Fresno in California, the All American City & Raisin Capital of the World

Thursday, 29 September 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General
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The historic Tower Theater for the Performing Arts, built in 1939 © RichardHarrison/cc-by-sa-4.0

The historic Tower Theater for the Performing Arts, built in 1939 © RichardHarrison/cc-by-sa-4.0

Fresno is a major city in the San Joaquin Valley of California. It is the county seat of Fresno County and the largest city in the greater Central Valley region. It covers about 115 square miles (300 km²) and had a population of 542,107 in 2020, making it the fifth-most populous city in California, the most populous inland city in California, and the 34th-most populous city in the nation. Named for the abundant ash trees lining the San Joaquin River, Fresno was founded in 1872 as a railway station of the Central Pacific Railroad before it was incorporated in 1885. It has since become an economic hub of Fresno County and the San Joaquin Valley, with much of the surrounding areas in the Metropolitan Fresno region predominantly tied to large-scale agricultural production. Fresno is near the geographic center of California, approximately 220 miles (350 km) north of Los Angeles, 170 miles (270 km) south of the state capital, Sacramento, and 185 miles (300 km) southeast of San Francisco. Yosemite National Park is about 60 miles (100 km) to the north, Kings Canyon National Park 60 miles (100 km) to the east, and Sequoia National Park 75 miles (120 km) to the southeast. Fresno is also the third-largest majority-Hispanic city in the United States; 50.5% of its population was Hispanic in 2020. Since 2010, statewide droughts in California have further strained both Fresno’s and the entire Central Valley’s water security.

Fresno was born with the establishment of the then Central Pacific Railroad Depot in 1872. In 1889, the Southern Pacific Railroad, which had acquired Central Pacific, constructed a new depot on the original depot site. The brick Queen Anne style depot was a jewel for the city and is currently one of Fresno’s oldest standing buildings. In 1971, 99 years after it first opened for business on its current site, the Depot closed its rail operations due to the decline in business. Between the 1880s and World War II, Downtown Fresno flourished, filled with electric streetcars, and contained a number of “lavish” and “opulent” buildings. Among them, the original Fresno County Courthouse (demolished), the Fresno Carnegie Public Library (demolished), the Old Fresno Water Tower, the Bank of Italy Building, the Pacific Southwest Building, the San Joaquin Light and Power Building (currently known as the Grand 1401), and the Hughes Hotel (burned down), to name a few. Fulton Street in Downtown Fresno was Fresno’s main financial and commercial district before being converted into one of the nation’s first pedestrian malls in 1964. Renamed the Fulton Mall, the area contains the densest collection of historic buildings in Fresno. While the Fulton Mall corridor has suffered a sharp decline from its heyday, the Mall includes some of the finest public art pieces in the country, including a casting of Pierre-Auguste Renoir‘s bronze “The Washer Woman”, reportedly the only one of the six castings that one can walk up to and touch. In October 2017, the City of Fresno finished and opened Fulton Mall to traffic, becoming Fulton Street. This change was celebrated with a large public parade featuring current Mayor Lee Brand and former Mayor Ashley Swearengin. The public art pieces will be restored and placed near their current locations and will feature wide sidewalks (up to 28’ on the east side of the street) to continue with the pedestrian-friendly environment of the district.

The historic Tower Theatre, which is included on the National Register of Historic Places, is the center of the Tower District. The theater was built in 1939 at the corner of Olive and Wishon Avenues. (The name of the theater refers to a well-known landmark water tower, which is actually in another nearby area). The Tower District neighborhood is just north of downtown Fresno proper, and one-half mile south of Fresno City College. Although the neighborhood was known as a residential area, the early commercial establishments of the Tower District began with small shops and services that flocked to the area shortly after World War II. The character of small local businesses largely remains today. To some extent, the businesses of the Tower District were developed due to the proximity of the original Fresno Normal School (later renamed California State University at Fresno). In 1916, the college moved to what is now the site of Fresno City College one-half mile north of the Tower District. This vibrant and culturally diverse area of retail businesses and residences experienced a renewal after a significant decline in the late 1960s and 1970s. After decades of neglect and suburban flight, the neighborhood revival followed the re-opening of the Tower Theatre in the late 1970s, which at that time showed second- and third-run movies, along with classic films. Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater & Good Company Players also opened nearby in 1978, at Olive and Wishon Avenues. Fresno native Audra McDonald performed in the leading roles of Evita and The Wiz at the theater while she was a high school student. McDonald subsequently became a leading performer on Broadway in New York City and a Tony award-winning actress. Also in the Tower District is Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre. The Tower District is a hub for community events such as Jamaica My Weekend, Mardi Gras in February, Gay Pride Parade, car shows, A Taste of The Tower, Halloween in the Tower, and the Farmer’s Market opened on the northwest Corner of Olive and Van Ness. The neighborhood features restaurants, live theater and nightclubs, as well as several independent shops and bookstores, currently operating on or near Olive Avenue, and all within a few hundred feet of each other. Since renewal, the Tower District has become an attractive area for restaurant and other local businesses. Today, the Tower District is also known as the center of Fresno’s LGBT and hipster communities. Additionally, Tower District is also known as the center of Fresno’s local punk/goth/deathrock and heavy metal community as well as the synth-pop/Electronic dance music community. The area is also known for its early twentieth century homes, many of which have been restored in recent decades. The area includes many California Bungalow and American Craftsman style homes, Spanish Colonial Revival Style architecture, Mediterranean Revival Style architecture, Mission Revival Style architecture, and many Storybook houses designed by Fresno architects, Hilliard, Taylor & Wheeler. The residential architecture of the Tower District contrasts with the newer areas of tract homes urban sprawl in north and east areas of Fresno.

