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Sam Hall Kaplan

Charm, Character in a College Town

May 02, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan

No signs need to announce Claremont. From whatever direction one approaches the college town, whether from Pomona on Indian Hill Boulevard, or Upland on Foothill Boulevard, the trees lining the streets tell you where you are.

They have been a mark of the town since it was settled in the 1880s. Developers then saw the trees as something that could lend their tracts some distinction. Influencing their decisions was that the eucalyptus they tended to plant was cheap, needed little water and grew fast.

With the trees lending shade and grace to the streets, increasing property values and generally attracting a more genteel population, beautification programs soon became a local tradition, and Claremont an oasis of sorts in the sprawling San Gabriel Valley.

In the town regulations adopted in 1903, hope was expressed "that all residents and property owners of Claremont will continue to cooperate in the efforts to beautify the place in every way possible, by cultivation of lawns, the plantings of trees and shrubs, and the construction of sidewalks, thus making this a thoroughly desirable place for those who are seeking a home in Southern California. . . ."

This tradition was carried forward in the early landscaping and planning of the town's major industry, the Claremont Colleges, in particular the Pomona and Scripps campuses, designed by George Cornell and Gordon Kaufmann, respectively. Both campuses were designed with quadrangles, courtyards, gardens and patios, linked by walkways and lushly landscaped.

As for the architecture, the campuses were distinguished by fine examples of a Mission-inspired collegiate style, such as the stately Bridges Hall of Music on the Pomona campus, designed in 1915 by Myron Hunt, and the well-detailed Dennison Library on the Scripps campus, designed in 1930 by Kaufmann. Much less successful have been the recent architectural planning efforts of the colleges, in particular the building program and expansion plans of Claremont McKenna College. Also disappointing has been the city's effort to stabilize its few affordable neighborhoods and to better shape the residential development north of Base Line Road.

Despite continued assaults, the city's character distinguished by the landscaping and design of its older neighborhoods seems to somehow persevere. It was with this in mind that I recently traveled to Claremont to view the recent winners of its commendable Awards for Excellence in Design program, another effort by the city to raise the waning local design consciousness.

Winning an award was Clinton Wade Graphic Design for the renovation of a typical period Craftsman-styled bungalow at 100 W. Foothill Blvd. for its offices. Coordinating the respectful redesign and reconstruction was Devon Hartman.

Awards were also given to Edward and Elaine Haley, and Joanne Edwards, for compatible additions to their historic homes, at 256 W. 7th St. and 519 Yale Ave. Assisting both efforts was the Claremont Environmental Design Group.

A Marie Callender restaurant at 1030 W. Foothill Blvd. won an award for landscape design and maintenance, and a General Telephone company switching station on Pomello Drive won in the category of new construction.

Designed by Associated Concrete Products, the station is constructed of field stone in a shed design typical of agricultural outbuildings that dotted the early landscape of the valley. It is worth a short detour above Base Line Drive to the Blaisdell Preserve to view.

While there, one might want to go a few blocks west to the new Blaisdell Ranch development, to see some examples of really bad architecture. On such blocks as Elmira Avenue has to be some of the most tasteless, overbuilt and overdesigned houses in Southern California, each one seemingly trying to outduel the other with gauche detailing.

The hope is that consistent with Claremont's traditions there will be adequate street trees and landscaping, and that they will grow quickly and soon block the views of the houses.

Very much on view in a self-guided tour today and Sunday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is the Country Club Park area, an enclave of gracious homes in a variety of engaging architectural styles between Olympic and Pico boulevards, east of Crenshaw Boulevard.

Tickets to the tour sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Country Club Park Neighborhood Assn. will be on sale at the ornate Italianate-style Milbank Mansion at 3340 Country Club Drive, at the corner of 12th Street and Van Ness Avenue. Prices for the tour and a brochure are $7 for conservancy members, $10 for non-members.

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