Vintage Fresno: Hotel Fresno Artifact Display at City Hall

Cross Posted with permission by Chris Rocha at VintageFresno.com

May 2nd-9th is “Fresno Historic Preservation Week”, and in celebration of this, my Hotel Fresno artifact collection will be going on public display May 2, 2015 in Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s foyer at City Hall.

The collection will be displayed along with the historic Pop Laval Foundation photos of the interior and exterior of the 103 year old hotel.

Karana Hattersley-Drayton (Historic Preservation Project Manager at Fresno City Hall) and Ruth Lang (Operations Manager at the Fresno Historical Society) worked with me to bring this display to fruition, and I can’t thank them enough, I am honored. It is my hope that the photos and artifacts of our history and “what was”, will bring excitement and attention to spark an interest to the Hotel Fresno as well as our other remaining historic buildings that have been vacant for decades and deserve the restoration, care, and life to return to them to be proud functioning historic landmarks in our city once again.

The History

 

The Hotel Fresno finished construction 103 years ago, opening its doors in 1913 on Broadway at Merced Street (now Broadway Plaza). It is Fresno’s oldest existing hotel, and one of the oldest remaining buildings in Fresno, listing #166 on the Local Register of Historic Resources. The hotel was designed by Edward T. Foulkes (1874-1967), best known for designing the Oakland Tribune Tower. He studied at Stanford University, M.I.T., and the famous Ecole Des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He won a private competition to design the Hotel Fresno, and opened a small office in here in 1910. The hotel was his first commission in Fresno, and the following two decades he became a significant figure in the architectural history of Downtown Fresno, helping shape it’s design. His other designs that still stand in Fresno today are: H.H. Brix Mansion, Gundelfinger Home, Einstein Home and Rowell Building.

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When it opened in 1913, Hotel Fresno was considered the social center for the city. Vaudeville traveling performers frequently stayed at the hotel, often times performing at the White Theater (which was located down the block). Vaudeville performers such as: Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Bill Bojangles, Fanny Brice, and Buster Keaton (who performed on the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit) all stayed at the Hotel Fresno. It’s guest throughout the years also included (to name a few) Jack Dempsey, Gary Cooper, Joe Louis, Max Baer (boxing legend) and even Richard Nixon, who stopped at the hotel for a largely publicized appearance during his campaign run.

4 5

(Newspaper clipping from the Fresno Bee- July 26, 1944)

Upon arriving at the Hotel Fresno, a large ornately carved wooden revolving door surrounded by white marble welcomed you. Bellhops dressed in custom Hotel Fresno uniforms assisted you with your luggage as you arrived, and were there to assist you during your stay.

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 The grand dining room looked like something you’d see in an old MGM black and white film. It featured giant cornice columns, beautiful wood paneling, large windows with long draping curtains, while each table set with the hotel’s own branded Gorham Silver  silverware, as well as china in later years. The hotel’s emblem was a fig, adorned with grapes on each side, with “Hotel Fresno” placed in the middle. (The grapes and fig, obviously a nod to the rich agricultural importance and history in Fresno.)

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The hotel lobby was a sophisticated room. A large organ hung above the fireplace, which once had a bronze lion head in the middle, (later changed to the hotel’s fig and grapes signature emblem). Large paintings hung on each side of the fireplace, with a grape and vine tilework design in the center of the room. A hand painted mural added in the 1920’s decorated the wall leading up the stairway from the first floor to the second.

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The new car models of the period were displayed at times in the lobby to attract potential buyers staying at the hotel. There was a coffee shop, as well as an oak room bar. Numerous shops and even a beauty salon occupied the street facing retail spaces of the hotel over the years.

1011(Courtesy of Pop Laval Foundation)

Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, the hotel went through some renovations. A new entrance was added, some of the original wood features were painted new colors, more modern furniture replaced the original, and numerous other changes, giving the hotel a modernized look on the interior and exterior.

The back of this 1963 postcard reads:

“Completely refurbished and redecorated; complimentary radio-t.v. and ample parking. Complete Hotel services, together with a downtown location makes the Hotel Fresno the place to stay.”

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 At the end of the 1960’s, Downtown Fresno was drastically changing. The historic main street of downtown was turned into a pedestrian mall (Fulton Mall). The original courthouse we once had was demolished for our current courthouse. The intricate architecture on each building that lined the streets, stripped off for a more modernized flat look. What was once a successful and thriving “Broadway Street” was cut off and renamed “Broadway Plaza”. This left the Hotel Fresno on a street that really no longer existed, next to a parking lot. It was around this period that the once luxurios hotel was converted into senior apartments and it quickly started to decline. Poor management only made the building decline even further. In 1983 it closed for “repairs”, and has been closed ever since.

