Almon T. Richardson learned from his own father’s experiences in the late 1800s about the ever-potential financial disasters in business ventures. Yet, when he faced the big investment decisions so critical to his own career, he responded swiftly and boldly.
That approach — which turned out to be as steeped in wisdom as it was assertive — started with his acquisition of a Pomona, Calif., newspaper in 1905 and continued through six decades as a highly successful editor-publisher and one of the community’s most influential voices.
When Richardson arrived in Pomona, it was a city of 5,000 amid a vast citrus-growing economy. By the early 1970s, it was a business and industrial center with a population of over 80,000. Circulation rose from 500 for that first small daily newspaper to the 42,000 for the Progress-Bulletin, the publication that evolved from acquisitions and mergers during Richardson’s ownership career.
Over those years he tackled myriad community duties and dealt with the issues confronting the city. He served on governing bodies for the library, hospital, junior college and chamber of commerce.
He — and his newspaper — championed causes devised to help the city prosper — from a successful campaign to locate a county courts facility in Pomona to a cooperative plan among downtown merchants to provide parking lots for shoppers. Local officials often hand-carried the newspaper’s editorials to those they were trying to persuade at higher levels of government>.
To associates, employees and people in the community alike, Richardson was “A.T.” And they were well aware of his church-oriented values, his abstinence from alcohol and tobacco and his abhorrence of profanity.
“We always knew we could count on A.T., “ long-time Pomona City Administrator Fred Sharp once said. “He would print the editorials that would be of a great help toward taking the steps to help Pomona grow and prosper.”
Even after he’d sold his newspaper, Richardson maintained his nearly 70-year work ethic. He kept his office at the Progress-Bulletin and was there almost every day. He was at his desk the day before he died at age 92 in 1972.
Childhood, college and career
Harsh family setbacks during his younger days preceded Richardson’s venture into a newspaper career.
During his childhood days in Lowell, Mass., his family suffered a severe setback when fire destroyed all the buildings on the nearby farm owned by his father.
A few years later, the family having moved to San Diego, bad luck struck again with the closure of a bank where Richardson’s father had placed most of his money.
That left the family in a precarious financial condition from which it never recovered, and when Richardson began attending Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., in 1899, he went right to work as a yard caretaker and a waiter at the college’s dining hall.
Four years later he had worked his way through college, with one additional job a few months before graduation helping him through his financial struggle. A friend at college tipped him off about a chance to be a correspondent for The Pomona Progress, a newspaper in the nearby city, and Richardson took on the task at 5 cents per column inch.
After college he postponed plans to return to Massachusetts to study mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and became the full-time reporter — one of seven people in all — at The Progress, circulation 500. From that day in 1903 through most of the rest of his life, he was affiliated with that newspaper and its subsequent consolidations.
Life as an owner
Richardson had worked at his all-purpose beat in the community of 5,000 for just over a year when his boss, Sidney M. Haskell, decided he wanted to sell the newspaper. Richardson and plant foreman W.E. Stevens joined in a decision, hopeless as it seemed, to try and scrape up the> $16,500 purchase price.
Both were virtually penniless, but they pulled it off, thanks to a sympathetic banker, and got a bank loan and help from their families. Purchase of The Progress launched a solid partnership that endured until Stevens’ death in 1948.
At that point the fledgling owners faced competition from another Pomona daily and a weekly — and would continue to buck up against rival newspapers for the next 22 years.
When a third daily, The Bulletin, began publishing in 1915, the strain turned severe, compounded by a severe sump in the economy-supporting citrus industry. “We were just getting by, by the skin of our teeth,” Richardson explained many years later.
After a year, Richardson and Stevens solved part of their competitive challenge by buying out The Review, narrowing the field to two dailies. The arrangement gave The Progress a much better press, which The Review had recently purchased.
In the meantime Richardson handled the thorny issues facing all newspaper editors, publishing the inevitable but necessary stories that would prove detrimental to some people in the community. He began writing a column, “As We See It ... by One of Us,” and made it a traditional fixture that brought a conservative viewpoint to his newspaper’s pages into the 1960s. Politicians and community leaders were reacting — as when one politician threatened to throw him out of his second-story office.
And the major step of his personal life: marriage in 1909 to Opal Chain, a nurse who had been attending to a resident at the house where he roomed. Two years later they had their only son, Charles, who was to become his father’s invaluable associate in the operation of the newspaper and a community leader in his own right.
Acquisitions and expansion Richardson and Stevens continued to make decisions on acquisitions that would strengthen their newspaper as it competed with The Bulletin. From the flatbed press that came with the takeover of The Review, the owners decided to spend $35,000 on an eight-page Duplex rotary press in 1923, making it necessary to convert to stereotype equipment.
The new equipment gave The Progress a clear advantage over The Bulletin and led to an even more significant move — Richardson and Stevens’ purchase of their rival.
