Celebrating Local History in Pomona

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

I attended a weekend gathering of members of the Native Sons of the Golden West in Pomona yesterday and today and took part in a celebration of our local history.

Last night was an event at the Phillips Mansion, which is a very special place for me because I was the resident caretaker there from 1993-1997, during which time I served on the board of directors and was treasurer of the Historical Society of Pomona Valley, which manages the site and several others in Pomona.

The Phillips Mansion, built in 1875, sits in an industrial area of southwest Pomona and is a rare example of French Second Empire architecture in the region.  I had the pleasure to be resident caretaker here from 1993-1997.

The mansion was built on the site of a previous two-story adobe home occupied by the Vejar family, co-grantees with the Palomares family of the Rancho San José.  In the 1860s, after the Vejars lost their share of San José to foreclosure, Louis Phillips took possession and, in 1875, built the French Second Empire mansion.

I was on one of the last public tours of the structure before the Upland earthquake caused so much damage that the mansion closed to the public.  When I moved there, crews were engaged in a seismic stabilization of the building.  After I left, however, exterior and interior was done that significantly improved the house, though a great deal remains to be done.

A few months ago, the Native Sons of the Golden West’s Ramona parlor, placed this monument in front of the mansion.  The base is made from bricks used in the mansion and built by pioneer brickmaker Joseph Mullaly.

Then, the home of former state senator and Los Angeles County sheriff Alvin T. Currier, which stood east of Valley Boulevard in what is now the City of Industry was relocated by that city, the City of Pomona and the historical society to a space behind the Phillips Mansion.  The Currier home awaits work, but at least it has been saved.

A lasagna dinner catered by Claro’s Italian Market, tours of the house and the nearby Spadra Cemetery, where I spent time cleaning, pruning and guarding during Halloweens, and a fine presentation by Anne Collier on the community of Spadra, which sprung up in the area in and around the mansion, were on the evening’s program.  It was a great time.

On a tour led by Bill King, retired professor of history at Mount San Antonio College, I saw some period furniture, including a rocking chair that was originally in the home, and heard Prof. King’s excellent tour about the house and family.

Then, this evening, I headed over to Cal Poly Pomona for a banquet at the Kellogg West Conference Center and Hotel and had the privilege of being the speaker.  My talk was on the 1860s, the decade Spadra was created, and focused on the many notable events, issues and transformations that took place then.

These included the very different halves of the decade, with the first part featuring floods, drought, and disease and economic distress, but the second half bringing a dramatic change, with increased immigration, more reliable weather, and the first growth period experienced in greater Los Angeles.

I had the honor of giving a talk on greater Los Angeles during the remarkable decade of the 1860s to some sixty guests at tonight’s banquet at the Kellogg West Conference Center and Hotel at Cal Poly Pomona.

The presentation, given before about sixty persons, seemed to be well received and I had a lot of fun sharing some of our regional history with guests.  In talking afterward with local and state heads of the Native Sons, I learned that, over several decades, the organization has donated some $5 million to three California hospitals (in Santa Monica, San Francisco and Sacramento) that treat children with cleft palates.

The Currier House, moved to the Phillips Mansion site from a few miles away in the City of Industry, awaits restoration.

That made participating in the weekend’s activities even more meaningful and is a good example of where history does have a part to play in building and maintaining a strong sense of community.

Leave a Reply