La Verne Magazine
"La Verne's Borders: North, South, East and West"
The Western Connection:
La Verne's Do-Si-Do with San Dimas
by Kristen Dow
photography by Laura Ambriz
Right on the San Dimas-La Verne border, the single screen Canyon Theater
has been showing movies since 1966. John Hoar prepares for another evening
of selling tickets.
Cottony fog, followed by an unexpected rain shower, drenches the paved
streets of La Verne and San Dimas. Oil rises to the surface, creating the
unpleasant smell of a musty, old attic, and slick roads demand cautious,
Plugging along in an assembly line-like fashion, cars wait on San Dimas
Canyon Road, one-by-one turning into Holy Name of Mary School's overly crowded
parking lot. Parents, some already frantically late for work, drop their
blue and white uniformed youngsters off for another day of "reading,
writing and arithmetic."
Approximately one hour later, down the street, Mrs. Nelson's Toy and
Book Shop awakens from a night of childless slumber. Nestled on the southwest
corner of Bonita and Damien Avenues close to the La Verne and San Dimas
border, the quaint, independently owned children's store is constantly bombarded
A frequent stop for teachers, parents and children alike, Mrs. Nelson's
gives children the opportunity to enter new and fascinating worlds through
the magic of imagination.
Judy Nelson, owner of the establishment, purchased the vacant lot that
was to become her store in 1988. Nelson started her original business in
1985 at a 1,700-square-foot store in Covina, and when she wanted to expand,
she and her husband Byron Nelson began searching for land. In 1990, the
Covina store closed its doors, and the 6,000-square-foot La Verne location
opened for business.
A couple of blocks away from Mrs. Nelson's is the intersection between
Bonita Avenue and San Dimas Canyon Road. San Dimas Canyon Road serves as
the breaking point between La Verne -- the town known for world-famous oranges
and the University of La Verne -- and San Dimas, the city which harbors
an "old west" feeling complete with a plethora of antique stores
on Bonita's Frontier Village.
One obvious difference between the San Dimas and La Verne sections of
San Dimas Canyon Road is the residential life. Personalized single family
homes line the streets within the La Verne border. Built in the 1970s, most
have been owned for many years by the same families, and the originality
of each house reflects the residents who dwell inside. Dotting the San Dimas
side of the street, however, is a multitude of apartment complexes. Only
farther within the border do houses finally appear.
Darrel Florentine, salesman for Century 21 Citrus Realty in San Dimas,
explains that there is virtually no difference on the border in housing
costs between San Dimas and La Verne. Only when reaching the heart of La
Verne, near the University, do housing prices begin to rise. He notes, though,
that houses on the La Verne side of the street may be slightly more expensive
because they are newer than San Dimas homes by approximately 10 years. For
example, one 1,440 square-foot, three bedroom, one and three-fourths bath
La Verne home on Bellgrove Street had an asking price of $172,500 in mid-October
1997. Florentine says that the majority of potential house buyers do not
take into consideration whether they will be living in San Dimas or La Verne,
"It's like Covina, West Covina. There's not much of a difference."
Differences between the two cities do exist. San Dimas residents are
served by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, while the city of
La Verne funds its own police force. The County of Los Angeles Fire Department
answers calls for San Dimas; La Verne supports its own fire department.
However, the two cities share the same school district: Bonita Unified.
Whether hunting for homes or apartments, prospective residents find
that San Dimas Canyon Road provides a variety of housing choices.
With reasonable rent varying from $675 to $875 per month for two and
three bedroom apartments, many ULV students make their homes within the
quiet walls of the San Dimas Canyon Apartments. With a large variety of
leafy plants and trees, the shady apartment complex provides students with
a spacious alternative to residential hall life.
Donna La Moore, resident manager of the apartment complex, says approximately
20 percent of the residents are college students, the majority of whom attend
ULV. The remaining tenants consist of families, retired people and married
Missing only the swallows that flock to and from San Juan Capistrano,
the mission-revival style F.E. Weymouth Filtration Plant is one of five
filtration plants in Southern California.
La Moore and her husband Richard never have objections to renting to
college students. "Most of the time we have a lot of success,"
La Moore says. "The girls usually are pretty cool. Some-times there
is too much noise with the guys. But there are a few groups of guys right
now who never give us a bit of a problem."
For entertainment, the residents of the San Dimas Canyon Apartments
need look no farther than their own backyards-literally. Tucked into the
corner of a deserted, ghost town-like shopping center on the corner of Bonita
Avenue and San Dimas Canyon Road in San Dimas rests the ever-present Canyon
Theatre. The single screen movie theater and a few other businesses are
the only surviving establishments in the otherwise abandoned Canyon Road
As one enters the theater, the enticing smell of freshly popped, buttered
popcorn wafts into her nose. Red carpet with once colorful, now faded, designs
is worn from years of being tread upon. Posters for "007 Tomorrow Never
Dies" and "An American Werewolf in Paris" are displayed on
the wall. Multi-colored lights reminiscent of the `70s dangle from the ceiling.
Featuring only one film at a time, the 500-seat movie theater has prices
that cannot be beaten. Before 6 p.m., admission is $3 for everyone. After
6 p.m., the price jumps to $5 for general admission; for children and seniors,
the price remains at $3.
