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Big Bridges

Bridges Auditorium at Pomona College

Bridges Auditorium (called “Big Bridges” to distinguish it from Mabel Shaw Bridges Hall of Music, known as “Little Bridges,”) was built in 1931 in the center of Pomona’s campus but belonged until recently to the consortium of The Claremont Colleges. Over the decades, the 2,400-seat auditorium has been the setting for appearances by notable figures ranging from Sergei Rachmaninoff, Bono and Hillary Clinton to Amelia Earhart, Johnny Cash, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bill Cosby.

Big Bridges was built several years after Little Bridges, but funded by the same donor, Appleton Shaw Bridges (joined by his brother-in-law H.H. Timken), who had a continued interest in music and noticed a need for a large auditorium. Architect William Templeton Johnson referred to the design of the building as a “free adaptation of notrhtner Italian Renaissance architecture.” Its dramatic exterior includes columns, vaulted arches and three massive wooden entrance doors. Of particular note are the engraved names and faces of five composers (Wagner, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach and Schubert) above the arches, which was indicative of civic buildings at that time.

(A notable prank occurred in the late 1960s when Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention played Big Bridges. Someone created a wooden facsimile that read Zappa with an image of the musician’s face and a marijuana leaf, and slipped it in front of the Wagner section, luckily with no damage to the building.)

Another significant feature of the building is the interior ceiling. The 22,000-square-foot ceiling, a parabola extending from the top of the proscenium arch to the rear wall, designed to offer ideal acoustics for vocal and instrumental music. On its concave surface a fresco by artist John Smeraldi, who created the star-filled ceiling of New York City’s Grand Central Station, depicts the signs of the zodiac in silver and gold against a blue field.

Note: Some of this information was gleaned and excerpted from Pomona College: Reflections on a Campus.