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~ Update ~
January 15, 2007
Tower Theatre District
The Best Kept Sequel in Fresno!
By Thomas Hobbs, Staff Writer

     TOWER -- That certain Tower District feeling of pride, place and historic import has returned to these 1930's sidewalks and storefronts.
     Some people are immune to it. What others say is that, deep-down, it's like the feeling in your gut when the traffic's moving, curbside parking is jammed, business is happening and streets with names like Broadway, Fulton, Wishon and Van Ness hurriedly deliver carloads of people to the Tower Theatre, returning to the newly spruced-up village the hangout where William Saroyan called "home." If you haven't visited lately, you should. I get the feeling here, this place is in full renaissance.
   Light Traffic - Good Parking Today! There have always been two Towers. There's the Tower in our minds a fantasy of Hollywood celebrity, past and present, that by now seems almost encoded into the collective ArtDeco consciousness of Ayn Rand. And there's the actual Tower District village, with its legendary Wishon and Olive corner and famous places such as the Off Broadway 2nd Space Theatre & Roger Rocka's Dinner Theatre, and Good Company Players Theatre. In contrast Downtown Fresno, a mile or so away, has been the greatest disappointment for thirty years, at best.
       Once upon a time, the Tower District was a vital peripheral to the university campus attracting intellectuals, classical jazz, and dance band musicians,writers, intellectuals of every stripe. It was the essence of an upscale small college town where the cafes like Irene's were crowded by day with College Drug 1948 NeonFresno State College students drinking coffee or grabbing lunch at the College Pharmacy lunch counter while carrying on serious discussions on the latest news from the War in the Pacific or "meaning of life" or the possible ramifications of Sigmund Freud's constructs he named Id and Ego.
    In those days, like today, most college students had to work to help offset college costs. My family was no exception. Swing piano music played on the Tower Jukebox in cafe's , especially in the Carnation Ice Cream Restaurant on Broadway and Olive. My dad was the "soda-jerk" at the Carnation Fountain and was also known as the "Tower Box Boy" later when he worked the Black's Market grocery packing counters, directly across the street.
    A lot has changed, since then. But, a lot of people are noticing, lately that the Tower District streets, merchants, and surrounding neighborhoods are gathering a host of new devotees and those spacious mansions and small apartment houses with orange groves of the 1930's, somehow, seem magically to have reappeared.
    I hear talk in the local coffee houses that even in its heyday with its upscale boutiques and restaurants, it could not complete with some people's expectations.
    Lest we forget, after William Saroyan died the place began to fall into ruination completely. The music studios moved out. The famous boutiques and restaurants closed, to be replaced by cheap eats joints and tacky fast-food joints. Angelo's Hamburger Stand at Roeding Park, still survives.
    Eventually The Tower became just another candidate for the armies of armpit redevelopment, sliding toward the antithesis of its former glamour, with bagmen, beggars, and homeless derelicts roving the alleys and parking lots at night. Tower District people even attended Planning Commission meetings a few wars back requesting that the intersection at Wishon & Olive be modernized. Can you imagine the shortsightedness?
     Visitors would park the car, grab a quick chicken-pie at Grand Marie's, then see a relic of the old Tower movie house marquee, take a few pictures just to prove they were there and quickly depart.
    For the past decade, the estimated average visit to the Tower District by locals and out of townies has increased from less than 20 minutes to a stunning -- two hours and 20 minutes.
     Today the Tower District is much the place it was in a bygone era that only those in Sixties remember. The key is to stay true to its beginnings, to bring out the best in its renovation will be its focus on the Arts & Letters concept and stay tuned-in to its professional Off-Broadway Theatre economy and its interdependence upon foot traffic from from the college and university patrons in the region.
     In the past six months, by close account, property values in the neighborhood have skyrocketed. Seventy-five thousand dollar homes built in the early 1950's, have recently closed escrow for prices ranging upward of $145,000. These new Tower residents noticed what our readers did. It may not be the only explanations but this place has been cleaned up.
    People are driving their luxury cars here, once again. It feels safe, again. The rants and rowdy are unwelcome and the Tower Marketing Committee's efforts to operate as a business competing with its merchant members has been largely abandoned after a series of ill-fated gate crashing disasters including broken store windows, public drunkenness, and the sight of riot police on horseback clearing the streets sidewalks of arrest resistors.
    City officials acted quickly to prevent such activities in the streets of the District from becoming forays into downtown, or the nearby suburbs.
     And fairly posh accommodations are available within a short distance at moderate prices. Also try Livingstone's at Fern & Wishon Streets. Driving is essential. Conceivably, a person could get around by cab or by using Fresno Area Express (FAX) system, but that's not the point. In New York, you want to ditch your car immediately so you can stand on the corner of Times Square and 42nd Street and do a 360-degree turn. That's an on-foot city. The romance of Hollywood is all about being in a car.
   Today, that is past history. Standing on any corner here in the Tower District, day or night, one feels well grounded and in touch with the great and near great of this wonderful chunk of Art Deco cityscape.
    The Tower Mystique is the first impression most people express when visiting here these days, especially to Miller-Clark Landscape & Nursery Company. It gets better with driving intro the Tower District at night off the State Route 41 & 99 freeway off-ramps at Olive Avenue.
     Coming onto the intersection of Olive & Wishon for the first time is a lot like you might think you wanted.  That intersection is eclipsed by the 75 foot high-rise Tower Theatre obelisk lit up in neon. Across Wishon is the Good Company Players ticket office and stagedoor.
     Further down the block on Olive Avenue is the 2nd Space theatre stage entrance. And on any corner in the early morning you may catch a glimpse of William Saroyan's profile.
     It is said that this is becoming a frequent ghostly presence along these sidewalks since his death in 1981.
     In the Tower District, like a lot of wannabe's the only thing worse than being dead is being forgotten.

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