‘Pomona A to Z’ party

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Look at all the people! I’m standing up in the background by the banner, talking to my friends Elizabeth Casian and Doug Evans and feeling somewhat overwhelmed.

Pomona’s literati and glitterati turned out July 18 for the launch party for my book “Pomona A to Z.” Delayed at work, I walked in the door of the Downtown Pomona Owners Association office moments before the official 5:30 p.m. start and people were already waiting for me. I didn’t have plans for a reading or questions — I didn’t have any plans, really — but there was no need to fill time: I sat down, a line formed and I didn’t budge for the next two hours.

Having been to my share of book signings as a fan, I knew the drill, even if I hadn’t expected to ever be doing it myself: Shake hands, chat people up, ask how to spell their name and think up something to write in their books — in ink, which is unforgiving.

One woman told me she thought there’d be a line around the block, which is a bit unrealistic for a book signing by someone who’s not, say, Hillary Clinton. But the line was to the door, usually had eight or 10 folks in it, and some said they waited half an hour. Everybody was cheerful about it. It was all very flattering, believe me. It beat my usual Friday night routine, which is to unwind in a Starbucks by myself and read.

A few close friends came, and one co-worker, and various Pomona people, some whom I know well, some whom I know only slightly. Among the latter was a music fan named Alonso, who had approached me at the Pomona Christmas Parade to tell me how much he liked my column on the late musician Lou Reed. Willie Campos, who was featured in one chapter as a devotee of discount stores, tried to swap me a painting for a book, but we took his $20 instead.

I met brand-new people too. One treat was finally meeting Michelle Dubas, whom I’ve known via email and social media for eight or nine years; I remember her because, like me, she’s a fan of the 1970s TV series “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” And I met Jill Carol, who like me has two first names; a photographer (her Pomona blog is That’s So Second Street), she had contributed a photo of my parade appearance to this blog.

One couple, John and Patti, told me they’d read all the “A to Z” columns when they were first published and had been waiting 10 years for a book version. They like my book because, unlike other Pomona books, it’s “intimate,” John said. I liked that.

Besides books, I signed a cast for Jerry Tessier, and I met the Goddess of Pomona, who’s shorter than you’d expect. She also sounds suspiciously like Upland artist Dee Marcellus Cole. I signed books for three members of the Pomona City Council (all women) and for one former member (also a woman). I also shook hands with an Upland City Council member, Gino Filippi, who waited in line with a friend but didn’t buy a book. Men!

We sold 61 books, not a bad evening’s work. I would have liked to float omnisciently above the room; I saw things from the limited vantage point of being seated in one corner. The photo of the whole room was startling to see. A lot of people came to see me!

Thanks to Sally Egan for the photos. She also photographed me for the book cover.

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I stall for time while thinking up something lame to write in a book for my friend Alan Saunders. By the way, I’m wearing the same shirt as on the book cover so people would recognize me. Also, it was next in the rotation.

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I’ll sign anything except a blank check. This is Jerry Tessier, who renovated the Fox Theater, the Claremont Packing House and the Padua Theater. In the achievement for which he will be best remembered, however, he bought five copies of my book.

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“Pomona A to Z” and I get the blessing, I think, of the Goddess of Pomona.

booksign5Danielle Soto, left, a former councilwoman, and Paula Lantz, a current councilwoman, display their books proudly. As they should.

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No. 10 with a bullet

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“Pomona A to Z” is on an end-cap display at Rhino Records (235 Yale Ave., Claremont) right when you walk in, my book placed between Led Zeppelin vinyl reissues and Morrissey’s new album. This is such a thrill, I’ve gone in twice just to admire my end-cap. As of Sunday, Rhino had sold four copies of my book, enough to put me at No. 10 in sales for the week. Morrissey was No. 1.

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Coming soon: ‘Pomona A to Z,’ the book

AtoZ

For years, people have asked, “When are you going to do a book?” At last I have an answer: “On July 18.”

That’s the release date of “Pomona A to Z,” a collection of newspaper columns by yours truly from a decade back. Each of the 26 columns, published in 2004 and 2005, featured something unique or unusual in Pomona for each letter of the alphabet.

This book has been in the works for more than a year, but this is the first I’ve mentioned it. For one thing, I didn’t want to get my hopes up until the book was in my hands, i.e., real. Also, I’ve hesitated to beat the drum too hard by starting too early. Now that we’re close to a release date, though, it’s time you knew. (And note that you blog readers have the scoop before print readers.)

