‘Pomona A to Z’: T is for Turkeys

[Somewhere along the line I’d heard Shelton’s was a cult favorite and thus its product was tailor-made for the letter T.

Of the runnerups, the trompe l’oeil paintings were nixed because it was hard enough getting one photo into print, much less two. There was also a lobbying effort (an e-mail or two) by the Tony’s French Dips people, who contacted me several letters in advance to make a pitch. Tony’s would have been worthy too and will probably make my column at some point this year.

This column was published Feb. 6, 2005.]

Calling today’s ‘A to Z’ column a turkey is fair game

For Super Bowl Sunday, “Pomona A to Z” touches down on T.

Yes, this series’ trajectory means it’s time to pay tribute to the alphabet’s 20th letter.

Let me tell you, Pomona is a tableau that’s teeming with T’s, each contributing to the texture of that tremendous town, each a triumph that ought to be trumpeted.

Tingle at these tidbits:

* Twinkies at the L.A. County Fair — deep-fried, of course.

* Trompe l’oeil (“trick of the eye”) murals: one on the wall of a city parking lot at Second and Garey and another on the Sign-Wize office at Park and Monterey.

* Totem pole towering in the front yard of the home at Arrow Highway and Wilkie Drive.

* Two Thai restaurants in the same block of South Indian Hill: Sanamluang and Mix Bowl. They’re tip-top.

* Todd Memorial Chapel, a funeral home owned and operated by the same family since 1907.

* Tony’s French Dips, a Police Department favorite that’s served sandwiches since 1958. Cook Angie Campos has been dipping for three decades.

* Tacos, tortas and tortillas at Tropical Mexico (often known as Trop Mex) and other traditional taquerias.

Treasures all! And now that you’ve got the thrust of my theme, let me thrill you by revealing the T we’re tackling:

Turkeys from Shelton’s Poultry.

Getting a turkey from Shelton’s is an Inland Valley tradition. As Thanksgiving approaches, there’s often a line out the front door and around the corner for Ben Franklin’s favorite bird.

“It’s a social event,” said chief financial officer Ruth Flanagan, whose family owns Shelton’s.

Some customers have been coming for decades, and they love to share their memories of past purchases — talking turkey, as it were — with the staff.

Rich Havlena of Montclair has been buying Shelton’s turkeys for 30 years.

“You can taste the difference,” the retired phone company man, 62, told me. “And you can’t hardly screw ’em up.”

Good news for once-a-year turkey chefs everywhere.

Fresh turkey wasn’t such a rare commodity in the olden days. The Pomona valley once had five turkey ranches, until they were gobbled up (har!) for development.

Shelton’s began in 1924, when newlyweds Margaret and O.J. Shelton got a unique wedding present: two turkeys. Hey, it beats another blender.

The couple bred their hen and tom and later began selling turkeys for meat. They had a ranch of about 15 acres at Franklin and San Antonio avenues, near today’s Simons Middle School.

O.J. Shelton died and in 1969 so did Fred, their son — the product of their personal breeding program.

Egg distributor Ken Flanagan and his family bought the business from Margaret that year. The Pomona natives have owned it ever since. Ken is retired, but four Flanagan sons and a sister-in-law share the business equally.

Shelton’s got out of the ranching business in 1970, when a farm in the middle of a suburb had become impractical.

“You need to be in a rural area. This isn’t rural anymore,” CEO Gary Flanagan said.

Turkeys are now raised in Fresno and slaughtered in Turlock, then shipped south. The Pomona facility on Loranne Avenue does cutting, boning and packaging, as well as retail sales.

Shelton’s sells 150,000 turkeys a year and 650,000 chickens, for $15 million in gross revenue — a decent output, but a far cry from Foster Farms.

“We’ve survived because we’re a niche market,” Gary Flanagan told me.

All Shelton’s turkeys and chickens are free range, meaning they’re raised outdoors and get more exercise, Flanagan said. Their food is natural and they aren’t given any chemicals.

As a company motto goes: “Our chickens don’t do drugs.”

(I believe their turkeys are warned: “Just gobble no.”)

