Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Developing community is sometimes a matter of brick and mortar. Here are three alumni and some of the streetscapes they have transformed.

By Jill Walker Robinson and Mark Kendall

Mental Landscapes

Ronald Fleming '63 Founder of the Townscape Institute and pioneer of Main Street revitalizations.

When The Townscape Institute founder Ronald Lee Fleming '63 donated 30,000 daffodil bulbs to be planted in the western entryway to Newport, Rhode Island, he did so anonymously. But it didn't take long for word to get out and for Fleming to acquire the name, "The Daffodil King."

After more than 30 years as an urban planner and designer, preservation advocate and environmental educator, it makes perfect sense. Fleming is committed to preserving community landscapes and character and enhancing towns and cities with public art and other visual elements.

In this case, Newport is part of his stomping grounds. Fleming owns the Bellevue House, a Colonial Revival mansion built in 1910 by architect Ogden Codman Jr. At risk of being sold to a developer who planned to turn it into a "boutique" hotel, the house sat empty for seven years and was in disrepair when Fleming bought it in 1999. Some 7,000 daffodils bloom each year in his garden.

Children of Newport spent two years planting the daffodils at the entry point to the city, providing a mass of color that catches every eye. "It's poetic," says Fleming, who serves as a trustee of the Preservation Society for Newport County, which owns and manages some of the county's grandest historic mansions.

Townscape has worked in more than 100 communities and 10 countries to help interpret community identity. "You want to commission elements that give people a connection to the place, what I call the 'mental landscape' of associations," says Fleming. "Whether it's geology, folklore, history. Proprietorship of the place creates an ethical bond. This can sustain a feeling of responsibility to the place."

Fleming has committed himself to this sense of place, to "improve the livability of cities, towns and neighborhoods ... by advocating visual enhancement of the built environment and projects combining public art and urban design."

Fleming pioneered some of the early Main Street revitalization efforts in New England, including the redevelopment of blue-collar Chelsea, Mass., in the late 1970s. A $4.1 million federal grant helped transform the low-income city with brick sidewalks and streets as well as generous tree plantings. The innovative 2 Percent for Pedestrian Orientation program established public art throughout the waterfront community.

With several books on his cross-disciplinary approach to urban design, including a trilogy that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Fleming just released his latest book, The Art of Placemaking: Interpreting Community Through Public Art and Urban Design.

Back in Cambridge, Mass., where Fleming and Townscape reside, Fleming helped generate $1 million for the arts on the MBTA system while serving as founding chairman of the Cambridge Arts Council. "Transportation facilities are a key place for arts integration," says Fleming. "You're waiting there for a period of time. Make the arts connect to places used in daily life-not just corporate plazas and art museums more often frequented by the elite."

Renewing a town
Pete Lamb '73
Developer, Columbia City, Washington

When Pete Lamb '73 first bought a parking lot in Columbia City in Southeast Seattle, he collected $3 a day. That was 2002. In March, the $1 per two-hour parking spots brought in $120 a day.

"When I retired, I wanted to do something different, something my mother could understand," says Lamb, who had worked as a business and technology consultant for Global 1000 companies. "I liked designing."

So he hooked up with his brother-in-law, Tom Reid, who worked in construction, and focused on finding a mixed-use urban area where they could restore older buildings in a viable business and residential community. Founded in the late 1800s, Columbia City, four miles from downtown Seattle, was a lumber town at the end of the railway line. When the railroad left, the town turned residential and later declined due to lack of development.

By the time Lamb came to town, the Columbia City Business Association already existed. Consultant Lamb held a "visioning session" with the group, and the landmark neighborhood and historic district has since attracted a cinema, fitness center, bakery, pizza parlor, other restaurants and specialty stores. In 2009, Sound Transit's light rail plan calls for a stop a few blocks from the business district.

"What you're going to see when the light rail goes in, there's a really positive reason to live here," says Lamb. "Every other house is being bought."

Lamb Properties owns three commercial buildings-including a 1920s leaking VFW bingo hall that they've turned into Jones Barbeque and a dental office-townhouses (previously an apartment building) and two other pieces of property within the 10-15 block neighborhood. "It's fun to work at a scale where you can see you're making a difference," says Lamb.

Keeping It Real
Ed Tessier '91
developer, Claremont, California

By the time Ed Tessier '91 got a hold on Claremont's historic lemon packinghouse in 2004, there had been years of debate over whether to tear the place down or find a way to save it. Both options may have soon proved moot-Tessier suspects the deteriorating building would have eventually collapsed on its own. "A strong cough could have been bad," says Tessier, who, like many Claremont kids, grew up playing in the fading structure.

Fortunately, the 85-year-old packinghouse held together long enough to be shored up and spiffed up into a bustling entertainment and arts hub, which opened in April. Through their renovation business, Tessier and his brother Jerry, a Claremont McKenna alumnus, previously had transformed an ailing section of downtown Pomona into a vibrant art colony. Still, the packinghouse presented unique challenges. They came close to deciding to dismantle and put back together the entire building to make it easier to turn the 90,000-square-foot buildings' huge "Berlin bunker" basement into a parking garage. But Tessier
opted against that method, fearing "it would be one of those things where you end up with extra pieces left over."

In the end, though, all the pieces of this project fell into place, with the saw-tooth roof, big skylights and restored wood floors giving the site a vibrant look. The loading dock has been transformed into a boardwalk and even the doors of old industrial fridges now hang as art pieces. A steakhouse, wine room, jazz club and local art museum are among the tenants either already in business or about to open. The packinghouse is set amid a larger, ongoing expansion of the Claremont Village, which will include an art-house theatre and more shops west of Indian Hill Boulevard. With all the new construction, Tessier sees his
project as the expanded Village's anchor to the past. "It's keeping it real," he says.
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