Claremont School of Theology’s L.A. move is finalized

Grant Hagiya, president ad interim of Claremont School of Theology. Photo/courtesy of Claremont School of Theology

by Mick Rhodes |

It’s official: Claremont School of Theology is moving, a lease has been signed, and after 66 years in Claremont it’s all systems go for the graduate institution’s new Los Angeles location.

The school is moving to Westwood United Methodist Church, 10497 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, and will remain Claremont School of Theology despite its new location.

The long-anticipated move, while disappointing to some Claremont residents, comes as no surprise. The school had long been seeking to sell all or a portion of its 16.4-acre Claremont campus. A proposed move to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon was scuttled in 2020 after The Claremont Colleges invoked a 1957 land agreement that set the price for any future sale of the property and gave TCC the right of first refusal on any potential future transaction. The school contended the subsequent state law meant the then 60-year-old agreement was no longer binding. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter A. Hernandez disagreed, and on January 7, 2022 affirmed its legality and ordered the parties into arbitration to arrive at a sale price. The case is in motion, with a final, binding decision expected later this year.

“I can’t get into any details because it is in discovery phase,” said Grant Hagiya, CST president ad interim. “We’re shooting for a summer arbitration, which would be final. There are no appeals after that for either side. Whatever the arbitrator decides on the final price, that’s what everybody has to live with.”

Grant Hagiya, president ad interim of Claremont School of Theology. Photo/courtesy of Claremont School of Theology

And Claremont will now have to live without CST, which has been a mainstay on Foothill Boulevard since 1957.

“Our heart reaches out to them,” Hagiya said. “They’ve been supporters and people who have had public opinion with us … It is sad. I went to [CST] in the ‘70s, when I was much younger, and got my basic degrees there, and there is a sense in which place is very important. So, I’m feeling the loss personally, and I share that with them.

“But I hope that they would follow us now from afar. And it’s going to be easy because of this switch to this online, web-based” model.

Hagiya said the mood on campus is upbeat now that the move is official.

“I think that there’s a sense of relief now that it’s finalized. There is no going back, in other words. That was what was unfortunate about Willamette. It didn’t work out and I think that we’re still haunted by that misfortune. But everybody feels like this is a step forward.”

The school was founded as the Maclay School of Theology in San Fernando in 1885. In 1900 it moved to the USC campus, where it stayed until relocating to Claremont in 1957 and rebranding as Claremont School of Theology.

“Hindsight would have been to stick with USC because they didn’t realize how huge their reach was going to be in terms of influence and expansion,” Hagiya said. “But it is what it is, and we’ve done well in Claremont and now it’s time for a new chapter.

“The real emphasis is returning back to Downtown L.A., to Los Angeles, and a sense of doing hands-on ministry in the heart of the city. So, that’s really what we’re excited about, and I think what’s exciting our stakeholders.”

Part of the impetus to move had to do with the size of the CST’s campus, Hagiya said, much of which was going unused as the school shifted increasingly to an online model. The large Claremont campus became “a huge burden,” due to regular and deferred maintenance and other factors.

“So, this is a way for us to downsize and still meet the missional needs of our future,” he said.

There are of course expenses related to gearing up to operate under this new model, Hagiya conceded, including staff and faculty housing, but they don’t compare to the costs of maintaining such a large campus.

“The whole point of this is the fact that this is the wave of the future, and most of the brick-and-mortar seminaries are going to face this eventually,” Hagiya said. “So we believe we’re on the cutting edge once again of making a move that will dramatically shift the nature of theological education.”

The move is expected to be completed this summer. What will become of the large, now extremely valuable piece of land CST has called home for 66 years is yet to be determined. It’s likely The Claremont Colleges will have more to say about it after the arbitrator decides on a sale price.

In the meantime, Hagiya looks forward to stewarding CST through the transition back to Los Angeles.

“We won’t be physically [in Claremont] perhaps, but they can stay with us in terms of our new directions,” Hagiya said. “And that’s what I’m really energized by. We’re going to have a new vision of what a seminary can be for the future. I usually use the term, ‘a seminary without walls.’ Think of the implications of that. We can reach a person just as easy in China, Korea — which we do already — as we would living right there in our neighborhood in Claremont.”


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