Puttin’ on the Ritz, part 2

Almost five months after comments were made here about Ontario’s old Ritz Theater, previously known as the California Theater, a new comment came in. Except at this late date, reader Dave Linck was unable to append the comment to the entry, and neither was I.

So, here it is:

“When the California became the Ritz in 1961, my Dad, Ontario Postmaster Charles Linck Jr., became a minority investor. He was a huge movie fan and it was a dream come true for him.

“I was in heaven with my 6-year-old twin, Dan…we immediately got free popcorn privileges, not to mention that we got to work behind the candy counter! We got in free with our friends! We knew the guy who played the birthday clown personally! Every kid’s dream, right?

“Anyway, the Ritz had trouble booking A films, as the Granada got all of them due to its affiliation as a Fox West Coast Theatre chain member. The Ritz got a few moneymakers, like ‘Pocketful of Miracles’ with Glenn Ford and Bette Davis, but most of them were along the lines of ’13 Ghosts’ and ‘Six for Texas.’

“Eventually, the majority owners went bankrupt and my dad was stiffed. Someone else bought it, they went belly up, and then the X-rated guys came in. By that time, I was way too old (14) to care about seeing ’13 Ghosts’ and the Ritz became a memory.

“But I can still see the theatre’s interior…walls covered in faux lava rock with sparkly ceilings…new seats unfilled. And there’s my brother and I, racing up and down the empty auditorium aisles, 6-year-old ‘owners’ of our own theatre!!!”

Oh, to be 6 and have the run of a movie theater.

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‘Pomona A to Z’: Q is for Quartermaster

[Q turned out to be the hardest letter and the only one for which I felt compelled to pick something that no longer physically existed: the WW II-era Quartermaster Depot. (Although some of the buildings still stand.)

The quilt mentioned below wouldn't have worked without a gigantic photo to show each panel. Quinceaneras aren't unique to Pomona. Someone suggested Quality Thrift Store but that turned out to be in Montclair. And I wasn't going to pick Quizno's. Two years after "A to Z," I learned Pomona still had a quarter-midget racetrack. Shoot! Oh well, it's gone now anyway.

This column was originally published Dec. 26, 2004.]

Finding a Q for Pomona means turning to an old warhorse

“Pomona A to Z,” my quixotic quest to document the city’s quality, today reaches the letter Q, and you can imagine my qualms.

With readers’ few Q suggestions mostly quartered in other cities, I was in a quandary, my qwerty keyboard quiet, until research — whew! — turned up examples of my quarry.

Let me queue up a quartet of possibilities:

* Quilt made for Pomona’s 1988 centennial depicting structures from city history. Check it out on the second floor of City Hall. Can you identify each panel?

* Quest Academy, a private school on Phillips Boulevard serving students from grades three to 12.

* Quarter horse races at Fairplex Park during the L.A. County Fair.

* Quinceanera, the 15th-birthday celebration for Latinas, made possible by Pomona party, clothing and disc jockey businesses.

Which Q will quantify Pomona’s quintessence, you query? I hope you won’t become quarrelsome when I say it’s none of the above.

Instead, our Q is the Quartermaster Depot, the World War II-era name for what is now Cal Poly Pomona. Thanks to Betty Peters for the suggestion.

The depot was one of seven facilities in the nation where the U.S. military, to fight the Nazis, trained its secret weapon: horses.

Yes, horses.

Somehow we won the war anyway.

“It sounds like something out of the Civil War, doesn’t it?” said Melissa Paul, curator of Cal Poly’s Arabian Horse Library.

The Quartermaster’s Remount Service was founded in 1775 to breed, train and supply horses to Army troops in the field and was still galloping along in the thick of the 20th century.

Mechanization was in its nascent stages in World War I, when 571,000 horses and mules carried supplies to U.S. troops.

The expectation was that World War II would be no different, Mary Jane Parkinson wrote in “The Kellogg Arabian Ranch: The First 60 Years,” her history of the Cal Poly property.

American strategists learned the Germans had 791,000 horses, compared to our 750.

You’ve heard of the missile gap? This was a horse gap.

Spurred (har!) into action, the Remount Service looked for fresh horses and a site for a new depot in the West, which it found in good ol’ Pomona on what had been cereal magnate W.K. Kellogg’s 800-acre Arabian horse ranch.

The War Department took control in August 1943 and proved a better steward than the state university system, which had let the property decline after Kellogg donated it in 1932.

