Homes, sweet homes
by Jan Wheatcroft
I have lived in Claremont since 1964. During those years, however, I also left to live in Greece, New York, Santa Barbara and Arkansas. I sat down recently and began counting all of the houses I have lived in here in Claremont—I surprised myself by counting 14 different homes. It’s actually15 if I count the ranch house in the hills of La Verne. Our lives were orientated to school and work and friends in Claremont, so I shall count it.
I met my husband on an archaeological dig in Israel, The Masada Dig, in the Negev Desert. He was from England and those were the years of the Beatles craze. I was hooked. At the end of our work, we traveled to London, got married and waited for his green card. We eventually settled in West Los Angeles, where I had an apartment and he searched for a job.
He had a lovely big beard and a lovely British accent but no one would hire him in his field. Finally, in desperation and to my great sadness, he shaved off his beard, had an interview with Kaiser Steel in Fontana and got the job. Leaving a familiar area to move to Fontana did not please me, but my mother reminded me how as a child she had taken me to Padua Hills to enjoy the food and plays at the theater. She encouraged us to look for a house in Claremont. And so we settled in this town, which I really knew nothing about.
Our first house was a rental on West Green Street across from Oakmont School. It was the front part of a small group of four cottages. We had a small patch of grass and parking for our two cars. I got two part-time jobs—one at Honnold Library filing book cards and one at the Yale Book Store (now the new kitchen shop) which was dark and full of great books. The owner really loved and knew his collection. I worked there until I registered at the Claremont Graduate School. The house was okay with one small bedroom but I remember once dropping a bottle of cranberry juice on the kitchen floor and watching it flow under the wall into the bedroom. We enjoyed being close to the Village and I remember eating at the “old” Walters for many meals. This was my first house as a wife.
After one year, we moved to our second home, this time in the Village on Seventh Street between Harvard and Yale. (I understand that it has been purchased by a TV show couple who will give it a makeover with a second story added.) I really liked this cottage. It was old style with lots of wood and a lovely deep backyard.
We found a footed bathtub and dragged it into the back yard and planted it full of purple petunias. I loved living in the heart of the Village. Charles and Dorothy Chase of Folk Music fame lived across the street, along with their extended family, and it was lovely having them as neighbors.
Another year passed and we were on the move again but this time to a house we bought. It was quite a sturdy, proper house on Santa Clara Avenue, just off Mountain Avenue. It was a brick house with carpets, a back screened in porch, a swimming pool that my husband hated to clean and a small back house, which we eventually rented out to a Pitzer College student as her professor asked for this favor. She managed to drive over our sprinklers every morning. This was the house my oldest son came home to. The grass was in the front yard for his play area. The back was fenced off because of the pool. We lived there about four years, then restlessness set in and we moved again.
After finally selling the Santa Clara house, we moved to a rental on Wells Avenue north of Foothill behind the then-Alpha Beta and now Sprouts Market. This house had a lovely den where my son played with Fisher Price toys, Legos and small cars. We had a shady, big screened in back porch and a back yard with climbing structures just made for his age group.
His mini-group of five three-year-olds met once a week to play outdoors. His friend Aubrey came down every Thursday with her trike while he rode his Big Wheel with great fierceness. This was garbage day and the highlight of their lives. The large garbage truck parked near our house and all the men driving small dumpsters drove up the driveways, hooked their small trucks onto to the garbage cans and tossed everything in to their dumpsters. Then they drove back to empty them into the big truck. Our two children sat mesmerized on the curb enjoying the display. That’s how I remember the Wells Avenue house.
But a year away from the Village was long enough and we found a rental on Harvard, across from Wolfe’s Market. This was the big brown house that is now a halfway house for women. At that time, the top floor bedrooms were converted into singles for students and we had the bottom part along with the basement and the wide front porch. My older son had the small glassed-in side porch for his bedroom and we had the den as ours until our second son arrived. Then he was in the den and we took the dining room. Luckily, all the rooms were spacious, old fashioned and full of lovely, grained wood.
We placed a hammock on the porch and a big blow up air mattress, so everyone hung out there. My son would go to shop at Wolfe’s Market and I would watch him cross the street with his money clutched in his little hand.
Then my husband decided he wanted to travel and he quit his job. I wasn’t working at the time, so we loaded up our VW bus and drove across the country. We visited relatives in New York and then sailed to Germany for a new adventure. We traveled all over Europe, lived in Crete, Greece for a long winter and finally returned to New York, where we lived for two years. We returned to Greece but, after another year, we split up. I returned to California and lived in Santa Barbara to be near my sister.
The boys and I eventually returned to Claremont after another stay in Greece. This time, a Greek man came with us and so began a new chapter in my Claremont life. We lived in La Verne up in the Stevens Ranch area across from the golf club. We had a big sprawling house owned by a friend who had moved to Maine and wanted someone to caretake and put some order in the house and garden. We loved it. There was lots of land and room for our dogs. A goat and two pigs then joined our family. The dogs attacked and killed the pigs and the Greek became “the butcher.” We gave packages of fresh pork to anyone who had room in their refrigerator or freezer. It was here that we celebrated our first Greek Easter, roasting the lamb on a spit, drinking, dancing and breaking plates á la Greece. After a year, our mountain life ended and we moved back to Claremont.
This time we found a house on the corner of Arrow Highway and Mills Avenue. There was no traffic light at this time so there were many accidents to observe on hot summer nights.
We planted a garden, raised pigeons, chased rats and had two dogs. There was plenty of space for everyone in the house and I was working for the Claremont COURIER at the time. But the Greek longed to become self-sufficient, and to own and work a piece of his own so we bought a property in the Arkansas Ozarks for quite cheap. We piled everything into our one-ton, slat-sided truck and drove to the Ozarks with the dogs’ heads hanging out the back of the truck. Another new adventure began.
In my next column, I will continue this house saga describing the next eight Claremont houses where I made my various nests over the following 25-plus years.