For your $20, you get the original 26 columns, and the photos, as well as a couple of related columns that rounded up the reaction. You also get introductions before each letter that update the original columns. There’s also a foreword by KPCC-FM host Steve Julian, a Pomona native, and an introduction by me. It’s a paperback, 244 pages.

All this and, at no extra charge, a dedication, front AND back covers and a copyright notice. Gosh!

Readings and signings will be announced as they’re set up, but I can tell you now that a release party is planned for the evening of July 18 in downtown Pomona (where else?). Mark your calendar.

In the meantime, here’s a press release, here’s the Amazon listing, here’s the Facebook page and here’s a blog post by Chris Nichols of LA Weekly. The publisher is Claremont-based Pelekinesis. The writer is a familiar name, but I can’t place him.

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‘Pomona A to Z’: letters on the letters

[My encore of "Pomona A to Z" is complete, but here's a followup column -- originally published July 3, 2005 -- of reader reaction to the series.

The comment from the Ontario reader really cheesed me off -- imagine his chutzpah in thinking, after I'd devoted a year to writing favorably about Pomona, that I'd find his snobbish put-down of Pomona to be hilarious! -- so it was with relish that I zinged him back. But everyone else was nice, and Judi Guizado's letter is so brilliant I'm thrilled to re-present it.

As a final note, "A to Z" taught me a lot about Pomona and since then I've learned how little I knew when I wrote it. Hope you've enjoyed reading, or rereading, these columns anyway.]

Readers ‘letter rip’ on A to Z

With the 26-part series “Pomona A to Z” having ended, some readers are having trouble letting go.

“Don’t you have any more letters?” Pomona Councilman George Hunter asked me after Z for Zanja. “Could you do some diphthongs?”

Complex vowel sounds aside, I’m sorry to see the series end too. After all, for 26 Sundays I always knew where my next column was coming from. Now what?

“Perhaps you should reprise ‘A to Z’ for all Inland Valley cities,” C.J. Fogel, a former newsroom colleague, wrote to suggest. “Or how about ‘A to Z’ but using Khmer, the world’s largest alphabet? Moving on from ‘tha,’ we now have ‘pha’…”

Well, yours truly wrote about pho, so why not pha?

I brought my A-game to “A to Z,” hoping to have fun — and I did — while nudging people into looking at Pomona in a new light. It was successful, at least up to a point.

Jim Downs, a 28-year resident of Ontario, said he enjoyed reading about the valley’s other big city.

“I found out some interesting things about Pomona each week, and I even thought about going to see one or two of them,” Downs wrote. “But then I thought, ‘It is Pomona!’”

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

“An underrated city” is how reader David Fleury described Pomona, and he’s got it exactly right.

Fleury, who spent 24 years in Pomona, insisted he learned “so much” from my series, which is quite a compliment. He can’t have learned more than I did, though.

I knew very little about Pomona going into “A to Z.” Even now I know just a smidge — but it’s a good smidge.

Thanks to everyone who nominated people, places and things, by the way. True, I could have done the series without you. But it would have stunk.

Will there be another “A to Z”? Probably.

Downs, the Ontario resident quoted above, requested an “Ontario A to Z.”

With such a series, “we could discover some little-known or forgotten facts about Ontario with which we could wow and amaze our friends in other humdrum communities not nearly as interesting as our area! Whaddaya think?”

It’s a great idea, but I do have one worry.

What if people from Pomona refuse to check out the attractions because, after all, “It IS Ontario”?

You may recall that I stole the alphabet concept from a fine, funny PBS documentary by Rick Sebak, “Pittsburgh A to Z.”

I recently shipped off all 26 columns to Sebak, who was so excited he wrote me, then called me.

Turns out the Bard of Pittsburgh had already quoted me on the back of the DVD version of “A to Z” (available at www.wqed.org), and how cool is that?

Sebak called my series “totally fun to read” and encouraged me to do more. The “A to Z” concept, incidentally, wasn’t even his — a Pittsburgh museum official suggested it.

“You can’t copyright the letters of the alphabet,” Sebak added cheerfully. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a marvelous gimmick. Take it and run.”

When readers least expect it, I will.

But first, I’ll let two of you run with it. Because two separate e-mails from two separate readers took an alphabetical approach to critiquing my series.

Judi Guizado wrote:

“I found your columns to be amazing, beatific, classy, delightful, edifying, first-rate, groovy, heartfelt, interesting, joyful, kindhearted, laudable, masterful, neat-o, orderly, praiseworthy, quirky, reminiscent, scandalous — oops, sorry, wrong column; that one’s for Pomona’s self-imposed pay raise — transcendent, unusual, valiant, well-written, Xeroxable, yatterless and zestful.”

