When Reagan went to Buffums’

An anonymous (why? why?) reader writes:

“Your Jan. 2 column with nostalgic reminiscences of the Pomona/Ontario area was fascinating. I was pleased that Mr. Ruh included Buffums’ in his list of once-upon-a-time stores; however, Buffums’ was much more than white-gloved ladies having tea in the Palomares Room.

“Ronald Reagan visited Buffums’ in the fall of 1965 to promote his book ‘Where’s the Rest of Me?’ Elizabeth Taylor dropped in to buy travel tickets, taking time from filming scenes from ‘The Sandpiper’ in San Dimas. Jacqueline Kennedy assigned someone to select and send a gift to an acquaintance in Claremont. Mrs. Groucho Marx purchased children’s clothes on occasion.

“Oh yes, Buffums’ was the best of the best. And I am sure other former employees have more tales of this magical store. This, of course, is from a former Buffums’ employee.”

Nice of you to write, Former. He/she enclosed a photocopy of the Reagan book’s title page, inscribed as follows: “With gratitude for a pleasant afternoon & Best Wishes, Ronald Reagan.”

Buffums’ was a classy SoCal department store chain — motto: “Southern California’s Most Gifted Store” — and the Nordstrom of its day.

It was owned by the same family that produced Dorothy Buffum Chandler, without whom we wouldn’t have the Music Center in downtown L.A. The Pomona store was built in 1962 on Palomares Street between Second and Third streets by architect Welton Becket (who also designed the Music Center…hmm). It marked the east end of the brand-new pedestrian mall.

Charles Phoenix’s book — you’ve already ordered a copy, right? — has a full page on Buffums’. He describes the ornate interior in some detail. The store held on despite downtown’s long decline, finally closing circa 1991, and as Phoenix notes, “the decorative furnishings were sold to the highest bidder.”

The building was extensively remodeled and now is part of the Western University of Health Sciences, an osteopathic medical school.

Have memories of Buffums’? Share them below..

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I’ve been bedeviled about the name of what was once the Inland Valley’s grandest department store. Was it spelled Buffum’s, Buffums or Buffums’?

The store was mentioned in Sunday’s blog, in which it was spelled Buffum’s. A recent letter to me from a former employee spelled it Buffums’. I checked some books.

Charles Phoenix spelled it Buffums. Gloria Ricci Lathrop spelled it Buffum’s. The Pomona Centennial Committee book spelled it Buffums’. Sigh.

I asked the kind folks in the Pomona Library’s special collections room to lay this matter to rest. After some checking, the intrepid Allan Lagumbay e-mailed me back: It’s Buffums’. He attached two photos of the exterior as proof. If I could put photos on these blog posts, I’d present one of them.*

This matters because tomorrow’s post is about the store. Which store? Why, Buffums’! Now the name will be spelled correctly. And I’ve gone back and fixed Sunday’s post.

* Photo added 2018

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Get gas, get your kicks

Out at Victoria Gardens on my lunch hour Monday, I thought I’d buy gas before the rain started.

I pulled up at the Chevron station near Richie’s Diner, Del Taco and The Hat. Above each pump was a pleasant surprise: a reproduction of a vintage (1950s?) illustrated map of Route 66.

Various cities are pinpointed, with Cucamonga obviously inserted. Route 66 attractions depicted at the bottom of the map include “Joshua Tree,” “Hoover Dam,” “Grand Canyon,” “Indian War Dance” (!), “Will Rogers Monument” and “Mississippi River.”

The maps are a charming touch, and next time I’m in the area and need gas, that’s where I’m going.

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John Stewart, RIP

I was stunned this morning to learn that singer-songwriter John Stewart, whom I interviewed in November for a column, had died unexpectedly of a massive stroke.

You can read about John on his website or in this obituary. I just wrote an obituary for us.

Too bad. I enjoyed speaking with him about “Daydream Believer,” the purpose of our phone chat. I told him I’d like to talk to him again at county fair time about his song “Back in Pomona,” as it’s about his experiences helping his dad, a horse trainer. He said that would be fine. He also said that next time he was in the area, he’d call me to get together for coffee.