Natural food stores and specialty markets such as Whole Foods and Wolfe’s in Claremont stock Shelton’s products, which include broth, canned chili and frozen entrees.

“We’re kind of the Tyson’s of the natural food business,” Flanagan said. “We sell natural food products in all 50 states.”

Some high-end restaurants, notably L.A.’s venerable Pacific Dining Car, serve Shelton’s chicken.

To my knowledge, Shelton’s did not supply any turkeys to “WKRP in Cincinnati” sitcom character Arthur Carlson for his radio station’s ill-fated Thanksgiving promotion.

You may recall how a shopping center was bombed with live turkeys from a helicopter, leading to Hindenburg-like chaos.

“As God is my witness,” a shaken Carlson said later, in a classic moment of television, “I thought turkeys could fly.”

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

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‘Pomona A to Z’: S is for Spadra

[Spadra was a natural choice for the letter S when I was writing this series. Not only is Spadra a crucial part of Pomona’s origins, but people remain fascinated by the place, mostly because of its cemetery and the legends about frontier life and mysterious deaths. I’ve been in the library’s special collections room more than once when some young person has come in to inquire politely about Spadra.

Mickey Gallivan of the Historical Society will be the first to tell you she plays up the drama because that’s what people want to hear about Spadra. Too bad people persist in trespassing in the cemetery, which is private, and trashing the place. Not very respectful.

This column was first published Jan. 23, 2005.]

Suddenly, ‘Pomona A to Z’ spotlights Spadra

Salaam, sahibs! “Pomona A to Z” today surveys the letter S for a symbol to sum up the city. There’s such a surfeit, we won’t have to scrounge.

So silence, please, as we sequester ourselves in our shacks and shanties, there to solemnly scan the scads of specimens:

* Sugar Shane Mosley, the boxer, and Suga Free, the rapper, who hail from Pomona. Sweet!

* The stylish stables built in 1909 for City Hall’s horses in those pre-car days. They still stand at White and Monterey.

* Sacred Heart, St. Madeleine’s and St. Joseph’s, three churches serving the Catholic population.

* Special Collections, the room at the Public Library where you can research Pomona’s past.

* Soap Opera Laundry, whose sign bears the image of a washing machine with TV-style rabbit ears.


As you’d suspect, those only scratch the surface. We should also stop to salute Stan Selby, who led the Pomona Concert Band for an astounding 47 years until his death last November.

But our S is something different: Spadra.

Now absorbed into west Pomona, Spadra lay roughly between today’s Valley and Mission boulevards on either side of the 57 Freeway.

The village sprung up in 1866 along a stagecoach line, then began crumbling a decade later as the railroad passed it by. All that’s left is the stately Phillips Mansion, which was built in 1875 and looks a lot like the house in “Psycho,” and a rather sad cemetery.

Residents never saw the end coming. When the upstart settlement of Pomona began in 1875, Spadra’s oldtimers derided it as “Monkey Town,” for reasons that remain obscure.

“They just thought Pomona would never be anything,” said Mickey Gallivan, president of the Historical Society of the Pomona Valley.

But it wasn’t just Spadra that had a short life. So did an alarming number of people who lived there.

As “The Village That Died,” a Historical Society booklet, puts it darkly: “The village of Spadra was characterized by murder, suicide and mysterious deaths.”

Maybe S should be for s-s-s-spooky.

Many Spadra stories start at Billy Rubottom’s inn, which is also where Spadra began. He’d bought 100 acres from Louis Phillips and set up shop along the Butterfield stage line.

To call Rubottom a colorful figure is like saying Shakespeare was a fair writer.

A rough frontiersman, he was wanted in his native Arkansas for killing two men with a knife. (I’m referring to Rubottom, not Shakespeare.)

And in El Monte, Rubottom shot his own son-in-law to death. Even more destructively, he’s been blamed for importing California’s first opossums.

Rubottom may have been the meanest man in Spadra, but he had competition — even from a man of the cloth.

In 1872, the Rev. William Standifer, a farmer, angrily confronted the town constable, knocking him down twice. A bullet in the shoulder from the constable’s gun only made Standifer madder. So the next bullet found the minister’s heart.

