Second Street remembered (at great length)

My recent column on the impending demolition along Pomona’s Second Street resulted in a reader e-mail that looks to be as long, if not longer, than the column that inspired it.

It’s full of well-observed details from a childhood spent in Pomona. The author gave his name only as Keith. As it’s too long to use in print, at least in full, here’s the whole thing, lowercase typing and all:

“mr. allen,

“read your sunday missive on second street in pomona. you brought up the ghosts of my childhood; i am 53 and have lived in the southeastern corner of pomona all my life [cepting college at ou [oklahoma] ; graduated from garey high [that year was the first year minorities in the pomona school system outnumbered anglos; times have changed!]. also attended alcott [when it was one brick building and 2 rows of classrooms] elementary and was in the first 3-year class at simons jr. high. it was great having everything from desks to books brand new.

“i watched the mall being built. my mother worked in the orange belt emporium [2nd and garey, ne corner] . my mother was old school; she never had a driver’s license; pomona in those days had a wonderful bus system, a cloverleaf pattern of 4 routes that canvassed the four corners of town, meeting on garey between second and third; i knew most of the bus drivers by name.

“my father worked in town also, at pomona valley creamery which was bought out by arden farms [se corner reservoir and 5th]; eventually bought out by knudsen which closed the pomona dairy forcing dad to drive to san bernardino til he retired in 1980; mother lasted til orange belt closed and was razed. she didn’t really have to work but her money bought an awful lot of extra and nice things.

“pep boys anchored the mall at park avenue. beamons was where i bought [dad bought] all my sporting goods til i left for college [baseball gloves, shoes, basketball and football shoes, bats, etc.]. i played in the american little league at washington park [there was only one field and home plate was 180 degrees from present site; field had sunken dugouts]; there was a fast pitch men’s industrial league on the softball field back then, pony league and 4+ years of american legion at ralph welch park [also vastly changed ]. do you know that ted williams, duke snider and jackie robinson to name a few played at the original welch field during the easter elks 20/30 high school baseball tournament; at one time the biggest of its kind in socal?

“i lived at the washington plunge in the summer when it wasn’t a game day or i was at the ymca. the y had a youth program after school on tuesday, thursday, and saturday mornings. swimming three days a week; it didn’t get any better for a kid; they had trampolines also. [sidelight -- tramatic experience for a kid; i saw my first naked man in the locker room at the ymca -- what a SHOCK.]

“sorry to digress. our family lawyer had an office in the stately bank building still standing. john p. evans was where i got my simons jr. high letterman’s sweater [back then 9th grade played the 4 sports at the jr. high level; jr. high being 7th, 8th and 9th grades] and where i bought my garey letterman’s jacket. it was a special present indeed to unwrap and see ewarts or john p. evans on the box lid. wright bros. and rice, a furniture store just off the mall next door to the old ua theatre, was where my parents bought all their furniture.

“thriftys and woolworths both had soda fountains; thriftys had a coffee shop in back; my father and i would eat there friday nites waiting for mom and waiting for the orange belt to close – the one nite it stayed open til nine [cepting xmas season] — the other 5 days it closed at 5:30; closed sundays.

“there was a pool hall in the basement around the corner from woolworths. as a young tot my older brother [by 14 years] would babysit me there by sitting me in the corner while he played “snooker” [a forgotten game].

“on the nw corner of garey and second was an orange julius; they had hot dogs also. it was the der weinerschnitzel of its time with mustard dogs and relish dogs and onion dogs.

“eating at badons [on garey between second and third] was a treat. the apex cafe [between third and fourth] on garey was my father’s favorite; it could be called a “greasy spoon”; they had the best chili. the lawson bros barber shop across from the mayfair on third cut my hair for over 20 years; there were 3 brothers, stan, jack and bob. of course you know all about the fox theatre. at fourteen i kissed my first girl in the balcony of the fox during “the love bug.”

