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Love letter to Claremont

by Steve Harrison

We’ve called Claremont home for 35 years. But even still, sometimes we feel like carpetbaggers—we didn’t go to Claremont High and we don’t live in the Village.

John and I both grew up in Orange County, he in Santa Ana and me in the shadow of Disneyland. I went to Walt Disney Elementary School; you don’t get much more Orange County than that. We made it to Claremont via time in Long Beach and Diamond Bar. In 1985 we bought our first home here, a tiny little condo that required little-to-no down payment.

Compared with Diamond Bar where there was “no there, there,” Claremont had it all. There were bookstores, restaurants, bakeries, and galleries. There were interesting people on the street. In those days, during the winter months, the fog would roll in and remind us of England. Drainage from the mountain snowmelts would run through Village streets. There was a definite mood about the place. First Street Bar and Grill inhabited the space where Tutti Mangia is now. It was cutting edge for the day, California nouvelle cuisine, a little of L.A.’s westside on the county’s far eastern border and one of the reasons we decided to move here.

I’ve always had a bit of real estate wanderlust. I spend way too much time every day looking at realtor.com. From Palm Springs to Santa Barbara, Pasadena to San Diego, I surf the web looking for the dream home. Our realtor in town has looked for just the right 1920s house for us many times over the years. Claremont, as we all know, has some great vintage houses. We would always start with an open house in the Village, and ironically we always ended up buying something newer. The last time, we bought a place fresh off the drawing board, only a fantasy on a piece of paper.

Tucked away in Padua Hills, we’ve made this our dream home. During the “safer at home” eternity, I’ve developed a new appreciation for home. Not only do I feel safe, but there is a little bit of vacation awaiting me outside—views of California grandeur: majestic oaks, rugged peaks, wispy clouds hugging and bisecting mountains, and that rich pink light of late afternoons highlighting the San Gabriels. Visitors always remark on the quiet.

A short drive away is a quaint hamlet, historic by California standards, Claremont’s heart.  Over 35 years, the Village never disappoints. There have been changes. It is twice the size now, and about to triple. Restaurants come and go. Businesses change, but there is still something magical about the place. A trip to Creme or Some Crust yields a top-notch, tasty treat, but frequently adds a visit with a neighbor. We are blessed with an abundance of gathering spots! When the lock-down walls begin to close in, a quick drive through the tree-lined streets, the streets that retain their look from a century past, help reassure. There are many things pre-pandemic that I look forward to seeing return: plays at Candlelight, Mondays in the Park, musicians filling the air with music on a weekend night, restaurants packed inside and out, college students fresh from other hometowns exerting their independence, and smiles readily visible sans masks.

I still look at my house-porn, dreaming about what a life might be like in some other California town, but I know I really couldn’t leave Claremont. It would be like stepping out on a faithful companion. The fantasy is one thing, the reality quite another.

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