A Piece of Claremont History Unveiled
Mayor, city council members and local art lovers get a glimpse of the ‘History of Pharmacy’ mural and meet new dean of the KGI School of BioPharmacy
Approximately 150 art lovers and Claremont history buffs turned out for the unveiling of the "History of Pharmacy" mural at KGI's new School of BioPharmacy on Saturday, April 20. Guests included Claremont Mayor Opanyi Nasiali and city council members Corey Calaycay and Sam Pedroza. Diane Divelbess, one of the original mural artists, was there as were several members of the Coates and Hendricks families, including Ladd Coates, the son of mural artist Paul Coates, and Winifred Hendricks, the widow of pharmacy owner C.W. Hendricks, who now lives in Boise, Idaho. Other guests included John Neiuber, president of Claremont Heritage, David Shearer, executive director, and Isabel Rojas-Williams, executive director, Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles.
The 'hot spot' in small town America in the 1950s and '60s-at least for conversation and the latest news about your neighbors-was often the local drug store. In Claremont, California, Hendricks Pharmacy was the place to go. For decades, customers to the well-known local hangout were welcomed by an 8' x 48' mural chronicling the history of pharmacy, medicine and healing.
The mural was painted by local artists Paul Coates and Diane Divelbess during a period from 1960-61. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Claremont was home to a thriving artist community, drawn to the area, in part, by the artist and muralist Millard Sheets, a professor at Scripps College from 1932 to 1955.
Ladd Coates, Paul's son, remembers going to Hendricks pharmacy with his father as a boy. "My father couldn't cook anything, except for bologna sandwiches and coffee," said Ladd, who flew in from Miles City, Montana, for the unveiling. "So, we would go to the old Walter's Café on Yale Avenue and he would smoke and drink coffee, and I would have a hamburger. Then, we'd go to Hendricks right next door, which was a real full-service drugstore circa 1960. He'd buy a pen or something and just talk to everyone, ask them how their kid was doing at Claremont High. He was very outgoing and could really dominate a room."
Consisting of 12 Masonite panels, the mural is divided into three sections. The first section depicts the history from "prehistoric man through the classical world," while section two illustrates "the development of the western European medieval world and the Renaissance through the 18th century." Section three is dedicated to the history of the "late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries."
Having no prior knowledge of pharmacy didn't hinder Coates, according to Divelbess, who knew Coates from the local art scene in Claremont - both earned M.F.A.'s from Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University), although Coates, who died at in 1972 at the age of 61, was significantly older having served in World War II and worked as a fresco mural assistant to Diego Rivera when he was creating the Pan Am Unity Mural in San Francisco.
"I remember Paul pouring over the Encyclopedia Britannica. After all, this was the pre-Google age," Divelbess said. "He started with the major historical figures and then worked from there. It was really a crash course in the history of pharmacy.. He was really excited about it, not just about the history of pharmacy, but about the history of early medicine as well."
At the time, it was considered novel for a retail store, particularly a pharmacy, to displays so prominently a work by local artists, and stories about the mural were featured in several pharmacy magazines, including Pharmacy Today (the journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association), NARD (the publication of the National Association of Retail Druggists) and West Coast Druggist.
Ladd Coates also has vivid memories of seeing his father's work displayed so prominently at one of his favorite Claremont hangouts. "I have one memory in particular of going to visit my father in 1966, right before I shipped out for Viet Nam. He was so proud of me for being in uniform like he had been in World War II. He took me to Walter's to eat a bunch of hamburgers .Then, we went next door to Hendricks, and the mural was hanging in its place up on the wall," Coates said.
The mural graced the interior of Hendricks until the building's subsequent occupant, Walter's Restaurant, expanded in the late 1970s. It was later rescued from storage (and possible obscurity) by Claremont Heritage, an organization dedicated to keeping Claremont's history alive. In 2012, the group found the ideal permanent home for the mural at Keck Graduate Institute, which recently established a school of biopharmacy.
KGI President Sheldon Schuster believes that the mural couldn't have found a better or more appropriate home than the KGI campus-particularly at this moment in KGI's history. "We are thrilled to have so many people from Claremont and around the country on campus to see the mural and meet Dr. Kathy Webster, the dean of the KGI School of BioPharmacy," he said. "Just as the mural shows the historical progress of pharmacy and medicine, we are also working to establish a program that will educate the next-generation of pharmacy students and reflect 21st century realities."