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Claremont history on display with property for sale-podcast

Historic Claremont Home for Sale

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Real estate agents tend to toss around the phrase “one of a kind,” but salesmanship can lean toward hyperbole, and sometimes it’s a stretch.

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But in the instance of the property at 2373 N. Indian Hill Blvd., the product lives up to the billing.

The six-bedroom, five-bath, 2,797-square-foot home, built in 1912, is on the market—at $1.4 million—for the first time since 1969, and though it’s unique, and some might argue historic, it’s not clear what may become of the 109-year-old grove house.

It’s a beautiful relic, to be sure, but one with ancient electrical and heating systems, no central air, limited closet space, original windows and limited insulation. And the .82-acre lot is large enough to build a few modern condos or even perhaps two single family homes. So it is possible this piece of Claremont history could very well be nearing the end of its natural life.

But it’s not just a house, said its 91-year-old owner, John Schwartz. It’s where he and his wife Margretha raised their three sons, who roamed the surrounding lemon groves on foot and horseback. The family kept horses, chickens, goats and a multitude of dogs. The Schwartz boys experienced a throwback, rural childhood on land now chockablock with tract homes, and it’s where the family hosted scores of relatives from their homeland of Sweden.

The rambling grove house is imbued with 50-plus years of memories, as well as being one of the last standing vestiges of a pastoral north Claremont that was for the better part of a century dominated by citrus groves.

The plan was to stay in the home forever. But life has a way of altering our plans.

Schwartz was 26 when he left Sweden for America.

“I had been here as a crewman on ships,” he said. “I had come to America’s west coast and visited relatives of my dad’s that lived in Hollywood. And every time we came to San Pedro with my ship I took a few days off and went to see those people. I rode the Red Car up to Hollywood and I had the greatest time. In 1950, California was the promised land. The only bad thing was the smog. I loved it here.”

He returned to Sweden, where he was conscripted into the country’s navy. He then met Margretha Osterberg, they were married and had two children.

Still, he dreamed of returning to California. But Margretha, who spoke little English and hadn’t yet traveled outside of Europe, didn’t share his zeal. The tipping point came after her sister returned from America, where she had been working as an au pair.

“She came back to Sweden with a Sears and Roebuck catalog,” Schwartz said. “And my wife started looking through a Sears and Roebuck catalog and said, ‘Yeah, maybe it’s time that we go there.’ She was not a socialist, and I wasn’t either. We liked free enterprise systems. And finally she relented and said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’”

In 1956, he arrived in America, alone. On the recommendation of a family friend, George Denes, who founded the Claremont Symphony Orchestra, he came to the Claremont area, where Denes said jobs were abundant. The family was soon reunited in the U.S., and after a few years purchased a small home in Pomona.

It was about this time they met the Delmans, who would become lifetime friends and benefactors, and whose son, Craig Delman, is the listing agent for the Schwartz’s 2373 N. Indian Hill Blvd. house.

Schwartz, a stranger with a Swedish accent, had always hustled for work. The Delmans got him a job with a friend who was a manager with the then ubiquitous Fuller Brush Company, and he ended up spending six years as “a Fuller Brush man.”

“It was a great experience,” Schwartz said. “I learned how to conduct myself and speak good English. And I learned about America and what American people were all about.”

Their third son, Eric, arrived around this time, joining his Swedish-born older siblings, Mike and Chris.

While Schwartz was learning the ways of his new country via his door-to-door education, Margretha and a friend opened The Art Cellar in the Griswold’s shopping center. Later, she went to work for B. Wasserman Company, selling furniture in Los Angeles.

“So I was left alone there with the Art Cellar, and I set up a frame shop and made picture frames,” Schwarz explained. “And that’s what brought the money in, because selling art, it was slow; it would pay the rent, but that was about it.”

By the mid-1960s the Schwartz family was well established in America. Margretha was attending night school at Woodbury College in L.A., where she would eventually earn an interior design degree. As the decade rolled on they decided they needed more space. In 1969 they found the house at 2373 N. Indian Hill Blvd., though Schwartz said the price tag $38,000 —was high for the era.

The original one-bedroom all redwood house, built in 1912 on 120 acres of lemon groves, was first sold by the Naftel family ranch. The parcel eventually became five acres, and by the time the Schwartz family moved in, one acre. The original structure was enlarged several times prior to the Schwartz purchase.

It was not actually in Claremont when they bought it, Schwartz said, but part of unincorporated Los Angeles County, just as some areas of Live Oak Canyon remain today.

In 1969 it was the northernmost house on Indian Hill Blvd., Schwartz said.

It had good bones, but it was run down and needed work. It was on a cesspool system that backed up frequently. The kitchen had a sulphur refrigerator with a compressor in the basement. But it also had charming original features like hardwood floors and a phone booth in the hallway.

