Friday, May 3, 2013

Cycling Claremont: The Russian Village...

Heading south on Claremont Blvd, and just across Arrow Highway, you will notice a monument in the median (shown in the photo) proclaiming that you are about the enter the Russian Village. But for a cultural misunderstanding, and small fluke of history, this sign should say the Polish Village.


Claremont's Russian Village district comprises fifteen unique homes (though the district's Wikipedia entry lists seventeen distinct addresses) on the very eastern edge of the city, some of the properties, in fact, overlapping into the neighboring city of Montclair. Each of the homes in the district, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, are distinguished for the folk-style, or vernacular architecture of their design and construction. In the 1920s the land upon which these houses were built, was bought by Polish immigrant Konstanty Stys, whom neighbors mistakenly assumed was from Russia (and there you go). During the era of the Great Depression, Stys sold plots to friends at low prices, and with a background in construction, helped them to build new homes.

The houses all reflect the era in which they were built, only one was designed by a professional architect, the others were created from the imagination of Stys and their owners. Local fieldstone, washed down from the mountains, figure prominently in the construction; likewise recycled and reclaimed materials abound. These include the sidings from railroad cars, wreckage from the Long Beach earthquake (1933), railroad ties, telephone poles, concrete-filled oil cans. Other materials came from various demolished school houses, the old Los Angeles Courthouse, Pasadena's Raymond Hotel, even concrete blocks from the repair of streets. Money was scarce and incorporating salvaged materials was an economical way of building.

Though much has been written about the Russian Village, its out-of-the-way location keeps it less well known than the larger Claremont Village. You might find this recollection of Jerry Blanchard whose father, Burton Blanchard, was a builder and owner of one of the "stone houses" to be of particular interest.

The Cycling Claremont series of posts highlight some of the local businesses and points of interest I have been known to frequent because I like what they offer, because they are bicycle friendly, or because they provide something unique or interesting, and which visitors to Claremont may also like.

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