The iconic Forestiere Underground Gardens, a vast subterranean network, carved from 1906 to 1946 © Carol M. Highsmith - Library of Congress Tulare Street in Downtown Fresno © David Prasad/cc-by-sa-2.0 Alexander Pantages Theater, now Warnors Theatre © Bobak Ha'Eri/cc-by-3.0 Amtrak station © Pedro Xing Bank of Italy Building, built in 1918 © Bobak Ha'Eri/cc-by-3.0 Rainforest exibit at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo © Flyfresno/cc-by-sa-4.0 San Joaquin Light and Power Corporation Building, built in 1923 © Gemini2525/cc-by-sa-4.0 The historic Tower Theater for the Performing Arts, built in 1939 © RichardHarrison/cc-by-sa-4.0
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The iconic Forestiere Underground Gardens, a vast subterranean network, carved from 1906 to 1946 © Carol M. Highsmith - Library of Congress
In the northeastern part of Fresno, Woodward Park was founded by the late Ralph Woodward, a long-time Fresno resident. He bequeathed a major portion of his estate in 1968 to provide a regional park and bird sanctuary in Northeast Fresno. The park lies on the southern bank of the San Joaquin River between Highway 41 and Friant Road. The initial 235 acres (0.95 km²), combined with additional acres acquired later by the city, brings the park to a sizable 300 acres (1.2 km²). Now packed with amenities, Woodward Park is the only Regional Park of its size in the Central Valley. The park has a multi-use amphitheatre that seats up to 2,500 people, an authentic Japanese Garden, fenced dog park, bike park, two playgrounds, two-mile (3 km) equestrian trail, exercise par course, three children’s playgrounds, a lake, three small ponds, seven picnic areas, and five miles (8 km) of multipurpose trails that are part of the San Joaquin River Parkway’s Lewis S. Eaton Trail. When complete, the Lewis S. Eaton trail system will cover 22 miles (35 km) between Highway 99 and Friant Dam. The park’s amphitheatre was renovated in 2010, and has hosted performances by acts such as Deftones, Tech N9ne, and Sevendust as well as numerous others. Woodward Park hosts the annual California Interscholastic Federation State Championship cross country meet. It is the home of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival which began performances in the park in 2005.

Located in the western portion of Fresno, Old Fig Garden is an unincorporated community that, over time, has been completely encircled by the city of Fresno. Fig Garden was created in 1947, as the then-known Fig Garden Men’s club achieved nonprofit corporate status, allowing itself to have much more governance. In 1979, the name was changed to Fig Garden Home Owners Association. Fig Garden is unique to the rest of Fresno, as it features largely no sidewalks and is lined with various large trees. The homes are well-maintained and landscaped due to strict regulations from the homeowners association. Due to a tax Fig Garden residences voted for, there is nearly round-the-clock sheriff service within the district. The district hosts the Fig Garden Christmas Tree Lane, which is a nationally recognized event. There is also an upscale swim and racquet club located in northwestern Fig garden, which has multiple amenities including a heated lap pool, massage therapy, daycare, etc. Towards the northern boundary there is a shopping center called Fig Garden Village which hosts a plethora of upscale shopping opportunities, as well as hosting the only Whole Foods Market within the Fresno area.

Fresno is the center of Metropolitan Fresno and serves as the regional hub for the San Joaquin Valley and the greater Central Valley region. The unincorporated area and rural cities surrounding Fresno remain predominantly tied to large-scale agricultural production. In 1958, Fresno was selected by Bank of America to first launch the BankAmericard credit card, which was later renamed Visa.

Read more on Fresno, VisitFresnoCounty.org, Wikivoyage Fresno and Wikipedia Fresno (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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