August 12, 1958 Charles and Dorothy Chase opened the Folk Music Center in Claremont, CA on Harvard Ave. in back of Boots Beer’s Real Estate Office. Boots told them they were “welcome to have the back room because no one will ever come to see you anyway.” The rent was $35 per month. They borrowed $2000 from Dorothy’s brother and bought some records, books, strings and a few instruments – just enough to get started.
Very soon, Boots was complaining about all the traffic coming through the office. Two months later, Mike Fay showed up and loaned them a sitar, a pair of tablas and a tamboura. That was the first international show. The Claremont Courier took pictures and ran a story that got the store a lot of publicity.
Shortly thereafter, the store moved around the corner to a small place of its own on 1st Street. Dorothy’s father, Albert Udin, known to the whole town as “Grandpa,” ran the store while Dorothy taught guitar and banjo lessons in the living room of their home and Charles repaired instruments in the basement. The store was soon bursting at the seams.
In 1961, Dorothy and Charles opened the Golden Ring, a music cafe, on Harvard Ave with friends Peggy and Al Hulse and Jean and Will Marcotte. During its five year existence, the Golden Ring was one of the earliest venues for folk music in the Southern California area, bringing such greats to Claremont as the revered Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Doc Watson, Hedy West, John Fahey, The New Lost City Ramblers, and Guy and Candy Carawan.
On April 5, 1970, after a short stay at 221 Yale the store moved to an even bigger location across the street at 220 Yale Ave. Over the years Dorothy continued to teach guitar, banjo, dulcimer and autoharp to hundreds of local children and adults. She began the Claremont Folk Song Society and organized house concerts.
While Dorothy continued to focus on the instruction and promotion of music, Charles provided opportunities for local young people to learn the art of instrument repair. The store’s reputation for skilled repair spread and people came from near and far to have instruments repaired or to stay and learn the art themselves. In the summer of 1962, Peter and Polly Gatt pitched a tent in the Chase’s backyard to be able to study with Charles as luthiers (instrument repair experts).
The Folk Music Center Museum was opened in 1976 as a non-profit educational, cultural corporation. The first museum collection was a Stauffer guitar and a Stauffer Theorbo, both dating back to the 1880′s, that Charles and Dorothy found in a second hand store for five dollars. The Museum now contains rare and antique musical instruments and artifacts of culture from around the world.
Recently, Dorothy and Charles’ daughter, Ellen Chase-Verdries began managing the store. Her son, Ben Harper purchased the store from his grandparents in order to keep the Folk Music Center in the family and alive for the generations to come.
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