‘Pomona A to Z’: M is for Magu

[To pay tribute to Pomona's Arts Colony, M was for Magu, the city's most lauded artist. A couple of years back, he moved to Ontario for cheaper rent, I'm told, but he's still an important figure in Arts Colony lore. This column was originally published Oct. 10, 2004.]

An up-close look at Magu, artist of note — and cars

The magnificent madness that is “Pomona A to Z,” my series examining the municipality one letter at a time, this week moves to the letter M.

Which M will represent Pomona in this miscellany? Among the multitude:

* Mission Family Restaurant, a coffee shop dating to the 1940s as Hull House that still ladles up hearty fare downtown.

* Masonic Temple, a grand building at Thomas and Fourth erected in 1909.

* Mountain Meadows Golf Course, a public course adding 18 holes of gentility to Ganesha Hills.

* Mother Smith, who in 1936 founded Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation.

* M & I Surplus, your one-stop shop to prepare for the apocalypse.

Marvelous! So which M will be Pomona’s milestone? Showing my moxie, it’s none of the above.

M is for Magu.

Who’s Magu, you ask? That’s Gilbert “Magu” Lujan, the pioneering Chicano artist from East L.A. who now calls Pomona’s Arts Colony home.

His credo is hard to argue with.

“I aim to reflect Latino experience in art,” Magu told me.

But how he does it doesn’t conform to the fine arts world.

Lowrider cars, pyramids, Mexican altars and bright, bright colors are among his hallmarks.

He once put on a slide show for art students at UC Irvine. Subject: graffiti. He views it as ethnic calligraphy.

“That’s not art. That’s what you people do,” one student told him.

Yet Magu is no primitive: He has a master’s in fine arts.

As he tells it, teachers always advised him to draw from experience. Is it his fault his experience involves classic cars and junk-art barrio gardens?

Early criticism only emboldened him.

“At that point,” Magu told me, “I knew I was onto something.”

For three decades Magu, 64, has had fame, or at least notoriety, as a painter, sculptor and muralist.

In 1974, as a member of the art collective Los Four, Magu helped curate a groundbreaking exhibit of Chicano art at the staid L.A. County Museum of Art.

More recently, he designed the Hollywood and Vine subway station with car-themed art on its tiles.

Two of his pieces just left the L.A. County Fair, and more Magu is now at Pomona’s dA Center for the Arts.

But let’s back up. Why the nickname?

It came in adolescence when friends noticed him crowding close to art to get a closer squint, just like Mr. Magoo, the nearsighted cartoon character.

He didn’t like the name but eventually embraced it. His live/work studio is even dubbed Magulandia. His kingdom includes two subjects: his grown son, Naiche, and a friend, Ricardo Silva, both fellow artists who room with him.

Crowded with art, furniture, an upright piano and even Magu’s 1954 Chevy pickup, the ground-floor studio is a former machine shop with a rollup door.

(I suppose lugging the Chevy into an upstairs loft would have been impractical.)

Encouraged by a friend, Magu moved to the nascent Arts Colony in 1999 and instantly added cachet. His new address has practical benefits over L.A.

“People ask why I live in Pomona. I say: ‘Parking,’” Magu joked.

Since 1994, the colony has succeeded in populating the near-empty blocks of downtown west of Garey Avenue, and even lured a Starbucks. Yet rising property values are putting the squeeze on artists.

Magu, who said he’s never made much money, cut his 3,000-square-foot space in half to economize.

Although he complains a lot, Magu’s work and themes are sunnier — at least on the surface — and in conversation he frequently pauses to smile and josh.

“I’m going to tell you my secrets,” Magu said. “Humor. I think humor softens people’s view of my culture.”

Whimsy and Mexican folk art traditions cloak his ideas to make them more palatable, he said.

Because Chicanos, his preferred term, are torn between two cultures and are never entirely accepted by either, they make up a third, hybrid culture, he argues.

Thus, his art employs images Latinos in the Southwest grew up on: cartoons, TV icons, altars, exaggerated cars, garish colors, cactuses, burritos and tacos.

Visual puns abound. Verbal puns pepper his conversation.

“I use the car,” Magu said, “as a cultural vehicle.”

I trust he wasn’t steering me wrong.

(David Allen, this newspaper’s millstone, writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: L is for ‘Little House’

[To represent the letter L, I gave serious consideration to writing about lowrider cars, knowing that's part of modern-day Pomona culture. But frankly, I had no idea where to get started on that topic. Lawn bowling was another possibility. Instead I opted for the topic likeliest to get a "wow" from the average reader: the Laura Ingalls Wilder collection at the Pomona Public Library.

