The signs of Claremont

by John Pixley

I wrote last year about a friend from Los Angeles who commented that the stop lights in Claremont seem to take longer. Another friend, who lives in Pomona, says that she knows right away that she has driven into Claremont because the streets are so much smoother. Until recently, when Bonita Avenue was repaved in Pomona, I saw and felt how the difference in asphalt made a borderline as I traveled in my wheelchair to and from the gym at Casa Colina Hospital.

In the same way, there is no doubt that we are in Claremont when, now in September, there are thousands of college students back in town. Not only that, but there are hundreds of professors teaching classes again and a full schedule of lectures and performances to look forward to at the colleges.

So it was really no surprise that in the last month or so a big topic in town was a sign. Really—it took up more than half a page in the August 9 COURIER.

Yes, a sign. Actually, 2 signs.

Never mind that whenever I would go by the Old School House at Foothill and Indian Hill boulevards and see the new monument signs, I would think of something built with Tinker Toys or Legos. Or the huge toy sculpture sign in front of Magic Mountain off Highway 5. Except scaled way down for Claremont.

Okay, maybe I’m not the only one who thought of Tinker Toys and Legos. Tinker Toys and Legos may or may not have been part of the conversation, but scaling down—way down, ideally—for Claremont definitely is.

According to the August 9 article, “it’s back to the drawing board,” with the 12-foot promotional signs scheduled for a re-do “just months” after they were approved by the city’s architectural committee. While Claremont’s director of community development Brian Desatnik said, “There were a couple things with the signs that weren’t built according to plans,” I think it’s pretty obvious that the city was hit with a slew of complaints.

If there were deviations from what was approved, wouldn’t Mr. Desatnik and other city officials have seen them right away?

The signs will be toned down, literally, with the candy colors muted, the brightness dimmed by individual letters being illuminated and each panel limited to one line of text. According to James Sink, chair of the architectural commission, these changes will make the signs appealing despite their size.

“Revising details to match that sign more closely might improve the overall character of the monument signs,” Mr. Sink said. “The signs are going to be large, therefore the details of how they are constructed are extraordinarily important.”

In the article, by Beth Hartnett, it was pointed out that the height of the signs will remain the same (12 feet) “to the dismay of some.”

There is history behind such “dismay,” which I suspect city officials heard a lot about after the signs went up, and Mr. Sink hit the nail on the head when he used the word “character.” For all my life in Claremont, I remember store signs being low, small, not too colorful and bright, almost not there. It wasn’t like it was when I went right over to Upland or Pomona, where there were lots of big, bright signs, some dozens of feet high.

I quickly learned that big signs aren’t Claremont, aren’t in Claremont’s “character.”

It was only 4 years ago that more than 3 stores were allowed on one sign. And, as Ms. Hartnett further explained in the article, “While multi-tenant signs are no longer restricted, they are not welcomed in all parts of the city. Businesses in the Village District, for example, are completely restricted from erecting shared signage, and all other areas are subject to architectural commission review and approval. And while looking to help Claremont business folk, commissioners say they still keep the character of Claremont at the forefront of their decisions.”

Or, as Mr. Sink put it in regards to the Old School House signs, “The sentiment we received from the community was ‘this has to be fixed.’ This development deserves signage that respects the historic character while providing effective and attractive identification for the tenants.”

While there are times, many times, when I roll my eyes, like I did when I saw this story. I have to say that, yes, I have thought those bright Lego signs look silly and also wrong in Claremont. And, yes, I like that there are signs that are wrong in Claremont, that there are limits to the kind of signs allowed here and that we debate it. Even when I think it gets silly, I’m glad that there is an effort to “keep the character of Claremont.” After all, I don’t stay here for no reason.

There are times, though, when keeping the character of Claremont ends up being not only a truly silly sign, but downright ugly. I still say a tattoo parlor wouldn’t hurt the Village. But, apparently, an affordable housing project in northern Claremont, above Foothill Boulevard, is even worse.

Never mind that the state is setting up monitors to gauge how bad the air is next to freeways. Claremont is getting set to greenlight a 95-unit townhouse complex on the southeast corner of Base Line Road and Towne Avenue just off the 210 Freeway in northern Claremont.

Why is it okay for this project to be built at the site when it wasn’t okay for an affordable housing complex to be built there some years ago? Yes, there are stricter environmental standards when it comes to affordable housing but if the site is so unhealthy, why is it okay for better-off folks to live there?

And why isn’t there now a group vigorously opposing the project, as there was when affordable housing was proposed for the site and before the county said it couldn’t be funded due to unhealthful air near the freeway? Prior to the county stepping in, the opposition group spoke of increased crime and decreased property values in the surrounding area.

Interestingly enough, Joseph O’Toole, a vocal leader of the group who fought the affordable housing project, summoning the American Dream in its title, has resurfaced in recent months, taking part in the activities of residents working on more conservative political endeavors. Some might remember Mr. O’Toole was imprisoned for being involved in weapons smuggling.

I’d like to think that this isn’t a sign of Claremont.


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