Guizado would like to thank the members of the Academy, plus Webster’s Thesaurus.

And Ruth Wells chimed in with this:

“Allen’s Bulletin Columns Did Effectually Furnish Great Highlights, Interesting Jewels, Knowledge Listing Many Nuances of Pomona’s Quintessence — Restaurants, Specifics of our ethnic citizens, Tableaus of Today, Unforgettable, Valued Works of the past, X-cellent Yarns, Zealously told.”

I’m awe-struck, blushing, content, dumbfounded, etc.

Now let’s let the alphabet rest a bit. We’ve given it a heckuva workout.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, a workout for your eyes.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: Z is for Zanja

[Well, here we are at the end of our little recap of my 2004-05 "Pomona A to Z" columns. I had the topic for Z picked far in advance, relishing the neatness of ending the series the way it began. People kept asking what Z would be but I think the only person I told was Mickey Gallivan, and that's only because I interviewed her for it. This column was published June 19, 2005.]

You’ll really dig Pomona’s letter Z

Zounds! “Pomona A to Z,” which began in this space last (gulp) July 18, today finally reaches the 26th letter: Z.

Yes, it’s been a zigzag path to Z, but now we’re at the zenith of the “A to Z” ziggurat!

Here we can sip zinfandel, munch on zwieback and dance to zydeco music, while reminiscing about the Z Channel and musing about the zeitgeist.

But let’s hold the zeal until Z is revealed.

Admittedly, my job would be a lot easier if Pomona had a zoo. But to my surprise, the city is zaftig with Z’s:

* Zarzuela, or Spanish musical theater, performed annually at Ganesha Park by (whoa!) the L.A. Opera.

* Jim Zorn, a former quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks who set 10 school records in football at Cal Poly Pomona.

* Tom Zasadzinski, Cal Poly Pomona’s official photographer.

* Dorothy Ziolkowski, a hard-workin’ volunteer for the Friends of the Pomona Library.

* Zzooms Bail Bonds, located near the police station, the better to zoom in to get you out.

Blow me down with a zephyr!

Our Z, of course, is none of these. Admittedly obscure, this Z was there at the start of Pomona, and it’s still there today.

It’s zanja.

(No, not ganja, which was there at the start of Jamaica, and is still there today — zanja.)

Pronounced “sahn-ha,” this was the stone-lined ditch that carried water to Pomona’s first settlements.

It was dug beginning in 1840 to bring water from San Jose Creek to the adobes for irrigation and personal use.

“It was the first water system,” says Mickey Gallivan, president of the Historical Society.

Short segments still exist outside the three remaining adobes: La Casa Primera and Palomares Adobe, which are public, and Alvarado Adobe, which is privately owned.

I learned about the zanja when I visited La Casa Primera (1569 N. Park) for the letter A. Docent Luis Guerrero showed me the ditch in the back.

Going out the way “A to Z” came in, we’re back to the beginnings of Pomona.

Two ranchers, Ygnacio Palomares and Ricardo Vejar, were given title to 15,000 acres of former mission land in 1837, when California was still part of Mexico.

Vejar settled in the south. Palomares took the north, building La Casa Primera, the first house in the Pomona Valley.

He soon had a neighbor. He invited his cousin, Ygnacio Alvarado, to build a house a stone’s throw away.

(Archaeological note: This stone has not been found.)

Alvarado dug the zanja in 1840. It was enlarged as more settlers moved in and needed water, according to an 1888 report by the state engineer.

Palomares moved to a new, larger home in 1854, now known as Palomares Adobe (491 E. Arrow Highway), and a zanja was dug there, too.

A drought in the early 1860s killed thousands of cattle in California, making vast ranches hard to sustain. Vejar borrowed money at predatory rates and lost his holdings.

Palomares’ widow sold 2,000 acres of the homestead in 1874 for $8 an acre to two investors. The sale spelled an end to the Rancho San Jose days — but paved the way for Pomona!

Investors sold off lots for the fledgling city, which incorporated in 1888 with a population of 3,500.

Progress eventually zonked the zanjas.

“The little ditch that had brought water from San Antonio Canon across the sandy waste lands became tunnels and pipe lines and irrigating ditches …” wrote Bess Adams Garner and Miriam Colcord Post in a Historical Society pamphlet.

In L.A., a zanja resurfaced, literally, in March 2005. The Zanja Madre (“Mother Ditch”), the city’s primary water source from 1781 to 1904, was discovered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which was grading land for a rail line.