“frasiers, next door to the orange belt, was the stationery store in town. another relic of times past, mission pack, set up shop on the mall at xmas time selling fruit baskets for mailing to family and friends. hamilton drugs and kress sat opposite one another; kress had a soda fountain and grill also. payless, see’s candies and larry wellins jewelers were farther east; i have no recollection of the many “women’s” shops on the mall. i did leave out ewarts on the west side; like evans it was out of my family’s price range, besides, mom got a discount at the orange belt.

“i worked saturdays at the belt as a kid in the marking room for $1 a day. the owners, the rothschilds, were very kind people. mrs. rothschild would give me a twenty for my birthday and at christmas [most definitely old school store owners]. they knew all their their employees. the store even had an attendant-operated elevator. larry wellins was a family friend also and a big supporter of youth baseball in pomona; sponsoring the american legion team, post 30, called the larry wellins Gems.

“past that to the east where the college now sits was jc penneys, rod, gun and hobby, the toy store, robby’s restaurant, fedway, two banks, mcmahans furniture and the last addition to the mall, buffums. rod and gun also sold athletic equipment. the toy store was “model” heaven. in the 8th grade i bought my first “going steady” ring in fedway for $1.

“the christmas parade used second street every year [a choice spot to watch the parade was atop one of the many planters] and once a year a carnival set up shop on the mall. i am amazed that the fountains on the mall still work after 40+ years.

“one other store to mention not on the mall: just east of the corner of san antonio and 5th, on the south side, was the model shop — TOY TRAIN HEAVEN! got my first lionel train set there and later my first ho scale train set. the building wasn’t 20 feet wide but it was kid heaven. they also carried all the model cars and planes and ships.

“the treasure chest was just off the mall to the north on palomares; it was the town newsstand, the one place in town with an “adult only” section. try as i might i never could sneak into that section. i had to be satisfied with the vast comic racks he had. it was a smoke shop also.

“pomona was a one-stop family town. the butka family clinic was the family doctor on commercial next to the ymca and the weiss dental clinic was behind the 1st baptist church on holt, next to stanyer and edmonson tires where dad got all his tires.

“trophy king trophies and awards on holt just east of garey was also a big supporter of youth baseball in town, sponsoring the town’s connie mack summer baseball team, a rival league to american legion.

“greens delicatessen [now the pawn shop on holt and park] had a coffee shop and they made the world’s best old-style beef dips wrapped in paper to carry out.

“digangis grinders farther west [across from st. josephs] had the area’s best grinders [everything made fresh]; mr. digangi was a very nice person also. and farther west on holt was the original espiaus mexican restaurant, back then just a counter and a few booths.

“the one ‘fancy’ restaurant we ate at was the betsy ross on holt just east of reservoir. they served excellent fish and chips and a boy’s dream for dessert, the “washington monument” ice cream sundae.

“one more ‘kid heaven’ business: coates bicycle shop on second street just east of towne avenue. i went through 4 bicycles bought from them. [one of my best christmas presents was a schwinn stingray with the banana seat, slick rear wheel and wheelie bar back rest.] my friends and i rode our bikes all over town without fear of any neighborhood [even riding out to puddingstone lake to fish].

“we had a corner market, market spot [corner towne and philadelphia] that had butchers. the biggest so-called ‘super’ market in town was mcdonalds up on north garey. hughes and that plaza didn’t come along til later after they tore down what remained of the old pomona high which burned in 1956.

“i guess the coming of montclair plaza killed off the downtown mall and the indian hill plaza with sears and newberrys. i think the coming of women’s lib changed the family and town dynamics also.

“i can’t leave out mentioning the helms bakery truck that came through the neighborhood daily with fresh bread and those chocolate covered donuts, as well as the good humor man and his white truck and uniform and those jingling bells.

“pomona will always be home to me though now i doubt if i spend $10 a year in its city limits. i go to chino hills or chino now for almost everything. i hate crowds and do most shopping by mail order or internet.

“sorry for being long-winded and straying off the mall a bit. they say you can never go home again, but like the twilight zone episode ‘willoughby,’ one can always go home again in one’s mind; it’s always a sweet, though sad, journey.

“thank you for keeping the fading memories alive and for sparking mine,

“keith”

Let’s give Keith a round of applause, and maybe chip in to buy him some capital letters. If there’s anything left to say, post away below, readers.

