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Claremont may bear new fruit: arthouse multiplex

Laemmle Theater could break ground in 2001

Claremont, Calif., is many things to many people: college town, bedroom community, former citrus fruit capital of the Inland Empire.

But does it qualify as a bastion of indie film?

Several theater owners, notably the venerable Laemmle circuit, think it might. They’re in talks to build an art multiplex that would help anchor the proposed Village West redevelopment.

The downtown project seeks to boost commercial traffic in the city of 34,000 about 35 miles east of downtown L.A. It’s modeled after successful redevelopment efforts in Santa Monica and Pasadena. Perhaps not coincidentally, Laemmle has theaters in those cities that have thrived amid local revival.

Yet not all local consumers, er, residents are enthused.

Terence Dwyer, who runs the watchdog Web site ClaremontCa.com, fears “a lot of citizens may not be aware of what’s at stake.” For him, the project reps a capitulation to the suburban sprawl bedeviling Southern California.

Even staunch project opponents, however, admit that Claremont could support a well-run arthouse. Its last moviehouse of any kind, the one-screen Village Theater, closed in 1979. Fans of edgier fare such as “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” or “Topsy-Turvy” now have to trek about 30 miles to Pasadena.

Mindful of that circumstance, developers and theater operators are moving forward with their plans, which will go before the City Council this summer. Local newspaper reports say the multiplex could break ground by early 2001.

Interestingly, Claremont is near Ontario, which Laemmle called “the poster child for the dangers of over-screening.” But that megaplex glut could actually work in an arthouse’s favor, he muses.

Consider also that 25% of the adult population of Claremont holds a graduate degree and that the city boasts a median household income of $65,000.

Those factors explain why, even though it’s early in the process, vice president Greg Laemmle of Laemmle Theaters stressed he’d “be crazy to say we’re not interested.”

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