Oh well. My condolences to his family and to his fans.

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Not fooling anybody

Ever seen a dentist’s office that looks a lot like a Taco Bell? Well, perhaps not, but new uses for dead chain restaurants do happen, and you won’t be surprised to know there’s a website devoted to the phenomenon: notfoolinganybody.com.

Among the more imaginative conversions pictured on the site:

* A Pizza Hut in Canada that became a funeral home. (It’s enough to make pizza lovers re-evaluate their diets.)

* A KFC in Oklahoma that became a chiropractor — but kept the bucket.

* A Waffle House in George that became a piano store with great freeway access.

What I’m wondering is if any ex-chain restaurants in the Inland Valley have been turned into something else?

Non-restaurant uses, as in the examples above, are preferred, but I’ll leave it open. As long as the building is at least slightly recognizable as something else, it’s fair game. Readers? The KFC bucket is in your court.

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‘Pomona A to Z’: B is for Becket’s Bold Buildings

So, onward to B. For this letter I considered writing about the Barbara Greenwood Kindergarten, mentioned in passing below, but decided it was too old. After adobes the previous week, I wanted to stake out more modern territory to give readers a jolt.

As I interviewed Mike Schowalter outside City Hall for this one, Councilman George Hunter approached, and that’s where we met. (I wasn’t going to council meetings yet.) He was friendly but skeptical of the Civic Center’s architectural value, being from the East Coast, where 40 years old is nothing, so I made sure to inject a note of skepticism late in the piece for those who shared his viewpoint.

This column was originally published July 25, 2004.

B is for Becket: ‘Pomona A to Z’ builds up famed architect

Week two of “Pomona A to Z,” my series highlighting the coolest parts of Pomona one letter at a time, brings us bouncing to B.

What will be B? Among the bounty:

B could be for Barbara Greenwood Kindergarten, the nation’s first standalone kindergarten, a 1908 building on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Blockbuster Concert Series in Ganesha Park, this year scheduled for Aug. 7, 14 and 21.

Boxing, after championship boxer “Sugar” Shane Mosley of Pomona and the respected Fist of Gold pugilism program.

Buffums’, the beloved department store downtown that’s now a medical school.

Or, for that matter, the store on Garey whose name sums up its philosophy: Buy Two, Get One Free. (Alas, the store wasn’t there the last time I checked. Perhaps Buy Two gave away too many One Frees.)

But our B isn’t any of those. Instead, B is for Becket’s Bold Buildings.

I’m referring to Welton Becket (1902-1969), one of L.A.’s most celebrated architects.

His firm was responsible for such mid-century icons as — take a deep breath — the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theater, UCLA’s Medical Center and Pauley Pavilion, Bullock’s department stores, the Capitol Records tower, LAPD’s Parker Center, the Cinerama Dome, the Sports Arena — still with me? — Century City Shopping Center and the Pan Pacific Auditorium.

And Pomona’s Civic Center!

In the 1960s, Becket’s firm designed seven buildings in downtown Pomona: six in the Civic Center, plus Buffum’s.

It’s the largest concentration of Becket’s work anywhere, according to the L.A. Conservancy, which sponsored a retrospective and tour, “Built By Becket,” in 2003.

Stroll around the Civic Center and you feel like you’re in “The Jetsons,” that other 1960s-era vision of the future.

There’s the Council Chambers, a round building similar to the Taper Forum that seems to float. City Hall with its thin vertical windows and glass pavilion entrance. The Library’s expansive interior without internal columns.

Other Becket buildings nearby are the Police Department, Superior Courts and Public Health Building.

With its parklike setting and broad walkways stamped with the Pomona logo, the Civic Center has a Utopian feel, like something out of the sci-fi film “Logan’s Run.”

“Those were buildings of the future, and that’s what Pomona wanted,” said Mike Schowalter, founder of the Pomona Modern Committee, which dotes on 1950s and ’60s architecture.

On Wednesday, Schowalter gave me a tour and the back-story.