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Paint it green

Skipping out on both dinner and the Pomona City Council on Monday night, I instead left work and headed directly to Pasadena to see novelist Janet Fitch read from and sign her second novel, “Paint It Black,” at Vroman’s Bookstore.

I interviewed Fitch in 2001 for a Bulletin feature story when she taught creative writing for a semester at Pomona College. She was a good interview subject and nice about everything. “White Oleander” was a bit flowery for my tastes but she’s clearly a good writer, and I wanted to do a good job on the story.

Of course it’s excruciating to write a story about a writer because you know the writer will read it, and the writer is always, always, going to be a much better writer than you.

When you write about a writer, let me tell you, you worry over each sentence, as much as deadline allows. You do your best to write grammatically, to eliminate awkwardness and to not be trite. You show off a little with what you imagine is a literary turn of phrase here and there, but even that little is probably too much. No doubt the writer is reading you with an indulgent smile, interrupted by an occasional wince.

But enough about my problems. Fitch said my story was fine and signed a very nice inscription in my copy of “White Oleander,” as well as drawing a sketch of an oleander, which is a poisonous plant, and writing next to it: “Don’t pick the oleander.”

Her second novel got lavish praise — “Janet Fitch is an artist of the very highest order,” declared the L.A. Times, between drags on a French cigarette — so I forsook our noble Pomona leaders to see her closest local appearance and pick up a copy.

“Paint It Black” is set in L.A. at the end of 1980, after the suicide of Germs singer Darby Crash and the death two days later of ex-Beatle John Lennon. The main character is an artists’ model at the Otis Art Institute, when it was near MacArthur Park, Fitch explained.

At a previous event, “someone said, ‘Oh, it’s a historical novel,’ ” Fitch recounted, to laughter. “Well, I guess to some people it is.”

Of her dark themes, such as the aftermath of suicide, she said: “My writing is all about how people internalize difficult experiences … I’m interested in the times of life when people are pushed to the extreme.”

When it comes to others’ writing, she most enjoys reading, and listening to, poetry; its musicality teaches her to write her own sentences with what seem like the right number of syllables and beats.

(Naturally we do this in the Bulletin newsroom, everyone reading his or her work aloud on deadline: “A man was stabbed at a party in Fontana,” “City leaders in Rancho Cucamonga are mulling a smoking ban,” “After deliberating three days, a jury reached a verdict.”)

Afterward I got in line to have my book signed. Fitch volunteered that she had kept looking at me knowing she knew me from somewhere but unable to place me. Well, it’s been six years, so she gets points for even semi-remembering me. She wrote something nice in my book and thanked me for making the drive.

At this point I thought I could catch the last part of the Pomona meeting, so, dedicated Pomona-ite that I am, I didn’t linger at Vroman’s. When I got to Pomona I lucked out, sailing along down Garey, every light either green or turning green as I approached. But at City Hall, even though it was only 8:55, there was only one car in the parking lot. Must have been a short meeting by Pomona standards. Sometimes by 8:55 they’re still arguing over the consent agenda.

Too bad. I could have hung around Pasadena some more. Maybe even had some dinner.

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Lela’s returns, but only on Fox

When the downtown Pomona restaurant Lela’s closed last summer, the fate of the “Kitchen Nightmares” reality show taped at the restaurant also seemed to be in question. After all, the premise is that brash TV chef Gordon Ramsay would visit a failing restaurant and try to turn it around. Lela’s obviously wasn’t going to be a success story. Would the episode air even though the restaurant was gone?

That question has been answered. The episode about Lela’s is scheduled to air Wednesday. The synopsis, from the “Nightmares” website:

“Chef Ramsay tries to rev up business for Lela’s, an upscale restaurant in desperate need of clientele. When Gordon gets in the kitchen and starts criticizing the menu items, the executive chef is less than thrilled and they have a showdown in front of the entire staff. Find out if the changes stick and if the owner Lela will withstand this type of behavior in her restaurant.”

