Column: Gun-protest Nativity canceled in Claremont

Remember the controversial Nativity scenes at a Claremont church in recent years, the subject of columns here the past two years? This year’s didn’t happen, a fate that became the subject of my Wednesday column — with a rendering of the startling scene the artist proposed. I can see the pastor’s point as well as the artist’s. Where do your sympathies lie?

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A comics Christmas

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Christmas-themed comic book covers are the theme of a display at the Pomona Public Library, all from the collection of John Atwater of Rancho Cucamonga, whose extensive holdings have also been shown at the L.A. County Fair and the Cooper Museum in Upland. Pardon the glare, but the comics are bagged and under glass. If you’d like to see the display in person, they’re set to be there through January. The library’s hours are 1 to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday — but it’s closed Christmas Eve through Dec. 27; thanks to Allan Lagumbay for the clarification.

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Restaurant of the Week: Uno Tre Otto

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Uno Tre Otto, 114 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at 2nd), Claremont; open Tuesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to closing

This is the former La Piccoletta, known as the little place in the alley (Alley 39, to be precise), pretty much in the center of the block bordered by First, Second, Yale and Indian Hill. It’s a small building with a trompe l’oeil mural outside and one small room inside.

La Pic opened in 1977 and once had a reputation as Claremont’s finest restaurant, but in recent years it’s changed hands several times; a friend and I had an inconsistent meal there six years ago on the one time I tried it. (It’s out of my usual price range.)

Now it’s been acquired by John Solana and Brad Owen, who have the Back Abbey and Union on Yale; Solana owns Petiscos with another partner. That makes four Village restaurants under Solana’s ownership. He and Owen quietly took over La Pic in 2014 when it became available and in November, after 38 years as La Piccoletta, changed the name to Uno Tre Otto and focused the menu on regional Italian with local ingredients.

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A friend and I had dinner there earlier this month. The interior looks much the same: rustic, with no windows and an open kitchen, seating 38 in an intimate space. It’s one of the more unique interiors in the valley.

The menu is small and is anticipated to change along with the availability of ingredients, many of them supplied by Amy’s Farm in Ontario, whose proprietor is Owen’s wife.

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The kitchen sent over a free starter, thinly sliced persimmons with lemon, vinaigrette and parmesan. (Forgive the quality of the photos; the lighting is dim.)

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From there we shared wild fried shrimps ($15), four whole shrimp with lemon, garlic, parsley and chives.

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My friend had fazzoletti ($16), a pasta with kale-hazelnut pesto.

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I had pork osso buco ($26), with carrots and polenta.

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We then shared a dessert, persimmon bread pudding with creme fraiche ($8).

This was quite a meal, and in a lovely setting, on white tablecloth, the fanciest meal this hole-in-the-wall diner has had in a while. We were impressed by every item. My friend was effusive, saying she had never particularly liked persimmons or kale before but loved their uses here, and describing the charming environs as “kind of like being in a book.”

On our way out, after paying, I introduced myself to a man who turned out to be Owen, who’d been dining informally with his wife and three of his children. Our waitress, we learned, was his sister-in-law. All in the family.

While a meal of $40-plus per person, and that’s with only water to drink, isn’t something I’m likely to repeat soon, those with more ready cash, or celebrating an occasion, might want to give the place a try. They encourage reservations to (909) 624-1373.

I hope to write a column on the restaurant in the near future, but in the meantime, there’s this blog post.

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Column: O’Day Short tragedy still smolders in Fontana

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Wednesday’s column marks the 70th anniversary of a sad tale, a hate crime memorialized time and again in the press and yet evidently still unknown to most, if those quoted in Cassie MacDuff’s Press Enterprise column last week are to be believed. Here’s my version of the story. Above, O’Day Short; below, Helen Short and the couple’s two children, Carol Ann and Barry.

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Mod! Mission Family Restaurant

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The late Mission Family Restaurant in Pomona is another example of modernist architecture cited in the Pomona Valley listing in Alan Hess’ survey “Googie Redux,” one of only 10 from the area.

The restaurant on Mission Boulevard and White Avenue opened on Feb. 16, 1958 as Hull House, with features including seating for 156, a full-width front window, air conditioning, “distinctive lighting fixtures” and murals by Paul Darrow, according to a Progress-Bulletin story on its debut. The coffee shop was originally open from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.