Under the Remount Service, horses again became the central mission and Sunday horse shows for the public continued.

Improvements were made, too. Block walls, landscaping and irrigation were installed by German and Italian prisoners of war, who were held at the Pomona fairgrounds.

No, they didn’t eat rations of cotton candy and corn dogs.

Col. F.W. Koester, who had led the Army’s War Dog center in San Carlos, was made Pomona’s commanding officer, perhaps indicating that horses were a promotion from dogs.

But as it turned out, jeeps and trucks transported personnel and supplies in this war, not horses.

After the war, the Army got out of the horse business. It closed the Pomona Quartermaster Depot in June 1948.

“After more than four and a half years,” Parkinson wrote of Kellogg’s ranch, “the military air was gone; no more inspections from Quartermaster generals and colonels, no more military decorations ceremonies at the flagpole, no more Quartermaster insignia over the main entry to the stables, and no more salutes in the archways.”

The ranch was nearly sold as surplus and its prized horses auctioned off until halted by a public outcry. The property, with the blessing of Kellogg, then 88, was deeded in 1949 to the state, which established what became Cal Poly.

Much of the wartime activity in Pomona remains a mystery.

“We have very little detail on what happened. We just don’t have the records,” said Paul, the library curator.

A sheaf of declassified documents a mere inch thick accounts for those five years. Author Parkinson managed to pry them from the National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act in 1990.

Among the tidbits deemed hush-hush for nearly a half-century: a 1942 inventory of Kellogg’s 81 horses, with their names, and the one-page 1943 depot budget listing $36,340 in expenses, including the chief clerk’s salary of $2,300.

Keep that on the QT.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday in nearly quotidian fashion.)

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In the future we will all eat Dippin’ Dots, and like them

La Verne really must be on the cutting edge. The Onion reports that a time traveler from the 22nd century held a press conference in March to inform mankind that the “ice cream of the future” will supplant all other desserts.

“Put down your crude melting desserts of churned animal’s milk and embrace the glorious world of high-tech flash-frozen treats,” the silver-suited Wolcott proclaimed.

Thanks to reader Steve-O for the timely link.

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Restaurant of the Week: Angel’s Place

CLOSED

Angel’s Place, 2325 D St. (at 3rd), La Verne

This was shaping up to be a poor week for new-to-me restaurants. First there was a lunch at Larry’s Burgers, in the wonderfully named Larry’s Plaza on Holt Boulevard in Montclair. I knew this could be trouble when I passed a haunted looking woman at the pay phone who had a bare midriff and several unsightly rolls of loose belly skin. Moments later I saw the B grade in the restaurant window. My burger combo actually wasn’t bad and the clientele made for amusing people-watching…but I’m not going to hurry back.

Then there was Bowl House on Third Street in La Verne, where my curry chicken bowl was the least appetizing I’ve ever had. It almost looked like bone-in chicken, big fatty pieces of it, skin-on.

To salvage the week, on Thursday, a day off, I impulsively decided to try Angel’s Place, a Greek restaurant I’d spotted on my Bowl House misadventure. Angel’s opened in October, replacing Nick’s Place and a dry cleaner.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner, mostly Greek but with some American favorites judiciously sprinkled in. Pastrami, burgers and steak sandwiches? Hmm.

But it’s got a casual, cheerful atmosphere and table service to boot. I had a chicken souvlaki sandwich ($5.99) and a side salad ($4). A bit too liberal with the tzatziki sauce, but it was a good sandwich: chicken and diced tomatoes on pita bread.

One quibble: The staff could be more clear on whether the side choices are free or not. I was asked “french fries, no fries or salad” but had to pay extra for the salad, and pay the same price for the sandwich as if I’d had fries. I’d have had fries and a salad if I’d known I was essentially paying for both.

People on Yelp are conflicted about Angel’s Place. I liked the feel of it and the staff was friendly. Several items on the menu, especially some of the salads, piqued my curiosity. It may not be as good as Athen’s Gyro House in Upland, but I expect I’ll go back.

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Pomona Concert Band

I like the Pomona Concert Band and always try to give them a plug. Their annual spring concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Palomares Community Center, 499 E. Arrow Highway.

If memory serves, that’s between Palomares Adobe and the Lawn Bowling court, two of Pomona’s more unusual attractions.

