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Walking Tour: Downtown Pomona

July 14, 2010

Mosaic goddess

Pomona, population approximately 150,000, is about a half-hour from Riverside and one of my favorite places for both junk and antique shopping. Situated midway between the Inland Empire and the San Gabriel Valley, it shares the same dry, hot climate. Home to both Cal Poly, and the Western University of Health Sciences, the downtown area has an array of nightclubs and restaurants with student appeal. Also downtown is the Arts and Antiques area and a look at their website, click here, shows an array of activities that includes everything from farmers markets to concerts to art exhibits. On Sunday morning Paul and I head out Pomona way to take in the sights. We arrive early, before many of the shops have opened, so we take a walk on the outskirts of East Second Street, away from the main arts and antiques area. The fountain above is one of several to be found on Second Street, and all share the same 60s look, and are in varying states of repair. This one depicts the Roman goddess of plenty, and the city’s namesake: Pomona. Nestled comfortably in a branch while balancing a bountiful fruit harvest, this goddess is remarkably serene, and I really love the color and style of the mosaic. When optimistically gifted to the city’s people “for their enjoyment”, Pomona was a city with much promise. In today’s current economic climate that promise seems long-withdrawn, and empty storefronts and abandoned buildings abound, especially at this end of the street …

Road to nowhere

The extraordinary paint job on this little abandoned building hints at a dream of fun and festivity. But, tt’s the stark little mural inside the archway — a star-bereft road to nowhere — that tells the fate of that dream. Alone, at the end of a blank block, its colorful exterior seems rather sad.

Sculpture at the ready

A block or so away, behind a tall chain-link fence, is a sculpture garden/event space. Industrial hybrids and weird warlike creatures seem to stand at the ready, should they be called to defend their stark plot between these old brick buildings. This block is home to artist studios and galleries that specialize in roughly trendy works and I have the sense that the occupants are still sleeping off Saturday night’s revelries. Loft-y live/work spaces are being created and sold in a surrounding brick industrial building. Paul and I have checked out the still-under-construction condo units and they’re interesting, if a bit bleak; I can’t help but wonder what the occupancy level is these days. Beyond this block, are long-established, and bustling working class neighborhoods, as well as small factories and other businesses.

Lively corner

The Pomona Antique Row shops have opened finally and I head into one of several mall-type shops, Pomona Antique Center. Relatively small, it still boasts dozens of separate shops. As with most of the shops here, it’s not uncommon to experience sensory overload; there’s stuff literally floor-to-ceiling! I don’t often find much here but I do always have to check this booth’s wares. This dealer usually has an interesting combination of art, including small sculptural pieces, pottery and glassware and miscellanea on display, and at terrific prices. We got some great handmade semi-circular bedside tables from here which I love for both their shape and functionality. Moving across the street to Antique Mart, a huge mall with three floors’ worth of goods …

Three floors of interesting

… it’s almost too much to deal with at one time. Display cases inside the entry are loaded with jewelry, glassware and crystal and other precious and breakable objects and I find them too daunting and delicate for the likes of me. Having been here many times before, I know I can usually find some interesting mid-20th century furniture and decorative objects on the third, and ground, floors, so I head there first. In the top picture, a beleaguered Jesus seems out of place circled by the accoutrements of stylish gals of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Next, a great wrought iron circle planter, complete with terra cotta pot, is a bit rich for my blood at $225, but very nice. (I bought 4 of this type of metal planter a few months back for a fraction of this price; I’m still looking for the pots, however.) The following two pictures give an idea of the range of quality in decorative items on offer, and it’s a wide one. I particularly like the abstract metal firebird and carved wooden mushroom. Lastly, in the basement, I come upon what seems like a kinky little gathering that includes a Dynasty-era vixen, a too-finely-cheekboned Superman in a beret, and a chipper little letterman in duct-tape bondage. Great accidental surrealism and looks like fun, but it’s time to move on …

Chinoiserie, anyone?

A surprise among all the antiques, is Golden Treasures Chinese Antiques, dealers of Chinese imports and antiquities. I love the diverse collection here and there’s much to see. Antique furniture, including beds and storage pieces and trunks, are available in many colors and finishes. Every kind of decorative item is presented floor-to-super-high-ceiling and the richness of color is enticing. Garden-ready items would look equally great outdoors or in, although you’d need a crew of strong-backed helpers to move the more monumental pieces. For something very, very different, I move back across the street …

Memories of war

Kaiser Bill’s Military Emporium is the perfect place to spend the day for people who either participated in World Wars I or II, or who have an avid interest in them. I say spend the day because this place is jam-packed and it would take a whole day (okay, make that a month) to root through it all. Posters, uniforms, equipment, helmets, boots, flags, etc., it’s all here. Memorabilia and artifacts abound, and I admit I find this shop scary, as well as sad and disturbing. I don’t stay long. The shoppers here make me nervous, and there’s something about the excitement of buyers searching for Nazi items I find off-putting … I gotta get back to where I once belonged and head to that palace of all things pop culture:

Swingin' tunes

Old Town Pomona Antique Mall and Collectibles! An expansive time capsule of Boomer generation childhood artifacts and toys, mixed in with collectible products from earlier eras, vintage clothing and tools and any number of bizarro, “I remember that!!“-type stuff … There are expensive oddities (fossilized dinosaur poop, anyone?) as well all the Sci-Fi gew-gaws to make any geek verklempt. Look at the LP collection above. When was the last time you saw a ‘Relax with Bent Fabric’ album? Surely you remember his big hit, ‘Omkring et Flygel’, right? Me, neither … but the point is there’re obscure riches here, ready to be discovered! This is another mall on the row that would take multiple visits just to take it all in, but it’s really fun and definitely worth it, if you have any interest in pop culture. All the remaining pictures in this post are from this mall, so let’s have a look around …

PB&J carriers of all types

Whether you carried your tuna fish and Twinkies in a Rocky and Bullwinkle, or favored the more psychedelic, Op art version, a lunch pail was de rigueur for kids of my generation. If you had one, it’s probably here …

Yum! Flav-a-Pop!

I love looking at old packaging. The colors and type styles are so inspiring, and it’s easy to get a sense of the time when these products were popular. A set decorator’s dream, this place is a treasure trove of period-perfect merchandise. Most of these products seem geared toward kids and women …

Coffee, tea, tin

… while these seem geared toward everyone with a need for caffeine. Tins for tea seem delicate and exotic, both in color and imagery, while the containers for coffee are bolder, with more saturated, strong colors. I’m a coffee guy myself and I find myself really responding to the graphic strength of the typography.

Argh! So many eyes!

A most fun thing to do here is to peer into display cases loaded with toys, and finding that thing you had when you were five years-old, and realizing you have no idea what happened to it. Then, realizing suddenly how much you miss it. Also fun is peering into a case and being confronted by google-eyed dollies, gollywogs of all types, macho boy-dolls, anthropomorphic tubers and even Gene Simmons, complete with lolling tongue!

Hot rods and Pez

Cheesy-but-fun collectibles like Pez candy dispensers are here for the picking, as well as Matchbox cars for aficionados both old and new. It’s fun to see little kids delighted by the sight of the same junk that made us clap our hands with joy. Well, not me. I hated cars. Still do.

Natural history in plush

Like a softer, cuddlier, more threadbare diorama at the Museum of Natural History, this jumble of plush stuffed animals seems both pathetic and hilarious at the same time. Bunnies, bears, lions, chickens, porcupines and even a hippo, have found a habitat away from their once-loving kid owners here. With no one to hug them now, they have to depend on each other for love.


At the literal top of the heap are these two — the Hera and Zeus of American pop culture icons — Elvis and Marilyn. A little flat now, being made of cardboad, they’re ready to dress up a family room. Or, maybe that special dimly-lit place in a corner of the garage where one can be alone with someone who’s known trouble in their life and understands enough to have a true heart-to-heart …

Boy toys

Earth-movers and -shakers needed special equipment when we were kids, and those candy-colored vehicles are here, too. If you were a little boy — or girl — who dreamed of driving a well-loaded truck to a job-site of expectant hard-hats, your rig’s here. The streamlined models definitely look ready to roll …

Set decoration

Leftover set decoration from a big budget critical disaster (‘Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat’), sits atop display cases. The majority of buildings on the Pomona Antique Row had their facades painted in bright colors and stripes for the filming and the enormous turquoise hammer and nail served as signage for a cartoonish hardware store.

Pretty plastic

Let’s end with that queen of the toybox, Barbie. Not nearly as crass and knowing as today’s dolls for little girls (Bratz, feh!), Barbie, and, her lesser-known sisters, seemed to promise little girls a life of nice clothes, perfectly fitting shoes and a smooth guy named Ken (not to mention a nice car, and great place in Malibu). No, Barb wasn’t perfect, what with that unrealistically thin waist and impossibly pert, er, upper body, but still she served as a role model to millions of American girls… So, she and all the gals are here and they brought all their clothes, accessories and, in some cases, their original boxes with them. Watching grown women encounter their fashion doll-mentor in this display case, is to enjoy the sound of high-pitched squeals… All in all, this antique mall is a great way to go back in time, without all the dangerously unproven technology.

Pomona’s downtown antique and arts area can be a downer, and like many urban centers today, shows signs of struggle.  But, there’s still lots to enjoy, if you have the interest and stamina to look for it. Here, again, is the link to the downtown Pomona organization. Check them out if you love fun antiques, great junk, and discovering new places to enjoy art, food and music. You’ll be helping to keep a great downtown area alive!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2010 11:08 pm

    Fascinating…thank you for the tour. I always thought of Elvis and Marilyn more as Jesus and Mary Magdalene…

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 16, 2010 11:25 pm

      Thanks for commenting… will take a closer look later, but from a quick peek you’ve got some great pictures on your blog!

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