Friday, July 17, 2015

Fresno's not bad at all

We often head in the direction of Fresno when we set out to explore on the weekends. People in the office speak disparagingly of the city but I don't understand why. Voldemort (the ex-husband) also made jokes about it, but he also said Flagstaff, which I love, was a dump, so that should have told me something. Maybe because HH and I usually live so far away from "civilization" that any decent shopping sends us into ecstasy, but we think there's a lot to like about Fresno, other than the summer heat.

A couple weekends ago we went to tour the Forestiere Underground Gardens, and to follow a driving tour of National Register buildings. I took several photos of the gardens but none of them turned out to be worth keeping, so I'll jump right in to the driving tour. Unless you like architecture, you should bail now.


The building below isn't on the National Register but we passed it on the way to one that was, and I walked back to get a better look. Our first sight of it was from the right side of the building, which reveals its triangular shape designed for a triangular lot. If not for its shape, I probably wouldn't have looked twice. It was built to be a fire alarm station in 1917 and is now a 911 call center.


This is the building we were driving to when I saw the fire alarm station. It was the home of Herman and Helen Brix, completed in 1911. Brix tried his hand at farming but gave it up to go to Alaska, where he made some money in gold. Meanwhile, oil was booming in California and when Brix returned he invested in oil properties and made his fortune, adding to it with investments in Fresno property. The historic Fresno website describes the house he commissioned as "a brilliant example of a period-inspired Italian Villa, the only residence in Fresno built in this lavishly-embellished style." Brix's home is now home to a law firm. It's so good to see a building as lovely as this being maintained.

Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church was the first church built in the tradition of Armenian church architecture in the United States, and the first designed by Fresno's first Armenian architect, Lawrence Karekin Cone (Condrajian). It's the dome that sets this church apart as Armenian. It wasn't open and no one was around, so I couldn't get in.

Most of this description of the Kearney Mansion was taken directly from the Historic Fresno website: Martin Kearney (1842-1906) was a substantial contributor to the agricultural development of both Fresno County and the state of California. He devised a subdivision system whereby fencing and irrigation for all the lots in the colony were provided cooperatively. This enabled middle-class purchasers to start farming without the tremendous financial outlay otherwise necessary. 

Rudolph Ulrich, a landscape architect from New York, laid out the design for this park and the boulevard leading to it. Over the next fourteen years, Kearney turned a flat, barren landscape into what The San Francisco Chronicle called the "most beautiful park on the West Coast." At the turn of the century the park may have contained more species of trees, vines, shrubs and roses than any equal area in the United States. The eleven-mile boulevard leading from downtown Fresno to the park was lined with alternating eucalyptus and palms, interspersed with 18,000 white and pink oleanders.

The house is a basic rectangular form with walls of two-foot-thick unstabilized adobe brick, covered with a thin coat of plaster for waterproofing. Between the thick walls and the covered porch on all sides, the house would have stayed quite cool.

The Meux Home was built in 1889 by Dr. Thomas Meux (1838-1929). During the Civil War he enlisted as a private in the Ninth Tennessee Volunteer Regiment of the Confederate Army. After four years he left the service as an assistant surgeon with the rank of Captain. The Meux family moved to Fresno in 1887; the house was built in 1888. Meux established his medical practice the following year and served as a physician from his office and home the rest of his life. The home was continuously occupied by the Meux family for eighty years. It was later acquired by the city of Fresno and is presently open to the public as the Meux Home Museum.

The old Fresno water tower 
is is my favorite building on the driving tour. It made me think, Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.

This may be the first time I've seen one of these markers. It was near the door - An American Water Landmark, significant in the history of public water supply. There was probably one on Boulder Dam but if so, I missed it.

The water tower was built in 1894, replacing two wooden tanks. It stands 100 feet tall and holds 250,000 gallons. The second and third floors were designated for the Fresno city library. I'm no civil engineer, but I am a librarian, and two floors of books with 250,000 gallons of water just waiting to cascade onto them doesn't sound like a good idea.


Across the street from the water tower is this fire call box. I remember versions of these from when I was a kid, and was surprised to read on Wikipedia that they're still in use - apparently not this one, though.

Above the Gamewell name you can see the fist holding lightning bolts, the company's trademark. Amazingly enough, the company is still in business. A little history of the Gamewell boxes from Wikipedia:
The first practical fire alarm system utilizing the telegraph system was developed by Dr. William Channing and Moses G. Farmer in Boston, Massachusetts in 1852. In 1855, John Gamewell of South Carolina purchased regional rights to market the fire alarm telegraph, obtaining the patents and full rights to the system in 1859. John F. Kennard bought the patents from the government after they were seized after the Civil War, returned them to Gamewell, and formed a partnership, Kennard and Co., in 1867 to manufacture the alarm systems. The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Co. was formed in 1879. Gamewell systems were installed in 250 cities by 1886 and 500 cities in 1890. By 1910, Gamewell had gained a 95% market share.

There were many more buildings on the tour, but to HH and me these were the most interesting. 

Getting to Fresno takes a couple of hours of driving through some of the most intensively farmed land I've ever seen. There are oranges, almonds, olives, and grapes to the horizon in all directions. It's easy to see how devastating the ongoing drought - there's a 26-inch rain deficit so far - could be to the area's economy and the country's food supply. Keep your fingers crossed for the strong El Niño that's predicted for this winter. 

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Thought of the day:

How will we know it's us, without our past? - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

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