The grandeur and scale of Pomona College's Bridges Auditorium can often dominate impressions of Marston Quad; yet, unsuspectingly and off to the side, sits a smaller building. Yes, it's smaller, but it's equally as expressive. Bridges Hall of Music—affectionately referred to as Little Bridges—is turning 100 years old this year.
The centennial is a milestone for one of Pomona’s most striking buildings, which has hosted a diverse array of musical performances ranging from jazz great Dave Brubeck to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Its walls have not only experienced the evolution of 100 years of music, but have also served as an icon for generations of Pomona students.
Little Bridges was originally constructed in 1915, funded by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Appleton S. Bridges. The couple donated $100,000 in the name of their daughter Mabel, who passed away during her junior year at Pomona. The building was designed by architect Myron Hunt, who is also responsible for the Huntington Library, the Rose Bowl Stadium, and the key plan for Pomona’s campus.
The ornate nature of the building is intended to reflect a Spanish Renaissance style, in line with what Hunt described as “our local Spanish tradition.” In a letter written to a Pomona student in 1931, Hunt explained that Little Bridges was cleverly designed to accommodate up to 1000 people, but should a mere 350 be in attendence, it would still appear as though a “real audience” were seated in the theater. This feat was accomplished by making the seats in the pit removable and by installing sideways benches, a feature inspired by the English Parliament.
In addition to its architectural prowess, Little Bridges has become a vital part of Pomona’s campus life. In his unpublished autobiography, former president James Blaisdell wrote that Little Bridges was “a college shrine, one which has been a supreme influence in creating affection for the college in all subsequent generations of students.” For years, Pomona alumni and members of the Claremont community have shared Blaisdell’s fondness for the building. Between 1915 and 1969, 265 couples were married inside.
This affection continued, demonstrated through a campaign in the early 1970s to fundraise for renovations. The campaign was in response to an independent evaluation of Little Bridges, conducted in 1969, that deemed it unsafe. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that earthquake proofing the building would cost nearly $800,000. The Board of Trustees ruled that these funds should not come from the college, instead authorizing donations from Pomona alumni and friends. Despite the high price tag, the money was raised in less than three years.
More recently, Little Bridges has served as the site for Pomona’s first-year orientation.
“I remember the naked people,” Laura Kirol PO ’17 joked, referring to the now-defunct tradition of streaking in front of the first-year newcomers.
Fond memories like this one also resonate for Leo Selker PO ’17.
“I was trying to figure out what Pomona was about … and my experience was this cool building that you could feel some history in,” Selker said. “Every time I go in there, there is a little burst of memory of being there at orientation.”
This semester, Pomona will host a series of special concerts to celebrate Little Bridges' centennial, continuing the building's long tradition of cultivating Pomona’s sense of community.
As former president Blaisdell put it, “In this unspeakable lovely building, scores of our college graduates have pledged their troth for life and have added this previous memory to all those others which keep the college in their deepest affection. Such ties of affection are the truest endowment of a college.”