Spadra also saw a murder-suicide between two lovers and an ex-con stabbed to death by his brother-in-law, among other untimely demises. As recently as this month, January 2005, a ghostly figure has been reported in the Phillips Mansion.

The cemetery in Spadra has 212 graves, officially.

If you were killed in a barfight at Rubottom’s for, say, cheating at cards, “the rumor is they just dragged you off to the cemetery and buried you,” Gallivan said. “So there are probably more than 212 people buried there.”

The name Spadra, by the way, was stolen by Rubottom from his hometown in Arkansas. According to Gloria Ricci Lathrop’s “Pomona: A Centennial,” though, it was his second choice.

The valley was already known as San Jose from its days under Spanish rule. But Rubottom’s application for a post office by that name was rejected, because California already had a San Jose.

He succeeded with the name Spadra. We know it as Spah-dra, although the Arkansas pronunciation is said to be Spay-dra.

Opened in 1868, the Spadra post office was among the first half-dozen in California. The village was off to a good start.

Settled mostly by poor families fleeing the South, bustling Spadra soon had a school, a major road, warehouses for trade goods, three stores and two blacksmiths. All it lacked was a Starbucks.

Unfortunately, it soon lacked more than that. While Southern Pacific extended its line eastward to Spadra in 1874, by the next year the line went as far as Colton.

The train didn’t stop in Spadra anymore, and almost no one else did, either.

So long, Spadra.

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

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‘Pomona A to Z’: R is for Roman Goddess

[The letter R proved a good excuse to recount how Pomona got its name. As for the runnerups, Robbie’s, Red Hill Pizza and Randy’s Records have all closed. Sob! Oh, and the “Jane Eyre” quote referred to below is actually “Readers, I married him.” I had recently read the book and couldn’t resist mentioning it.

This column was originally published Jan. 9, 2005, as “A to Z,” which began back in July 2004, entered its second calendar year with a roar.]

R is for Roman goddess, who brings classic touch to Pomona

To paraphrase “Jane Eyre”: Readers, I’m at the letter R. OK, it’s a loose paraphrase.

“Pomona A to Z,” my recondite review of that city’s raptures, today rests between Q and S. Which R should we recommend?

Let’s reconnoiter in your ready room for a referendum:

* Rainbird Rainforest, a learning center at Cal Poly Pomona mimicking a rain forest and funded by the sprinkler company.

* Randy’s Records, a vinyl album store on East Second Street, visited by many an out-of-town band at the Glass House.

* Red Hill Pizza, the eatery that spent 30 years in an old red barn on Holt before moving downtown. Try the lasagna.

* Robbie’s, the downtown nightspot that in 1968 hosted a luncheon for Robert F. Kennedy, just days before his assassination.

* Reference department at the Library, always ready to respond to your research requests.

Well, I could go on and on — what about Repo Man Recovery? Rockwell Collins? the Donahoo’s rooster? — but that might get repetitive.

Instead, let’s stop roamin’ and start Roman. Because our R is for Roman goddess, the deity for whom Pomona is named.

Until Los Angeles County redesigned its official seal in fall 2004, few realized its dominant image was the goddess Pomona in her flowing robes — a design created in 1957 by a Pomona native, artist Millard Sheets.

Tragically, Pomona got the heave-ho along with the seal’s cross. County supervisors decided scrapping the cross but leaving the pagan goddess might send a weird message.

But who was Pomona, and how did a Los Angeles suburb come to be named for a figure from Roman mythology?

“Not much is known about her,” says Richard McKirahan, a professor of classics at — where else? — Pomona College.

She was a goddess, “but a minor one, not in the league of Jupiter or Venus,” says McKirahan, noting that mentions of Pomona in myths are scant and sometimes contradictory.

Her sphere of influence was fruits, especially those that grow on trees. I forgot to ask whether that includes tomatoes.

“Her priest was the lowest ranking priest in the Roman hierarchy, which may mean that she was considered the humblest of the gods and goddesses,” McKirahan says.

So Pomona’s namesake is a goddess, but one with a public relations problem. Somehow that seems fitting.

