After months of preparation and under cover of darkness, workers from American Heavy Moving and Rigging successfully moved Pomona College’s Renwick house across College Avenue at 2:30 a.m. on Monday.
The house, a historic building dating back to 1900, was moved from its original location adjacent to Claremont village to its new home on Wig Beach to provide space for Pomona’s new, larger Museum of Art.
Pomona’s cottages, which were adjacent to Renwick House’s former location and used for student housing, were demolished in January. The now-empty combined plot will become the site of the art museum.
Pomona first proposed the art museum in its 2015 Master Plan, but has been considering it since 2008, to address a the lack of space, humidity controls, and fire suppression system in the current building, which make it difficult to teach and display exhibits in the building.
In March of 2015, the college hired architectural firm Machado and Silvetti to design the new building, which will include a courtyard for receptions, a glass wing, and additional classroom space, clad in a modernist design.
Pomona considered other sites on campus, but ultimately decided that these sites would disrupt Pomona’s campus aesthetic and accessibility and make it more difficult for non-students to access the museum.
Pomona initially faced zoning issues when it began to move forward with its plans in 2016, as the plot where it plans to build the new museum was zoned as a residential area. Changing this zoning conflicted with the city’s Village Design Plan, but the city approved a zoning change.
Pomona also faced strong pushback from members of the Claremont community. Some Claremont residents raised concerns about parking at the museum and the removal of historic trees surrounding Renwick House and the cottages.
Many Claremont residents further opposed Pomona’s plans to move Renwick House. They believed that Renwick House’s historical significance could only be preserved by leaving it in its original location.
Some Pomona alumni, including Ron Fleming PO ‘63, also pushed back against the school’s museum plans. Fleming believes that the plans are not ambitious enough, and that the school should build a much larger arts center. Fleming has offered financial support for such a project.
Furthermore, a group called Citizens to Save College Avenue filed a lawsuit against the city of Claremont last year in an attempt to stop the plans and force Pomona to build the museum elsewhere.
The lawsuit alleged that the city did not properly analyze the environmental impacts of moving Renwick House in its Environmental Action Report, and, in the process violated the California Environmental Quality Act. The lawsuit was dismissed this February.
Ultimately, the city council approved Pomona’s construction plans by a 3-2 vote on Feb. 14, 2017, allowing the school to move forward with development.
Even after the failed lawsuit, opposition to Pomona’s plans has continued. On May 15, Martin McLeod, a representative of a group called Claremonters for Honest Governance, filed a complaint against the city of Claremont and the Claremont City Council.
While Pomona was not named as a defendant in this complaint, it was identified as a ‘real party of interest.’ Additionally, in a recent letter to the editor of the Claremont Courier, McLeod claimed that the college disregarded community input about the museum.
The writ alleges that Pomona and its contractors violated twelve construction regulations, that the city did not appropriately consider objections by opponents of the plan, and that city officials colluded with Pomona and its legal team, according to the Claremont Courier.
Pomona College News Director Mark Kendall disputed McLeod’s claims in a statement to the Claremont Courier.
“Pomona College strongly disagrees with the allegations in Mr. McLeod’s petition,” Kendall wrote. “They are simply inaccurate, and do not fairly reflect the years of meaningful discussion and dialogue between the college and the wider community over plans for the new Pomona College Museum of Art.”
The current art museum will likely be demolished to make room for an expanded Thatcher Music Building.