I know some library employees (Hi, Ms. Lois!) are excited about seeing this column reprinted here. The only update is that Marguerite Raybould has retired as children's supervisor, replaced by Nissa Perez-Montoya. Oh, and the children's room, like me, now has its own blog.

Call me a softie if you must, but the last quote, from Wilder's letter, makes me mist up each time I read it.

This column was originally published Oct. 3, 2004.]

‘Little House’ fans find a home in Pomona Library

“Pomona A to Z” continues to place the city’s unlimited layers in the limelight and, I hope, add luster to a sometimes hard-luck city. Now in Part 12, clearly this series is no lark.

Just as clearly, we’re up to the letter L. Among the candidates worth a look:

* Lowriders, an important part of car culture in Pomona, where the movement’s bible, Lowrider Magazine, was founded (even though the magazine later cruised down to Fullerton).

* Lawn bowling, a game popular in the United Kingdom and worldwide, still played at the Pomona Lawn Bowling Club.

* Lamp lab at Pomona’s BAE Systems, a manufacturer whose lamps allow military aircraft to jam heat-seeking missiles.

* Lincoln Park, a neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the city’s prestige addresses.

A laudatory list! Yet our lantern of learning will light upon a different L: the Pomona Library’s “Little House on the Prairie” collection.

Little lasses, and even lads, have long loved the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) about her childhood in the 19th century as a Western pioneer.

I may not be as wise as Pa, but I do know that Wilder had a special connection with the Pomona Library — an institution that isn’t on the Chisholm Trail.

No, she formed that tie late in life when she corresponded with a librarian, wrote a letter to the children of Pomona, donated an autographed set of her books and even gave the library a rare gift: the original, handwritten manuscript for “Little Town On the Prairie.”

And speaking of pioneers, you might say Pomona was a pioneer itself in recognizing the importance of her series.

The Pomona Library was the nation’s second to honor her, naming its children’s department the Laura Ingalls Wilder Room in 1950.

Wilder didn’t attend — she was in her 80s, and her husband had just died — but from her home in Missouri, she wrote a letter to be read aloud. A copy is still on display.

“It makes me very proud that you have named this room in your library for me,” Wilder wrote in a neat cursive. “…You make good use of your library I am sure. How I would have loved it when I was young, but I was far from a library in those days.”

Far from running water and flush toilets too. From 1869 to 1879, young Laura Ingalls and her family — Ma and Pa Ingalls and sisters Mary, Carrie and Grace — lived in frontier settlements in Minnesota,
Kansas, Iowa and South Dakota.

The family endured many hardships: terrible winters, poor crops, Mary’s blindness and Michael Landon’s curly perm.

Laura married Almanzo Wilder in 1885 and only turned author in 1932 with “Little House in the Big Woods.” An immediate hit, the memoir spawned seven sequels.

One fan was Clara Webber, the Pomona children’s librarian from 1948 to 1970. She corresponded with the author and hunted down Ingalls family homesites on her vacations. Even Wilder wasn’t sure where they were.

“Miss Webber was really one of the first people to realize what a national treasure these books were,” said Marguerite Raybould, the library’s supervisor of youth services.

An alcove dedicated to Wilder displays family photos, foreign editions — such as the Swedish “Det Lilla Huset Pa Prarien” — character dolls and the “Little Town” manuscript in pencil.

Raybould admitted the alcove isn’t exactly spellbinding stuff. What gets young readers excited is the library’s annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Gingerbread Sociable, a birthday party that began in 1967, the centennial of her birth.

The party features gingerbread, an Ingalls family favorite, and period music of the type Pa played on his fiddle. About 300 children and adults attended the one in 2004.

The 2005 sociable, the 38th annual, is set for Feb. 5.

Despite changing times and demographics, children still ask for the series by name — “although it’s no Harry Potter,” admitted librarian Lois Robbins.

“The fact that it’s a story of immigration and going to a new place with possibilities,” Raybould said, “has resonance for lots of people.”

So do the emotions. That’s what Wilder, in her letter to Pomona’s children, suggested would keep her books contemporary.

“As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that the things truly worth while and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then,” she wrote.

“Courage and kindness, loyalty, truth and helpfulness are always the same and always needed.”

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

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‘Pomona A to Z’: K is for Kellogg

[Nothing to explain or update in this one. If you want the proper atmosphere, eat a bowl of cereal while reading -- but don't spill milk on your keyboard. This column was originally published Sept. 26, 2004.]

Pomona’s K is for a man who was truly grrreat!

Welcome back to “Pomona A to Z,” where we host a kaffeeklatsch about the city’s key keepsakes, bringing knowledge, and kindling respect, in those who knock Pomona in kneejerk fashion. (The knaves.)