That’s at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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Restaurant of the Week: Casablanca

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Casablanca, 500 W. 1st St. (at Oberlin), Claremont

This week’s restaurant is Casablanca, the Mediterranean place, named for my favorite movie, that opened in the Claremont Packing House last summer. There seems to be a split opinion out there in the blogosphere at the M-M-M-My Pomona site, with comments varying wildly — even between the couple who moderates the blog.

Well, I liked my meal there. There’s an inviting atmosphere and a decor with a lot of dark wood, balanced by copious windows. The service was attentive. A friend and I shared a hummus appetizer that was superior. I had the chicken kabob and was pleased with it. My friend got the lamb shanks and if anything it was better than the kabob, very tender. Why, I could have led a sing-along of “La Marseillaise” but restrained myself.

This post is based on one visit, so your mileage may vary, as others’ has. The place was worth my dough. The owner himself came out to ask how things were as we left. A liquor license is pending, he said happily, but in the meantime, they do serve wine.

No matter to me. I came to Casablanca for the waters.

* Update April 2014: I returned to Casablanca for dinner and photos. My friend had a vegetarian kabab ($18, below) and I had a lamb kabab ($20, bottom). (We used a 2-for-1 coupon from a Clipper magazine, saving the $18.) We both liked our meals and the atmosphere. I’m a little surprised Casablanca has hung in there — they don’t seem as busy as back when they opened — but the dining room was mostly full on a Sunday night, and the food is still good.

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Big reads

I’ve written in my column about the NEA-affiliated Big Read drives in Pomona and Rancho Cucamonga and the independent On the Same Page drive in Claremont, in which residents were urged to read “Bless Me, Ultima,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Cannery Row,” respectively.

I finished “Mockingbird” on my lunch break Thursday, completing the trifecta.

(My favorite line is the first sentence of Chapter 10, the daughter saying of her father: “Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty.”)

Tuesday I heard Steinbeck scholar Robert Morsberger speak at the Claremont Library, the final event in the “Cannery Row” series. Morsberger named “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Cannery Row” and “In Dubious Battle” as his Steinbeck favorites. “‘Cannery Row’ is the book I most enjoy rereading,” he said, describing it as funny and poetic. A friend, he added, says Doc is one of her favorite characters in literature.

Thursday I heard Mary Badham speak at Rancho Cucamonga’s Celebration Hall about her role as Scout in the movie version of “Mockingbird.” Badham, the sister of director John Badham, said she got the part in an audition in her native Alabama. She was honest enough to admit she was too young during filming to remember a whole lot other than Gregory Peck’s kindness and the boy actors fighting with her.

She was a real-life tomboy, so the part fit her. But she wasn’t especially interested in acting, she said, and thus didn’t do much after “Mockingbird,” although, among other things, she was in the very last “Twilight Zone” episode. As a first-timer without an agent, she didn’t get paid much for playing Scout. “I think the last residual check I got was for 89 cents,” she added. No wonder she was charging $20 for her autograph after the talk.

I already wrote about seeing Gustavo Arellano speak in Pomona about “Ultima,” which meant I went to at least one book event in each of the three cities.

But only Rancho Cucamonga put me on a poster.

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Show me the money!!

U.S. Treasurer Anna Escobedo Cabral will speak at 9 a.m. today at a (closed) symposium at Etiwanda Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga for educators, sponsored by the Stock Market Game and attended by state education Superintendent Jack O’Connell. They’ll hear how to teach students about saving and investing. Cabral will discuss the importance of financial education.

I’d be more interested if she were handing out free money. Attendees could have her sign their own currency, except her autograph is already on it, along with that of the Treasury Secretary. The position of treasurer, I learned, involves advising the secretary on currency and coinage and, get this, is even older than the Treasury Department itself.

Treasurer Cabral, you are so money.

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So long, Sizzler

There’s a green construction fence around the Sizzler restaurant at Fourth and Vineyard in Ontario, a fact that prompts a wistful sigh on my part.

Not that I’m a Sizzler fan. Even though the restaurant was two blocks from the Daily Bulletin, I ate there only once in my 10 years here.

(I ate at Sizzlers growing up in Illinois. The Malibu chicken, which was breaded chicken with a thin slice of ham and swiss cheese melted on top, seemed like the height of sophistication when I was a boy. That’s what everyone eats in Malibu, right?)

