Column: O’Day Short tragedy still smolders in Fontana

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Wednesday’s column marks the 70th anniversary of a sad tale, a hate crime memorialized time and again in the press and yet evidently still unknown to most, if those quoted in Cassie MacDuff’s Press Enterprise column last week are to be believed. Here’s my version of the story. Above, O’Day Short; below, Helen Short and the couple’s two children, Carol Ann and Barry.

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Mod! Mission Family Restaurant

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The late Mission Family Restaurant in Pomona is another example of modernist architecture cited in the Pomona Valley listing in Alan Hess’ survey “Googie Redux,” one of only 10 from the area.

The restaurant on Mission Boulevard and White Avenue opened on Feb. 16, 1958 as Hull House, with features including seating for 156, a full-width front window, air conditioning, “distinctive lighting fixtures” and murals by Paul Darrow, according to a Progress-Bulletin story on its debut. The coffee shop was originally open from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.

Owner Mel Hull also had a Hull House at 201 N. Garey Ave. that opened in 1946 and Mel’s Drive-In on Holt at Palomares from 1951. Tile inside the Mission location features a design subtly incorporating “HH,” and one private dining room was labeled “Jury Room.” The courthouse is only a few blocks east and lore has it that jurors on sequestered cases were sent there for lunch.

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Two photos immediately above by Ren; others by me

In 1971, under the Warren family, Hull House became Mission Family Restaurant and initially boomed. By late 2013, down at the heels, it was set to close. During a last breakfast with me, preservationist John Clifford speculated that the Darrow murals were hidden behind wallpaper. He said the dimensional wall tiles were made by Pomona Tile from designs by the famed Saul Bass.

“It’s dingy, but it really does have that essence of the ’50s,” Clifford said. He said the Mission was an example of Space Age architecture. We noted the orange, if lumpy, banquettes and the counter’s swivel seats, which attach to the counter itself rather than to the floor, allowing for easy dusting or mopping underneath.

Outside, Clifford and I chatted with two customers. Rebecca Kavanagh had been eating there almost from the start and as a teenager worked across the street at Taco Lita.

“This used to be Hull House. Oh, it was something,” Kavanagh, then 74, said. “I don’t think they’ve changed much of anything. It looks exactly the same.”

Her friend Rachel Nuno said, “We used to go dancing at Rainbow Gardens and come here for breakfast. It was open 24 hours.”

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I always cracked up at the sign marking the entrance to the parking lot. Just in case you wondered what they served.

The Warren family, its landlords, closed Mission Family in anticipation of a sale to a developer who was going to bulldoze it in favor of a McDonald’s and more; the restaurant and parking lot occupy the entire block. History buffs objected. The deal fell through. But the property has since been sold.

At this point the restaurant sits behind green construction fencing, forlornly. The sloping roof, stone pillars, broad windows and eye-catching roof sign all combine in a pleasing way. Somebody rescue this place!

Update: Preliminary plans call for remodeling the restaurant for retail or restaurant use but retaining “the characteristic features of the building,” according to the Community Development Department. A second building would be constructed elsewhere on the lot. The Planning Commission may get the plans next spring.

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Column: Claremont High’s unclaimed celebrity: Frank Zappa

This talent show photo from the 1954 Claremont High yearbook is said to depict Frank Zappa.  He is not officially recognized as an alumnus, but many in the Class of 1958 remember his having attended briefly. (Courtesy photo)

This talent show photo from the 1954 Claremont High yearbook is said to depict Frank Zappa. He is not officially recognized as an alumnus, but many in the Class of 1958 remember his having attended briefly. (Courtesy photo)

Did Frank Zappa ever attend Claremont High School? No official record has ever surfaced, and he’s not considered an alumnus. But Zappa once listed Claremont among the four schools he attended (his family moved frequently), and many 1950s classmates say they remember him. And have they got stories. My Sunday column explains.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizzita Circle

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Pizzita Circle, 4047 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino; open daily

Actually, I was looking for Al’s Italian Beef, which I’d been meaning to find since its opening in 2014, but it wasn’t where I thought it was. An Internet search in the parking lot revealed that it had been elsewhere in that center, but had closed over the summer. Too bad. It was the Chicago-based chain’s only local location.

I was parked on the southwest corner in front of Tamarind, previously featured here, and Phillys Best, a chain at which I’ve eaten elsewhere. But the curiously named Pizzita Circle, located between the two, was a new one.

Well, what the heck. I was in search of lunch and might as well try it.

They serve 1) pizza and 2) Mediterranean food, an unusual combination, in a fast-casual setting. The latter included pita sandwiches, salads and plates ($8 to $11), while some of the pizzas were traditional and others had Mediterranean-type toppings. As the website puts it: “With our main specialty being our outstanding pizza and pita, we arrived at our present name, Pizzita Circle.”

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Splitting the difference, I got a Mediterranean pizza: lamb, beef, onion, tomato and peppers ($9). All pizzas are 10 inches. And you know, it was pretty good. I wouldn’t call it New York pizza, as they do, but it was tasty, the crust airy and crispy on the bottom, and I ate the whole thing. The restaurant also has beer and wine as well as a selection of bottled sodas, unusual for an eatery of this type. And they deliver.

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The woman behind the counter, probably the owner, was personable and told me there are two locations in NYC, family-owned. She moved west, missed the food and opened one here in mid-2014. There’s a photo mural of the Manhattan skyline focused on the Empire State Building.

Pizzita Circle probably won’t put you in a New York state of mind, but I enjoyed my meal. And the website includes a poem about their food, in six stanzas.

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Separated at birth from Stan Lee?

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After a luncheon talk in Pomona last week, I was approached by an older gent with a mustache who came prepared for our encounter with a certain Wikipedia page loaded on his phone. He showed me Stan Lee’s photo and smiled a crooked smile with crinkly eyes.

Steve King of La Verne did indeed resemble Stan Lee of the Marvel Universe, only with more hair and a slightly more youthful look. King is 75 and Lee is 92.

Until a couple of years ago, King didn’t know who Lee was, having missed all the Marvel movies.

“I would go hiking and people would say, ‘Are you Stan Lee?’ I thought, ‘Who? Stanley?'”

King soon figured out who they were talking about — Lee was the man who teamed with artists in the ’60s to create Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers and more — and had to admit, “I do look a lot like him.” He still hasn’t seen a Marvel movie, though.

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