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History: Route 66 Claremont

By Alison Cote

If you were driving down Route 66 in Claremont during its heyday, which business would you choose to stop at? This is the dilemma that thousands of drivers encountered while passing through Foothill Boulevard, the portion of Route 66 that ran through Claremont. During the 1960s, there was a large travel boom that occurred due to the growing availability of automobiles. This allowed for greater freedom and leisure time that involved traveling. Because of this increased mobility, commercial businesses needed to attract drivers from the road to stop in their stores. The emergence of roadside architecture played an important role in gathering visitors from across the country to make a stop in Claremont.

Route 66 is the well-known highway that linked Chicago to Santa Monica and crossed eight states.  However, the Foothill Boulevard portion of Route 66 would not have existed without Frank Wheeler, who is regarded as the father of Foothill Boulevard. Along with Wheeler, Ralph Cornell helped design the layout for Claremont’s eucalyptus trees to line the highway. The funds for Foothill Boulevard were designated in the 1920s and the Claremont portion was officially complete in 1931. Foothill Boulevard soon became a bustling highway leading travelers to the Pacific Ocean.

Claremont sought to retain its identity as a city through the beautiful trees lining the highway and unique visuals in the form of roadside architecture. Businesses aimed to attract drivers to their stores by using elaborate signs or architecture to grab peoples’ attention and draw them in.

One of the most visually stunning buildings was Henry’s Drive-In Restaurant, built by John Lautner in 1957. This building stood on the corner of Garey Avenue and Foothill Boulevard (in Pomona). Henry’s served not only as a restaurant, but also as a coffee shop and drive-in, allowing for visitors to decide on how long of a stop they needed. Lautner designed this building as the ultimate roadside attraction, as this building appeared so unique that with its large, swooping roof, it welcomed travelers to rest for a while. Although Henry’s served many people in the past, it was demolished in the 1980s.

On the corner of Harvard and Foothill Boulevard stands Wolfe’s Market. This market has been in business since 1917 and is a fourth generation business founded in Claremont. The Wolfe’s Market sign is still a prominent feature of the building, especially with its distinctive font making it stand out against other surrounding businesses. Travelers and residents alike could have stopped at Wolfe’s Market to enjoy the extensive selection of local produce.

As for sweet treats, two stores beckoned drivers to stop in. Both Betsy Ross Ice Cream Co. and Orange Julius were along Foothill Boulevard, and once again we see the allure of roadside architecture in the signs they used. Betsy Ross attracted visitors with a more classic, vintage-looking style alluding to the typical ice cream parlor one would expect to see on the inside. On the other hand, Orange Julius gained attention through the contrast of simple lettering and an eclectic image of an orange colored man named Julius.

One of the more eclectic buildings a driver on Foothill Boulevard could expect to see was Tugboat Annie’s. Built in the shape of an actual tugboat, this restaurant offered travelers a unique dining experience. Tugboat Annie’s was eventually changed to the Shrimp House, but continued to operate out the tugboat building. One can only assume that the tugboat design generated plenty of customers, as the building is still standing on Foothill Boulevard today. 

An excellent example of roadside architecture that showcased Claremont’s close ties to the art community is Millard Sheets’ former art studio. Although this was not an actual business, Millard Sheets played a crucial role in developing Claremont’s art community and he was a well-known figure within this community. The exterior of the studio features an outstanding example of Sheets’ beautiful mosaics. Images of birds in flight and a spectacular sun stand out against the walls of the studio, inviting visitors inside.  Sheets also contributed a mosaic for another building on Foothill, the Pomona First Federal Bank. This mosaic is one of his more famous, with an image of several Native Americans amidst a colorful field. With these mosaics, Sheets further cemented his legacy by allowing travelers on Foothill Boulevard to view his works.

These buildings are just a few of many that attracted travelers on Route 66. However, the buildings selected each represent a unique aspect of Claremont. Whether they promoted the art community, Claremont’s ties to the produce industry, or even had eclectic designs, these buildings sought to welcome curious travelers, even if they could only stay a short while to experience the beauty of Claremont.