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Claremont: Welcome to Norman Rockwell Country : The spirit of village living appears to be vanishing from Southern California as fast as its orange groves, but 32 miles east of L.A., the kind of friendliness we associate with an earlier America still flourishes : The Village That Lingers

March 21, 1985|JOHN DREYFUSS | Times Staff Writer

From time to time, Ruth Reichl, Times restaurant editor, and John Dreyfuss, staff writer, explore neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles to describe restaurants, stores and other highlights. This sampling of stores and restaurants in Claremont is the first of two articles. The second will appear on an upcoming Thursday. Its subjects will include some of the artists in Claremont and the Claremont Colleges.

It seems fitting that the business section of Claremont is known locally as The Village.

At a time when the spirit of village living is vanishing from Southern California as fast as its orange groves, people just 32 miles east of Los Angeles in The Village maintain the kind of closeness, friendliness and caring attitude that recently allowed longtime resident Mack Parks, 75, to say of his friend Fred Bentley, 76, "He could name everyone who came through the doors."

The occasion that proved Bentley's ability to put names with faces was a good example of the "villageness" of Claremont: the open house celebrated by Bentley's Food Market last year in honor of remodeling the store. Where else but in a close-knit village would a local market give itself such a party: a complete buffet supper, decorations and a host who knows all the customers?

And where else is the spirit of competition so tempered by the spirit of fairness that a man like Bentley will admonish a reporter not to mention him in print without saying something about the other Claremont family market, Wolfe's, which has been run by the same family since 1917?

Like many villages, Claremont has a wealth of shops and restaurants that generally are more hospitable than their big-city cousins. There seems to be more time to pay attention to people and things in Claremont.

There is more to Claremont than The Village. The sampling below of places to eat and shop includes only village places, except for the Griswold's complex and Wolfe's Market, which are north of The Village.

Visitors interested in Claremont beyond its unofficial village borders can explore Foothill Boulevard to the north and Indian Hill Boulevard to the south. Or, for between 50 cents and $1.50, they can avail themselves of several walking tours written by local historian Judy Wright.

One tour is of The Village, another of the Memorial Park area, a third of "Russian Village" and a fourth of the Claremont colleges. There is also a somewhat out-of-date but still worthwhile tree tour of the colleges. Copies of the tours are available at the Chamber of Commerce, Claremont Books & Prints, Huntley Book Store, Claremont Heritage Inc. or, on Sundays, by calling (714) 624-0111.

In the following sampling of retail outlets in and near The Village, numbers indicating places to eat and buy food and letters indicating stores correspond to numbers and letters on the accompanying map.

1 and A. Griswold's Inn and Restaurants and the Old School House Shops, (714) 626-2411, intersection of Indian Hill and Foothill boulevards. A 280-room hotel is surrounded by restaurants and shops, many of them in what used to be Claremont High School. Among the businesses are:

--Arts and Crafts Fair, about 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Artists and crafts people cover the lawn with what Griswold's hotel manager Joe Estes says are more than 100 booths filled with paintings, sculpture, pottery, woodcarvings and other arts and crafts.

--Griswold's Smorgasbord, (714) 621-9360, Sunday-Thursday 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. This place is both a food and gifts smorgasbord. The restaurant part, which has the same hours as the big gift shop except for closing from 4 to 5 p.m., includes a wide selection of hot and cold smorgasbord items for all three all-you-can-eat meals. There is a bakery, featuring a big window through which customers can watch cakes being decorated. The gift shop sells candles, mugs, jewelry, porcelain, dolls, teas, paper goods, cards, vases and myriad other items, many with a Scandanavian motif.

--Indian Hill Restaurant, (714) 621-3200, Monday-Saturday 6:30-11 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-9 p.m. Manager Al DeSio says popular items include the beef bar at lunch and Caesar salad and poached salmon at dinner, plus the Sunday brunch and "gourmet buffet" Sunday evenings.

--Don Salsa, (714) 625-3944, Sunday 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Monday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-midnight, and Saturday 9 a.m.-midnight. The 14-page menu in this 280-seat restaurant includes favorites like Fernando's Special (sauteed chopped beef, onions, mushrooms, spinach, garlic and oregano scrambled with eggs and served with lettuce, tomato and avocado) and El Monte Cristo (ham, turkey, Swiss cheese dipped in egg batter and fried), steak and shrimp, Mexican-style barbecue chicken and ribs. Owner/chef Nick Montoya, who loves to promote his restaurant, will tell you about famous customers from Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia to Ronald Reagan.

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