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Business owners breathe life into thriving Old School House

After years of decay and construction delays, the halls of the Old School House complex are bustling with business once more, and the center’s storekeepers are ready to celebrate.

Business owners will honor the plaza’s newest chapter with a fitting tribute to its past. Next weekend the Griswold’s art fairs, once a weekly gem of the Foothill Boulevard landmark, will make a long-awaited return.

The Old School House center, known for its food thanks to the once-famous Griswold’s Smorgasbord, has also left its mark as a mecca for art in the Claremont community. In the 1970s, hundreds would travel to take part in the center’s weekend art fairs, enjoying a meal and watching the art demonstrations.

With “Rediscover the Old School House”—taking place on Saturday, March 1 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.—and continuing with quarterly art extravaganzas, the tenants hope to draw the crowds out to Route 66 once more.

“It’s time to breathe a little more life into the property,” said Mindy Teuber, assistant producer at The Candlelight Pavilion. “People never really get the chance to step into the courtyard here and see how nice it is. We want to provide a space where locals can come spend a fun day here while also bringing a little piece of the history back.”

Signs of struggle seem a distant memory at the recently renovated schoolhouse. Students scurry into their classes at the Moultrie Academy of Music, Voice and Dance, and patrons mill about for a bite to eat at Casa De Salsa or Buca di Beppo, while hundreds can be found on any given weekend crowding into The Candlelight.

The picture hasn’t always been this rosy for the Old School House tenants; the shopping center has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. The lot first gained fame in town for housing the original Claremont High School, built on the corner of Indian Hill and Mesa (now Foothill) boulevards in 1911. The school was built to accommodate the town’s surging student population. After its stint as a schoolhouse, the space became known in and out of town as a Route 66 hotspot because of the restaurant and bakery at Griswold’s Smorgasbord.

Despite the popular staples, the center suffered periodic states of decline over the past several decades. The Old School House was vacated as a high school in 1963, and Griswold’s became a thing of the past in the 1990s. Changes in management also proved to be a hardship.

Businesses like The Candlelight Pavilion and Crimson Cottage continued to operate despite the difficulties presented by the crumbling complex. The tale turned around when the city stepped in to help revitalize the space. While construction proved its own obstacle, the Old School House is now a far cry from the seemingly-deserted marketplace of its past, insists Property Manager Ying Lee.

“It has been really difficult over the past eight years,” Mr. Lee said. “Now, with all the support we have received, this place has really transformed.”

The newly-formed Old School House Marketing Group, led by Carly Moultrie of The Moultrie Academy and Mick Bollinger of The Candlelight Pavilion, hopes to continue the center’s success story. Bringing back the popular art fairs, once a tradition in the Moultrie household, seemed like a natural way to start.

Like in years past, local vendors will crowd the central courtyard with jewelry-crafting, soap-making and other artistic demonstrations, and visitors will enjoy performances by the Moultrie Academy and some of our four-legged friends courtesy of The Zoom Room’s dog trainers. Casa De Salsa will be serving up $2 tacos and Buca di Beppo will be pitching in some of its famous pasta.

To add further incentive, guests will receive a raffle ticket for every shop they visit that afternoon regardless of purchase. Raffle tickets will be entered into a drawing for a variety of prizes to be given out throughout the day, gift certificates to The Candlelight Pavilion and Tutti Mangia among them.

Though the Old School House folks have their hands full planning Saturday’s soiree, which will take place rain or shine, eyes are already set on future celebrations.

A Cinco De Mayo shindig is planned for May 3, a “Welcome Back to the Old School House” is in the works for September 13 and a “Home for the Holidays” tree lighting extravaganza will take place November 29. If these events are successful, it’s not out of the question that more frequent art fairs will follow. For the time being, shop owners look forward to sharing their present successes.

“With all the new businesses here and everything that is going on, we want everyone who stopped coming because of all the construction to come back and enjoy,” Ms. Moultrie said. “The more the merrier.”

The Old School House is located on the northwest corner of Indian Hill and Foothill boulevards. Vendors interested in taking part in the party on March 1 may contact Ms. Teuber at teuber@      candlelightpavilion.com.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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