The name came about like this. In 1875, real-estate investors from L.A. bought 2,500 acres out here for $10,000, then subdivided the land into lots for public auction.

They sponsored a contest to name the town.

Citrus nurseryman Solomon Gates, a Pennsylvania native who loved Greek and Roman mythology, decided his entry would play off hopes that the town would become a horticultural paradise.

He feared the name would be too fancy, his son, Superior Court Judge Walter S. Gates, told the Historical Society in 1963.

But at a community meeting, contest judges declared: “Henceforth, our new settlement will be known as Pomona.”

That’s certainly better than the derisive nickname by which the settlement had been known: Monkey Town.

When the city incorporated on Jan. 6, 1888, Pomona was official. And catchy: At least eight other U.S. cities adopted the name.

Local images of the goddess abound. She was depicted on fruit crate labels. She’s on the city seal, affixed to city vehicles, buildings and letterhead.

There are even modern twists. A wall-sized mural downtown features a Latino-tinged goddess.

More traditional is the version on display in the Pomona Library: a 5-foot-3 statue of Pomona carved from marble and shipped here from Italy more than a century ago.

As the Pomona Progress described the figure upon its arrival:

“It represents the goddess in the act of returning from the fruit harvest, the folds of her gown being filled with fruits, while in the hair about the brow are tastefully arranged small clusters of grapes.”

An exact replica of a statue from antiquity, it was commissioned by the Rev. Charles F. Loop, a wealthy Episcopalian from Pomona. He saw the original while in Florence and thought a copy would make a dandy icon for his hometown.

It was presented on July 4, 1889, and has always been housed in the Library. Today, from inside her glass case, she keeps a watchful eye on the main floor.

“Most people just come by and look,” library staffer Camilla Berger says. “But (a former staffer) told me that years ago, some people came in who worship Pomona.”

Well, California is the land of fruits — and nuts.

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

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‘Pomona A to Z’: Q is for Quartermaster

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

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

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

Finding a Q for Pomona means turning to an old warhorse

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

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

Let me queue up a quartet of possibilities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, horses.

Somehow we won the war anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much of the wartime activity in Pomona remains a mystery.

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

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

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

Keep that on the QT.

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

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‘Pomona A to Z’: P is for Primm

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

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

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

Among Pomona’s plethora of P possibilities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Pomona A to Z’: O is for Organ

[My dad is a sometime church organist and we had an organ in our house growing up (not that I do anything with music other than appreciate it). With this background, O was obvious. The organ featured below has since been rebuilt and reportedly sounds better than ever. This column was originally published Nov. 28, 2004.]

‘A to Z’ pilgrimage keys in on old organ

By my oath! Today the alphabet obliges us to orate upon the letter O in “Pomona A to Z,” our omnium-gatherum of Pomona’s ostentatious, and occasionally outre, offerings.

To which outstanding O shall we pay obeisance? Overlooking others, here are two contenders:

* Opera Garage, the opera house at Fourth and Thomas that later housed the valley’s first Cadillac dealership. Now the building has stores below and artists’ studios above. Its car-sized elevator still works, by the way.

* Orange crate labels, 4,000 of which are in the collection of the Pomona Public Library. Access many of them online at http://content.ci.pomona.ca.us/databases.html

Obdurately, I’ve chosen another O. Observe as we compose an ode to Pomona’s mightiest O: the organ at Pilgrim Congregational Church.

This baby is 102 years old and has so many pipes, ranks and stops that by comparison, the Phantom of the Opera’s organ sounds like a Wurlitzer.

Pilgrim Church is pretty stately itself. It’s the red-brick, Gothic-style church at Garey Avenue and Pearl Street that dates to 1912 and covers a square block.

To demonstrate the organ’s range for me one weekday afternoon, senior organist Mary Ferguson flipped the switches to set it humming to life.

The organ is housed near the altar but sunken behind a wooden screen so that Ferguson isn’t visible from the pews.

Nestled behind the four-level keyboard, knobbed panels on either side, Ferguson resembled a pilot in a cockpit.

As she launched into “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” the organ took off, rumbling and soaring.

