Claremont is often considered the quintessential college town. With its variety of stores and restaurants, the Claremont Village has grown more and more popular over the past few years. Yet, despite its modern appeal, the Village was not always as popular, restaurant-oriented or affluent as it is today.
How the Village came to be:
The Village was not always located in the City of Claremont. In 1771, Mission San Gabriel was founded and many of the local Serrano Indians were hired as shepherds for the padres. In 1826, 156 acres of land were claimed by anglo-European W. T. “Tooch” Martin for the purpose of hunting and beekeeping. The area did not seem to have much going on, until everything changed in 1887. The Santa Fe Railway was built through the area, spanning from San Bernardino to Los Angeles. People flocked to the railroad and Pomona College was later established in 1888. The Pomona culture was modeled after the “New England style” as was the town, complete with town meetings and European style churches. In 1907, Claremont officially became the City of Claremont. The railroad promoted the growth of the fruit industry and this remained important until suburban houses eventually took over the farming lands. Since becoming a city, Claremont has expanded to more than 13 square miles with over 34,000 residents.
One of the oldest remaining neighborhoods in Claremont is the Russian Village. Constructed in the midst of the Great Depression, the Russian Village was designed by Polish (not Russian) immigrant Konstany Stys who used natural resources from the area and leftover construction from the Claremont Colleges to build houses. According to a 1988 LA Times article on the Russian Village, the 15 homes constructed represented “a classic American story.” Stys sold the land he purchased on South Mills Avenue for a very cheap price to unemployed individuals and families who were forced out of their homes due to the ongoing economic crisis. Workers consisted of these individuals and families, most of whom constructed the homes despite lacking architectural experience and expertise. Today, the Russian Village still stands exactly as it was and is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Claremont Village wasn’t always populated with a wide range of stores and restaurants. In 1979, the Village Theater on Bonita Avenue was purchased by
Michael Kaupp, a construction manager and architect who was looking to expand the Village and increase its popularity. He designed a miniature Ghirardelli Square-esque shopping center where Harvard Square exists today. Apparently, it was the students of the Claremont Colleges who served as the driving force behind its construction. Kaupp and others involved in the construction expected Claremont students to make up much of the business that would make the mini-mall thrive. The new square and its growing popularity thus encouraged many shop owners to move their stores closer to or inside the square, which began to attract more visitors. Shops such as Rousseau’s Garden, Van’s Belgian Waffles and Crepes, and The Village Gourmet all opened up inside the new Harvard Square. The openings of these stores promoted much traffic through what we now consider to be the center of the Village.
The Packing House:
In the original glory days, Claremont was an extremely successful agricultural city. Fruit from the area was shipped all over the world, including Queen Victoria’s dinner table in 1893. The city paved the way for creating California’s first fruit-processing cooperative, commercializing the fruits and marketing them throughout the world. In 1922, the College Heights Lemon Packing House was built. The packing house was a crucial source of jobs for the community and also a driving force for improvement of the local economy. However, the fruit fields slowly turned into land upon which suburban houses would be built and the fruit processing industry came to a halt. The packing house closed in 1972, but the City of Claremont bought the building to preserve it. In 2007, the renovation was complete with popular restaurants such as Eureka Burger, Packing House Wine Merchants, and Augie’s Coffee House. Kris Brackmann ’17 affirms that “the whole Eureka section is pretty new and extremely popular. Restaurants like Eureka and Bua Thai have really good food, and are affordable enough for students to eat at on the weekends!” As some of the most popular destinations in the Village, especially for college students, the packing house businesses have not changed much since their openings in 2007.
The Claremont Station:
Built in 1927, the Claremont Station is one of the oldest transportation systems in the city. The train station was initially built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, a railroad company that was chartered in 1859. Originally, the railway was an “intermodal freight transport” but later evolved to specialize in passenger services. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe opened dining cars in its passenger trains in 1891, one of the first railway companies to do so. In 1971, AT&SF stopped operating passenger trains; Amtrak, a train company that now runs through Claremont, later took over. Today, the Claremont Station continues to serve a useful purpose. Often used by students to travel into LA on the weekends or over breaks, the train is “incredibly helpful when trying to escape the Claremont bubble,” said Crystal Salinas ‘20. The train runs from LA Union Station to San Bernardino with the entire trip expected to take around 2 hours. The station is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Station.
Marketed as a “record store like they used to be in the gold ole days,” Rhino Records is considered heaven for a music lover. Shelves are lined with hundreds of CDs, records, and posters of genres ranging from heavy metal to smooth jazz. Despite its popularity with a younger crowd, Rhino Records has much history to offer. Opened in 1976 by the Rhino label, the store was initially located in what is described by the website as a “tiny shack” where “punk and love beads” were sold. When the Rhino label sold off its retail units in 1981, Rhino Records officially became independent. In 1990, the store moved to Yale Avenue in the Village. According to Rhino’s website, the Village is an “amalgamation of the clashing local colors,” citing the performances of Jewel and Beck at a local coffee house and the folk music center owned by Ben Harper as examples of Claremont’s prominent musical community. Today, Rhino Records is a destination not just for its incredible music selection but also for a reminder of what shopping for music was once like.
Past Ten Years:
Since the dramatic changes in the 1980s, a lot of the Village seems to be perfectly preserved. A popular, twinkling center of entrepreneurship, delicious food, and laughter. Chantal Evett ’17 has enjoyed the live music downtown many times and loves the “laid-back vibes and comfortable atmosphere.” Each week the freshness of the farmer’s market attracts hundreds of locals. The city center has become a safe and enjoyable destination for students, adults, families and everyone in between. Though lacking the hustle and bustle of a large city, it is surprisingly easy to get lost in the diverse stores and attractions of Claremont Village. On top of that, the continuous presence of dogs throughout the Village is certainly attractive. Simply put, it is a charming town perfect for fine dining, leisurely strolls, window shopping, and above all, relaxing.
An Older Village: