‘Pomona A to Z’: H is for Hookah

[Here's the letter H, with another choice to cater to the younger set and surprise the older set. I tried to focus on all of Pomona's ethnicities in "A to Z" at one point or another and writing about hookahs was an example of that.

By the way, I won a bet with an editor with this column. He bet me lunch that I would get complaints for writing about hookahs. I said I wouldn't, and I was right. Ha ha. Hookahs have become more mainstream since this column appeared. You can now smoke hookahs in Upland, for pete's sake. And Claremont.

This column was originally published Sept. 5, 2004.]

Pomona’s H is for Hookah, and that’s not blowing smoke

Hail, heroes! “Pomona A to Z” has hit the letter H, and I’ve hunted high and low for an H to highlight. Which H-bomb should we drop?

* H could be for horse racing, an L.A. County Fair tradition since 1933. Pomona’s races that debut year are said to have been the first in Southern California to allow betting.

* Hospitality, as in the top-ranked Collins School of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona, endowed by a former owner of the Sizzler chain.

* Historical Society of the Pomona Valley and Pomona Heritage, two volunteer groups preserving Pomona’s older buildings and neighborhoods.

* Hoa Binh, a popular market serving Pomona’s large Vietnamese community.

* Heliport, which downtown Pomona had in the late 1960s, offering travel by helicopter.

Our H, however, is a hallmark of today’s diverse Pomona.

Because H is for Hookah.

No, not the ones on Holt — watch the spelling! I’m talking about hookahs, as in the Middle Eastern water pipe.

In Pomona, Aladdin Jr. on Garey Avenue has a small hookah patio, as well as a top-notch buffet. A few other patios exist in other local cities. But the valley’s largest and best-equipped hookah lounge is at Pomona’s Sahara Cafe.

It’s not the likeliest of locations. Ensconced in a shopping plaza in the Phillips Ranch neighborhood, Sahara Cafe is in the heart of suburbia — seemingly a cultural Sahara.

The cafe’s outdoor patio seats 200 and is bigger than the indoor dining area. Owner Usmaan Ahmad admits that food is secondary, calling his business a hookah lounge first and restaurant second.

On a hopping night, the place is packed, with smoke and conversation floating free and Middle Eastern pop music videos flashing on plasma TV screens.

And you thought Pomona was just enchiladas and norteno music.

So what is a hookah? It’s a water-filtered pipe that has its origins in India but was perfected in Turkey some 400 years ago.

The cafe’s hookahs stand about three feet tall. Tobacco is heated in a bulb at the top. Smoke is drawn through cool water at its base via a long tube that ends with a mouthpiece.

Only flavored tobaccos are offered, 11 fruit flavors in all. (It’s like Snapple for the lungs.) The tobacco is a mix of ground fruit pulp, tobacco, molasses and honey “for that sweet taste,” Ahmad said, adding that there’s no nicotine and only a trace of tar.

“There are people who speculate how many hookahs you’d have to smoke to equal one cigarette,” Ahmad said.

Sahara designates several hookahs for each flavor of tobacco to avoid any mixing. Thus, the cafe has about 150 hookahs.

I chose apple tobacco, and employee Matais Lopez hooked me up for the first smoke of anything in my sheltered life. A transplanted Midwesterner with a Middle Eastern hookah? Oh, if my hometown of Olney, Ill., could see me now.

“You smoke it like a cigar,” Ahmad instructed me. “You’re not supposed to inhale.”

Paging Bill Clinton!

I took a few puffs as the conversation continued. The smoke was all right — I was pleased I didn’t collapse in a spasm of coughing, which might have put a crimp on the interview — but it wasn’t my thing. I prefer my apple in pie form.

Ahmad said the hookah trend is skyrocketing, especially among young people, and he’s proof. Just 24 today, he began smoking hookahs at lounges in Westwood while studying for his marketing degree.

Oddly enough, he was attending CSU San Bernardino, not UCLA. To drive that far he must have been hooked on hookahs.

He and his brother, Shahab, 20, bought the lounge in May when the original owner returned to Lebanon.

Their clientele is about half Middle Eastern, with the non-Middle Eastern segment growing.

For those smokers, “it’s the allure of smoking something in public that’s not a cigarette,” Ahmad explained.

“For us, it’s more cultural,” continued Ahmad, whose family is from Pakistan. “In the Middle East, they don’t have bars, they have hookah lounges. You have tea and smoke ’til the early morning.”

Mortgage brokers from Orange County were at a nearby table that Friday evening. They come to the lounge three or four times a week.

“For us it’s like happy hour,” said Issa Dugom, a Jordanian immigrant. “After work we come in, kick back, relax.”

Forget Miller Beer. In Pomona, it’s hookah time.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, until someone gives him the hook.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: G is for Glass House

[Every now and then it's fun to do a column to appeal to the younger crowd and publicly renew my I'm-not-dead-yet credentials. It's also fun to try to explain the topic to the generally older crowd reading me.

Since this column, Erik Palma replaced Eric Milhouse as manager, the White Stripes returned, a Glass House Record Store opened next door and a Glass House bar, which has been under construction for two years, seems to be taking shape. Oh, and the Goddess Pomona was dropped from the county seal.

This column was originally published Aug. 29, 2004.]

G for Glass House: top concerts a stone’s-throw away

Greetings! It’s a gala day here as “Pomona A to Z” gets the letter G in its greedy grasp. Which G meets my goal of showing Pomona’s greatness?

Glom these gems:

* Goddess Pomona, the Roman deity of fruit, who is not only the city’s icon but the dominant image in Los Angeles County’s official seal.

* Ganesha Park, one of the valley’s most gracious green spaces, nestled amid the picturesque Ganesha Hills.

* Garey, Gibbs and Gordon, three downtown streets named for investors who built Pomona.

* Grilled burgers at Golden Ox, the burger palace mentioned in Kem Nunn’s crime thriller “Pomona Queen.”

Good stuff! Yet our G, as you might guess, is another G entirely: The Glass House.

There’s no sign outside and the 84 feet of windows along West Second Street reveals what looks like a vacant storefront.

Yet young people of all shapes, sizes and hair colors line up around the block to get in when the Glass House has a show.

The low-key concert venue manages to attract top-flight alternative-rock acts to good ol’ Pomona.

It started with No Doubt, which opened the club with a two-night stand on Jan. 25 and 26, 1996. Among the performers since then: Sonic Youth, the White Stripes, Beck, Weezer, Tricky, the Hives, Sleater-Kinney and the Pixies.

That’s right, the Pixies! Wow!

NOTE TO BAFFLED READERS: If these names mean nothing to you, don’t panic. You’re not old and out of touch! Are you kidding? Music was way better in your era (“your era” being anywhere from the 1930s to the mid-1990s). Yes, yes, it’s all a bunch of noise today, ever since the jitterbug. I understand. Forget I brought it up.

So, anyway.

Many bands play one show in an L.A. club and also play a night at the Glass House, which draws “all the kids from Riverside and Orange County” who can’t get to L.A., Glass House manager Eric Milhouse told me.

Brothers Perry and Paul Tollett co-founded the club to fill the void left by the demise of the Pomona Valley Auditorium and Montclair’s Green Door as live music venues.

How does the 800-capacity Glass House out in the hinterlands of Pomona get such good bands?

The Tollett brothers are successful concert promoters in L.A. and they also stage the popular Coachella Music Festival in Indio, so they have connections. Also, bands often become big only after the Glass
House gets them.

“Usually we get bands on the cusp of becoming successful,” said Glass House employee Erik Palma, who handles contracts.

Then again, Sonic Youth, a veteran band of more than two decades that came to Pomona in July, “wanted to play (here). They knew about the Glass House,” Milhouse said.

Longtime residents will remember the building as a Thrifty Drugs, which operated from 1949 to the 1970s. Some remember the old layout.

“Where the mosh pit is, that’s where they sold hair care products,” building owner Ed Tessier told me. “Where the stage is now, that’s where they dispensed drugs.”

Rock and roll!!

Seriously, if you can look past the tattoos and piercings, the Glass House is a pretty safe environment. Unlike many clubs, all ages are allowed because no alcohol is served. Security guards are watchful.

“Our average age is 14, 15,” Milhouse said. Parents can come in for free to inspect the place.

“It’s kind of a neat thing to do all-ages shows. It’s such a good outlet for kids,” said Milhouse, 28, an earnest, soft-spoken music fan who grew up in Riverside.

“There’s not a lot to do in the Inland Empire except go to the mall,” he added, “and we all know how boring that is.”

On the downside, the club has virtually no seating, so aging fans like me have to figure out how to stand for three hours. (This will become easier in a few years, when I can lean on my walker.)

But what the Glass House lacks in comfort, it makes up for in value.

Tickets average $12, parking is free and Cokes are $2. I saw up-and-comers the Shins, whose music is featured in the movie “Garden State,” for $19. Try getting that deal at Staples.

One memorable recent show was an April date by the Pixies. Set to play Coachella, the newly reunited band did a surprise show in Pomona the night before.

“You saw Jack Black and Zach de la Rocha singing along to every word, as into it as the kids,” Palma said.

To attend the 2002 MTV Music Awards in L.A. and their Glass House show later that night, the White Stripes had to be creative.

“They flew into Pomona on a helicopter,” Milhouse said. “They landed a few blocks from here.”

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, three crash landings a week.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: F is for French Food

[Now it's time for the F-bomb. So to speak.

When "Pomona A to Z" hit the letter F, people figured I'd choose the Fox or the Fairgrounds, something logical and safe. Well, those places are no mystery to anyone, and the long-shuttered Fox was a symbol of Pomona's faded glory, which I was trying to avoid. I wanted readers, including Pomonans, to think of Pomona in a fresh way.

So I picked something unexpected: French restaurants. Pomona then had two. Alas, Brasserie Astuce closed in 2007 in preparation for relocating to Claremont's Village Expansion. That fell through, so the result is that the place no longer exists. Second Street Bistro, an Italian-French place downtown, lives on, happily.

This column was originally published Aug. 22, 2004.]

Mon dieu! Pomona’s F is for … French Food? Oui.

Today “Pomona A to Z” flashes forward to the letter F. Which fun, fabulous facet of Pomona should be featured?

* F could focus on Fairgrounds, where the county fair last year funneled 1.3 million folks to Pomona.

* Fox Theater, a 1,700-seat Art Deco jewel built in 1931 whose 81-foot tower is a downtown landmark.

* Fish tacos at El Taco Nazo, which practically constitute their own food group for downtown clubgoers.

* Frantz Cleaners, with a nifty neon sign, drive-thru service and the motto “In By 10, Out By 4,” here since 1951.

* Friar Tuck’s, the valley’s only bar in the shape of an English castle. It was built in 1968 as Magic Tower Burgers.

Fantastic!

But because my philosophy with this series is to avoid the obvious where possible, that scratches the Fox and the Fairgrounds, which get plenty of ink.

So let me throw you a curve: F is for French Food!

For Pomona is home to not one, but two restaurants serving French cuisine: Brasserie Astuce and 2nd Street Bistro. Impressive, n’est-ce-pas?

They’re surviving despite Pomona’s love of Mexican food and the usual fast-food suspects.

Not that it’s easy.

“You talk to customers and they’re afraid to come in because it’s French,” said Brasserie Astuce co-owner Leo Coulourides, a good-humored man with 25 years in food service.

His brasserie shouldn’t be intimidating. It’s on busy Foothill Boulevard, next door to Route 66 Classic Burgers and across the street from a Burger King.

In other words, not exactly the Champs Elysees.

“We serve the basic four food groups like everyone else,” Coulourides told me. “We’ve got chicken, beef — it’s just a few different herbs and flavors.”

Speaking of different flavors, Coulourides is of Greek descent, his wife, Christina, is German and chef Miguel Mercado is Mexican. Vive le difference!

Their menu is regional French and the restaurant aspires to be casual, at least by French standards.

While Brasserie Astuce isn’t snooty, you can order escargot, the ultimate French dish.

So, in an undercover visit, I did.

An appetizer, the snails arrived on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes. My colleague Jennifer Cho Salaff, the most adventurous diner I know, was there to talk me through it.

Dark brown, curled up, escargot looked a lot like mushrooms and had a similar taste. One or two chews of the slightly rubbery pieces and down they went.

“Are you thinking about the fact that they’re snails?” Jennifer asked conspiratorially.

Until she brought it up, no. (Urp.)

Meanwhile, you can get escargot in the shell with butter at 2nd Street Bistro in the downtown Arts Colony — but I haven’t.

Housed in an 1891 storefront, the bistro opened in May and quickly became a bustling lunch spot, no snail’s pace about it.

Owner Alain Girard started Harvard Square Cafe and Viva Madrid, both in Claremont, and Caffe Allegro in La Verne.

Girard told me he’d always wanted to open a restaurant in downtown Pomona. That crazy dreamer.

“Pomona, it’s different from Claremont,” Girard admitted. “But I think there is potential here. There is definitely room for a good restaurant, which I think we’ve achieved here.”

Girard seems as French as they come. A beefy man with a mop of shoulder-length hair, he looks like Gerard Depardieu and speaks in a strong Gallic accent.

Yet he once ran a chain of fish and chips shops in Scotland and was formerly married to an Italian. He’s not running a traditional French restaurant either. Three-fourths of the menu is Italian.

“If I went totally French, I would have scared everyone,” Girard confided.

French items include quiche Lorraine, goat cheese salad, mussels and French onion soup (“of course,” Girard said).

Needless to say, while the Arts Colony has a Frenchier ambience than all-American Route 66, the funky, punky arts district isn’t the Left Bank.

“I’m sure that can be discouraging for people to come and eat,” Girard allowed, “but that’s part of downtown Pomona life, you know?”

True. His bistro co-exists happily with its neighbor to the west, an edgy store named Monkeys to Go.

Hmm.

With a French neighbor, shouldn’t that be Surrender Monkeys to Go?

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, more monkeyshines.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: E is for Equine Education

[Back to "Pomona A to Z." Coming up with a good "E" column wasn't, you know, easy. Not much is known about the Edison historical district, my first choice. I can't remember why I didn't write about the Ebell Club.

Anyway, I went with a left-field choice, a Cal Poly horse program. It was one of the lesser entries in the series, at least to me, but I tried to make "E" an entertaining read.

This column originally appeared Aug. 15, 2004.]

A little horse sense offered in ‘Pomona A to Z’

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Letter E featured in “Pomona A to Z”!

If you came in late, each week we’re examining another essential element of that endearing, eclectic entity known as Pomona, and doing so in alphabetical order.

As we eagerly embark on E, what are the possible entries?

* The Ebell Club, whose stately headquarters has been a visual tonic for passersby since 1922.

* Eldridge Cleaver, the former Black Panther who spent his final years in Pomona.

* Edison Historic District, comprising 637, 611 and the 500 block of West Second Street, all on the National Register of Historic Places.

* Espiau’s, a fruit stand on Holt in the 1930s that sold “all the orange juice you can drink for a dime,” and later became a popular coffee shop, now located in Claremont.

* Emerger, a gallery in the Arts Colony that, because people can’t pronounce its name (e-mur-zhay), is familiarly known as the e gallery.

Exemplary examples, all. But our E is entirely different.

E is for Equine Education!

It’s not that horses are getting degrees, like a bachelor of oats. But at Cal Poly Pomona, students are learning about horses at the university’s Equine Research Center, and so is the faculty.

In fact, Pomona and UC Davis have the only facilities in California devoted to the study of horses. Well, aside from the grandstand at Santa Anita.

Pomona’s Equine Research Center plays with ponies more scientifically: They’re put on treadmills.

“For us it provides a platform for very controlled studies,” said Steve Wickler, the center’s director and an animal sciences professor. “They take amazingly well to it.”

To prove it, he and his assistant, Holly Greene, put a thoroughbred on the treadmill for me.

Horses, incidentally, are responsible for Cal Poly Pomona’s existence.

Cornflake magnate W.K. Kellogg established a ranch for his beloved Arabian horses on what is now the Cal Poly campus. He deeded the property to the state in 1932 with the stipulation that Arabian breeding and horse shows continue — and to ensure Cal Poly’s continued life, they do. Call (909) 869-2224 for details.

But back to the barn.

This day’s test subject was Anakin, a 7-year-old named after the “Star Wars” character. He was a washout as a racehorse, but his gentle nature makes him a winner at Cal Poly.

Like any gym rat, Anakin was decked out in sporty fashion, colorful wraps wound around his two front legs. At least he wasn’t in culottes.

A student started the treadmill and Anakin walked, transitioning into a trot as the speed increased.

“If you listen you hear two sounds,” Wickler explained. Two limbs, right front and left rear, hit the treadmill diagonally, then the other two. It’s an efficient gait, but not comfortable for a rider, as the horse’s back rises and falls.

When the speed increased, Anakin broke into a canter, which is more of a rocking motion. Two feet were on the mat at any time. The other two touched the mat at different moments.

Then the incline feature was activated, so that Anakin was cantering at a 10 percent grade, as if running uphill.

“It increases the intensity two and a half times,” Wickler said.

Feel that burn!

Exercise over, Anakin ate from a bucket of horse feed — the power bar of the equine world — and was led off to cool down. He didn’t act winded, but Wickler pointed to Anakin’s right rear leg. The horse’s blood vessels stood out from exertion.

At the research center, veterinary and animal sciences students learn horse handling — many have never been around horses — and about horse anatomy and treatment.

Meanwhile, Wickler and Greene study how horses move and how they function at high altitude. Sometimes white markers are placed on the horse, similar to a human stress test, to calculate the amount of force on each limb.

It’s a little trickier than working with people.

“With humans, you can say, ‘Is this comfortable? Is this too much?’ With horses, it’s tough to ask them that,” Wickler joked. “So we measure their metabolism.”

Anakin was taking my own measure, sniffing my elbow as I took notes. It was a shame I couldn’t interview him.

That way I could have learned about equine education straight from the horse’s mouth.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, feeling his oats.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: D is for Drags

To me, a car is simply transportation, while for others, it’s a religion, or a status symbol. Despite driving a Toyota Corolla, I really do like the NHRA Museum at Fairplex. You can’t help but be impressed by the shiny old cars on display indoors, and the obvious affection for the sport of drag racing evinced in the displays. It has that cool ’50s-’60s vibe.

The National Hot Rod Association’s existence is proof that when bracketed by the soothing words “National” and “Association,” anything, no matter how rebellious, can be made to seem respectable. Mark my words, someday we’ll see the National Eminem Association.

This column was published Aug. 8, 2004.

D is for Drags: ‘Pomona A to Z’ gets up to speed

It’s D day as “Pomona A to Z,” my alphabetical survey of the city’s delights, dotes on the letter D.

Which delights should we dwell on? Among the dazzlers:

* Diamond Ranch High, the hillside school whose design, by rising architect Thom Mayne, has been written up in the New York Times.

* Donahoo’s, the popular take-out chicken restaurant with the fiberglass rooster on the roof.

* Dedication of Disaster City, the civil defense bunker under the Police Department whose opening in 1964 was presided over by — whoa! — nuclear physicist Edward Teller.

* Desi Arnaz, who performed at the Fox Theatre in 1947 with Lucille Ball.

What a dilemma! But after some dithering, my decision is that D is for Drags, as in Drag Racing.

Pomona didn’t invent drag racing — I think that was Ben-Hur — but the two go together like peanut butter and jelly.

The reason will rock you. Hot rodding became (gasp) respectable in large part because of the Pomona Police Department, specifically, car-loving Police Chief Ralph Parker and a young motorcycle sergeant named Bud Coons.

By 1950, hot rodders who had been racing in dry lake beds were taking it to the streets instead: peeling out, speeding, causing a racket and sometimes killing themselves or others. It was a national problem.

“In the ’50s, if you were a hot rodder, it was the same as being in a gang today,” Coons, now 80, told me by phone from his home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

One night Coons was on patrol when he saw a “real nice” Chevy, similar to one he was working on in his spare time. So he pulled over the driver for a chat.

“He thought I was going to write him up,” Coons said. “I was interested in his car.”

The motorist was on his way to a meeting of the Pomona Choppers car club and invited Coons, who practically caused a riot when he pulled up in uniform.

Coons explained his interest in cars, as well as his interest in safety, and found a receptive audience.

Soon he was helping to organize rally runs, shows and barbecues for racers. The Choppers were even allowed to meet in a nook of the police station. The co-opting had begun!

With a pitch from Parker, Coons and the Lions Club, the fairgrounds set aside space for a dragstrip in 1951.

Hot rodders had a controlled, legal straightaway. Deaths from speeding fell dramatically, as did complaints, Coons recalled. That prompted a writeup in an FBI bulletin to police departments nationwide about Pomona’s approach.

In 1954, Wally Parks, who had just founded the National Hot Rod Association, hired a group of four hot rod enthusiasts to travel the country to promote drag racing and safety.

Among them was Coons, who took a leave of absence from the force to join what was dubbed the Drag Safari.

No, they didn’t all wear dresses.

Their Dodge station wagon towed a trailer containing inspection gear and timing devices, everything they needed to run a drag race except white T-shirts and hair gel.

As a police officer, Coons commanded respect from city leaders wherever the Safari stopped. Dragstrips sprouted in their wake. Racing rules were honed.

“Pomona helped legitimize the hot rod movement and drag racing,” Coons said.

Pomona also was the site of the first National Hot Rod Association-sanctioned race, in 1953, and today is home to the association’s Motorsports Museum, housed in a stylish Art Deco building at Fairplex. For museum info: (909) 622-2133 or nhra.com/museum.

Amateur races still take place quarterly on the original Pomona strip, as do the professional Winternationals, to the delight of fans and consternation of neighbors.

Pomona has the oldest dragstrip in the United States still in use, and its bleachers turned drag racing into a spectator sport, museum director Sam Jackson told me.

The connection is even immortalized in song.

“GTO,” the 1964 classic by Ronny and the Daytonas, has the singer expressing his desire to buy a GTO, “take it out to Pomona and let ‘em know/that I’m the coolest thing around.”

And that’s why D is for Drags. Did you doubt it?

(David Allen, the lukewarmest thing around, writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: C is for Citrus

And so “A to Z” careens to the letter C, with a topic bursting with Vitamin C. Pomona being the goddess of fruit, recognizing the city’s citrus heritage was a must.

The Cal Poly Farm Store, mentioned herein, remains one of Pomona’s best-kept secrets despite the publicity here and elsewhere. So does the Pomona Concert Band. The wonderful Stan Selby, its founding conductor, died on Nov. 23, 2004, I’m sad to say, but the band soldiers on.

This column was originally published Aug. 1, 2004.

C is for Citrus: ‘Pomona A to Z’ finds groves aren’t pulp fiction

Part 3 of “Pomona A to Z” brings us to the letter C, as we continue our countdown of the city’s charms.

Making it to C, by the way, puts Pomona ahead of Katharine Hepburn, who was once famously panned by Dorothy Parker for a performance said to run “the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

Trust me, Pomona’s got more range than that.

Central among the city’s C candidates:

* The Concert Band, which performs each Thursday night in Ganesha Park in the summertime under the direction of G. Stanton Selby, who’s led the band since its first season — in (wow!) 1947.

* The Clock Tower, a landmark at the County Fair.

* The Carousel Chorus barbershop group.

* City of Churches, Pomona’s old motto, reflecting the large number of congregations.

* Cinnamon doughnuts at Carl’s, a West Holt Avenue fixture since 1956.

Culling this collection was certainly complex! But my C is of the vitamin variety, because C is for Citrus.

Pomona and the rest of the valley, as you surely know, once grew some of the best oranges, lemons and grapes in the world. The sight and sweet smell of those long-vanished groves remain fond memories for longtime residents.

But here in 2004, is there any citrus left? Backyard trees and a few small lots are all you’ll find.

Except at Cal Poly Pomona!

True to its roots as an agricultural school, the college still has an expanse of orange and grapefruit trees in production as a learning tool.

“We’ve got about 20 acres of citrus,” Enrique Hernandez, Cal Poly’s farm supervisor, told me Friday.

That’s about 2,000 trees, producing some 180 tons of oranges and grapefruit a year in 23 varieties.

Hernandez oversees this bounty — the largest citrus grove left in the valley.

“It’s not as big as the ones that used to be here,” Hernandez allowed. “But for being the last one, it’s not bad.”

A Cal Poly graduate who’s now a full-time employee, Hernandez proudly showed me around the orange groves. Navels were recently harvested, but Valencias were still on the trees.

Walking amid the neat rows of bushy trees, dirt underfoot, I got a sense of what the valley must have been like a half-century ago.

Only the distant hum of Interstate 10 traffic, and the homes visible along the top of the hills, were reminders that this grove is more a part of the valley’s past than its future.

A country boy from San Diego County, Hernandez, 33, grew up surrounded by citrus. He prefers open spaces, not tract homes on tiny lots.

I asked about the blight reputed to have killed or weakened most of Pomona’s citrus trees. Pests are more of an issue today. That and urbanization — “creeping 2-by-4 disease,” Hernandez jokingly called it.

“Pretty soon the only agriculture you’ll see in Southern California is gonna be greenhouses,” Hernandez said.

After I dried my tears, we visited the Farm Store at Kellogg Ranch, a campus market that has sold Cal Poly-grown produce and other select items to the public since 2001.

Fresh orange juice too, in your choice of Valencia or Mandarin.

A sign on the refrigerator case reads: “Cal Poly Pomona orange juice separates because it is pure without additives.”

Right there in the store, I downed a Mandarin OJ, squeezed just hours earlier. It was so astoundingly good, it knocked my socks off.

(I found my socks later, near the summer squash.)

The upscale, air-conditioned grocery resembles a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s except with more produce.

“We would like more people to know about it,” student manager Melynda Holm said.

Let me help: Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, the address is 4102 S. University Drive at Temple and the phone is (909) 869-4906.

So C is for Citrus at Cal Poly. It’s great to know that despite creeping 2-by-4 disease, a sliver of the valley’s citrus heritage is alive and well.

Orange you glad?

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, three lemons a week.)

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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.

Whoa!

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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‘Pomona A to Z’: A is for Adobes

The alliterative openings for these “A to Z” columns are kind of corny, but they were my way of starting each one off with some humor. My thesaurus got a workout, that’s for sure. At any rate, I’m going to resist the impulse to rewrite these pieces, other than to correct an error or two. I’ll also annotate each piece with an introduction like this one. This column originally appeared July 18, 2004.

A is for Adobes: ‘Pomona A to Z’ starts at city’s beginnings

Pomona is a cool, classic, crazy city, and that’s using only the letter C. I’ll be employing 26 letters to describe Pomona as I highlight one neat thing about the city for each letter of the alphabet.

Call it “Pomona A to Z,” a humble attempt to shine a positive light on some of the city’s most fascinating corners. As mentioned previously, this is a frank ripoff of “Pittsburgh A to Z,” a marvelous WQED-TV documentary by Rick Sebak. Except mine won’t have the Steelers.

Let’s start with Letter A candidates, of which Pomona has an awesome array:

Antique Row and the Arts Colony — but who can choose between them?

Agriculture, which gave Pomona its start and its name.

The Arby’s on Garey, built in the original chuckwagon style.

Angelica Textiles, a commercial laundry dating to 1885 that’s still in business.

Richard Armour, a humorist whose memoir “Drug Store Days” is a fond reminiscence of his father’s turn-of-the-century Pomona pharmacy.

An abundant assembly! But in this little survey, A will stand for Adobes.

Luis Guerrero greeted me last Sunday outside La Casa Primera, the first home built in Pomona. It was built from adobe brick in 1837, back when California was still part of Mexico.

Guerrero, a 23-year-old docent, led me inside the one-story home on that sweltering day.

The main room was almost chilly.

“I like to keep the door closed so when you step in, you can really feel the difference in temperature. The adobe walls really keep it cool,” Guerrero said.

Although the first room is set up as a parlor, it was originally a bedroom. It slept seven.

Seven? Not so different from a lot of Pomona homes today, I said, and Guerrero agreed.

“That’s why when Latino families come in, they say, ‘We’ve been there, it happens,’” Guerrero joked.

The home was built by a man named Ygnacio Palomares, a name that rolls like the Ganesha Hills.

He and his business partner, Ricardo Vejar, were given 15,000 acres of former mission land by the governor of Mexico for their cattle operation. That’s essentially modern-day Pomona, Claremont, San Dimas, La Verne and Glendora.

Quite a spread. As Palomares was reputed to have told a friend, quoted in a history by Bess Adams Garner: “All these fertile leagues of land are mine. Every smoke you see rising is from the home of one of my children or one of my friends to whom I have given land.”

Lord of all he surveyed, Palomares lived for 17 years in Pomona’s original starter home. In 1854 he traded up to larger digs with 13 rooms.

He gave the first home to a son, Francisco — avoiding a test of Pomona’s nascent real-estate market.

His second home is known as the Palomares Adobe, and it’s still here too. Volunteer Gena Carpio gave me a tour of the gracious, T-shaped home.

Nice joint, although I can’t say much for the family’s taste in art. Three framed wreaths on the walls are woven from — ugh — human hair. (A waste of good hair, that’s what I say.)

Carpio, 21, was recently involved in a “mudding party” that renovated a wall at the edge of the property. Since the wall is adobe, fixing it simply meant hurling mud at it. “Straw, water, dirt — mix it together and you get bricks that last a lifetime,” Carpio told me.

Or in the case of Palomares’ two adobes, several lifetimes.

TO VISIT: La Casa Primera is at 1569 N. Park Ave. at McKinley; the Palomares Adobe is at 491 E. Arrow Highway at Orange Grove. Both are owned by the city of Pomona and opened to the public by the Pomona Valley Historical Society. Hours are 2 to 5 p.m. each Sunday only. A $2 donation is requested. For a group tour, call (909) 626- 2198.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, columns formed from straw, water and dirt.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: An introduction

Last week, in wishing Pomona a happy 120th anniversary as a city, I promised we would be celebrating in this space. And I meant it.

What I’m going to do is post my 2004-’05 series of columns, “Pomona A to Z,” one letter each Sunday starting tomorrow and continuing into July.

What’s “Pomona A to Z”?

Over the course of a year, I devoted a column to an interesting person, place or thing in Pomona for each letter of the alphabet. Pomona was chosen because it’s our most fascinating city and, in my view, the one most in need of a burst of civic pride.

That’s also why each chosen subject was (at time of publication) still in existence. I took that approach to combat people’s tendency to view Pomona as a lost cause, where all the good things were gone by, say, 1965. My underlying message was: “Stop pining for the glory days! There’s plenty in Pomona RIGHT NOW to be proud of.”

As you’ll see in the weeks ahead, I tried to range across geographic and ethnic lines to present a positive but accurate portrait of modern-day Pomona. These columns were a lot of work, probably twice the work of a typical column, which is one reason I haven’t repeated the experiment in another city. A 26-part series? Whew.

But “Pomona A to Z” remains one my proudest moments as a journalist and, since book publication remains unlikely, I’m happy to share it with you again in a semi-permanent format. The pieces will be archived here and accessible to all.

For those of you who were reading me back then, I hope these pieces will be welcomed like an old friend. For you newcomers, I hope you’ll find “A to Z” astounding and zesty. Or at least alphabetical and zealous.

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