The concert’s theme is “From Sea to Shining Sea.” “We will feature music from across various seas and bodies of water, as well as across America,” conductor Linda Taylor tells me in an e-mail. “Councilman Stephen Atchley will be the emcee and will do some of his magic tricks for the audience, as well.”

Music and magic? Yowsah.

Stay tuned for the July 3 start of the Concert Band’s summer concert series at Ganesha Park.

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La Verne’s poet, Claremont’s reviewer

Today’s column is about La Verne’s first poet laureate, Catherine Henley-Erickson. Her name may be familiar to Claremont readers: She reviews movies for the Claremont Courier.

The Claremont resident, a retired University of La Verne professor, has freelanced reviews for the paper since 1984.

I couldn’t resist asking if she’d ever combined her two passions and reviewed a movie in verse.

“One time I reviewed one of Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare movies, I forget which one, and I did do it in blank verse, in sentence form,” Henley-Erickson told me. “Nobody picked up on it.”

By my troth! And here I thought I was asking a joke question.

“She always tells me if a movie is worth seeing,” her husband, Joe, chimed in. “If it is, we go together and she sits through it again.”

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Dippin’ Dots

Walking downtown La Verne before Monday night’s council meeting, I was startled to see that Dippin’ Dots is opening an ice cream, or whatever it is, parlor at 2310 D. St. just above Third. The sign on the door says the opening is 10 a.m. today.

The name Dippin’ Dots is familiar to L.A. County Fairgoers: The so-called “ice cream of the future” chain has had a stand outside one of the exhibit halls for years. The product itself is served as a pile of round frozen pieces the size of BBs, hence the “dots.”

Dippin’ Dots is also sold at Rancho Cucamonga Quakes games and at movie theaters in Chino and Chino Hills, according to its website’s store locator.

In its page on Dippin’ Dots, Wikipedia notes that the ice cream of the future hasn’t quite become the ice cream of the present. I’m pleased to learn the company was founded by a fellow Illinoisan, though.

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The Ponderosa

One of the Inland Valley’s more intriguing building conversions is the former Ponderosa steakhouse at Arrow and Haven in Rancho Cucamonga, which became Ponderosa Dental Office. Yep, they kept the Ponderosa name, pardner.

Reader Brian Hurst tell us a bit about it:

“It was the Ponderosa Steak House back in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Had a Western decor, leather booths, dark wood tables, pretty good steaks. Not on par with Black Angus, but a big step above the Sizzler. If you look at the design of the building, you can see it was a dinner/eating place. ‘Food’ for thought.”

Anyone ever go into Ponderosa Dental? I wonder if any reminders other than the name out front remain.

I ate at a Ponderosa or two in the Midwest in that same era. I assume the chain was an authorized spinoff from the “Bonanza” TV series, which was set on a ranch named the Ponderosa, but never knew for sure.

Personally, I think Rancho Cucamonga’s Ponderosa should stay a dental office but go back to serving steaks. It would be efficient. You could eat your meal normally, then sit in a chair and have your teeth cleaned.

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Art’s Deli

Last Monday, as mentioned previously, I went to Studio City to see Jon Provost give a book talk. That event was at 7 p.m. This rare outing to the Valley provided an opportunity for a meal in a strange locale.

Thus I had dinner at Art’s Deli, a highly regarded delicatessen on Ventura Boulevard a bit west of Laurel Canyon Drive. It was my first time, but the place comes recommended by Jonathan Gold, who seems to like everything on the menu.

“Every Sandwich is a Work of Art” is the punning motto at Art’s, which had its 60th anniversary a couple of years back. I picked a booth by the window and settled back with the menu. They have all the Jewish specialties and some regular diner food.

I went for the corned beef, a half-sandwich ($10.50) size, with cole slaw. (Full size is $13.50; in retrospect, I should’ve ordered that and taken the other half home.) The sandwich was piled high, the corned beef thinly sliced and warm, lean and with a little fat for flavor. It was terrific. The slaw was good too.

That dispensed with, I had a warmed apple strudel for dessert ($5.95, and worth it).

One piece of sage advice from the menu: “Anything that is hot can be made cold.” I liked this phrase enough to write it down. Among other everyday uses, it accurately describes the philosophy of temperature control in the Daily Bulletin newsroom.

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‘Pomona A to Z’: P is for Primm

[As I've said, in this series I tried to touch on a wide swath of Pomona, including ethnicities. Thus, I was pleased to devote the letter P to an obscure but long-lived church serving the black community. This column was originally published Dec. 12, 2004. Bear that in mind for a couple of references below to "today," which is long past.]