You see, by the late 1950s Pomona was faced with a decaying downtown as shoppers fled to the glitzy Pomona Valley Center and its Sears on the outskirts of town.

In a bold stroke, the city decided to reinvent its core with a downtown pedestrian mall and a modern Civic Center.

Six of 12 buildings went up before the effort ground to a halt. But get a load of what else Pomona had on the boards: a monorail station, downtown heliport, civic auditorium, planetarium, art museum and residential high-rises.


The future would be so bright, Pomonans would be wearing shades.

“They were on the cutting edge,” Schowalter said fondly of the era’s leaders. “You’ve got to admire a city for doing some thing so out there.”

Speaking of out there, long-time residents may remember when — in a Mayberry-meets-“Blade Runner” moment — the reflecting pools were stocked with trout for fishing contests. The plaza was also the site of Easter sunrise services.

These days the Civic Center is the worse for wear, and the reflecting pools have been replaced with landscaping because the homeless population used the pools for bathing.

Still, most of the grandeur remains.

Hey, it’s not Victorian architecture. But if you can appreciate 1960s style, heavy on exposed aggregate concrete, the Civic Center’s got it in spades.

If restored, Schowalter asserted, Welton Becket’s Civic Center would easily compare to Frank Lloyd Wright’s modern buildings.

“This guy,” Schowalter said, “was pretty hot stuff.”

(David Allen, rather tepid stuff, writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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Remembering…the Pomona Airport?

Reader Mike McAlister of Rancho Cucamonga is a reliable correspondent, one who’s lived here pretty much forever. Two or three times a year he’ll type up and send me an actual letter. I rarely have space to excerpt them in print, but that was before my blog.

So today I’ll type up his most recent one, responding to a mention in my Jan. 6 column of “Central Airport,” a 1933 movie that refers to a character flying out of “the Pomona Airport.” Turns out there was such a place.

Take it away, Mike:

“In about 1947, I became aware that Pomona had an airport, and that accounted for the low-flying biplanes we’d see, mostly on weekends, buzzing the walnut and peach orchards in what is now South Pomona.

“Pomona’s population basically ended somewhere south of Phillips Boulevard (it was an Avenue then). There was a casket factory on the west side of Garey, and Phillips was maybe a half-block south of that. South of that was in the country.

“My memory is a bit faded, but it seems to me that the Pomona Airport (such as it was) was between two rows of block-long chicken coops, in approximately the west and east end of what is now the Pomona Cemetery, south of Franklin and west of Towne.

“The ‘aerodrome’ was populated by one or two old WW I vintage biplanes. The ‘airstrip’ consisted of a clearing between walnut trees and was maybe the equivalent of two or three blocks in length. Not much to get excited about in terms of today’s excitement, but it was ‘really something’ in 1947.

“Hot dawg!

“There was another airfield in about the location of today’s Cal Poly administration building. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but a guy I later knew took his first flying lessons there. He graduated to B-17s over Europe in WWII. His name was Vince Batchellor and he had a bug-spraying shop in a garage off the northeast corner of McKinley and Park Avenue, north of the 10 Freeway. Vince is no longer with us.

“Brackett Field, west of the Fairgrounds, was a dirt strip that was privately owned but was a popular landing strip in ’47.”

And that’s the state of Pomona-close aviation circa 1947. Thanks for the local history lesson, Mike.

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Restaurant of the Week: Jarritos, Athens, Pho Century

This week’s restaurant? Broadly, it’s the Upland Center, on the southwest corner of Mountain and Foothill (the shopping center with Big Lots and Stater Bros.), which had three previously unsampled restaurants. This week I tried all three of them.

Monday: Jarritos Mexican Restaurant. The interior is large but seating is spaced apart, giving everyone plenty of elbow room. Cheerful and brightly lit, the walls are colorful. Except for one wall near the kitchen, which has a black and white mural of scenes from “Casablanca.” Must’ve been left over from a previous tenant and nobody could bear to paint over it.

The food was above average. I had barbacoa ($7.79), which is tender barbecued beef, with sour cream, rice, beans and tortillas.