Did you guess we’re up to the letter K?

Kidding aside, Pomona has a lot of keepers among its K candidates. Among them:

* Kaiser Bill’s Military Emporium, the Antique Row business whose owner, Dave George, identified the obscure military medal worn by Michael Jackson at his arraignment in January — a Serbian “bravery” medal — and was quoted worldwide.

* Kress Building, once a department store and now Robbins Antique Mart, said to be Southern California’s oldest and largest such store.

* Koosh Ball, a squishy, spiky plastic gel ball created by two Pomona High alumni that was the top-selling Christmas toy of 1988.

* Walter and Cordelia (Honaday) Knott, two more Pomona High alumni, who married and founded Knott’s Berry Farm.

Keen, eh? What a kaleidoscope!

Our K, however, is special. You might even say it’s a Special K, because K is for Kellogg.

The man behind Kellogg’s cornflakes was W.K. (Will Keith) Kellogg (1860-1951). The son of a broom maker, Kellogg never got past sixth grade, but he built a cereal empire in Battle Creek, Mich.

The cornflake king spent winters in balmy Pomona, where he established a horse ranch. He later donated the land for what became Cal Poly Pomona — the only hall of higher learning that doesn’t get soggy in milk.

To learn about all things Kellogg, I met with Melissa Paul, curator of Cal Poly’s W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library. For the proper tone, we chatted over a breakfast of Kellogg’s cereal — she had Rice Krispies, I had Frosted Flakes — in Kellogg West, a university dining hall.

After a stint as a traveling broom salesman, Kellogg went to work for his brother, nutritional pioneer Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, at his hospital and health spa.

The brothers experimented with cereal grains to create healthy foods for patients. Through a wacky accident in the kitchen, they came up with flakes that eventually revolutionized the way America eats breakfast.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Although he was competitive, astute and rich, Kellogg was a shy man who treated employees well and gave away most of his wealth to help children and animals.

He especially loved horses. He had a horse as a boy that was part Arabian. His father sold it.

“It broke his heart,” Paul said. “He vowed that if he ever was rich, he would buy a whole herd of Arabian horses.”

Making good on his pledge, Kellogg bought 11 Arabian horses from a man in Indio in 1925, then plunked down $250,000 for 377 acres in Pomona for a horse ranch.

Lore has it a coin flip is what led Kellogg to buy the Pomona site over property in Santa Barbara.

Stables were built first so his Arabian horses would have a place to live, while Kellogg was content to rent a home in Pomona’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Kellogg bought the best horses, many from England, and hired architect Myron Hunt to design some ranch buildings.

The ranch got plenty of visitors. They included movie stars Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Olivia de Havilland and Tom Mix. Weekly horse shows catered to the common folk.

“Kellogg Ranch was the leading tourist attraction in Southern California in those days,” Paul said.

Kellogg Arabians were used in movies, too. One was even the model for Prince Charming’s horse in Disney’s “Snow White.”

In 1932, Kellogg donated his 750 acres and 87 Arabian horses to the University of California. But things didn’t go as planned and the property fell into disrepair.

After a public outcry, the holdings were transferred back to Kellogg and then to California State University in 1949.

Stipulations were made to ensure the horses and horse shows remained, and they do.

The first classes were held in Pomona in 1956. A decade later the campus became a full-fledged state college, bursting with snap, crackle and pop.

Kellogg died in 1951 at age 91. Though the millionaire was a modest, self-effacing fellow — “He was certainly no Donald Trump,” Paul said — he’s hardly a forgotten man.

Not only is his signature on every box of Kellogg’s cereal, but he left his mark on Pomona by enabling the city to get the valley’s only state university.

Raise a cereal spoon in his memory.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, more flakes of corn.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: J is for Juanita’s

[Pomona has plenty of outstanding Mexican restaurants. One local favorite is Juanita's, where you can always find people lined up on the sidewalk. Interviewing the owner proved impossible despite several attempts, as she was running not only the restaurant but a Juanita's booth at the fair, but I got enough of the story, and customers gave the piece its flavor.

The downtown jazz concerts mentioned toward the beginning are now history, and Juanita's II in Ontario, noted toward the end, became Juanita's III after a family dispute. Yes, there is no longer a Juanita's II, just as the Traveling Wilburys went directly from Vol. 1 to Vol. 3. Oh, and the wacky Juanita's menu board remains exactly as it was when I wrote about it. But the restaurant has an A grade now.

The stand continues to thrive, it seems, although it's a major annoyance that the Carl's Jr. next door has added a Green Burrito. Anyone who eats there with the real stuff next door must be nuts.

