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Celebrate Preservation Month with Claremont Heritage

by John Neiuber

Recently California lost a giant in historic preservation.  James R. Mills passed away on March 27 at the age of 93.  If that name sounds familiar it is because he was the author of the Mills Act, the legislation named after him that is credited with saving thousands of historic residential and commercial buildings from demolition in California.  The Mills Act reduces property taxes for owners who preserve an historic building.

Mills served as a state assembly member and state senator for 22 years. Besides the Mills Act, his contributions included the San Diego trolley system, the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and funding the establishment of bicycle paths throughout the state. He helped create the Coastal Commission, secured the funding to restore the Old Globe Theater and saved the state Capitol from demolition and oversaw its restoration.

Each year in May, local preservation groups, state historical societies and business and civic organizations across the country celebrate preservation through events that promote historic places and cultural heritage tourism, and that demonstrate the social and economic benefits of historic preservation.  Certainly, the accomplishments of James Mills illustrates the positive impact preservation has had on our state and communities.

Preservation Month began as National Preservation Week in 1973. In 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation extended the celebration to the entire month of May and declared it Preservation Month to provide an even greater opportunity to celebrate the diverse and unique heritage of our country’s cities and states.

Claremont Heritage promotes Preservation Month by holding its annual gala where local preservation is celebrated with the recognition of groups or individuals with the Bess Garner Historic Preservation Award and the Cultural Heritage award.

This year the Bess Garner Historic Preservation Award is being presented to the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy.  The many accomplishments of this group will be detailed in the presentation of the award at the virtual gala on Saturday, May 22 at 7:00 pm.  The Conservancy has been instrumental in supporting the City in acquiring additional acreage for the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park and was a major driving force behind the park Master Plan. The Conservancy has contributed immeasurably to preserve our wildlands, provide citizen access to the wilderness and has ensured the preservation and enjoyment of our natural environment for future generations to come.

Preservation is not just about saving structures or the natural environment.  Our heritage is embodied in other ways.  The culture of a community is to be celebrated also.  This year the Claremont Heritage Cultural Heritage Award is being presented to Richard Martinez, artist, educator and native son. Richard Martinez has been creating, teaching and sharing art in the community for more than half a century.  He attended Claremont Schools when they were segregated and went on to attend Claremont High where eventually he taught painting, drawing, ceramics, photography and coached track and field for 36 years.  Working in ceramics and watercolors, he has received many awards and participated in several one-man shows.  Richard Martinez has created a body of work that has contributed to the cultural, educational and artistic landscape of Claremont.

So, how will you celebrate Preservation Month?  How will you celebrate Claremont?  Here are some ways to flex your preservation muscle:

1. Tell us what places matter to you: Share your photos of historic places. Take a picture of a place in Claremont that is meaningful to you and post it on social media with #claremontheritage.  Perhaps it is your historic or architecturally significant house.  A building at the Colleges.  A building in the Village.  Tell us why it matters to you or share a memory about the place.

2. Shop local: The business of Claremont is cultural heritage tourism.  People visit Claremont because it is preserved.  It still has a downtown that is vibrant and walkable and small shopping centers that are user friendly.  So, shop local.  It helps our businesses thrive and it creates sales taxes that come back to our local government that allows the city to maintain the streets, trees and attract quality businesses to locate here.

3. Eat somewhere in someplace old:  Many historic buildings find new life as restaurants.  Look around Claremont.  They are everywhere.  Elvira’s Grill in the Old School House building.  Walter’s is partially located in what was once a bungalow court.  Espiau’s was once a gas station.  The Village Grille was a car dealership.  Pizza N Such was a bank and a pharmacy.  The Back Abbey was once the office for the old ice house.  Bardot was a theater.  All of the restaurants in the Packing House.

4. Take a tour of Claremont:  Visit the Claremont Heritage website and take the Self-Guided Tour.  After restrictions are lifted further, join us for the guided walking tour of the Village or the Claremont Colleges.

5. Discover your house’s history:  Contact Claremont Heritage to receive information about the history of your house.

6. Encourage the next generation:  Contribute to the 3rd Grade History Program at Claremont Heritage and help to inform the next generation about the history of the city.

7. Say “cheers” to Preservation Month:  Raise a glass to preservation at your local historic bar (as COVID-19 restrictions permit).   To have a drink in someplace old, see “Eat somewhere in someplace old” above.

8. Get involved:  Participate in Heritage events and volunteer to help at events or to be a docent for an annual home tour/

9. Support this newspaper:  The Claremont Courier has been documenting the history and culture of Claremont for 113 years.  By subscribing you are ensuring the future of a cultural institution.

10. Join Claremont Heritage:  Help keep Claremont’s history alive by becoming a member.

Please join us on Saturday, May 22 at 7:00 pm for the Annual Gala, Out of Many One Community – Live!  A Virtual Almanac of Community Involvement.  The gala is a digital homage to the annual Courier Almanac and citizen involvement. The event will be streamed on Facebook and YouTube.  Visit www.claremontheritage.org for more information.

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