I was prepared to rule it the best Mexican food in Upland. To be sure, though, I tried the only (to my knowledge) other Mexican place I haven’t eaten at, Rancho Los Magueyes at 16th and Mountain, on Wednesday. Not bad. So I’ll declare it a tie.

Tuesday: Athens Gyro House. Or, as the sign and its ads put it, Athen’s Gyro House. One hesitates to recommend a place as authentic Greek when it betrays uncertainty how to spell Athens. (I felt the same about the defunct Cajun restaurant in Montclair whose sign put an accent on the final e of Creole. Creo-lay?)

However, I had a very good gyro sandwich ($7.99), and the menu seems to have plenty of Greek specialties, so my recommendation is to ignore the apostrophe issue and dive in. The menu, oddly, also has spaghetti, lasagna and pizza, with gyro meat as one of the options.

If nothing else, you owe it to yourself to see the poster in the window. It features a slightly blurred photo of the owner smiling for the camera while slicing gyro off the spit. The copy reads: “Chef Michael Slicing Gyro Meat Thinly.” It’s a kitsch classic.

Thursday: Pho Century. Upland has a Vietnamese restaurant? Who knew? It was busy at lunch Thursday with Vietnamese, Chinese and us white folks alike. A friend had the seafood pho ($6.25), I had charbroiled pork ($5.95) and we shared shrimp and pork spring rolls ($2.99). The pho was judged to be good but not as good as Pho Ha in Rancho Cucamonga; I liked my entree quite a bit.

Pho Century’s menu has 209 numbered dishes, plus 20 appetizers and 22 beverages. You could become a regular there and never get bored, that’s for sure.

So, that polishes off that corner of the Inland Valley. Next!

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‘Things that aren’t here anymore,’ the book

For you “things that aren’t here anymore” fans, do you all own Charles Phoenix’s book “Cruising the Pomona Valley 1930 Thru 1970”?

You owe it to yourself to get one. I’m sure I consult mine every month for one research reason or another. It’s a guidebook to Inland Valley places, some still here, some not, from bowling alleys and florists to burger stands and donut shops. It’s an amateur press job and there’s not a lot of text, but the information is priceless. It’s hard to imagine any longtime valley residents not enjoying this book.

I’ve written about Charles, an Ontario native, from time to time over the years. You can order his book from his website for $20. Rhino Records in Claremont usually has a couple of copies on hand as well. Here’s the book description from Charles’ website:

“With over 160 sites and 200 vintage photos, advertisements and illustrations, Charles Phoenix takes you on a personal tour of his ‘home valley.’

“Rediscover classic 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s modern and roadside architecture, art and attractions in the Southern California cities of Pomona, Ontario, Claremont and Rancho Cucamonga. Complete with maps, this guidebook shows you the way to the best of the Pomona Valleys landmarks, leftovers and places that arent here anymore.”

He forgot Upland and Montclair, but they’re in there too.

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Favorite flicks of ’07

By no means do I see every good movie out there, but when most American adults average something like five movies a year in theaters, clearly my 41 movies seen in 2007 puts me far above the norm.

So here’s my top 10 list for ’07. One or two of these were actually released around Christmas 2006, and are thus considered 2006 movies. But since probably 95 percent of their eventual audience saw them after Dec. 31 of ’06, I’m calling them ’07 movies. Look, it’s my blog so I make the rules, not the members of the Academy.

In roughly descending order:

Children of Men, Juno, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Darjeeling Limited, The Namesake, The Lives of Others, My Best Friend, In the Shadow of the Moon, No End in Sight.

Give me another 10 and you’d get Dan in Real Life, The Savages, After the Wedding, Charlie Wilson’s War, 1408, Music and Lyrics, The Bourne Ultimatum, Once, Venus and Ratatouille.

The fake trailers and ads between features in Grindhouse would make my top 20 (the two features themselves, however, were awful, aside from the turbodriven chase sequence in Tarantino’s segment) and if Blade Runner: The Final Cut counts as an ’07 release, it would be No. 1.

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