VIEWPOINT: Let's bolster Claremont's urban dynamism
by Char Miller
In the early morning hours, as dawn begins to break, that’s when Claremont comes alive.
Nowhere is this more obvious than along First Street. Folks living in the townhomes head east, duck into the Packing House for a cup of coffee, and then stroll to the depot to ride a bus or hop the Metrolink to their jobs.
Others, walking south along Indian Hill, Yale and Harvard slip into their favorite cafe before catching public transit. There, they’re joined by folks walking up from South Claremont, and others parking in the Metrolink lot for their daily commute. As they board, others descend and head to the stores, restaurants and Colleges where they’re employed.
This energetic bustle is one of the reasons why many of the community’s caffeine-starved daily congregate at the outdoor tables and benches that line the village proper; their steady patronage keeps bakers and baristas busy.
In this busy-ness lies a message: Claremont already has a robust set of Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs).
The building blocks are clear: Courier Place and Claremont Villas Senior Apartments abut the railroad tracks on the south; and the West Village development, which lines the north side of the tracks. Each is easily accessible to mass transit. Each adds much-needed density to the city’s housing portfolio.
The West Village has another advantage: it embodies key principles of New Urbanist design by combining living, working and shopping within a pedestrian landscape.
Village South will function in the exact same way. The proposed TOD will rehab the former industrial/commercial area slotted between Indian Hill on the east, the rail tracks to the north, and Bucknell Street on the west. It will activate a relatively abandoned set of acres, precisely as Village West did for the one-time citrus transshipment center.
As it builds up and for density—essential features—Village South’s crucial mix of market-priced and affordable units will integrate living spaces with gardens and plazas. Its projected boutiques, cafes and restaurants will bolster the city’s tax base. These and other quality-of-life amenities will link residents to bus, train, and soon enough the Gold Line. Local cash registers will be ringing and downtown will be jumping.
While this new development will strengthen the contemporary streetscape, it will also dovetail with Claremont’s urban history. After all, the city began as a transit-oriented development.
In 1887, the Pacific Land Improvement Company, a subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railroad, platted “the Leading Townsite on the Great Santa Fe Route.”
Through its First Street sales office, located opposite the original depot, its agents sold lots structured within a classic street gridiron. That pattern created a compact community that radiated out from but remained close to the railroad.
Although it would take time for the blue-sky visions of the town to be realized—business picked up when Pomona College set up shop in the Hotel Claremont in 1889—fourteen years later its vibrant outlines were established.
As was evident in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt stepped off his whistle-stop tour of the western states, took a short carriage ride to the college’s Pearsons Hall, and delivered a stemwinding speech to an estimated 7,000 people.
“My friends and fellow-citizens,” the 26th president thundered, “it is such a pleasure to be in this college town today. It is so wonderful a thing to look at the country through which I have come, to realize that the site of this college but a few years ago was exactly as the rest of the plain was, to realize that all of the cultivation that I see, all of the agricultural work that has been done, that has so completely changed the face of the country, has been done within this brief space of time.”
Through its spatial and economic development, Claremont was contributing to the state’s “foundation of material prosperity.”
Because Village South will be woven into the city’s historic fabric, the latest expression of its developmental DNA, it will contribute immeasurably to Claremont’s 21st century urban dynamism. Perhaps best witnessed in the early morning hours, when dawn begins to break.