The 4-foot-wide, brick-lined ditch was quickly reburied out of concern people would develop an interest in history.

In Pomona, the zanjas have been seen by generations of children on field trips to Palomares’ two adobes. The adobes are open to the public from 2 to 5 p.m. each Sunday.

The longest zanja is at La Casa Primera. Two feet wide and almost two feet deep, it’s lined with rock and has a bottom of dirt and pebbles (and dead leaves and weeds).

The zanja begins at the corner of Park and McKinley, then winds behind the house. It passes under a fig tree reputed to be 150 years old and disappears into the pavement at the rear of the property.

A zanja runs through it.

Hey, that could be a movie!

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, columns that should be ditched.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: Y is for YMCA

[Here we are at the penultimate letter! Yellow Cab made a pitch to be the letter Y, telling me they've got several vintage taxis in their Pomona yard, but since that's not open to the general public, I opted to go with the YMCA. Besides, the Y is one of the most prominent buildings in Pomona -- even if, as noted below, a lot of people don't realize it houses a Y.

The only update of which I'm aware is that Yesteryears, one of the runnerups, is no longer in business. This column was published June 12, 2005.]

This ‘A to Z’ should have no one asking Y

Yay! Today — not yesterday — “Pomona A to Z” yields the floor to the letter Y.

By any yardstick, Pomona has great examples of Y’s. Oh, you think I’m a yo-yo? Then pay attention to this yarn.

Yes, stop yammering on your cell phone, eating yogurt and adjusting your yarmulke! Whether your chromosomes are X or Y, just eye this list of Y’s, yonder:

* Yesteryears nightclub on West Second Street, one of the Arts Colony’s live music venues.

* Yamamoto of Orient, maker of fine Japanese teas, located in a west Pomona industrial park.

* Yellow Cab, which began as City Transit in 1926 at Main and Second and now serves the entire Pomona valley with taxis and paratransit buses.

Yowza!

Anyway, yada yada yada, let’s just go to our Y.

The literal Y. The YMCA.

One of the most recognizable buildings in Pomona, the red-bricked YMCA stands at 350 N. Garey Ave., where it takes up most of a block.

“There’s a lot of brick recognition,” quips J.J. Diaz-Ceja, the membership fitness director. “Everybody walks by and recognizes the brick.”

Yet not everybody knows it’s a Y, despite the modest neon sign on the building’s corner.

“One question I often get from people is, ‘How long has this been a YMCA?’ ” Diaz-Ceja says.

Try “forever.”

Pomona began a fund-raising campaign for the stately, Mission-style building soon after the end of World War I.

Architect Robert Orr’s design, notable for its arched windows, was described in a 1919 fund-raising appeal as having been “pronounced of singular beauty and usefulness by the ablest YMCA experts of the Pacific Coast.”

A suitably impressed public contributed $300,000, all the more startling in a city of just 18,000.

Built on the site of the Palomares Hotel, which was lost to fire in 1912, the YMCA was dedicated in April 1922 with a speech by Gov. William Stephens. More than 1,000 citizens turned out.

As an orator from Iowa College put it: “Let this building be dedicated to brotherliness. Let us all join hands that we might feel the thrill of the Almighty, that men may grow up among brotherhood and achieve brotherhood. Keep yourselves related to a center of
brotherhood.”

Oh, brother.

The YMCA — the initials stand for Young Men’s Christian Association — started in England in 1844 as an attempt to apply Christian principles to everyday problems. It then spread to the United States.

Pomona’s chapter began in 1884 as a reading room and job-placement service. It soon faded until its revival in 1919, according to a history by Steven Escher.

As you’d expect, a lot of changes have occurred over the past 83 years.

First limited to men and boys, the Y allowed women and girls to become members in 1949. With no YWCA in town, they had been auxiliary members previously.

The auditorium, initially devoted to Bible study, was turned into a gym in 1940 due to growing demand for space. A $300,000 wing was added in 1958, expanding the building further.

When I visited last week, a pickup basketball game was going on in the gym. High above were the original stained glass windows — handy for anyone praying to make that jump shot.

Today’s Y has aerobics classes, weight machines and child care. While teens were the early focus, the Y now caters more to families.

Although Christian principles remain the organization’s bedrock, “anyone can join the YMCA,” Diaz-Ceja emphasizes.

Anyone from yokel to yacht dweller, I’m sure. Call (909) 623-6433 for membership details, or drop by for a tour.

The Y, by the by, is booming. Since the hiring of Phyllis Murphy as general director and CEO in 2001, the Y has grown from an anemic 400 members to nearly 1,200.