This column was originally published Sept. 19, 2004.]

Not to spill the refried beans, but J is for Juanita’s

“Pomona A to Z,” my alphabetical look at the city’s jewels, now jumps to the letter J. Forgive me for jabbering, but Pomona is so jam-packed with J candidates, it’s like a jamboree.

Among them:

* Jelly Donut, named the region’s No. 1 doughnut shop by Inland Empire Magazine and a Pomona favorite.

* Jazz concerts downtown the fourth Saturday of each month.

* St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and one of Pomona’s largest and loveliest buildings.

* Hilltop Jamaican market and restaurant, mon.

* Jon Provost, a Kingsley Elementary student who played Timmy on TV’s “Lassie” from 1957 to 1964. “What’s that, Lassie? Somebody’s trapped in the old well again?”

Quite a jackpot. But our jury-rigged J is none of the above, as you no doubt expected. (You’re so jaded.)

Our J is Juanita’s.

A taco stand on South Indian Hill Boulevard, Juanita’s Drive-In has provided cheap, tasty eats for a quarter-century.

Customers swear by the place.

“The food’s phenomenal with a capital F,” said Steve Hammitt, 54, an insurance agent from Claremont waiting for his pork burrito last week.

Tucked between a Carl’s Jr. and a 7-Eleven, Juanita’s doesn’t look like much. The small building with no indoor seating began as a Tastee Freez around 1956.

The food is takeout only, with two outdoor tables for dining. You place your order at the window, pay, get a slip with your number and wait. Service is speedy, but there’s almost always a few people fanned out on the sidewalk.

Naturally, Juanita’s has its quirks. Like a student trying to pad a book report, the menu details every conceivable variation on its burritos and tacos, sending the combinations sprawling across three
menu boards.

Say you want a pork burrito. Here are the head-spinning possibilities:

* Meat bean rice cheese $3.25

* Meat $3.25

* Meat bean cheese $3

* Meat bean rice $3

* Meat rice cheese $3

* Meat bean $3

* Meat rice $3

Can we get an organizational coach in on this? (And yes, somebody forgot “meat cheese.”)

Eccentricities of the menu aside, the food is top-notch. Several diners raved about the pork. I go for the chicken-and-rice burrito myself. Some of my newsroom colleagues like the chile relleno burrito, in which a chile relleno is tucked inside a tortilla.

Juanita’s is one of the great social levelers. At lunch last Tuesday, I saw all walks of humanity, from twentysomethings to senior citizens, the well-to-do to those with no visible means of support, drivers of SUVs to delivery trucks, all lined up for a five-buck lunch.

Car dealer Hal Assael, a 52-year-old who pulled up in a BMW, traveled 15 miles from Glendora, no doubt passing hundreds of other Mexican restaurants along the way, just for a chicken-and-rice burrito.

“It’s the best food in town,” Assael said. “I’ve been coming here almost 20 years.”

Finn Englyng, a 27-year-old cabinet maker from Claremont, was there with three buddies.

“I think it’s absolutely spectacular,” said Englyng, who was waiting on an order of tacos. “I like hole in the wall places. You come to a place like this, you know you’re going to get real Mexican food, not some Taco Bell or Del Taco crap.”

Well said.

Of course, there is the matter of the B grade from the Health Department. As one diner told me: “I don’t care about the B. If it got to a C, I’d be concerned.”

Juanita’s took over the spot about 1976. The first owner, Maria Tucker, had the restaurant only briefly and, in a poignant touch, named it after an adopted daughter who died at age 5.

Tucker sold the business in 1977 to her niece, Theresa Cerna, who expanded the menu and has owned the restaurant ever since.

It’s a family operation. Cerna and her husband, Jess, are often found there, as is her daughter, Marina. (A son, Ray, manages a second outlet in Ontario, Juanita’s II, owned by Cerna’s ex-husband.)

Theresa Cerna has had a Juanita’s stand at the county fair since 2002, so she’s pulling double duty right now.

Carne asada and the green chile pork are the best sellers, she told me. Tortillas are made on-site, as is the hot sauce, which comes in lidded plastic cups the size of lip balm.

Juanita’s has lasted longer than any other business in that location, including the Tastee Freez, Jess Cerna told me.

“The couple that used to have the Tastee Freez,” he said, “even they come here.”

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, tres columns.)

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‘Pomona A to Z’: I is for Ice Cream

[This one was not only fun, it was delicious. Dr. Bob's, a premium ice cream business, has been written up all over and it's based in good ol' Pomona. I'm not sure if the ice cream is still sold in downtown Upland, but it's still sold at the county fair each fall, as well as at finer restaurants.

