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The History of the College Heights Lemon Packing House

The College Heights Lemon Packing House is the last visible link to Claremont's pioneering history in the citrus industry. While largely perceived as a college town, Claremont's major source of income until after the World War II was the citrus industry. In addition, Claremont was the site of the state's first citrus cooperative. The California Fruit Growers' Association was formed in 1893 (only six years after the town was founded) in order to give its eleven growers greater control over their produce. In a town founded on cooperative ventures -- the building of 6 colleges, a Community Church which would house 40 different denominations, a cooperative water system, many voluntary associations, and a volunteer fire department -- it seemed natural for new citrus growers led by Peter Dreher to work together to boost their profits. They drew up a procedure whereby all their fruit would be graded and packed under expert supervision and marketed directly with established wholesalers in the east. This first association soon grew to three in Claremont; the largest one being College Heights Orange and Lemon Association, which had two packing houses along the Santa Fe tracks. The early Claremont Association also had the added distinction of sending the first direct shipment of California citrus to Europe in April 1893. In May, one box of these fruits reached Queen Victoria in time for her birthday. In the twentieth century, the College Heights Association was also a pioneer in shipping citrus to Japan.

The Packing House was also the direct point of contact with growers for most of the activities associated with citrus production. In addition to its regular functions of grading, packing, storing, shipping (and production of those citrus labels which are now collectors' items), many packing houses such as this one also performed other orchard services for growers, including the sale of oil for smudge pots, pruning, fumigating and spraying. The owner of this lemon house, the College Heights Orange and Lemon Association, even built a small "company town" of twelve houses just north of its orange Packing House to house Mexican field workers and their families. These concrete block houses were destroyed in the 1960's to make way for the Claremont city yard. However, as one of two Claremont barrios, it brought Mexicans into the life of the town, and many of the distinctive stone structures which dotted the citrus ranches-barns, pump houses, and ranch houses were built by skilled Mexican stone masons.

The College Heights Lemon Packing House is a long rectangular, two-story warehouse with a full basement built in stages from 1909 through 1946. Its function was to receive, process, store, then pack and ship the lemons grown by members of the College Heights Orange and Lemon Association who owned the building. Originally built of wood with a gable roof and attached sheds, it was enlarged and modified in 1922, 1931, 1934 and 1946, until it reached its present dimensions and appearance. The current building had (up until 2002, when the west wing was demolished) four distinct sections made of hollow clay tile, concrete, corrugated metal, and wood slats. It now has two sections, but it retains much of the same appearance it had at the height of citrus activity in this area (1920s-1950s) with some minor exterior and interior alterations. It still stands on the north side of the Santa Fe (now Metrolink) railroad tracks where the lemons were loaded into boxcars for shipment to Eastern markets.

The largest part of the current building is the long, central section, which has hollow-clay tile construction on the south, east, and west, and a corrugated metal and wood facade on the north. This section has three rows of saw-tooth roofing with skylights facing north. On the interior of this section is a large mezzanine extending 74 feet from the north side of the building. It is visible from the exterior as a slight overhang on the north facing platform with a row of multi-light windows set into the corrugated metal siding (the windows are currently boarded up). These windows and the skylights provide the only outside light for this large central section. Below this corrugated metal overhang, on the exterior, are sliding wooden doors and a wooden platform. Structural steel supports, and diagonal roof bracing are visible throughout the long, open interior of this central section, built in 1922 with the mezzanine added in 1946. It replaced the small wooden sheds of the original 1909 Packing House.

In this central section, lemons were unloaded from their field boxes at the north platform, put on conveyer belts to be washed and graded, wrapped, packed in crates, and loaded into railroad cars off the southern loading dock where there are large wooden doors. It was the hub of activity. In the basement, lemons were stored as long as five months, and when this storage area proved inadequate, the wings on either side were constructed (an east wing still remains).

In 1972, packing operations ceased and the building was sold. Citrus ranches were vanishing and giving way to tract housing through the entire area. Since that time, the Packing House equipment has been removed, but the interior spaces, which were very simple, have not been greatly altered. Under the mezzanine, spaces were partitioned for storage and rental, but these partitions have been removed. Through the 1980's, the building was used as a warehouse facility until it was purchased by the Claremont Redevelopment Agency.

Significant interior features that remain are the two large freight elevator shafts between the mezzanine and first floor, the heavy red metal fire door between the central and east storage wings, and the scale set into the floor next to this door. In addition, is the mezzanine itself and the exposed steel supports of the central section, which impress the viewer by their slender strength and openness.


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