The “gravity” heating system, likely installed in the 1920s, was state-of-the-art at the time. Some of its fine control components were imported from pre-World War II-era Germany, and bear the then unsullied mark of the swastika.

From the start, the home required copious maintenance and updating.

“But my wife, that was her whole life, that house, to fix it up so it was up to date and everything,” Schwartz said.

La Puerta Middle School, which was demolished in 2018 after sitting dormant for decades, had just opened. Chaparral Elementary, where Schwarz and his wife installed the large entrance sign designed by Rufus Turner that remains there today, was also new. The creative couple also built the Turner-designed “Welcome to Claremont” sign at Foothill and Mountain Ave.

The Schwarz boys attended both schools, sometimes riding their horses through the groves when they were running late. They also rode in Claremont’s Fourth of July parade in the early 1970s.

The family put in a swimming pool in the early 1970s. They kept horses, donkeys, goats, chickens and a succession of dogs.

Foxtails grew wild across the surrounding groves and open fields, undulating in the wind. The three young boys would ride horses throughout the groves and on the fire roads in the hills to the north.

Houses had been springing up to the south of the Schwartz’s property when the family moved in. By 1973, new tracts started rising to the north, which signaled the end of the Schwarz family keeping horses, as his new neighbors began complaining to the city about the flies that were drawn to the stables.

Chris and Mike eventually left the nest. Eric married in 1977 and moved out on his own as well.

But the nest wasn’t quite empty.

“We always had people come and visit and stay,” Schwartz said. “We had plenty of room you know.”

They didn’t travel much in later years, preferring the well-worn, familiar comforts of home.

The Wasserman furniture business, in which Margretha had risen to partner, closed down, and  Schwartz took a job as a handyman for Powell’s Hardware in the Village. He also did occasional work for the Claremont Unified School District.

“I made friends with so many people in Claremont back then,” he said. “Most of them are dead now. Of course, I’m an old relic myself.”

It was a nice life. The couple’s sons were mostly close-by. Their beloved home continued to be a source of both comfort and toil, and they liked it that way.

They existed quite happily for five decades with a nearly century old “knob and tub” electrical system, and without most of the comforts that would arrive in the 1970s: big closets, double-pane windows or, most importantly in the era of extreme temperatures related to climate change, central air conditioning.

“For us, it was just perfect the way it was,” Schwartz said.

Then, in the mid-2000s, Margretha began to get sick. She still maintained the house, taking care of the 40 or so trees on the property, raking pine needles, watering and trimming all manner of flora, and managing the pool.

About 10 years ago she began showing signs of dedementia, which worsened over time. About a month before she died, she moved to a care home the family owned in Upland, where she was—somewhat begrudgingly—able to get the help she needed.

“Because she had said ‘I would never leave this house. Never,’” her husband said.

She died in August at age 89.

Schwartz’s health, at 91, isn’t what it once was. He has back issues. He recently fell and broke his hip, which put an end to his daily constitutional 10 laps around the perimeter of the Indian Hill house’s large pool.

“So, when she died, I knew we’d have to sell the house, because we couldn’t keep it up anymore,” he said. “I couldn’t do any work.”

Schwartz, his son Eric and grandson Eric Jr. moved into another, comparatively modern home the family owned in Upland. It offers easy mobility with no stairs, and modern conveniences like air conditioning. He’s grateful to have it, but it’s not home.

“It’s sad to leave, but …” he said, his voice trailing off as he turned his head toward the large picture window at his new place in Upland.

The family has spent the last few weeks cleaning out the Indian Hill house in anticipation of putting it on the market.

There is talk about the possibility—some say a strong possibility—the house will be demolished and on the relatively large .82 acre parcel will rise multiple single family homes or condominiums. The room goes melancholy when this subject is broached.

“But, that’s the way life is,” Schwartz said. “That’s how everything is. It’s not anything used to be what it was.”

The family’s hope is the person who buys the Indian Hill property will restore and update the tired but soulful 109-year-old house.

At the beginning of our 90-minute chat, Schwartz said he wasn’t feeling sentimental about passing it on to a new owner.

“I don’t know why I don’t,” he said. “Before we moved over here [to Upland] I felt like that. But now, when it’s in the past, I don’t know why I don’t any more. It’s just a thing.”

But after more than an hour spent recalling his family’s five decades there, and his beloved Margretha, he had softened.

“Yeah, it would be sad … I would be sad if they tore it down. Yeah. It would be.”

The listing, with detailed photos, is at https://www.zillow.com/homes/2373-N-Indian-Hill-Blvd-Claremont,-CA-91711_rb/21654263_zpid/.

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