The only other update is that one of the runnerups, the Indian Hill Cinemas, has closed, leaving Pomona without a single movie theater.

This column was originally published Sept. 12, 2004.]

You’ll scream, because Pomona’s I is for ice cream

My series “Pomona A to Z” continues to inch along. With the letter H last week, I imagine it’s time for I, isn’t it?

It is. Now, call me an idealist if you must, but Pomona’s interest should be illustrated. So consult this idiosyncratic itinerary of I candidates:

* I could be for Indian Hill Cinemas, the valley’s only independently owned theater. The $4 matinees revive memories of decades past, and the 1970s decor doesn’t hurt either.

* Indoor Swap Meet, the place to go for inexpensive items.

* Islamic education, specifically, the City of Knowledge School, a K-12 academy that earlier this year produced a student with a 1600 SAT score.

* Indians who once roamed the Ganesha Hills.

* Indian Hill Boulevard, the most ethnic, intriguing stretch of which stops at the Claremont border.

Impressive! But before you get impatient, let me identify my choice: I is for ice cream. Namely, the plant on the Pomona fairgrounds where an exclusive brand of ice cream is made.

There, Bob Small cranks out Dr. Bob’s HandCrafted IceCreams, a premium label sold at upscale markets and restaurants throughout California, besides delighting fairgoers.

At $3.50 for a single-scoop cone, Small’s ice cream won’t be mistaken for a supermarket brand.

“We’re at the high end,” Small told me with pride. “We’re always the highest priced at the retail market.”

Small, incidentally, isn’t a medical doctor — he has a doctorate in business — but he’s got the cure for what ails you, and you don’t even need a prescription.

A professor who teaches wine, beer and spirits courses in Cal Poly Pomona’s hospitality school, Small started Dr. Bob’s in 1999 with friend Bill Baldwin as “kind of a lark.”

Small develops the recipes, using premium ingredients like Scharffen Berger chocolates and real vanilla for flavors that are less sweet but more intense than most ice creams.

Among his flavors: Peach, Fig, Black Raspberry, Vanilla Peanut Butter Chunk and Brown Sugar Pecan. Dr. Bob’s is defined by its chocolates, including The Works: dark chocolate ice cream spiked with three types of chips.

The top seller is still vanilla.

Dr. Bob’s is a minimum 16 percent butterfat — another reason four out of five doctors don’t recommend it — and is dense, too. It’s about 35 percent air, compared to a startling 50 percent in most major brands.

“The less air, the more ice cream there is, and the more dense and rich the product will taste,” Small said.

Dreams of a retail empire stopped at a single store in downtown Upland, but Small’s wholesale business is booming. In 2003 he sold the equivalent of 30,000 gallons.

Dr. Bob’s — see drbobsicecream.com — is sold in Gelson’s supermarkets and scooped locally in the Sycamore Inn, Walter’s, Spaggi’s, The Press, Pizza N’ Such and the Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch. You can buy it by the pint at Wolfe’s Market and Cal Poly’s Farm Store.

It’s been featured on the Food Channel and just last month in Sunset and Bon Appetit magazines. Darn, I got scooped.

The Pomona plant opened in 2002 at the fair’s invitation. Located across from the livestock barn, the plant does retail sales during fairtime — now through Sept. 26 — and last fair served more than 15,000 customers.

So how does Dr. Bob’s crew make ice cream? Small let me behind the scenes to watch the production of two tubs of a popular flavor: Strawberry, Sour Cream and Brown Sugar.

A local dairy combines the cream and sugar to his specifications. At the plant, ice cream maker Jorge Morales put it in a 20-quart freezer for 10 minutes to thicken along with sour cream.

What came out was smooth and silky, if only partly finished. After a taste, I told Small he could do well marketing that.

“Yeah, we could,” he agreed. “A sour cream ice cream. It could go with certain desserts.”

Morales turned the spigot and half-filled two 2.5-gallon tubs with the mixture. He spooned in strawberry compote and cupfuls of brown sugar, stirred with a spatula, topped off the tubs with more mix, compote and brown sugar and stirred again.

Somehow I can’t see Ben or Jerry doing it this way.

Smoothing the surface, Morales covered the tubs and put them in a minus-40 freezer to harden overnight.

The ice cream comes out so hard, “it’s like a deadly weapon,” Small joked. It’s then tempered in a minus-20 freezer, the temperature at which it’s sold.

I didn’t have 24 hours to wait, so Small uncapped a Cappuccino Crunch, The Works and Brown Sugar Pecan for samples.

Just what the doctor ordered.

(David Allen, M.D. (doctor of mirth), writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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‘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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