I enjoyed the chance to see the place. Although, admittedly, I was disappointed not to find any Village People.

One highlight was the indoor pool. Twenty yards long, the pool has the Y’s original logo laid into the aqua tile.

This is where generations of Pomona children learned to swim or took their Boy Scout swimming test. Today, it’s also used for lap swimming and aquatic aerobics.

“Unbelievable as it may seem, this is the original tile,” Diaz-Ceja brags.

The building was made a state landmark in 1985 and a national landmark in 1986.

After my visit, I could see Y.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, year in, year out.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: X is for Xochimilco

[As you can imagine, finding an X was exceedingly difficult when I was writing the "A to Z" series. (Although writing the intro was fun.) Xochimilco was one of Pomona's longest-lived Mexican restaurants -- perhaps only Tropical Mexico was older -- but a few months after publication, Xochimilco expired. Its replacement, Mariscos Ensenada No. 5, is, candidly, far superior.

But a couple of generations of diners enjoyed Xochimilco and its colorful exterior mural, so this piece has value, perhaps, as history. It was published April 24, 2005.]

X marks the dining spot in ‘Pomona A to Z’

Step away from your Xbox and turn down your X record! Your full attention is needed for “Pomona A to Z,” my love letter of X’s and O’s for Pomona, as I embrace the letter X.

From Xenia, Ohio, to Xian, China, readers are wondering how yours truly, the Inland Valley’s answer to Xenophon, will find an X in Pomona.

The answer: With X-tra difficulty. To paraphrase the country song, all my X’s are in Texas, not Pomona.

Still, even if X candidates aren’t exactly springing up through xenogenesis, we can luxuriate in these runner-ups:

* X-rays at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where the radiology department handled more than 155,000 x-citing procedures in 2004.

* “X-Files,” which filmed its Jan. 13, 2002 episode, in which Agent Doggett is in a Mexican jail with amnesia, in the 500 block of West Second Street. A Virgin Mary painting done for the shoot is still visible on a brick wall.

* The businesses Xcessories N Things, Xemco Inc., Xepa Car Wash, Xiomara Beauty Salon, XLent Technology and — hold onto your hat — Xochiquetzal Dance Studio.

X-cellent! With this bounty, it must be Xmas.

Yet the X in my little xylograph is a different choice. Before you start nagging me like Socrates’ wife Xanthippe, here it is: Xochimilco Mexican Restaurant.

Opened in November 1969 and still in the same minimall at Indian Hill and Holt, Xochimilco (pronounced “ZO-chee-meel-co”) is one of Pomona’s oldest Mexican eateries.

“People used to line up 20 minutes or a half hour outside because there weren’t that many Mexican restaurants,” said waitress Elsie Alvarez, who grew up nearby.

It’s been an oasis of stability in a changing world. The name, address, recipes, much of the decor and even the phone number have stayed constant.

“Oasis” is appropriate because the real Xochimilco is a garden and series of canals outside Mexico City known as “Mexico’s own Venice.”

Restaurant founder Carroll Gauslin loved vacationing in Xochimilco, Alvarez said. But he wasn’t from Mexico.

According to the story on a past menu, Gauslin was raised in New Mexico and Texas, where he picked up a love for chiles. He created the recipes for Xochimilco himself. A friendly, well-liked man, he married one of his waitresses, Dolores.

After his death, she kept the restaurant for a spell, then sold it in October 2001 to Carlos Argueta. Since May 2004 it’s been in the hands of David Gutierrez, only the third owner in the restaurant’s 35-year history.

Xochimilco has regulars who’ve been coming for years, first with their parents and now as adults.

Cathy Goring is one of them. She e-mailed to suggest I write about the place, which she’s been frequenting pretty much since it opened. So I invited her to lunch.

“I grew up a few blocks from here. We used to come here once a month when I was growing up,” Goring told me. Those were the days when the nearby mall, now the Indoor Swap Meet, had a Sears and a Zody’s Discount Department Store.

She recalled Xochimilco’s decor as being largely the same — quirky but memorable.

Bird cages with carved birds still hang from the ceiling. (“I Know Why the Caged Fake Bird Doesn’t Sing:?) Some diners sit under a shingled covering or a trellis. Odd, but nice.

The upholstered chairs and the beautifully tiled tables are said to have been brought from Mexico by Gauslin.

But the food is key. An online dining review says that “generations have enjoyed the chile rellenos,” and Goring said they’re among her favorites too. I tried one and liked it.

“It’s always good to come back and see the food is just as good as it used to be,” Goring said of her enchilada plate. “That was my fear when it changed hands, that the recipes would change.”

One reason they didn’t is that Serafin Juarez was the cook from the beginning until just two months ago, when he retired.

The original written recipes are still used, said manager Blanca Linebaugh, who is Gutierrez’s sister.

“I have them,” Linebaugh said. “And I make sure we’re following them.”

She might go one step further and make a Xerox.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, anxiously.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: W is for Westmont

[For W, I focused on a whole neighborhood, one that has a certain fascination for midcentury architecture buffs because of its tracts designed by Cliff May, creator of the ranch home. Oh, and the two people who run Westmont Hardware turned out to be a couple of authentic characters and well worth meeting. This column was published April 10, 2005.]

‘Pomona A to Z’ watches over Westmont

Welcome! “Pomona A to Z” today wades into the letter W, as we seek to become well-informed about Pomona, and not in a willy-nilly way.

To which W shall we bear witness? Try not to become weepy as I wistfully whisper of these wonders:

* Willie White, a former councilman, youth advocate and current neighborhood activist whose name is on a park.

* Winternationals, the largest drag-racing event in the world.

* Wilton Heights, a neighborhood of Craftsman bungalows and stately homes designated as a city historic district.

* Western University of Health Sciences, a school of osteopathic medicine that now occupies much of East Second Street, including the old Buffum’s department store.

Wild!

As is my wont, though, our W is different: Westmont.

That’s the western Pomona neighborhood that exemplified post-World War II optimism. Some 1,200 homes sprung up from 1946 to 1954, along with a shopping center, park, community center, elementary school and church.

With a little imagination, you could picture the superfamily from “The Incredibles” here. Homes along Wright and Denison streets have a similar, if smaller-scale, look to the movie: open floor plans, floor-to-ceiling windows, clean lines and side patios.

And take a gander at Westmont Community Center, Westmont Elementary or Westmont United Methodist Church, all on West Ninth Street. Is that Elastigirl and the kids driving (or flying) by?

Westmont got its start when home builder Edwin A. Tomlin began work on newly annexed land south of today’s Mission Boulevard and bisected by today’s Corona Expressway.

Most of his homes were standard stuff for returning GIs, but then Tomlin got experimental, hiring architect Arthur Lawrence Millier to design 50 affordable modern homes. Another 100 were prefab modern homes by Cliff May and Chris Choate.

May and Choate’s work was described by House and Home magazine as “almost the first low-cost house to offer the kind of California living everybody back East imagines all Californians enjoy.”

Maybe W should be for “whoa.”

Bruce Emerton has become a neighborhood archivist and booster since buying his home in 1995 for $130,000. He painstakingly restored his 1954 May home to its original look.

An art and architecture librarian at Cal Poly Pomona, Emerton drove me around on Wednesday, pointing out nice homes and shaking his head over ill-advised remodeling.

“A lot of them have been stuccoed and bastardized,” Emerton admitted. “A few are in good shape. Even a lot of ones that are messed up could be brought back.”

Speaking of messed up homes, people still talk about the 1982 city-sanctioned dynamite blast to close a dangerous cave in the Westmont Hills behind the neighborhood.

Fifteen homes were blown off their foundation and more than 500 were damaged. Oopsie!

A commemorative T-shirt quoting “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” put it this way: “Think Ya Used Enough Dynamite There, Butch?”

Westmont, though, is best remembered as home to General Dynamics, a missile factory that employed 13,000 at its peak. The plant opened in 1953 as Convair and closed in the early 1990s, the victim of Southern California aerospace cutbacks.

In its heyday, the plant produced missiles with such fun-lovin’ names as Red Eye, Mauler, Terrier and Advanced Terrier. Does Jack Russell know about this?

Unlike General Dynamics, one neighborhood icon remains. Westmont Hardware is a cozy store dating to 1949 that’s hanging on in this era of Home Depot and Lowe’s.

It has just two employees: owners Russell Riedel and Patsy Koenig.

Riedel was hired at the store out of high school in 1967 and has been there ever since, buying it in 1989 from its second owner. He remembers General Dynamics employees crossing Mission Boulevard “like herds of cattle” on lunch breaks, then the bad times later.

Things are more stable now. When the expressway becomes a freeway with a Mission interchange, big changes will come.

“I’ve been hearing about it 30 years,” said Riedel, who’s not exactly holding his breath.

Well, that’s the story of Westmont.

Was I too wordy?

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, three washouts.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: V is for Vietnamese

[After a monthlong break for reasons I can't recall -- vacation? deadline problems? other news crowding to get into my column? -- "A to Z" returned to print with the letter V.

I was happy to write about the Vietnamese community, fulfilling my goal of writing about the main ethnic groups in the city. There is still a vital Vietnamese presence in Pomona, and Pho Vi, a new restaurant, opened last month at Third and Thomas streets downtown. The only update to this piece is that the Vault nightclub, one of the runnerups, is gone.

This column was published March 27, 2005.]

‘A to Z’ veers toward topic you won’t pho-get

Filling a vacuum, my virtuous venture “Pomona A to Z” returns today to venerate that village’s virtues (while avoiding its vices).

Yes, we’re visiting the letter V, or vice versa. Which V best reflects the voodoo that Pomona does so well?

After vigorously vetting or vetoing a vast variety of V’s, I’ve voted for these vignettes, all vis-a-vis V:

* Veterinary school at the Western University of Health Sciences. Amazingly, it’s the only one in Southern California, as well as the only one in the nation headed by a woman.

* Vintage clothing from La Bomba, which dresses visiting rock stars and various locals.

* The Vault nightclub, housed in the 1925 First National Bank building, hence the name.

* Pioneering landowner Ricardo Vejar, who in 1837 co-owned the entire Pomona Valley. A footnote: The city bought 22 acres from his estate in 1922 to launch the L.A. County Fair.

Va-va-voom! Why, these V’s practically give me vertigo.

Yet I hope it won’t vex you to learn that our V is a different indicator of Pomona’s vitality. Our V gives voice to a community that’s very valuable: the Vietnamese.

After the April 30, 1975 fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese — 30 years ago next month — many Vietnamese fled communism and misery by cramming themselves valiantly into rickety wooden boats for the vagaries of a sea voyage to neighboring countries for repatriation.

Some 125,000 were accepted as refugees by the United States that year, the vanguard of more than 270,000 that followed by 1982, gaining the world’s sympathy.

Many settled in Orange County, but impressive numbers ended up in the Inland Valley. They’re concentrated in Pomona, where an estimated 10,000 live.

You may not even know they’re there, as the community is less visible than Pomona’s majority Latino population.

But a stretch of East Holt Avenue shows their presence. Hoa Binh is a market with Asian food and produce, as well as an eye-opening array of fresh fish. Asian characters can be seen on numerous storefronts.

Rather than experience this vicariously, I invited Diep Fintland to lunch. A real estate broker, she is a leader among local Vietnamese. We met at a popular restaurant, Pho Express, for my inaugural Vietnamese meal.

A type of soup, pho is pronounced “fuh.” (Now that you’re familiar with pho, no one can call you a fuddy-duddy.)

“Pho, it’s like pancakes for Americans. Usually it’s for breakfast, but you can eat it 24 hours,” Fintland said.

My bowl of Pho Tai — broth, rice noodles and rare steak — was delicious, albeit virtually impossible to eat.

The long, pasta-like noodles are meant to be eaten with chopsticks. I’m sure I could have done this if I’d had two hours — or the 24 hours Fintland mentioned — but after I fumbled around a while, owner Hoa Phan brought me a fork.

She and Fintland exchanged amused comments in Vietnamese about my struggle, some of which Fintland translated.

“You’re eating it like spaghetti!” Fintland joked as I twirled the noodles against my soup spoon with my fork.

Fintland, meanwhile, plucked the thin slices of beef from her pho and expertly rolled them into tubes, all with her chopsticks, for dipping into a saucer of spicy liquid. I shakily carried mine over flat with chopsticks or my fork.

I ate one-third of my pho before deciding to phogeddaboudit.

Much easier to eat, and just as tasty, were Cha Gio, a meaty eggroll wrapped in lettuce, and Phan Tau Hu Ky, crispy cubes of deep-fried tofu around shrimp paste. Now that’s eatin’!

The restaurant had a bustling lunch crowd of Vietnamese, Latinos and Caucasians. It re-opened in fall 2004 after several years as Pho 54 under different hands.

Phan’s son, Timmy Nguyen, who runs the restaurant, says his family had a hard life in Vietnam before coming here as refugees in 1983.

“That’s what has made me successful in the U.S. I don’t take anything for granted,” said Nguyen, 35, who sold cars for 11 years before helping his mother open the restaurant. He added later: “I adore America.”

Fintland came here in 1967 — by commercial plane — after high school to join a sister who’d married a serviceman. Their father was killed by the Communists when Fintland was 2.

She and her husband, whom she met in Bakersfield, have lived in Pomona since 1977.

