Firehouse Inn forlorn, but cleaner

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The Firehouse Inn was a popular Pomona restaurant of the 1970s in a unique location: a former Fire Department station built in 1924. Shades of Engine Co. 28 in downtown LA!

The Italianate-style station was Pomona’s second. According to Gloria Ricci Lathrop’s 1976 “Pomona: A Centennial History,” from which the above photo and caption were taken: “Located at Garey Avenue and Alvarado, its purpose was to handle fires in the north part of Pomona, especially if freight trains blocking the crossings prevented the main station’s crews from traveling to answer the calls.”

After some alterations, the restaurant opened in 1970, according to a Progress-Bulletin story from that April. The restaurant lasted until about 1988, based on phonebook listings; it’s unclear if anything took its place. It’s been vacant for years.

Incidentally, can that be the same street light today from whenever the historic photo was taken?

With a new Starbucks having opened across Alvarado, on a previously dead corner that had a long-vacant gas station, there’s more traffic and renewed attention. On an April 8 Starbucks visit, I walked across the street to look at the Firehouse Inn building. On the door was a Notice of Abatement, dated two days earlier and signed by a judge. (I can’t even try to relax without bumping into news, evidently.)

According to Community Development Director Mark Lazzaretto: “The weeds at the Firehouse Inn were unbearably high and there was trash and debris throughout the site. We sent notices to the owner, but the owner failed to comply. In these situations, we go to court for an abatement order, which allows the City to clean up the site so that the neighborhood isn’t burdened with the blight. We then lien the property and recoup our costs when the property is sold.”

For now, the Firehouse Inn sits, boarded up, waiting for progress. Would anyone like to comment about the current condition, the recent past or memories of having dined there?

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Column: Claudia Rankine’s poetry a window into race

Sunday’s column is a profile of Claudia Rankine, a Claremont poet whose book “Citizen” is receiving national attention and acclaim. She’ll be reading from her work at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Little Bridges (Bridges Hall of Music) in Claremont.

Let me say, there are few subjects more nerve-wracking for me to write about than a writer, especially knowing they’ve been written about by national publications. She may not care one way or the other, or even read what I wrote, but I always put extra pressure on myself to do a good job (or at least not embarrass myself)!

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Column: Penny Lane Records now giving Upland a spin

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Remember Penny Lane Records? I do: I used to visit its Colorado Boulevard store back when Old Town Pasadena was interesting, and it had a bunch of other stores around L.A. I thought it was out of business until a couple of years ago, when a reader alerted me Penny Lane had a small store and Internet business in, of all places, an Upland industrial park. It took me until now to visit, but that’s okay, as Saturday, Penny Lane is participating in its first Record Store Day.

Steve Bicksler, pictured above and below, founded the store in 1985 and, three decades later, is still hanging in there, now as the sole employee. The tenacious store’s new and old lives are explored in Friday’s column.

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Restaurant of the Week: California Pizza Kitchen, Victoria Gardens

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California Pizza Kitchen, 12517 N. Mainstreet (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

CPK was one of the original tenants at Victoria Gardens upon the center’s 2004 opening and more than a decade later, it’s still serving up barbecued chicken pizzas and more.

I’ve eaten there a few times, in part because it’s one of the most affordable sit-down restaurant at the VG. Recently I had dinner there and figured, well, why not take photos and write a Restaurant of the Week? CPK is pretty much the same everywhere, but we’ve only got two of them (the other one is at the Shoppes at Chino Hills) and the VG is a popular spot. Besides, I like CPK.

The menu has small plates, salads, soups, pastas and various pizzas, both usual and unusual, with gluten-free crust an option. And they have alcohol.

I got the wild mushroom pizza (price forgotten, but about $14), which has four types of mushrooms and two types of cheese, and I got it on whole wheat crust, which I’m not sure I’ve done before. That was a good move and made for a heartier crust. If you like mushrooms, this is a pretty good pie. Feeling flush, I spent $1.50 on a few drops of truffle oil; to be honest, any difference in taste to the pizza was negligible.

Service was friendly. It was a Monday evening, early, and the quiet was welcome. The faux rock wall, broad booths, focused lighting and open kitchen with a counter for solo diners add up to an ambience that could almost be described as swank.

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New Starbucks opens in Pomona

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A skinny little Starbucks opened last week on Garey Avenue and Alvarado Street in Pomona, only blocks from the 10 Freeway and on the western edge of the historic Lincoln Park neighborhood.

It’s not exactly what residents there would have liked, as the coffee house is oriented toward motorists, not pedestrians looking for a place to hang out. There’s no inside seating. There is a walk-up window, like you’re at a Dairy Queen, but the only outdoor seating is a couple of tables with umbrellas by the drive-thru lane, so, not really cozy. (Starbucks got in its application to build before a ban on drive-thrus on this portion of Garey went into effect.)

On the bright side, Starbucks replaces a gas station that had been closed and derelict for years. Its presence may add momentum to efforts to oust the methadone clinic that operates quietly in the building to the north, or to generate interest in redeveloping the long-vacant Firehouse Inn building on the south side of Alvarado. And if the traffic introduces more people to Donahoo’s, that won’t be bad either. (If Donahoo’s were encouraged to fix both its signs — one of which is missing two letters, the other of which has two letters in a different color than the rest — that would also be progress.)

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Mod! 1960s chairs back at Pomona library

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There’s a stylish addition to the Pomona Public Library: 1960s chairs.

“These are the original chairs here for the opening in 1965,” said Muriel Spill, the library manager.

The saucer-like chairs were put in storage in the mid-1980s due to wear and tear on the original cloth.

In recent months, staffers have offered ideas to improve the library at little cost. Circulation desk employee Martha Ramos suggested bringing back the chairs. A retired upholsterer who is a frequent library patron, Pedro Martinez, was approached and agreed to donate his time. Wasn’t that nice of him?

And so the chrome wire chairs, some 20 of them, are newly covered in padded vinyl, in different colors, and are spread throughout the building. They’re certainly in keeping with the library’s modernist look, designed by architect Welton Becket (Capitol Records tower, the Music Center, Cinerama Dome, Parker Center, etc.).

“People are using them,” Spill said. “You should see little kids curl up in them. It’s cute.”

Library staffers had been told for years that the chairs were by Charles and Ray Eames, but some digging at yours truly’s request turned up the real designer: Harry Bertoia. Bertoia did help with the development of Eames chairs but then went to work for Knoll. According to its website: “His iconic wire furniture collection, introduced in 1952, is recognized worldwide as one of the great achievements of 20th century furniture design.”

The library’s Allan Lagumbay turned up two original purchase orders to Knoll from Welton Becket for 22 “large diamond chairs” and 42 “small diamond chairs,” at a total price of $5,344.50. (The chairs, in aquamarine, dark olive, olive and green/blue, ranged from $70.20 to $125.13 each.) Knoll today advertises the chairs for $723 for child size to $1,997 for adult.

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Column: Jenny Lewis invites fan onstage to sing ‘Glendora’ in Pomona

I was in Pomona at a Glass House concert Tuesday, minding my own business, when suddenly news broke out: The singer invited a fan from the audience to come onstage and sing a portion of a song about Glendora.

You can read about that in my Sunday column, as well as about my Ontario film series. I shot a one-minute video of the impromptu performance, which you can watch here (warning: adult language!); a full version from closer to the stage can be viewed here.

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