Owner Mel Hull also had a Hull House at 201 N. Garey Ave. that opened in 1946 and Mel’s Drive-In on Holt at Palomares from 1951. Tile inside the Mission location features a design subtly incorporating “HH,” and one private dining room was labeled “Jury Room.” The courthouse is only a few blocks east and lore has it that jurors on sequestered cases were sent there for lunch.

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Two photos immediately above by Ren; others by me

In 1971, under the Warren family, Hull House became Mission Family Restaurant and initially boomed. By late 2013, down at the heels, it was set to close. During a last breakfast with me, preservationist John Clifford speculated that the Darrow murals were hidden behind wallpaper. He said the dimensional wall tiles were made by Pomona Tile from designs by the famed Saul Bass.

“It’s dingy, but it really does have that essence of the ’50s,” Clifford said. He said the Mission was an example of Space Age architecture. We noted the orange, if lumpy, banquettes and the counter’s swivel seats, which attach to the counter itself rather than to the floor, allowing for easy dusting or mopping underneath.

Outside, Clifford and I chatted with two customers. Rebecca Kavanagh had been eating there almost from the start and as a teenager worked across the street at Taco Lita.

“This used to be Hull House. Oh, it was something,” Kavanagh, then 74, said. “I don’t think they’ve changed much of anything. It looks exactly the same.”

Her friend Rachel Nuno said, “We used to go dancing at Rainbow Gardens and come here for breakfast. It was open 24 hours.”

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I always cracked up at the sign marking the entrance to the parking lot. Just in case you wondered what they served.

The Warren family, its landlords, closed Mission Family in anticipation of a sale to a developer who was going to bulldoze it in favor of a McDonald’s and more; the restaurant and parking lot occupy the entire block. History buffs objected. The deal fell through. But the property has since been sold.

At this point the restaurant sits behind green construction fencing, forlornly. The sloping roof, stone pillars, broad windows and eye-catching roof sign all combine in a pleasing way. Somebody rescue this place!

Update: Preliminary plans call for remodeling the restaurant for retail or restaurant use but retaining “the characteristic features of the building,” according to the Community Development Department. A second building would be constructed elsewhere on the lot. The Planning Commission may get the plans next spring.

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Column: Claremont High’s unclaimed celebrity: Frank Zappa

This talent show photo from the 1954 Claremont High yearbook is said to depict Frank Zappa.  He is not officially recognized as an alumnus, but many in the Class of 1958 remember his having attended briefly. (Courtesy photo)

This talent show photo from the 1954 Claremont High yearbook is said to depict Frank Zappa. He is not officially recognized as an alumnus, but many in the Class of 1958 remember his having attended briefly. (Courtesy photo)

Did Frank Zappa ever attend Claremont High School? No official record has ever surfaced, and he’s not considered an alumnus. But Zappa once listed Claremont among the four schools he attended (his family moved frequently), and many 1950s classmates say they remember him. And have they got stories. My Sunday column explains.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizzita Circle

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Pizzita Circle, 4047 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino; open daily

Actually, I was looking for Al’s Italian Beef, which I’d been meaning to find since its opening in 2014, but it wasn’t where I thought it was. An Internet search in the parking lot revealed that it had been elsewhere in that center, but had closed over the summer. Too bad. It was the Chicago-based chain’s only local location.

I was parked on the southwest corner in front of Tamarind, previously featured here, and Phillys Best, a chain at which I’ve eaten elsewhere. But the curiously named Pizzita Circle, located between the two, was a new one.

Well, what the heck. I was in search of lunch and might as well try it.

They serve 1) pizza and 2) Mediterranean food, an unusual combination, in a fast-casual setting. The latter included pita sandwiches, salads and plates ($8 to $11), while some of the pizzas were traditional and others had Mediterranean-type toppings. As the website puts it: “With our main specialty being our outstanding pizza and pita, we arrived at our present name, Pizzita Circle.”

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Splitting the difference, I got a Mediterranean pizza: lamb, beef, onion, tomato and peppers ($9). All pizzas are 10 inches. And you know, it was pretty good. I wouldn’t call it New York pizza, as they do, but it was tasty, the crust airy and crispy on the bottom, and I ate the whole thing. The restaurant also has beer and wine as well as a selection of bottled sodas, unusual for an eatery of this type. And they deliver.

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The woman behind the counter, probably the owner, was personable and told me there are two locations in NYC, family-owned. She moved west, missed the food and opened one here in mid-2014. There’s a photo mural of the Manhattan skyline focused on the Empire State Building.

Pizzita Circle probably won’t put you in a New York state of mind, but I enjoyed my meal. And the website includes a poem about their food, in six stanzas.

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