Friday, December 28, 2012

More good Claremont thoughts

In my last post, I brought up some good - or at least amusing - things in Claremont. Here’s another, as I explored in my column which appeared in the Claremont Courier early this month.

It was great to see the write-up in these pages on Bridges Auditorium a few weeks ago, including a nice full-color photo on the front page.


Don’t get me wrong. I love this grand old theater on the Pomona College campus and have many wonderful memories, literally a lifetime of wonderful memories, of Big Bridges, as it is often called.

One of my strongest memories is of when I couldn’t get in. I went to hear Jesse Jackson speak on a weekday when he was running for president, only to have the front door close on me. I banged on the front door - yes, I literally banged on the front door - and was told there was no more room. Really? The gigantic auditorium was so full that there was no room for me? I had to go over to the side of the building and listen in on a speaker that kept going in and out.

Fortunately, I was able to get in many, many other times - maybe hundreds of times - over the last forty years or so. One of my earliest memories of Bridges Auditorium is my mother and I with tears streaming down our faces, laughing at Bill Cosby.

I remember seeing Marcel Marceau, the renowned French mime, two or three times, after he kept saying that he would no longer perform. And I won’t forget seeing Harry Belafonte, a true entertainer, putting on quite a show when he was well into his sixties.

I also have special memories of going more recently with a friend who had never been to Big Bridges to see Claremont High School’s production of Cats. Sure, it was a treat to see the students, as well as my awed friend, in the big-time theater, but who else but the indefatigable Krista Elhai, the CHS theater director, could get high school boys to wear, let alone sing and dance in bib overalls with tails sewn onto their butts?

No doubt many of us in Claremont have many such memories of going to Bridges Auditorium as I did to hear such people as Sandra Day O’Connor, Bill Clinton, Spike Lee, Bono, Michael Moore and Ralph Nader and to be entertained by the likes of Margaret Cho, the Ahman Folk Ensemble, Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, Judy Collins, the Lar Lubovich Dance Company, Ben Harper and Willie Nelson, what is returning later this Winter. Many of us have also gone there for performances by the Inland Pacific Ballet Company and student groups like the ballroom dancers and the a-capella singers that I wrote about last month.

Yes, I’m sure we all love Bridges Auditorium and having this great, world-class theater, that has featured world-class acts, right here. That some of us don’t have to drive to get there is a bonus treat.

So why does it need to be saved or revived? And why does it need saving and reviving again?

This is why I didn’t like about the recent Courier article. Or what I didn’t like about it. Here is this immense 2,500-seat theater, built in a grand Italian style and completed in 1932 and named for a Pomona College student that died and which, as I always understood to be the largest collegiate auditorium on the West Coast if not west of the Mississippi, looks as if it might take over the campus and perhaps all of Claremont, and the big, happy news is that there have been a few shows scheduled for this school year (comedian Eddie Izzard on December 2, a musical production of A Christmas Carol on December 8 and 9 and Nelson in February, along with two ballet productions).

Something is really wrong here.

Yes, it is wonderful that, now under Pomona College’s purview, Bridges Auditorium has a new administrator, Christopher Waugh, who is thrilled to be in charge of the facility that he calls “stunning.” Yes, it is great that there is renewed commitment, with, according to Mr. Waugh, the college “absolutely looking at ways we can create a sustainable staffing pattern for the space” and “bringing back the classic Bridges” that was “about bringing world-class leaders, speakers and artists to the colleges and to the surrounding colleges and community.”

But why is this an issue? Why is this commitment “great news?” Why hasn’t there been this commitment?

What is more disturbing is that we have seen this story before. Every five years or so, for as long as I can remember, there has been an article in these pages about this magnificent white building, with hand-wringing over it being run down and not being used or with giddy hope about it coming back and being revived to its former glory.

Why is Big Bridges’ glory always former?

Also, in these articles more recently, it’s is mentioned that the theater has been handed off between Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium, like the proverbial hot potato. This latest article states that Pomona College obtain Big Bridges this time for $1.

$1. Like it was being given away. Like nobody wants it.

Definitely not like a magnificent, world-class treasure. And it’s certainly not used like a magnificent, world-class treasure. When I attended U.C Riverside, the University Theater brought in two or three shows each months during the school year. I often attended, and music ensembles and contemporary dance companies were emphasized. Also, it appears that UCLA’s Royce Hall is always booked with an impressive, big-name line-up. And these are in the U.C system, which isn’t exactly rolling in dough.

The article also mentioned a show with Taylor Swift that was filmed this Fall for a television broadcast. Apparently, “with colored lights bathing the 22,000-square-foot ceiling, famously embellished with a gold and silver-leaf rendering of the Zodiac, the 2500-seat theater his never looked better.”

Bridges manager Sharon Kuhn commented, “They took what we had already, this beautiful ceiling, and just highlighted it. It was glowing.”

Too bad Big Bridges isn’t always lit up and glowing.

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