A small village island nestled in our midst

I moved to Claremont in 1964. Even having lived elsewhere during the passing years, I still consider this city my home. Living here for so many years has given me a chance to watch Claremont expand in size, crawl up into the hills and eliminate many of the groves and open areas that surrounded our once small town. 

One part of town always caught my curiosity; the small “island” of winding streets and small cottage houses between Harrison and Eighth Street, west of Berkeley. From the beginning it seemed to me to be a small island with its own personality in the middle of our larger town.

I was told it was a place where Christian missionaries came to live after their missionary service was complete. It felt like a world within itself having nothing to do with me. Once in a while I would drive through it enjoying the quaint names of the streets right out of our Pilgrim stories and getting myself lost and having no idea where I was going. 

Of course I and everyone else know about the Pilgrim Festival where all the residents dress up in Pilgrim clothes from the 1600s and sell their handicrafts and collectibles, serve turkey dinners and offer rides in a motorized Mayflower ship. In the ‘60s, 70s and 80s my contact to Pilgrim Place was basically through curiosity and limited knowledge. 

A few years ago things began to change for me. I spent more time at home than I had before and I grew older. So did most of my friends. There was more talk among people I knew about retiring, moving to retirement homes and living smaller. There was talk about friends settling into or looking into the Manor or the Gardens, but no one mentioned Pilgrim Place since it was for the missionaries, or so we had always thought. Then I began to learn a few things that were new to me.

First I found out that there was a museum in the the Pilgrim Place community filled with art and collections that missionaries had brought back from their sojourns all over the world and donated to the collection. This museum is devoted to developing an awareness of other cultures.

There is also an excellent collection of pottery from many of the California potters who made their home and ceramic center at Scripps College. A few years ago I was invited to serve on the board of directors of this Petterson Museum of Intercultural Art. It has opened my eyes to a different view of Pilgrim Place. 

I have now learned that residency is open to elders over 60 years of age who are involved in social justice issues and for peace and improving the lives of others. There is an expectation that when one moves to Pilgrim Place he or she will dedicate time and energy to serving the community. 

When I visit and speak to residents I am inspired by their active participation in working for those ideals. One feels the vitality of the community and the members desire to make things better in the world.  They have purpose.

All the classes offered, the organization of selling household items, clothing and books, the museum, the garden club and so forth is done by the residents themselves. There is no paid coordinator. There is one meal served a day, the noon meal, and seating is changed daily so everyone has a chance to get to know each other. I was invited to eat at one luncheon and I can attest to the fact that the food is good.. 

Now that I have a purpose for being at Pilgrim Place, I will say that I still get lost, often finding myself winding about the streets only to end up where I began and no closer to where I meant to go. However the drive is nice and the cottages are really sweet.  There are no two alike. They come in different sizes and there are three apartment buildings. 

All together there are 185 residences for independent living and there is an area for assisted living and a skilled nursing facility that is open to all people in the greater Claremont community. And there is a memory care home. 

I enjoy seeing artistic sculptures set up on lawns throughout the community. The residences have their own front gardens where they plant and care for what they enjoy. Some have art pieces in their gardens. One couple even designs and makes their own. 

Some of the houses are older, dating from the 1920s just like in the Village area of Claremont. Others are of a later vintage. The residents are dedicated and purposeful, which creates a strong energy and makes life have meaning. I was glad to learn that the people who have stood (and still stand) on Arrow Highway at Indian Hill on Friday afternoons with their anti-war signs or their peace in the world signs come from Pilgrim Place. They care and are willing to share their beliefs to make a positive and peaceful difference to the community of Claremont.

Take a walk or a drive around this active community, a small island in our larger Claremont Village.  Get lost, admire and come and visit the museum for a surprise treat.


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