“There’s a lot of power there when you’ve got all that sound going,” Ferguson said later.

Next she played part of a delicate Gregorian chant to show that the organ, like Sears, has a softer side.

Senior organist since 1986, Ferguson is called upon to play each Sunday and at weddings, funerals and church events.

Some couples planning weddings insist they don’t want an organ, a sentiment Ferguson doesn’t understand.

“They must think of an electric organ or even relate them to funeral homes,” Ferguson said. “But you don’t want to come into a church and not have an organ.”

No one’s come into Pilgrim Congregational in more than a century and not had an organ.

The church, founded in 1887, formed a “pipe organ club” in the 1890s to raise money. Its organ was ordered from Murray Harris Organ Builders of L.A. in a paired purchase with the local Methodist Church
to bring down the price on two.

Pilgrim’s organ debuted on March 4, 1902, and has been in use ever since. The Methodists’ organ is history.

Marjorie Ough, the first organist, was still at the keyboards in 1942 at the organ’s 40th anniversary, when expansions had more than doubled the original 780 pipes to 1,906.

When Japan surrendered, ending World War II, a special V-J Day service included a fitting organ prelude: Grieg’s “Triumphal March.”

Looming large in Pilgrim’s history is Frank Cummings, its minister of music for a half-century. He presided over upgrades that brought the organ to its present size.

Ferguson learned the ropes under Cummings, who had been her music teacher at Pomona High and who retired from the church in 1985. He set high standards, ones she’s still mindful of.

The 71-year-old makes the drive from Glendora at least three times a week to practice for Sunday’s service, which typically has nine pieces of music.

“This congregation is used to good music, and appreciates it,” Ferguson said.

That appreciation is quiet, this being church. But at a 2002 service to mark her 50 years of music involvement, Ferguson got, quite appropriately for today’s theme, a standing O.

The organ now has 3,245 pipes, from the 16-foot monsters visible behind the altar to ones as small as a cigarette, plus 56 ranks and 72 stops.

Fund-raising is under way for a $238,000 rebuilding of the organ to restore its full sound. About 100 notes are dead and others are out of tune. Ferguson plays around them.

Even limping, the organ is like an orchestra, all in one instrument. It can mimic chimes, trumpets, a harp, strings and flutes. (No, there’s no setting for rumba or cha-cha-cha.)

“It’s a very versatile instrument,” Ferguson said.

I decided not to ask her to play “Louie Louie.”

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

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‘Pomona A to Z’: N is for 99-Cent Stores

[So, after a four-week hiatus, “A to Z” returned to the newspaper, rested and refreshed. I had to acknowledge the grungier side of Pomona somehow, and devoting the letter N to the city’s ubiquitous 99-cent stores was the way to go.

I asked Shawn Davis, an Arts Colony acquaintance, if she knew anybody who doted on these stores and she put me in touch with Willie Campos. Willie proved to be a hilarious tour guide, as you’ll see. He remains an Arts Colony fixture and just the other day handed me a flier for the karaoke show he hosts at the Characters sports bar each Sunday night. If I ever bring myself to break my personal karaoke ban, that’s the show I’ll go to.

As for updates, the Indian Hill Discount Store got a new sign a year or so ago identifying itself as the Indian Hill Discount Sore, a misspelling that’s gone from astonishing to kind of sad the longer it remains. Sigh.

This column was originally published Nov. 14, 2004.]

‘A to Z’ blowout: Nothing here more than 99 cents!

Welcome back to “Pomona A to Z,” in which we shine a spotlight on that venerable city’s splendors, one letter at a time.

Today brings us to the letter N. In a nutshell, Pomona has numerous and nonpareil nominees. Numbered among them:

* Neon, still lighting up signs on many mid-century buildings in Pomona, often originated by Pomona’s Williams Sign Co., in existence since 1930.

* NASA/JPL Educator Resource Center, established in the Village at Indian Hill by the two agencies to jet-propel science materials into Pomona schools.

* Newspapers, including the Inland Valley News, the area’s only black-owned paper, and the Butcher Paper, a journal coming soon to the Arts Colony.

* National Hot Rod Association Museum at Fairplex, a nifty place for car nuts.

