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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Pomona names 52-year-old Civic Center Local Historic District

A gleaming new pool, lush family picnic lawns and wide walkways with the Pomona logo, recalls longtime resident Mickey Gullivan’s Pomona Civic Center.

In 2017, Gullivan applied to the city to recognize the center of civil life, designed by Welton Becket & Associates, as a Historic Property. The longtime president of the Pomona Valley Historical Society at one point doubted that recognition would come.

“I waited four years for this and began to think that I would not live to see this day,” said a 76-year-old Pomona resident who recently recalled the early days of the community center. “The reflective pool and fountain,” she said, “attracted people from all over the city.”

The area, which has been home to the City Hall, Council Chambers, Pomona Public Library and Courthouse for the past 52 years, is now the Civic Center Historic District. Earlier this month, the city council approved the inclusion of four buildings, as well as a police headquarters and a public health building, in the new borough. Also included will be the Pomona Armory and Civic Center Square with seating and a water fountain.

A man walks into the Pomona City Hall in this archived photograph taken on August 9, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Thomas R. Cordova, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin / SCNG)

The city center, designed by Becket & Associates, is of historic importance, the city said in a report, because it is the largest collection of the famous firm’s work in the United States. According to the city, the center is one of the few surviving examples in the region and state that is characterized by modernism and new formalism.

A memorial plaque confirming this historical name will be installed next to the square. Meanwhile, the Civic Center Historic District will be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the late 1950s, the population of Pomona grew and a new town hall was required, leading to plans to build a Civic Center complex. According to the city report, the city landed on a stretch south of the city center, causing the demolition of family homes.

Mayor Tim Sandoval took the time ahead of the council vote on Monday October 18 to acknowledge the working families whose homes were demolished to make way for the Civic Center. Citing other sites, such as the Chavez Gorge, which made way for Dodger Stadium, Sandoval said it was important for the public to know the history of the Pomona project.

“This vote is about recognizing our history and recognizing these buildings,” Sandoval said. “But it all came at a price … I think it’s important to acknowledge it.”

Beckett, the architect responsible for such mid-century landmarks as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Ahmanson Theater, was chosen to design the Pomona complex. The project was built in the mid to late 1960s and the complex in its current form was completed in 1969. Several buildings, including a public auditorium, a planetarium and an art museum, were never completed.

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Some of the center’s most distinctive features include slender columns, overhanging roofs, and a pavilion feel, according to the city. The connecting pedestrian plaza that changes levels and links the area together includes open paths and parkland. The area also contained reflective pools that are now drained and were once filled with fish.

“One of the reasons the Civic Center is so important is that it is a great example of modern architecture,” Jeffrey Starnes, head of heritage conservation in Pomona, told the advisor.

“In his plan, Beckett created these clear visual lines for you to see his work. As you walk through the Civic Center, you will notice that there is a very clear line from City Hall to the courthouse, ”Starnes continued. “This is an art like nothing else.”

After Gullivan applied for the center’s recognition, city officials determined that since the Civic Center had deployed multiple resources across multiple sites, it would be better to propose a nomination as a local historic district rather than a landmark.

In accordance with the designation of the district, changes in the Civic Center will be allowed. The changes could affect the center’s eligibility for historical status, Starnes said.

Currently, the Civic Center area has several non-historical elements: car parks south of Seventh Street, a lawn between the library and courthouse, an annex of the Council Chambers, and a reflective pool. If the city wants, it can make changes, but any major project will be considered by the Commission for the Preservation of Historical Heritage of Pomona and can be appealed to the city council.

Pomona names 52-year-old Civic Center Local Historic District
Pomona city center Borders of the historic district. (Screenshot from the Pomona City Council meeting on October 18, 2021)

The boundaries of the Civic Center Historic District will be roughly Mission Boulevard to the north, Garey Avenue to the east, Eighth Street to the south, and Park Avenue to the west.

In connection with negotiations to develop a city parking lot at the corner of Seventh Street and Garey Avenue, the city has recommended that the property be removed from the area.

Councilor Elizabeth Ontiveros-Cole also thought about the Civic Center at a meeting on October 18, which she said was completed when she was 20. She said children would visit the area and walk to a reflective pond with fishing rods, pretending to that they fish.

“It was something that got attention, it was a great place to visit,” Ontiveros-Cole said. “This is what I look forward to to make sure we protect, this is our story.”

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