It was my sole previous visit to the Ontario Sizzler that brings back memories.

In March 1994, I accepted a job at the Victor Valley Daily Press in Victorville and prepared to move there from Petaluma, up in the Bay Area. This was the job that brought me to Southern California.

My friend and colleague Scott Manchester from the Petaluma Argus-Courier helped me load up a rental truck and drive to Victorville. We unloaded my worldly belongings at my new Victorville apartment and I drove him to Ontario to catch a plane home. My intention was to buy him a good dinner but time was running short before his flight, so we went to Sizzler. It was near the airport, which was accessed then from Vineyard.

So, that’s why the closing was cause for a sigh. The Ontario Sizzler was the site of my first dinner as a Southern Californian. Not an auspicious beginning, but we all have to start somewhere.

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A desperate bid for readership

My colleague Jeff Malet found this online on Tuesday. It’s from some outlet called Celebrity News Service. Wait for the local angle:

“Los Angeles, CA (CNS) — Lindsay Lohan has embraced her clean and healthy lifestyle and is working it into her community service.

“The troubled 21-year-old starlet has begun her court-appointed service stemming from a DUI plea bargain. The actress escaped jail time by agreeing to do 10 days of community service.

“Lindsay, who has been staying out of the L.A. party scene since leaving rehab for the third time in 12 months, spent her Monday at the American Red Cross in Pomona, California.

“The ‘Mean Girls’ star was joined by paparazzi as she prepped people to donate their blood.

“Lindsay has not commented on her road to recovery and DUI punishment. She has nine more days left to serve her community.”

According to other websites, Lohan was at the blood center from noon to 7 p.m. The lohangroupie.com site reports that she left carrying a book titled “Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce.”

Just like I always say, all roads lead to Pomona — even the road to recovery.

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Pastrami king

Well, this blog is apparently accepting comments again, not that anyone left any, so let’s go (at least in prose) to Langer’s Deli in L.A.

I’d heard for years that Langer’s has the best pastrami outside of New York, and possibly even inside of New York, and yet Langer’s, even after 60 years at Seventh and Alvarado, across from MacArthur Park, still remains largely unknown compared to Canter’s, Pink’s, the Original Pantry, Philippe’s and other L.A. institutions.

On Saturday I took the plunge, riding Metrolink with a friend to Union Station and the Red Line subway to MacArthur Park; Langer’s is a half-block away, a Jewish restaurant in the heart of a Latino neighborhood.

It’s old but clean, smaller than Canter’s but with a similar stopped-time feeling. I got the No. 44, a hot pastrami with sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and something called nippy cheese, on rye. The pastrami is hand-sliced and thicker than any I’ve had; reputedly it’s steamed for three hours, which makes it so tender it can’t be machine-sliced to the usual thinness. The bread is crunchy on the outside and soft inside. I agree with everyone; it’s a heckuva pastrami sandwich.

My friend got the No. 1, which comes cold and with cole slaw instead of sauerkraut, and it was no worse, and likely even tastier, than my sandwich.

The neighborhood is said to be much improved over a few years ago, although there are still guys on the sidewalk ready to make you a fake ID. The park and its lake are lovely, even if I can’t think of the park without thinking of that awful song about the cake left out in the rain. What about pastrami left out in the rain? Now that would be something to cry about.

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Sound of silence

My apologies to anyone who’s had trouble with this site the past few days. This includes me.

Our online guys updated the blog software on Friday with the result that all of our blogs were knocked offline. My understanding is that spammers inundated the blogs with trash and the server crashed. A way to block the spammers was found that involved blocking anyone from Europe from reading our blogs. I’d say who needs ‘em except two former Bulletin colleagues, and current friends, are in Europe for a spell.

My blog was operating again by late Friday but as of Sunday night it’s still impossible for anyone to leave comments. I think that feature was temporarily disabled.

In any event, I was going to blog about a trip I took to L.A. on Saturday but instead I’m going to lie low until the blog issues are resolved. No point in posting if nobody can comment.

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