 History City Building Fresno Titles Only

(Photo of the lobby the year it closed -Photo Courtesy ArgentaImages)

 History City Building Fresno Titles Only

(The original chandeliers from 1912 were still hanging when it closed)

Thirty-two years have passed, and time has not been kind to the Hotel Fresno. Vandals have broken in time and time again over the past couple of decades, making fires throughout the building, spray painting the beautiful fireplace, walls, pillars, and damaging what’s left of the original carved wood features that decorate the interior.

TODAY

Today the Hotel Fresno that once was, sits mostly forgotten about by Fresno on a street that once was. The IRS building that was built next to it does bring some life to the area, but the hotel now faces a parking lot that sits in front of it. During the week a food truck stops in front of the historic building and nearby employees grab their lunch there, but that is the only foot traffic it has seen in over thirty years. I often wonder if the people grabbing their lunch only feet away, know of it’s historical significance or how grand it once was. That where a taco truck is currently parked, bellhops used to be assisting guests checking into a grand hotel, the women carrying their furs and the men wearing their top hats.

Well, there is hope for the Hotel Fresno! Granted, there have been many investors who had promised in the past to renovate the building, and the city was excited and reminded of the building once again, nothing ever came of those promises. The building was mostly gutted in 2008 by the owners at the time, which they were urged by the city due to the asbestos that caused it to be a health risk if left as it was. So in order to cooperate with the city, they did so. The owners were never able to secure the financing they had hoped for. Sadly since then, no progress had been made to the Hotel Fresno.

November of last year, the news came seemingly out of nowhere. APEC International LLC of Los Angeles asked the City of Fresno for a 1.9 million dollar low-interest redevelopment loan to help fund the $21.1 million dollar project that they have in mind for the Hotel Fresno. Hotel Fresno would be renovated into a 79 unit apartment complex with 1,2, and 3 bedroom units, along with retail and office space.

The city approved the loan!

“The symbolism of this is huge,” said Council Member Oliver Baines. “The Hotel Fresno can again be a gem for this community. It can symbolize the revitalization of downtown.”
Once APEC has the funds secured, the purchase of Hotel Fresno from Jake Kojikian (who built the Mayflower Lofts and renovated the Virginia Hotel), as well as the parking lot located south of the building, will be finalized.

APEC has a very good track record according to Councilmember Lee Brand, “They found a buyer APEC who has a very good track record”. “They’re very professional. They know how to do the financing.” It’s also worth mentioning, APEC also has a track record for deliving on promises, something that some other investors, have not. “They bring to the table a level of credibility that resonated with the council,” said City Manager Bruce Rudd.

The rest of their funding will come from tax credit programs, a state administered grant, and a conventional loan.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • $8 million would come from a state infill development grant and a conventional loan

  • $10 million from 2 tax credit programs that encourage private investment in struggling areas

  • $1.9 million from City Hall  (the City of Fresno will defer close to $1 million in development fees

We won’t know if the funds were secured until at least the end of summer of this year. But if they are, work could begin as soon as the end of the year, or early next year. Two weeks ago I spoke with Lefeba Gougis, APEC’s general council, who said while the funds haven’t been secured as of yet, they are excited for this project and shared his enthusiasm of the historical significance of the building. I also mentioned donating my Hotel Fresno artifact collection for permanent display in the building once it is renovated, and he sounded as excited as I was!

We have a rich history in Downtown Fresno, all around us. It is important to not make the mistakes of the past, and to keep and preserve the buildings that played such a huge part in our history. I truly believe 2015 is going to be THE year for our Downtown Fresno and it’s revitalization!

Please visit my Facebook page to keep up to date on the Hotel Fresno:

www.facebook.com/savehotelfresno 

The Hotel Fresno artifact display will be up at City Hall May 2nd, on the 2nd floor in the Mayor’s foyer. Make sure to stop by and check out the artifacts and photos from this historic building!

(Photos Courtesy of the Pop Laval Foundation)

Here are some photos of the beauty that still lies inside the building.

   15(Entrance, walking into the lobby)

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(One of the many sets of stairs)

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(Sadly, this is the once luxurious dining room as it appears today)

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(Copper Centerpiece w/ Hotel Fresno emblem is gone)

 20 21(Original grape and vine tilework still remains in the lobby)

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 (Laundry chute on every floor “Laundry Only”)

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 An original painting by Charles Maroot, “Fresco” that still survives in Hotel Fresno today. Charles Maroot was a painter who lived in Fresno with his wife Prudence on Van Ness. It is believed that the painting was painted in 1927.

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(Wood siding in the dining room still in tact)

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(Dining room siding)

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(Surprisingly, the original tile-work is still in great shape)

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(Dining room- pillars stripped on top and bottom)

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(Tile-work at the entrance as you walk in)

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(Original marble in the entrance)

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(Beautiful grape design on the fireplace)

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