Stevens is said to have been dubious about financing the deal, but Richardson in later years explained simply, “I think that Mr. Stevens and I worked it out.”
They achieved the consolidation in 1927 for $100,000, the merged publication becoming the evening Progress-Bulletin with the former Bulletin owners joining the enterprise in various functions.>
Advertising rates went up — from 30 to 35 cents an inch — and The Progress-Bulletin was healthily in the black from the beginning. Staff, coverage and the page count increased. And Richardson and Stevens handed the decision-making routine to a 13-member board of directors.
It wasn’t long before another big decision had to be confronted. The merger crowded existing facilities, so the owners began planning a new building. They floated a $120,000 bond issue to start the project, bought a new site in the downtown area and awarded a $220,000 construction contract.
Even though the Great Depression was bearing down on all entrepreneurs of that day, the three-story structure was completed and opened in 1932. Wrote Richardson in a souvenir booklet: “This building, with its modern advantages, its spacious and pleasing proportions, and its mechanical efficiency, is evidence of the growth and stability of this splendid community.”
It helped the newspaper’s financial picture that Southern California Edison Co., the electric utility, agreed to a 15-year lease on a portion of the building, but the Depression eventually hit hard, anyway.
Richardson and Stevens, unable to pay salaries in 1933, decided on an arrangement of dealing in I.O.U.’s — employees would receive them, businesses would honor them and The Progress-Bulletin would accept them in return as payment for advertising. The company attorney later scuttled the plan on grounds that the newspaper owners were, in effect, printing money.
But the Progress-Bulletin survived the depression, and Richardson and Stevens steered the paper through the World War II years of shortages and drain on manpower. Although he was co-owner since 1905, Richardson had continued to double as a reporter until 1935. He took on the editor’s title in 1931 and the president’s post in 1947.
When Stevens died in 1948, Richardson lost a long-time, dependable co-owner, but the sad occasion also brought son Charles to the forefront of the newspaper’s management.
The younger Richardson actually had been working at The Progress Bulletin since starting as an advertising salesman in the mid-1930s. He had been assisting Stevens in the general manager duties, and now he was to assume that position.
The senior Richardson added one more title for himself — chairman of the board of trustees — and the father-son duo proceeded to oversee the business through an era of rapid community growth. Post-World War II years brought new industry to Pomona, the most noteworthy being a Navy missile-building plant operated by General Dynamics.
Meanwhile, The Progress-Bulletin’s territory was expanding as nearby cities like Claremont, La Verne and Chino grew, and other communities — San Dimas and Montclair — incorporated.
A.T. Richardson was in the midst of full commitment to public duty. He had already spent 24 years on the city’s Library Board, and was to serve 36 years on the board of trustees for Pacific State Hospital, a state-operated facility in Pomona for mentally disabled; 27 years as a trustee for Mt. San Antonio College, a nearby community college; and 16 years as a trustee for Pomona Valley Community Hospital.
He also was the 1929 president of the Pomona Chamber of Commerce and lent considerable support, both personally and editorially, to many local functions. One of these had been the Los Angeles County Fair, which, since its modest beginnings in Pomona in the early 1920s, has become an annual fall extravaganza attended by some 1.5 million visitors a year.
Richardson’s newspaper stood solidly in support of numerous projects designed to meet Pomona’s needs as a growing city. State legislators were persuaded to approve a bill authorizing the assessment program against downtown property owners for parking lots. Los Angeles County officials were lobbied into designating the Pomona Civic Center as the site for construction of a seven-story East District Superior Courts building.
Solidly backing the visionary City Administrator Sharp, The Progress-Bulletin gave enthusiastic coverage to filling out the Civic Center with new City Hall, Library and Public Safety buildings. Likewise did it favor school bond issues and the construction of railroad underpasses for three major streets.
On the job to the end
In the 1950s and 1960s, The Progress-Bulletin took over several of the weekly newspapers then operating within its circulation area. Then in 1965 it made its biggest acquisition move — buying the nearby rival Ontario Daily> Report from Jerene Appleby Harnish. At the time The Report’s circulation stood at 27,000, overlapping much of The Progress-Bulletin’s territory.
But in 1967 the Richardsons decided to turn the newspapers over to a larger company with its more extensive resources. They were sold to Donald W. Reynolds, whose Arkansas-based Donrey Media Group continued operating them separately until merging them in 1990 into today’s Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
Charles Richardson stayed on another five years as general manager of The Progress-Bulletin. A.T. Richardson, though out of the management end after 62 years of presiding over so many key decisions, remained a regular daily presence at the newspaper offices until his death in 1972.
His own words in a 1955 editorial commemorating the 70th anniversary of the old Progress may have best summed up his career:
“The history of the paper is a vital part of the history of Pomona. The newspaper and the town experienced the bitter and the sweet together. They shared joys and heartaches, but the goal was always to bring satisfaction and prosperity to the valley.”