Parent of today: Curtis closes the door on a 75-year-old real estate business

by Steven Felschundneff | [email protected]

Seventy-five years ago, Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. In Long Beach, Howard Hughes took the Spruce Goose on its only flight. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was murdered in Beverly Hills. And the motion picture industry fully entered the blacklist era when Congress cited the Hollywood 10 in contempt.

That same year, 1947, Curtis Real Estate officially opened in a small cabin in the village of Claremont, near the corner of First Street and Harvard Avenue.

Like the Folk Music Center, Some Crust Bakery and Walters Restaurant, Curtis has become a Claremont institution with three generations keeping the flame alive. Anyone who has been in the City of Trees for a few orbits around the sun might assume that it will always be part of the fabric of the Village. So it came as a shock to many when current owner Carol Curtis announced last month that she intended to retire and would be closing the real estate office permanently.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Curtis said of the decision to retire. “It’s exciting to think about new and different things and a more relaxed lifestyle, but of course it’s hard to close the doors of the family business. But it was a great race.

His long-term plan was to work a few more years, but COVID and its complications changed the calculus.

“Several salespeople have decided to leave the business altogether, and one of my salespeople passed away about a year ago. So when you have a small office and four people are suddenly gone… it seemed like maybe it was a good time to speed up retirement instead.

Seventy-five years ago, Florence and Maurice Curtis purchased an insurance business located at 211 W. First St. Soon after, they added real estate sales to balance the business model and Curtis Real Estate was born. However, soon after their marriage dissolved and in 1950 Florence became the sole owner.

In the mid-1950s, she outgrew the small apartment building at First and hired famed modernist architect John Galbraith, a friend of the family, to design a sleek new office at 107 Harvard – the exact spot where Curtis Real Estate was operating until just a few weeks ago.

After college and the Korean War, Carol’s father, Gordon Curtis, taught elementary school for a year or two at Azusa, but decided teaching fourth grade wasn’t for him. So in 1955, when Gordon was still in his twenties, Florence said “Why don’t you come join me in real estate?”

Apparently it was a good fit.

“Gordon Curtis loved the real estate so much that family trips to the beach often ended with tours of area homes,” the COURIER reported in 1993, a week before Gordon was grand marshal of the July 4 parade. of Claremont.

In that same article, Judy Wright, then a council member, said: ‘He considered it a matter of pride to match a house to a family. He considered that this contributed to the quality of life of this family.

Like much of Southern California and the entire country, housing in Claremont in the 1950s and 1960s was segregated. Gordon Curtis played a role in integrating the city when, in the mid-1960s, he sold a house on Northwestern Drive to myrlia Evers-Williams shortly after her husband Medgar was murdered in Jackson Mississippi.

“My kids and I were the second family of color to move here,” Evers-Williams recalls during a panel discussion at Pomona College in 2018. “There were definitely people who didn’t agree with our presence in this town, in this town there were some threats.”

“He got death threats for selling her this house, absolutely, and he went door to door and said who he was and he was selling the house to her and she was a wonderful person and he was hoping they would take him in,” Carol Curtis said.

Florence retired in 1979, at the age of 79, and moved to Mt. San Antonio Gardens and two years later Carol joined the family business after earning a fine arts degree from Pitzer College. .

“It was a bad economy and a tough time to get a first job and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and my dad just needed some office help. So I thought I’d do this temporarily until I figured out what I want to do,” Curtis said.

But Gordon developed health problems and had to retire early, so by the time of her death in 1994, Carol Curtis was ready to take over the real estate business.

“I worked with him for a few years which was good because I had the opportunity to learn a lot. Sometimes I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a salesman, but that’s why I I always kept a good sales team so I could focus more on running the office, which was also easier because I had three kids,” Curtis said.

Curtis Real Estate has had a long relationship with the COURIER, including each of the three generations regularly advertising. In the 1960s, then-publisher Martin Weinberger approached Florence Curtis to say that he was going to start running pictures with real estate ads.

His reaction came as a bit of a surprise to Weinberger. ” Do not do that. It’s a terrible idea, so people will know where the house is.

This perfectly illustrates how much the real estate industry has changed, as selling a home now requires virtually the best photography. Even during Carol Curtis’ tenure, the business changed, and not necessarily for the better.

“In the 80s and 90s, real estate agents spent a lot of time with people showing houses. It was a more fun process, the buyers were happy, it was exciting. Now, I think people are a bit stressed about being competitive. An advertisement can receive 20 or 30 offers. People watch and watch and have to pay tens of thousands of dollars over the asking price. They’re not having fun. And so the real estate agent isn’t having fun either,” Curtis said.

Pricing, of course, is another big change as Curtis recalled that at one time $100,000 seemed like a lot of money for a house.

Another big change is the amount of paperwork required to sell a home. Curtis said that in the ’80s a purchase contract was two pages, now it’s 16 pages and the entire sales record would be half an inch if printed. All of this means that everyone has to sign their name often.

“First of all [Curtis] was insurance and real estate. It was so simple you could do both,” Curtis said.

Curtis has no immediate plans for retirement other than spending more time with friends and family, including her husband, Pat Burson, and 89-year-old mother Sallie. She looks forward to a much shorter to-do list, doesn’t set off an alarm in the morning, and could rediscover her love of watercolor painting.

“It’s actually something that would be fun to tackle. I haven’t had much time in the 40 years between now and my senior art show,” she said.

As for the iconic mid-century building where Curtis Real Estate has operated all these years? It will be an art studio and gallery.

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