Not to be narrow-minded, but our N is none of the above. Instead, we’ll recognize Pomona for its niche as the discount capital of the Inland Valley.

N is for 99 cents stores.

True, this isn’t the most glamorous honor, but discount shopping — think Indoor Swap Meet — is part of Pomona’s identity.

Drive any major street here and you’ll see some entrepreneur’s variation on the 99 Cents Only chain’s concept in almost every strip mall.

They have such names as 99 Cents Plus or, for people who want to save a penny, 98 Cents Plus. My personal favorite, Indian Hill Discount Store, bears the Chinese menu-like motto “Nothing Over 99 Cents Except Few.”

My tour guide to this world was Willie Campos, a free spirit known in the Arts Colony for his love of cheap eats and treats.

“Everybody calls me Free Willie because I get everything for free,” Campos told me. “I’m going to write a manual on how to live for free.”

In the meantime, Campos led me around the 99 Cents Only Store on Holt Avenue, conveniently located within walking distance of his house. Visiting the chain store is one of the bright spots of his day.

“I know where every single item in this store is,” Campos bragged.

He took me up and down the aisles, grabbing random items and shouting, “This would be $2.50 at Stater Brothers! Look at this. It’s only 99 cents!”

Campos especially likes the Gourmet Fancy Foods section, where he sometimes picks up canned salmon. “I put this on bread with mayonnaise. It’s better than tuna,” he confided.

A 50-year-old with such disparate jobs as truck driver, mobile disc jockey and environmental engineer, Campos has been shopping at discount stores for a decade.

Although he first thought they were for poor people, he’s come to believe they give consumers what they want: low, low prices. Grocery stores are cutting their own prices to compete, he said. Not that he goes there.

“I do all my shopping here!” Campos exclaimed.

He loaded a basket with two Gary Cooper DVDs in paper sleeves, three rolls of toilet paper, four Ginseng drinks (priced at two for 99 cents), a two-pack of John Morrell smoked sausage, a razor and three containers of shredded Gouda cheese.

Grand total: $10.33.

Outside the store, Campos wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.

“I’m exuberant with my great purchases,” he admitted.

Nearby in the same strip mall is La Barata Discount Mart, a mom-and-pop outlet squeezed into a narrow storefront.

It’s these sort of places that spawned the 99 Cents Only chain, Campos said, adding cultural anthropologist to his resume.

“They’re mostly ethnic stores. They started off like this: Little stores with goofy stuff. You never know what you’re going to find,” he said.

Manager Hugo Munoz said La Barata has morphed into more of a swap meet with items of all prices.

“We have to compete with the big guys. You have to carry stuff they don’t have,” Munoz said.

From there, Campos and I hit a couple of locally owned under-a-buck stores. I drove him to First Bargain 99 Cents on Holt Avenue, which Campos admires for its wide aisles and 98-cent glass picture frames.

On South Garey we found 99 Cost Bargain, where a car outside bore a bumper sticker reading “I have a black belt in shopping.”

Campos recalled that he once bought enough bargain-priced halogen lights at this store for his whole house.

As he had things to do and people to see, I drove him back to his car. (He’d saved money, I realized, by getting me to drive him around.)

“I can’t wait to get home,” Campos told me, thinking back on his morning’s big purchase, “and put some Gouda on a baked potato!”

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

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‘Pomona A to Z’: a mid-alphabet break

[I remember that Peter Apanel, who helped suggest this series, figured I’d do all 26 “Pomona A to Z” columns in a row, three times per week, wrapping the whole thing up in nine weeks. Yeah, they’d have loved that in Upland. Even writing one per week was proving difficult, and with the research time, it was impossible to get ahead on them. So, to give myself a breather, I put the series on hiatus a few weeks.

First, though, I put out a call for reader response and devoted the column below to what I got. As you’ll see, it was frustrating to me that something so time-consuming and so labor-intensive was getting so little response. J, K, L and M had passed without a single comment. Did anyone care I was doing this?

I also used the following column to explain my rationale for the series: to shine a light on Pomona but also to try to shake people out of this “glory days” mentality. Time to get over it, folks. My feeling was, let’s live in the present and appreciate Pomona for what it’s got now.

