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Annual home tour features Claraboya neighborhood

by John Neiuber

The 2013 Claremont Heritage Home Tour on Sunday, October 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature six outstanding, custom-built view homes in the Claraboya neighborhood. 

Claraboya is a Spanish word meaning “skylight” or “window to the sky,”  and is a fitting word to describe this neighborhood of panoramic views of the valley, mountains and horizon. On any given day, from certain vantage points in Claraboya, one can see as far south as Corona and the Santa Ana Mountains, as far east as San Jacinto and, to the west, the skyline of downtown Los Angeles. On a clear day, Santa Catalina Island is visible.

Cassius C. Johnson, a Claremont citrus grower, acquired the Claraboya area, plus the area to the north of Claraboya, in the 1890s. On the northern area, known as Johnson’s Pasture, he and his son planted Eucalyptus and other trees, dug a well and built a small reservoir. Cattle and sheep were pastured there. Although the family wanted to build a home in the pasture, they never did.

The Johnsons lived on Base Line Road in a large rock house that still remains between Indian Hill Boulevard and Towne Avenue. Mr. Johnson died in 1906 and the pasture continued to be operated by his son, James D. Johnson, who lived in Claremont. The total acreage was sold in the 1940s for $75,000 to P.L. McNutt. McNutt sold the property to the developers of Claraboya, Gail Frampton and Robert Musgrove, for just over a million dollars. Johnson’s Pasture, now part of the Claremont Wilderness Park, was part of the original master plan for Claraboya, but was never developed.

Frampton and Musgrove, only 35 and 33 years old at the time, created the Claraboya Development Company to develop the 640-acre site in 1962. Although some of the early homes were developed by the company, their main business was to master plan the development that would include Johnson's Pasture and Sycamore Canyon and sell 1,120 view home sites.

The original master plan called for an 18-hole golf course, country club, park and school, commercial center, heliport, clustered homes on the upper pasture and there was even discussion of a hotel. Streets, underground utilities, including coaxial cable for television, and master landscaping were all part of the ambitious plan, along with the rearranging of 10 million cubic yards of earth.  Instead of planting seedlings, large trees were brought in by helicopter.

The architects for the master planning and for a number of the original homes were Fred W. McDowell and Theodore Criley Jr., of Criley & McDowell, AIA, Claremont. It was a shared vision of the developers and the architects that, in spite of the luxury, tempo and convenience of modern living, people need to identify with the earth around them to be happy. McDowell, the lead architect on the project, said that placing “livable boxes”on raw land was not enough. 

“Total environment occurs when earth and dwelling merge into a recognizable whole,” McDowell noted, “where terrain, floor plan, exterior design, building materials and landscaping work consciously together.”

McDowell believed that overhead poles and wires were “a breach of faith between man and nature. For this reason, all utility lines will be buried at Claraboya. Even rooftop television antennae will be eliminated through the installation of a master antenna connected by coaxial cable to each individual home site."

The home sites were planned to take advantage of not only the views, but for solar and wind orientation to provide sheltered outdoor areas and to take advantage of the ocean breezes.

In order for homes to be built in Claraboya, guidelines were established that had to be met by the architect, builder and homeowner. The guidelines included not only the solar and wind orientation, but also clean architectural lines, continuous use of glass to permit living areas to share the views from the terraced lots, well-defined front entrances with personality and large open living areas. The guidelines, by design, steered architects and homeowners toward the construction of a large number of modern homes. McDowell went on to design some of the first and finest examples of modern homes in the development, most notably the award-winning “Concrete House,” which is on the tour.

The Concrete House was built in 1964, as a project of the nationwide Concrete Industries Horizon Homes program. The house was selected as the outstanding Horizon Home in the West for the area of California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. 

Precast tee-beams served as both a structural and design feature of the home. The beams were used to cantilever the entire side of the 2,322-squarefoot house over a narrow shelf lot, providing a panoramic view of the valley. Cast-in-place concrete columns provided support for the tee-beams and gave the structure a graceful, classic look to a decidedly modern home. The exterior walls were of concrete masonry and glass.

The living room, dining room and kitchen opened to a spacious concrete deck with imported Del Piso onyx and marble tiled floors, which extended outdoors. Sleeping areas of the house were situated to take advantage of the view, with the master bedroom opening to a secluded patio and swimming pool. Skylights were used in the bathrooms to bring in natural light. The master bath featured mosaic tile. There was a built-in vacuum system, along with built-in trash dispensers, as well as an intercom and hi-fi system. The roof was of pre-cast concrete and the home included a concrete driveway and textured walks and steps.  It was also an all-electric Medallion Home.

The Claraboya project was developed over a 35-year period, with the most of the homes built during the first 15 years.  The development ended up with just 247 homes of the planned 1,120. By the mid- 1970s, investment funds for the development had dried up, and Frampton and Musgrave moved on to work on the planning of Westlake Village. Claraboya was the first hillside development in Claremont. Padua Hills, situated on a lower ridge to the east, was developed earlier; however, it is located on county land. The only other hillside development in the city is the Stone Canyon Estates, east of Padua Hills.

Claraboya, being located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, is part of a native chaparral habitat. Chaparral lands are subject to the disruptive force of fire, and although much of the chaparral plant life has adapted to recover after fire, historically fire visited the ecosystem on the order of every 30 to 150 years.

Claraboya, and the surrounding environment, experiences wildfires about every 10 years, which is the average since humans arrived on the scene. Many have come close, but in October 2003, the merging of the Old, Grand Prix and Padua fires brought destruction to the neighborhood. Fourteen houses were destroyed and 18 were damaged, along with numerous lots that experienced burned landscape. Thirteen of the 14 houses destroyed were rebuilt and only one lot still remains vacant.

Claraboya was an ambitious undertaking and was far ahead of its time in terms of planning and amenities. Many of the homes, with the Concrete House leading the way, were also experiments in the use of new materials and design ideas. Today, Claraboya remains a desired neighborhood in which to live, with its sweeping views and architect-designed modern homes. 

Claremont Heritage has planned four days of events to highlight this year’s home tour. The weekend will be kicked-off on Thursday, October 10, with the Modern Film Series at 7 p.m. at the Mudd Theater at the Claremont School of Theology, with the film, New Housing Then.

On Friday, October 11, the home tour exhibition, Sixteen Architects, will open at 7 p.m. in the Ginger Elliott Center at the Garner House. On Saturday, October 12  from 2 to 4 p.m. a guided walking tour of mid-century architecture will be offered, followed by a catered sunset cocktail reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at a custom view home in Claraboya. The evening reception will feature author and architect Alan Hess.

Tickets are available at the Garner House, Barbara Cheatley’s, Claremont Heights Postal Center, Heirloom, Sonja Stump Photography, Wheeler Steffen Sotheby’s Realty or on the Heritage website at www.claremontheritage.org.

 

 

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