Theater Manager Jamie Gibson explains that the theater has been there
since 1965 or `66, and Gene Harvey has owned it for approximately 20 of
those years. "He owned it twice," Gibson explains. "He sold
it, then reacquired it when they [the new owners] couldn't pay the bills."
In addition to the Canyon Theatre, Harvey owns and operates three more
theaters, two in the Pasadena area and one in San Fernando Valley. He and
the rest of the staff divide their time among the four theaters.
"San Dimas has always ended up being a home base office,"says
Gibson with a grin, "since Mr. Harvey lives in Claremont." Gibson
notes that the Canyon Theatre is in competition with multiplex theaters
such as Edwards Cinema on Foothill Boulevard in La Verne. The Canyon Theatre
cannot run films for more than three weeks for financial reasons, and that
makes it difficult to compete with larger movie theaters that can afford
to run films for up to 20 weeks.
Because the theater can only show one film at a time, choosing which
film to run can sometimes be a difficult decision. "Film selection
is basically determined on a negotiation basis," Gibson says. "We
go with the film that will bring in the most business for the theater."
The number of people who frequent the theater varies greatly according to
the featured film, whether it is a weekday or weekend, and what time the
film is showing. "We could have 500 people here because that's how
many seats we have," Gibson says, "or we could have three."
Gibson deems the establishment a "family kind of theater."
He claims many patrons feel comfortable with the theater because they know
the employees and vice-versa. "People feel safe dropping their kids
off here," Gibson says. "Parents have a tendency to be not as
willing to leave their kids at a multiplex." This factor is the biggest
draw for the Canyon Theatre. It is seen as a safe-haven for children. "This
theater does its best business with family movies, PG, Disney," Gibson
Sometimes, movie studios do not agree with the Canyon Theatre's prices,
he says. This is a problem when it comes to negotiation for certain films.
The theater looks for films which would do the best business. However, sometimes
studios will not rent the films to the Canyon because their prices are much
lower than those of larger area movie theaters. "They [movie studios]
want us to be charging $6 and $6.50," Gibson says.
Directly across the street from the Canyon Theater stands an abundance
of single-family homes. As one turns east down Gladstone Street and travels
for a few blocks, an unusual sight will appear. Nestled into a shady corner,
is the Bethany Wedding Chapel. Built approximately 25 years ago, the quaint
brick-red and white building hosts up to 85 guests for wedding services.
Owned and operated by Miriam Fiscus and her second husband, Duane Loomis,
Bethany Wedding Chapel was originally built as a church by Fiscus' first
husband, who was a reverend. It was only after Rev. Fiscus died that the
chapel was used exclusively for wedding ceremonies. "Two to three weddings
a week is what we average," says Loomis with a grin. "Sometimes
more, sometimes less." Reservation of the chapel costs $295 for two
hours. Couples must provide their own minister for the ceremony.
Loomis and Fiscus dwell in the house adjacent to the chapel. Surrounded
by pink and white flowers and an abundance of foliage, the house and chapel
exude a New England-like country charm in the midst of a suburban neighborhood.
"There are no dull moments around here. We've always got something
going on," Fiscus chuckles.
Inside the chapel, one is charmed by the white lace window curtains,
silk floral arrangements and old fashioned oil lamps that adorn the walls.
Outside, there is a white swing on which brides may pose for photographs,
and a brick path lined with flowers. After wedding ceremonies, the steeple
bell is rung in honor of the newly married couple. "I sort of designed
it. We [she and Rev. Fiscus] worked together on it," Fiscus says wistfully
of the chapel's construction.
Continuing east down Gladstone Street, an ominous grey stone building
towers into view. Those not familiar with the area may deem it a Catholic
church for its mission revival style architecture. However, it is in fact
the F. E. Weymouth Filtration Plant, one of five filtration plants within
the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Red brick steps lead up to the aquatic sanctuary, which receives the
majority of its water from the Colorado River via the Metropolitan's 242-mile
aqueduct. Additional water flows in from Northern California rivers, streaming
down the 444-mile California Aqueduct.
"There are 500 people on this site, divided into three main groups
with 100 people each," says Kay Randals, field office administrator
for the Weymouth plant. "The others are spread around throughout the
While walking around the grounds, Randals explains that the area surrounding
the building was recently re-landscaped because the plants and trees had
become so overgrown that they covered some of the building's Spanish-style
arches and Native American-influenced designs.
Built in 1940, La Verne's plant is the only Metropolitan Water District
building that features this unique style of architecture. Randals notes
the Aztec zigzag design for water is consistent throughout the building.
In the massive domed-ceiling foyer, there are light and dark green tiles
that zigzag around the floor and walls. Outside, the design repeats, etched
into the stone walls, protecting the precious liquid that flows within.
Presently under construction is a new water quality lab that is located
across the street from the Weymouth plant. Randals says that although the
new building is very modern, the architects will "try to tie the outside
to us" by including similar archways in the design and keep the mission
Sometimes, in an area of town, one may find a treasure that seems out
of place. In this border area of San Dimas and La Verne, there are several
unexpected delights: a corner bookstore, a hidden movie theater, a tiny
chapel, a towering water-filtering temple. It only takes patience to hunt
for these unique treasures that, once discovered, are not soon forgotten.
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