P is for Primm, Pomona’s small but proud church

Things have come to a pretty pass with “Pomona A to Z,” which picks up with the letter P.

Among Pomona’s plethora of P possibilities:

* Pan dulce at panaderias, the Mexican bakeries that are plentiful in Pomona.

* Phillips Mansion, the 1875 home of pioneer Louis Phillips, whose name graces Phillips Ranch and Phillips Boulevard.

* Presidential streets Lincoln, Roosevelt, McKinley, Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Garfield, Monroe and Buchanan.

* Porpoise statue depicted in mid-dive in an East Second Street fountain, installed as part of 1962′s Pedestrian Mall.

* Picture postcards by Pomona photographer Burton Frasher Sr. (1888-1955). The Pomona Library has 5,000 of them, many viewable online at http://content.ci.pomona.ca.us./index.html

* Pomona College, which held its first classes at White and Mission in 1888 before moving to Claremont — without changing its name — the next year. For entertainment value, it’s hard to beat the plaque affixed to a rock that marks the historic college’s birthplace, which is now Angelo’s Burgers.

Which P to pick? What a pickle! But our P is yet another peak: Primm Tabernacle AME Church.

Primm is no Pilgrim Congregational or First Baptist, the stately churches that consume entire city blocks in the heart of town, grand reminders of the days when Pomona was dubbed “City of Churches.”

Primm is a modest complex along South Garey Avenue. Yet it has a history as noteworthy as its wealthier brethren.

The valley’s first black church, it was pastored in the 1960s by the Rev. Cecil M. “Chip” Murray, who went on to become the best-known minister in Los Angeles.

The history is long, too. In fact, Primm is getting older all the time.

Its 40th anniversary fell in 1948, its 100th in 1998 and its 108th just six years later — today, as a matter of fact.

No, time isn’t speeding up. Historians keep changing their mind on when the church started. More on this in a minute.

Today’s service is planned for 10 a.m., followed by a ceremony and a soul food lunch.

Here’s a capsule of milestones. Pomona’s First AME — affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal denomination — built a small church in 1908 at 10th and Thomas. The church adopted the Primm name in 1961, naming itself after an AME bishop, and moved to its current, larger quarters, a former Mormon church, in 1977.

The 1908 church still stands today as the home of a Baptist congregation. About the size of an apartment, the simple wooden building has been covered in gray stucco.

Next door is a small parsonage, and behind it is — historians take note — the original outhouse, used by Primm members until the 1977 move.

On a recent visit, two longtime church members reflected on the old days there.

Johnnie Williams, a member since 1963, remembers trying to sneak out of church early one day without the minister catching her. She was busted, she recalled with a laugh, when she left her Bible in the privy and had to go back for it.

Dorothy Heard joined the church in 1975. Despite a lifetime of churchgoing, Primm is where she finally felt saved.

“The place was small. Everybody had to sit close. We had to be close whether we wanted to or not,” Heard said. “I miss this little church in a way.”

Exactly when the little church began is hard to pin down. Records are sketchy, and newspapers virtually ignored the black church, as one might expect of that era.

City directories have surfaced with listings for “Methodist Church, African, corner Third and Olive” as far back as 1896, thus accounting for the 108th anniversary celebration today, event co-chairwoman Eleanor Duncan told me.

Who knows — with more research, the 110th anniversary could be next month.

There’s no other information before 1909, but it’s safe to conclude the church had just a handful of members, most of whom were probably citrus workers, domestics or janitors like other blacks of the day.

The church seems to have suffered shifting fortunes. Listings fell in and out of city directories over the first half of the 20th century, and a brief notice from 1947 in the Progress-Bulletin said the church was set to reopen.

Pomona’s black population exploded in the 1960s, going from 800 in 1960 to 10,000 in 1970, setting the stage for the church’s resurgence.

The Rev. Murray served in that era. He retired in fall 2004 as pastor of L.A.’s First AME, which he built from a small congregation to a must-stop for Democratic politicians.

Duncan and Williams are among those who remember Murray’s 1964 to 1966 Pomona tenure, immediately after finishing his studies at the Claremont School of Theology.

“We were the first church he ever pastored,” Duncan said. “In fact, he baptized my daughter (Eva), who’s now an AME pastor. She was his first baptism.”

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, his particular pattern.)

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