If you’re keeping track, this column was originally published Oct. 17, 2004.]

Pomona needs a boost, so ‘A to Z’ lends a helping hand

For those who came in late, it’s B for Break here for “Pomona A to Z.”

Yes, my series is taking a mid-point hiatus for battery recharging. Have no fear: “A to Z” will resume soon with the letter N — in November, naturally.

Consider today’s column a “DVD extra,” providing exclusive commentary on the series. (As with any DVD bonus, feel free to ignore it.)

Let’s start with a question from reader Phyllis Willis: “Enjoying the series, and just how did you happen to choose this subject?”

Phyllis, it was a PBS documentary, “Pittsburgh A to Z,” that inspired this little series of columns. As for why Pomona, I’m convinced it’s the most fascinating, diverse, urban and downright funky city in the valley.

There’s a second reason. Reputation-wise, Pomona is sort of the local version of Pittsburgh. It’s the underdog, the gritty place everyone jokes about, puts down or avoids.

Now, Pomona’s certainly got its problems, but as they say, perception lags behind reality. Unfortunately, the city’s steady turnaround hasn’t sunk in for a lot of people who remember only too well the bad old days when Pomona hit bottom.

Poignantly enough, those blinders are worn by a lot of Pomonans, too.

Maybe I’m stepping out on a limb here, but let me share an observation. Longtime Pomonans often rhapsodize about how great their city was in the old days and how awful it is today.

Yes, Pomona fell far and hard. But 40 years is long enough to cry over spilled milk. Besides, lost aerospace jobs and a withered downtown are hardly issues particular to Pomona.

So part of my mission with “Pomona A to Z” is to say, hey, let’s appreciate Pomona for what it is, not just for what it was.

To that end, you may have noticed that every single one of my choices and runnerups is still around today.

That’s deliberate. Ditto with focusing some weeks on very modern aspects of Pomona, whether it’s the mix of cultures or the clubs and restaurants favored by a new generation.

Enough from me. Here’s what you had to say:

* Ray Bragg: “I appreciate and read with enthusiasm your ‘A to Z’ choices for Pomona. It is refreshing because you haven’t just fallen back on the easy, ‘old,’ historical alphabetical choices. Instead, you have blended them with ‘new’ choices, because that is what makes a city vibrant — it has the capacity to change over time…”

* Pat Page: “It is good to see something positive for a change.”

* Jaime: “Just wanted to tell you that we look forward every week to your series. Don’t change anything.”

* Ruth Wells: “I have kept them all. … Very interesting are the various items listed but passed by for each letter.”

* Gene Harvey: “When you start looking in detail at one city, you find out all the interesting things about it.”

* Teresa Delgadillo: “(Your series) informs me about the city which I’ve lived in for 12 years. … I actually cut out your articles and go see some of the places you refer to that I don’t know about. Second Street Bistro is probably the best … my boyfriend and I tried it and it was fantastic.”

* Fred Goul: “You are doing a great job with the alphabet soup for Pomona. Suggest you might change the ground rules for the second half of the Pomona alphabet and combine some of the letters. Besides, just
how much material can you find with Q, V or X on Pomona?”

* Monique Ramirez: “I couldn’t believe that nobody has written you since the letter I. Well, I just wanted to say that I love reading the ‘Pomona A to Z’ columns. I’m a third-generation native of Pomona.”

* Bernice Alexander: “Although I live in Upland, I am enjoying your thoughts on Pomona.”

* Danny McColgan: “Just wanted to say that I do like your ‘Pomona A to Z’ articles, being a second-generation Pomonan who started reading and delivering the Prog when I was a youngster in the early

On a personal note, the 10 responses this week were more than I’d received for all 13 “A to Z” columns combined. So I appreciate the support. This series might be the most fun I’ve had in 17 years in journalism.

Coming up: More of the same. I know it’s a bad thing when John Kerry says it about a second Bush Administration, but I hope you’ll enjoy N through Z anyway.

Especially Q, V and X.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, in that order.)

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‘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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