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Diverse Architectural Legacy

While Claremont was founded in 1887, the town grew very slowly and we have very few houses of the 19th century. This was the Victorian era and the exuberant, picturesque houses built during this period emphasized vertical lines with very few boring, flat wall surfaces.

Sumner House photo

The best example of the Queen Anne Victorian style is on the corner of First Street and College Avenue. Built in 1887, the Sumner House is the oldest house in Claremont. Towers and bays projected upward and outward, wraparound porches receded, and walls were alive with changes in materials, and various types of siding. Window sizes were varied, often with stained glass inserts and paint colors were lively.

Claremont Depot photo

As the 20th century dawned a wave of nostalgia swept across the country and Americans began to appreciate the simpler forms of its colonial past. Architects studied early American forms and a revival of those styles appeared everywhere. In Claremont we have houses and public buildings that reflect the New England Colonial Revival, Southern Colonial, and Spanish Colonial revival. Most prominent is the Spanish Colonial Revival of the 1920's and 1930's with its stucco walls, red tile roofs and arched openings. Windows often were covered with wood or wrought iron grilles. Wonderful examples can be seen in the historic Santa Fe Depot on First Street, the Garner House in Memorial Park and the entire campus of Scripps College.

In addition there are houses that look as though they are plucked from the New England countryside with their simple yet formal design. Very simple wood, brick or stucco walls have symmetrically placed windows, often with shutters, surrounding a central doorway flanked by columns and an arched pediment.

Besides the revival styles Claremont has an abundance of bungalows which were the “hottest house type” (according to one architectural historian) of the early 20th century. The bungalow is a simple one or two story house with a gently pitched broad gabled roof with rafters which often extend beyond the roof line. A front porch is usually held up by flared posts of rock or brick. While dark wood shingles are the favorite exterior materials, Claremont has some wonderful stone bungalows built with the ever present Claremont “potatoes” (rocks). Exposed rafter tails and trim are often painted while shingle sidings are often left in their natural state or treated with earth toned stains. Windows are either sash or casement with many fixed pane panels. Built by the thousands all over southern California, Claremont has one by the famous bungalow builders, Charles and Henry Greene, and many more that may have been ordered by mail or built by local carpenters from builder books.

In the 30s and 40s there was a movement begun by architects in several European countries that therefore took on the title International style. It was in response to the opportunities supplied by modern technology and it was also a rebellion against what the modernists saw as the fussy details of the revival styles. Their buildings were clean lined, completely functional and very geometric. Usually there were flat walls, flat roofs, bands of windows and a total lack of ornament. Not everybody liked it. Most Americans preferred the traditional revival styles. However Southern California became the home of two prominent Modernist architects, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra. Claremont has two of Neutra's works and the experiment in intercultural housing built in the Arbol Verde neighborhood in the early 1950's is composed of several small houses of the International Style.

The postwar period when most of residential Southern California was built, saw the conversion of Claremont's citrus groves below the railroad tracks and above Foothill Blvd. into housing developments. There was a pent up demand for housing after years of war and economic depression. The mass market called for a housing type that would allow the maximum living space from the least square footage. The ranch house was the perfect answer. Usually one story, it allowed for horizontal buildings on wide building lots and their shallow profiles made the most of available light and views. The automobile became a family member requiring its own spot toward the front of the house and this one or two car garage became the most typical feature of the suburban ranch. Builders had miles of relatively flat land to work with and used assembly-line methods to reduce the need for skilled craftsmen. Many of Claremont's tracts are now approaching 50 years of age, when they could potentially become eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. As one historian put it, "the truth is, they really don't build houses like that anymore."