Madelenna Lai and Fintland founded the Pomona organization Vietnamese Cultural House in 1997 to help preserve their roots. In 2002 they sponsored a Rose Parade float, in the shape of a boat, as a way to thank Americans for taking their people in.

“Freedom. A lot of people take it for granted,” Fintland observed.

There’s a lot of veracity in that.

(David Allen, who’s no virtuoso, writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: U is for Underpass

[My U choice was unknown until the day I finally took at look at that stone marker outside Joey's BBQ. When I read the inscription commemorating the nearby underpass, I laughed out loud there on the street corner. Granted, underpasses aren't unique to Pomona -- but stone markers for underpasses may be! This column was published Feb. 20, 2005.]

Pomona underpass was urgent undertaking for 76 years

It’s unnerving, but “Pomona A to Z,” my unabashedly upbeat ode to the city’s unplumbed depths, is up to the letter U.

Examples aren’t ubiquitous, but Pomona does have some unforgettable U runnerups with which you may be unacquainted:

* Underground art galleries in the basement of the Prog and Founders buildings downtown: Gallery 57 Underground, SCA Gallery and SoHo Gallery.

* U Pick U Save Auto Dismantling on East Mission, worth a U-turn by those looking for a replacement hubcap or side mirror.

* Unistar Foods, which provides meat and poultry to Filipino American restaurants and markets throughout Southern California.

Uplifting, eh? However, the U that deserves a chorus of ululation is unique — and admittedly unpromising.

It’s the Garey Avenue underpass.

(That’s underpass, not underpants.)

Each day, thousands of motorists pass below the railroad tracks downtown without a second thought.

But it wasn’t always this way. Waiting from a few minutes to a half-hour for a train to pass was once a daily occurrence.

Showing that government moves even slower than trains, the problem existed for eight decades before anything was done.

In 1887, the Progress-Bulletin editorialized:

“The railroad crossing at Garey Avenue was blocked last Monday forenoon for a considerable length of time by a freight train, causing no little annoyance and delay to passing to and fro of teams. That is an annoyance that should be abated at once.”

“Teams,” by the way, referred to horse-drawn wagons. Told you this was an age-old problem.

As Pomona grew, there was talk of building underpasses at the Garey, White and Towne rail crossings. Efforts intensified after July 15, 1948, when traffic was blockaded at noon for a half-hour, then at 1:30 p.m. for another half-hour.

Road rage, anyone?

As if reaching across the years to help me write today’s U-themed column, Southern Pacific passenger agent William Campbell told the Progress-Bulletin the incidents were “unfortunate and unavoidable.”

Enter Fred Sharp. Hired in 1949 as Pomona’s first city administrator, Sharp set about preparing the city for the future. Storm drains, a county courthouse and a new Civic Center were among his achievements before retiring in 1974.

So were rail crossings.

“People were getting killed on the railroad tracks … There was no program in California for (underpass construction). We had to go to court to force the railroads to cooperate. They claimed they were here first,” Sharp recalled in a 1985 interview.

By the late 1950s, railroads were required by state law to cough up money for grade separations. A state fund was set up to provide matching funds for qualifying projects.

Thanks to Pomona’s lobbying, Garey, White and Towne made the cut. Pomona voters overwhelmingly passed a $1.5 million bond issue to raise the city’s share — 30 percent — of the $5.3 million needed.

“It was a great effort. And the business community was strongly behind it,” Ora Lampman, hired in 1962 as a city engineer, told me recently.

Towne and White were done first. Construction on Garey began in August 1961. It turned into a nightmare, dragging on for two years because of its complexity.

Vehicle traffic was rerouted and temporary trestles were built to carry the trains.

Some 6,000 truckloads of dirt were hauled off. Then work began on the 110-foot-wide bridge, which supported three sets of tracks and two lanes of First Street.

Like an omelet, you can’t create a grade separation without breaking a few eggs. Did I really just type that? Pomona had to demolish a block of First Street on the west side of Garey as well as the 1914 Union Pacific depot.

Further setting this undercrossing apart is what may be the most unusual public works plaque in the Inland Valley.

I’m referring to a 6-foot stone marker rising nobly at the corner of Second and Garey, right outside a barbecue joint.

When I saw this grand monument to a humble underpass, I knew it was worthy of “Pomona A to Z.”

Anyway, on Aug. 15, 1963 — some 76 years after the 1887 editorial — Pomona held a lavish dedication for the underpass.

Some 1,000 people heard County Supervisor Frank Bonelli praise Pomona for perseverance “that is second to none.”

Perseverance that was tested again — just to sit through all the speeches.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, which is unfortunate and unavoidable.)

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