Historical Society of La Verne
The City of La Verne was founded in 1887 as Lordsburg, after its founder, promoter I.W. Lord. It was incorporated in 1906, and in 1917 the name was changed to La Verne.
The fruit from hundreds of acres of orange trees made it known as “Heart of the Orange Empire,” but a citrus disease and new housing development after World War II saw groves being bulldozed for tract homes.
In 1969 the City Council became concerned about the loss of history and appointed a Cultural Heritage Commission to seek a solution. The chair, Rose Palomares, born in Lordsburg in 1894, was one of the daughters of early settler Jose Dolores Palomares. A teacher, she had a keen sense of history, and well remembered the dusty little streets of her childhood.
The Commission recommended that La Verne start a historical society, so an “Old-Timers Picnic” was held in Kuns Park. More than a hundred persons came. They dined, talked of the old days, and elected officers and a board to form a historical society. The group has met regularly for more than forty years.
For the first few years the meetings were quite formal, held in public halls, opening with a flag salute and invocation. Lecturers spoke. The society began to accumulate old photographs and historical records, books, yearbooks, and all sorts of artifacts from the orange grove days. An old house was donated for a museum, but the low-budget group had no funds to move it - just income from dues and donations. The house was unfortunately bulldozed.
Smarting from this loss, the society, under President Inman Conety set up a collection center for old newspapers and glass. Conety trucked the paper and glass to recycling centers in his 1938 International truck.
The funds raised by recycling were used to publish a history: La Verne - the Story of the People Who Made a Difference. City Historian Evelyn Hollinger, a newspaper reporter and city welcome lady, wrote the book after interviewing old-time residents and reading hundreds of old news articles in the Pomona Progress-Bulletin and the La Verne Leader. The book was printed as an exercise at a Los Angeles trade school. Members of our group filed around tables and assembled the sections for binding. Copies of the history were placed in schools and libraries. Book sales brought in funds for projects, one being microfilming of the La Verne Leader. (Supplies of the book have been sold out.)
Two groups became closely affiliated with the Historical Society
A group known as SOLVE – “Save Old La Verne’s Environment” – was formed early in the 1970s. Planning Commission member Robert Hoover encouraged a small group of young couples to get involved in trying to enhance the old part of town. Most were restoring older homes on tree-lined Third Street. The group became politically active when they found that city planners had rezoned the area from R-1 to R-4. This meant that old homes could be divided into apartments or razed for modern structures.
SOLVE members met in each others’ homes for planning sessions and attended meetings of the City Council, Planning Commission, and Commission on Environmental Quality. They raised funds by holding nine annual “Olde Home Tours” of fine old houses and pressed for preservation and beautification of the city. They were successful in getting the zoning changed, having a historic element added to the city’s master plan, and doing a survey of all the historic homes in La Verne. Finally, a hillside ordinance has preserved foothills and mountainsides.
A second group, the La Verne Heritage Foundation, was formed in 1984 by City Councilman Craig Walters. He closely identified with the citrus industry of the past and pressed to save a small part of the vanishing ‘orange empire’.
Walters and others worked to establish a park and preserve an adjoining orange grove in a small draw just below an old mansion. The developer building tract homes in the area arranged to have a derelict 1883 farmhouse moved to a site in the orange grove. It took several years but volunteers rebuilt and restored it to its original condition. Rusting old vehicles and farm equipment were rescued, a donated windmill was re-erected, and two old barns and other buildings were moved to the property. Conety’s International truck is a prized display.
SOLVE and the Heritage Foundation functioned as almost-independent arms of the non-profit Historical Society for several years. They met separately and had their own programs.
The Heritage Foundation eventually chose to secure its own non-profit status. The group’s volunteers in cooperation with the City, now preserve the orange grove and eastern section of the popular Heritage Park on Via de Mansion. The 1883 Weber House holds antique furniture and household items.
The park is popular all year around. A ‘Pumpkin Patch’ is held each fall and Christmas trees sold each December. In the spring, people pay a token fee to pick their own oranges. City-sponsored summer musical concerts are held in the western side of the park. The Heritage Foundation coordinates activities and merchants’ refreshment stands.
The Historical Society experienced an organizational crisis in 1991. Most of the original members had passed away, leaving a good treasury but few members. SOLVE, on the other hand, had well-attended meetings, but few funds. The decision was made to merge the two groups as “The Historical Society of La Verne / Save Old La Verne’s Environment,” previously known as HS/SOLVE. Now we use the official name, La Verne Historical Society, with the motto: Preserving Old La Verne's Environment: Making History for the Future." We have become active with a full program of monthly events and regular member meetings.
The group has assisted in forming the “Hands-On History” program of the Bonita School District. Each spring, hundreds of fourth-graders have a “Gold Rush” day in San Dimas Canyon panning for ‘gold’ and visit adobes to learn of Spanish Days in California. On Hands-on History bus tours, students are taken around La Verne and to La Casa Primera in Pomona. A teacher gives them a running commentary. The students hear of the orange packing houses, the homes and careers of eminent citizens, businesses, origin of our parks, and locations where buildings - such as the Lordsburg Hotel - once stood.
A high point of each tour is at the last stop, Heritage Park. Here students tour the Weber House, learn how to wash clothes on a washboard, admire a century-old windmill and old farm equipment, and get to pick an orange.
A historical marker program began the year 2000. HS/SOLVE has joined with house owners and the city to place bronze plaques at more than twenty residences. (A listing of these is available for self-guided tours.)
Our quarterly newsletter has articles of historical interest. Other stories appear in the La Verne Community News.
La Verne is a nice place to live. When Rose Palomares passed away at the age of 103 at the house she was born in, she was proud of her part in preserving our history.
Likewise, members of the Historical Society/SOLVE are proud of what has been done to save our history and preserve our environment.
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