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What’s in a name

by John Neiuber

Let’s take a walking tour of Claremont. Begin on Forest Avenue at Mesa Avenue and proceed south; turn west on Main Street, past Goddard Avenue to Warren Avenue, take a left and then walk south to Fifth Street. Turn right on Fifth Street, head west past Pearl Street and turn south on Tremont Avenue. Tremont jogs and becomes Palmer Avenue north of Fifth, so if you get to Palmer Avenue you have gone too far.

Proceed down Tremont to Third Street and turn right. Continue walking west to Alexander Avenue and turn south. Third Street becomes Central Avenue, west of Alexander.  Continue on Alexander south past the railroad tracks to Cucamonga Avenue. 

Now that you have arrived at your destination, and given you are a Claremont resident, you may be confused because you don’t recognize any of those streets.  The set of directions above were the names given the streets when Claremont was established in 1887, as laid-out by the Pacific Land Improvement Company. 

Conventional wisdom for many years said the streets were named for directors of the company or the Santa Fe Railroad. This was debunked many years later by Judy Wright when her research showed that the only street name found among the officers and directors of the Santa Fe Railroad was its general manager, J.G. Goddard.

The only other familiar person to have a street named after him was none other than the father of Claremont and the person largely responsible for Pomona College being located in Claremont, Henry Austin Palmer.  Mr. Palmer’s house was located in what is now Memorial Park and Palmer Avenue was a north/south street that ran just east of his house. Today, it is Yale?Avenue.

The majority of streets in Claremont are named after colleges, but that didn’t happen immediately after Pomona College moved to Claremont during the Christmas break of 1888-89. The earliest record of the discussion about renaming streets occurred in the minutes of The Town Meeting of February 9, 1900, where a motion was adopted “that a street naming committee be appointed by the chair to consider the advisability of renaming our streets and, if thought advisable, to bring before the town meeting a plan for the same.” 

At a meeting later in the same month, Henry Palmer put forth a resolution that was to be sent to the Los Angeles County Supervisors to change the name of Alexander Avenue and Indian Hill Boulevard to Claremont Avenue. The resolution was referred to the street naming committee, where, as proved by history, it must not have garnered sufficient support. It has been speculated that the committee most likely deferred to the city of Pomona because Alexander was named after one of its founders.

In May of 1902, the Town Meeting considered and approved the recommendation of the street naming committee, which was actually the same as the motion offered by Henry Palmer two years before, “that streets running east and west should be designated by numbers while north and south streets should be avenues named for colleges and universities save that the street bisecting the campus should be called College Avenue.”

For four decades after the city incorporated in 1907, the naming of streets was by consensus. Streets such as Oxford and Cambridge were added, yet there were a few exceptions such as the Spanish named streets of the Via Zurita tract that was owned by Scripps and where the lots were being sold to raise funds for the college.  Both Third and Fifth Streets were renamed Bonita and Harrison, respectfully, and corresponded with streets in Pomona. Other notable exceptions are Baughman Avenue and Stephen Avenue that were named after the Baughman family. University Circle is another exception to the college names and also to the grid design of the city south of Foothill Boulevard.

Mention of the grid design brings us to the naming of another street, Base Line Road. Early in the country’s history, Congress enacted legislation that public lands would be divided by lines intersecting true north and at right angles. The purpose was to form townships.  Towns were divided into sections, each one a square mile and consisting of 640 acres.

To create these towns it was required to establish independent initial points which would act as a base for surveys. Guide meridians were established at base lines and standard parallels were established at meridians. 

The survey of the Pomona Valley in 1866 was how Base Line Road was created and was the base line for development of towns from just west of La Verne all the way to Highland in San Bernardino County. For many years, Base Line Road served as a major east/west transportation corridor until the 210 Freeway was built.

For 50 years it was the cohesiveness of the town that kept the naming of streets on track. It was not until Claremont’s first zoning ordinance passed in 1952 that the naming of streets after colleges was codified and extended to all streets with very few exceptions.

Let’s take this walking tour again but, this time, in 2017.

Begin on Amherst at Foothill Boulevard and proceed south (Begin at Harvey Mudd directly across the street from the entrance to the Bernard Field Station.  Amherst, once named Forest, has been broken-up over the years as the colleges developed, so you will need to wind your way through the colleges). Turn west on 6th Street, past College Way to College Avenue and then walk south to Harrison Avenue where it once intersected College, just south of Pearsons Hall. Walk through the parking lot. Head west past Harvard Avenue and turn south on Yale Avenue. Yale jogs and continues north of Harrison, so if you get to Yale as it proceeds north you have gone too far. Proceed down Yale to Bonita Avenue and turn right. Continue walking west to Indian Hill Boulevard and turn south. Proceed south on Indian Hill past the railroad tracks to Arrow Highway. You have arrived at your destination.

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