It all started in 1987 with a comment by Marion (Hoppy) Stewart. The well-known weaver and wife of sculptor Albert Stewart had just returned from a walk with a friend to Claremont’s Padua Hills Theater. Her friend said a museum should be created inside the theater to exhibit the work of Claremont’s many artists.
Stewart conveyed this idea to her other friend, Marguerite McIntosh who – along with her husband, renowned ceramicist Harrison McIntosh – has been part of the city’s arts community for more than 50 years. The remark was enough to prompt Marguerite to seek the support of two former mayors in establishing a museum.
While the theater underwent restoration, another significant historic building came into the picture: the College Heights Lemon Packing House, which had just been saved from demolition and earmarked for renovation into a mixed-used building. Its historic significance and ideal downtown location made it a perfect site for the Claremont Museum of Art. The Museum incorporated in 2004, and in February 2006, the board formally announced that the Claremont Museum of Art would open in the Packing House. That marked nearly two decades since McIntosh and others began to explore the possibility of creating a museum that would celebrate Claremont’s rich artistic heritage – past, present, and future.
Beyond gaining a visible location, the Museum’s mission expanded as well. In addition to spotlighting the work of Claremont artists in a permanent collection, the board decided to devote the institution’s main gallery to showcasing art from around the nation and world. That decision set the Museum on a trajectory to become a regional museum of international significance.
But the realities of the recession derailed the grand plan and in late 2009, the museum board decided that the museum could no longer afford to maintain a staff and exhibition space. After valiant efforts to raise funds failed, the museum space was closed and the permanent collection was safely stored.
In December 2015, the Claremont Museum of Art entered into a lease agreement with the City of Claremont for the adaptive reuse of the Claremont Depot as a small art museum. Thanks to generous and enthusiastic community support, the museum raised over $150,000 and completed Phase I of the renovation. The museum opened its new gallery space at the Depot on November 20, 2016.