Ed Tessier ’91 turned dying
downtown Pomona into a vibrant Arts Colony with some help from family
and the skills he learned at the College.
By Mark Kendall
Ed Tessier ’91 grew up watching downtown Pomona die. The sporting goods
store where he got his first baseball glove closed. So did the
department store where he bought his Cub Scout uniform. So did the lunch
counter where his grandpa used to buy him root beer floats.
Shortly after graduating from the College, Tessier set about bringing
downtown Pomona back to life.
While in school, Tessier majored in urban sociology and used Pomona’s
downtown for case studies. Still, he never planned to undertake a
crusade to save it. He expected to wind up behind a desk in some city
planning department, “playing with colored pencils the rest of my life.”
But his father, Victor, a prominent Pomona attorney, had suffered
multiple heart attacks and in 1992 asked his children (Ed, Jerry and
Vicki) to take over six buildings he owned downtown. They could have
unloaded the properties, but felt too much of a connection with the
”It was an emotional decision,” says Tessier.
Tessier remembered the words of one of his mentors, Pomona sociology
professor Robert Herman. “He had a mantra,” says Tessier. “That even in
the most distressed neighborhoods there’s always something that works.
The goal should be to find it and nurture it.”
After months of research, Tessier’s first plan was to turn the area into
a Latino-oriented businesses district. Latinos now were the majority in
Pomona, and such retail efforts had been successful elsewhere in the Los
Angeles area. But it turned out another developer had proposed doing the
same thing elsewhere in Pomona, and the city told Tessier to come up
with something else for downtown.
The downtown already was home to an underground arts scene, with
“guerilla artists” occupying empty buildings, hosting exhibitions and
poetry slams. Tessier decided to tap into the existing vibe and proposed
turning the area into an arts district centered along Second Street,
west of Garey Avenue.
By 1993, Tessier had opened (with a business partner) The Haven, a
combination gallery and coffee house. Downtown artists came out of the
woodwork and connected there. But the place wasn’t just drawing crowds
on weekend nights. It was drawing scrutiny from the city, as Tessier
tells it, with visits from code enforcement and other agencies. He saw
this as part of the longstanding tension between downtown artists and
Tessier describes this time as one of the most stressful in his life,
and he remembers one incident where a crowd outside the Haven started
rocking a police car.
Tessier and others in the colony decided they needed more political
support. So they got involved in the election campaign for city council,
questioning candidates and raising money for the ones that supported the
arts. During this time, the city happened to be undergoing a political
shift after switching from at-large city council elections to council
districts, and this gave more power to the city’s Latino majority.
The aftermath of the 1993 elections brought a quick change in city
attitudes toward the arts colony, according to Tessier, and the council
passed new codes designed to help it along. The city formally designated
the area as an arts colony and assigned about 20 square blocks for
During this time, the coalition-building skills Tessier learned at
Pomona College came in handy. A quadriplegic since a body-surfing
accident as a teen, Tessier campaigned for greater disabled access on
campus when he attended the College. Since there were few Claremont
Colleges students with disabilities, Tessier lined up the support of
feminists, Latino groups and others in a “rainbow coalition.”
“I learned so much about navigating and building a multicultural team”
while at the College, says Tessier. That was “absolutely indispensable
both in getting political support for the arts colony and then guiding
its early years as an urban multicultural neighborhood.”
Meanwhile, the economic environment also brought opportunity. The early
’90s recession was particularly sharp in Southern California, causing
property values to plunge and allowing the Tessiers to buy up more
downtown buildings on the cheap.
With a critical mass of property and newfound support from the city, the
arts colony began to take off. New stores filled empty storefronts. The
Glass House concert venue opened with a performance by popular band No
Doubt, drawing hundreds of people.
The once-a-month Saturday night Art Walk was instituted, drawing more
visitors downtown. Tessier remembers heading downtown around 8 p.m. on a
Saturday night and not being able to find a parking space – a sure sign
During this time, the Tessiers were adding a loft every month and
filling another storefront every other month. For years, there has been
a waiting list for artist's lofts. “It’s definitely an established urban
neighborhood,’’ says Tessier. “If we never do another thing there it
will grow and thrive in its own right.”
But Tessier isn’t done downtown. The emphasis is shifting to new
construction as he runs out of old structures to renovate. Over the
years, many downtown building were torn down for parking lots, creating
gaps that Tessier would like to fill in with new structures.
Today other developers also are working downtown to transform old
structures and build new ones for housing and stores – projects that
would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. “We’re far from alone any
more,” says Tessier.
For the Tessiers, the project has been a family effort. Ed is president
of Arteco Partners, which handles the property and community relations
management aspect of the business. His brother, Jerry, runs Jeved
Management, the development arm of the business. Their sister, Vicki
Tessier ’91, lives in the arts colony.
And now the Tessiers are moving beyond Pomona to create another art
colony in the nearby city of Ontario’s aging downtown. They expect to
have 70 artists lofts completed within 18 months.
With home costs skyrocketing in Southern Californians, many creative
arts professionals – makeup artists and architects, scriptwriters and
web designers – are being priced out of the housing market in Los
Angeles and Orange counties, says Tessier. So they’re joining the larger
wave of people moving to the Inland Empire for cheaper housing. The
problem, according to Tessier, is that they wind up scattered and
isolated. His goal is to create places where they can congregate and
”I think dealing with the creative arts wave is one of the Inland
Empire’s biggest opportunities,” says Tessier. “And not enough people
are onto it yet.”