~ 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.
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 Fresno
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
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
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
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
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.