Framed: A love letter to Pomona’s campus

An illustration of two architectural figures fighting.
(Crystal Yang • The Student Life)

In past semesters, my column has focused on the Claremont Colleges’ major works of art. Now, I want to take a broader look at the campuses themselves, delving into the architecture of the dorms, dining halls and outdoor spaces that define our experience living in Claremont. 

What does “campus” mean to us as a student body? And how does the built environment influence that meaning? It may seem counterintuitive to ask these questions during the time we are actually prevented from experiencing the physical campus, but I think our removal gives us the space to reflect on what the campus means to us in a way that living on it everyday does not. 

Alternatively, you can think of this column as something like a love letter to the campus spaces we share with each other. I’ll start with Pomona College, the founding member of the consortium, and cover each of the 5Cs throughout the semester. 

There is something very particular about our American tradition of college campuses, encapsulated in this quote by the modernist architect Le Corbusier: “The American campus is a world in itself, a temporary paradise, a gracious stage of life.”

All that a campus is, really, is a collection of buildings, but they are planned in such a way to create a tight-knit community of students and faculty who strive toward academic and personal growth. And Pomona’s campus does an excellent job of supporting — even defining — that goal. 

Pomona was founded in 1887 with the intention of creating “a college of the New England type,” and it does resemble archetypal New England schools like Middlebury College and Amherst College: it has a large central quad, stately columned buildings and residence halls. But Pomona has always remained an unquestionably Southern Californian school. Ultimately, the campus reflects tension between the classic East Coast liberal arts tradition and the more relaxed Southern California lifestyle. 

Built over the course of more than 100 years, Pomona’s architectural styles are varied, from Neoclassical to Spanish Colonial Revival to uber-modernist. Throughout all its history, though, a strong emphasis on spaces that facilitate both an indoor and outdoor lifestyle have remained. 

Almost every single residence hall, for example, is situated by or around courtyards, with calm bubbling fountains, benches and tables for lounging and socializing and cool, inviting trees and lawns. Most dining halls have patios for outdoor eating, and there are many spots with tables outside where students frequently study or hang out. As a brochure guide to Claremont’s campuses puts it, “As open spaces the courts are not merely voids between structures; they are compositions of space and landscape elements.”

One way to envision the scope of architectural styles on Pomona’s campus is to follow a typical student’s day. A regular school day would begin with the student waking up in Sontag Hall, one of the newest dorms on campus (if they had had a high room draw number). Sontag and Dialynas Hall, its neighbor, represent the most current architectural style of the college — they are minimal and modernist, built to the highest standards of sustainability and are stunningly nice places to live. 

Then our Sagehen would grab their backpack and head toward South Campus for class, maybe stopping to grab breakfast at Frary Dining Hall (architecturally significant for its two important murals) before crossing 6th Street and reaching Marston Quad on their way to class. 

Marston Quad, the center of campus, was part of the “Pomona College Campus Plan” presented by architect Myron Hunt in 1908. Hunt was quite prominent in Southern California at the time, having also designed buildings at Occidental College and the Huntington Library in Los Angeles. For his work at Pomona, he looked to a classic college campus for inspiration: the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson. The quadrangle is expansive and serene, crossed by pathways and sweeping vistas of the buildings that flank it through the shade-giving trees.

Many of the most important buildings at Pomona abut the quad, like the Bridges — Big and Little — both auditoriums commemorating Pomona student Mabel Shaw Bridges ’1908. Wanting to reference the Mexican and Spanish heritage of Southern California, Hunt designed Little Bridges in the style of a Romanesque basilica and included features such as colorful painted wood beams on the ceiling. 

Across the wide expanse of grass is Big Bridges, with its large graceful arches and Art Deco details. It was designed later, in 1931, by William Templeton Johnson, who intended for it to resemble European concert halls. The huge building can be read as a projection of faith in Pomona’s future relevance (when it was built, it seated more than double the student body). 

And at the end of Marston Quad is Carnegie Hall, one of the most recognizable façades at Pomona. Our hypothetical student would run up the wide stairs toward the columned entrance of this Classical Revival building to make it to class on time. Originally one of the many libraries donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Hall now hosts social science departments and has many typical Neoclassical features, such as its Ionic columns, a triangular portico and a symmetrical design. 

Finally, at the end of the day, the Pomona student would meander back through campus and inevitably run into friends sitting in a courtyard, perhaps in the Smith Student Center or at Skyspace

The history and importance of many buildings on Pomona’s campus are rich and varied, particularly due to its status as the oldest school in the consortium. The campus is not just the home of the Pomona community, but the architectural styles and choices also tell the story of the college and the many different generations that have passed through it. A beautiful campus is more than just that: it represents a school’s values — both its past and future. While the campus speaks to Pomona’s status as an outstanding liberal arts college, it is still always a comfortable and welcoming home for students.

Frances Sutton PO ’21 is TSL’s art columnist. She is an art history major who enjoys sewing and attempting to convince people that her hometown of San Francisco is the best city in the world. She would like to thank George Gorse, professor of art history, for his suggestions and advice on this column.

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