also good for the local economy. Adaptive reuse creates more jobs and uses fewer materials. Tourists are attracted to preserved downtowns and neighborhoods, thereby increasing the financial resources for businesses and city government alike.

However, one of the simplest reasons is because historic buildings are good to look at. They appeal to us—speak to us, if you will. Different and varied styles built over a period of time endow neighborhoods with variety, beauty, texture and detail that make them unique.

Preservation helps to showcase a common history and therefore, a common language that often transcends differing politics and thought.  Preservation grounds us and provides context for our lives and for our children, because it reminds us of where we have been and informs the future.


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