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Lincoln Park Recaptures Its Early Glory

May 19, 1996|DENISE HAMILTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Denise Hamilton is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

After scouring the San Gabriel Valley for months looking for a historic home in their price range, Michael and Bonnie Bone were ready to give up. Everything was either too expensive, too ugly or in too rough a neighborhood.

As their search moved steadily east from Pasadena (too expensive), they began to despair. Then a real estate agent mentioned a quaint neighborhood called Lincoln Park.

Their hopes soared until the agent told them it was in Pomona. The Bones didn't know a lot about this older city on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, but they had heard it had high crime, urban blight and other problems.

"My husband . . . was convinced it was gangland, but I told him . . . just look, just look," Bonnie Bone recalled.

Look they did, and it was love at first sight when they spied the old California bungalow with three bedrooms and a den. But the Bones moved cautiously and did their homework.

They drove around quite a bit, Bonnie Bone said, checking out the neighborhood and hanging out in nearby Lincoln Park to make sure it wasn't a stamping ground for young gangbangers and unsavory types.

The Bones were also reassured to learn that their real estate agent, Margaret Ruecker of Century 21 Gene Hart Realty in Claremont, lived across the street from the home they were contemplating buying.

Still, "My husband made me call the police and the Fire Department," Bonnie Bone recalled. What they learned was that Lincoln Park has one of the lowest crime rates in all Pomona, along with Phillips Ranch and Ganesha Hills.

Best of all, the Bones' new home could easily be restored to its former glory. Previous owners had left hardwood floors intact under the shag carpets, original fixtures and built-in nooks that reflected early California character.

So in 1989, the Bones decided to buy. Price: $158,000.

They took to their new house with gusto and fixed it up over several years. When their first child came, they stayed in the neighborhood but traded up in 1993 to a larger house, this time with Spanish architecture, five bedrooms and a huge yard. Price: $282,000.

And they couldn't be happier with their choice of neighborhood.

"People are really friendly and down-to-earth, I love the antique district nearby and we can afford to send our kids to private school because our entire income isn't engulfed in a mortgage," says Bonnie Bone, who has since had a second child.

The Bones are part of a wave of renovation that has turned Lincoln Park, northeast of downtown Pomona, into a highly sought-after historic district of old homes, friendly neighbors and good real-estate deals that long ago vanished from much of the rest of Southern California.

Indeed, Pomona has 2,784 historic homes and buildings, a terrifically high number, says Diann Marsh of Marsh & Associates in Santa Ana, which did a historic resources survey of the city.

"Outside of Pasadena, Pomona was the most significant community east of Los Angeles and has more remaining homes from those early years," Marsh said. "There are an unusually large amount of Victorian homes."

Pomona was once a jewel of a city whose wealth and history rivaled Pasadena's in the early decades of this century. Back then, Lincoln Park was known as Pomona's Silk Stocking Row because many wealthy people built houses around a small park from which the neighborhood takes its name.

The city's reputation began to tarnish in the 1960s as small businesses failed or fled to new malls and many of the old-time residents died or moved away. Trouble accelerated in recent years, as high-paying unionized jobs disappeared. Hughes Missile Systems Co., the city's second-largest employer, pulled up stakes in 1992 and moved to Tucson, taking 2,000 aerospace jobs with it.

Today, unemployment remains at nearly 12%, well above the county average. The city logged 40 murders in 1994, and gang wars plague huge chunks of the city. But Pomona is fighting back on several fronts.

Strapped for cash, the city is pursuing controversial plans to open two card-club casinos that their backers say could bring $10 million in annual tax revenue. The city is also putting money into wooing new businesses, working to curb crime with a new police substation downtown and revitalizing the historic part of the city.

To that end, the city has hired Darrell George, a redevelopment specialist who oversaw the revitalization of Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade and has high hopes for a $21-million regional transit center that will bring hundreds of Metrolink and bus commuters downtown each day.

Already, downtown Pomona--less than a mile from Lincoln Park--has the feel of a place where exciting things are happening. There is a thriving antique mart with more than 400 dealers who have taken over abandoned shoe stores and drugstores in the old pedestrian mall of downtown Pomona.

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