Downtown is still heart of Fresno's art, culture

FresnoJuly 10, 2013 

When Jarah Euston left Fresno in 2007, it was as a young, successful entrepreneur. She had created and sold her online blog site, Fresno Famous, at a time when blog sites were big business. She was a shining light, a creative mind and perhaps the city's most famous boomerang.

She left because the city didn't turn out to be the place she wanted it to be. And that was OK.

"Not everyone wants to live in a hip, urban, bustling place," she told me at the time. As one of the biggest advocates for Fresno's downtown, Euston was done trying to convince people.

I wonder what she would say about 25 River Park Place West, DeWayne Zinkin's proposed high-rise just up the road from Woodward Park. The Fresno City Council last week gave approval to build the 10-story, 146-foot-high building.

It's not illogical to think that once built, other developers will follow.

The word for this is "sprawl," and it has some wondering if there is a new downtown brewing just up Highway 41 from the old one.

The quick answer is no.

Downtown has its share of problems, and some of it is more than just perception. I live and work downtown and love it, but I'm not naive enough to believe it's some kind of utopia. Nor am I of the opinion that anything good can come from pitting north Fresno vs. south. The city is vast and there are jewels at every turn. To discard something based solely on geography would be silly.

River Park (as I'll refer to the general area along north Blackstone Avenue for sake of ease) has the Yard House and Ruth's Chris Steak House. It has an IMAX screen and a DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse. Once upon a time, it had a Krispy Kreme.

Those things have a place in the culture of the city.

But downtown (and I will include the Tower District here) continues to be the heart of Fresno in terms of its arts, entertainment and culture.

Downtown advocates love to say as much as a means of enticing you here. While it can sound like so much rhetoric, it is also true.

Minus the Save Mart Center, there are few real music venues north of Shaw Avenue. There are places — bars, restaurants and the like — that have bands play, but few are dedicated.

That number drops to zero if you're looking for places to hear original music from touring bands or locals.

If you doubt me, look at the music roundup each week and do a map search.

By contrast, I can count nearly a half-dozen music venues within blocks of where I live in the Mural District. Some have been in operation for decades and will be there for decades to come, no doubt.

Ditto that for performing arts venues and theaters (while movies are a legitimate form of entertainment, for my purposes here, multiplexes don't count).

There are art galleries in north Fresno, good ones, too, but they exist as anomalies. There is even a north Fresno Arthop. It takes place on the third Thursday of each month (that's next week, FYI) and it's not the Arthop that people talk about.

That's because downtown has community, history and soul.

Those are important things when you're talking culture and entertainment, and they can't be replicated — especially with brand-new skyscrapers.

Not that developers won't try.

This is not a column to encourage people to discover downtown. Downtown doesn't need discovering. It will exist regardless of a few extra patrons, and those with the inclination will find out without my help.

The others, those who continue to believe that there is nothing good south of Shaw Avenue, can't be reached. Writing it out, such a blanket statement seems too silly to print. I'd be less inclined to say so if I hadn't battled the sentiment before.

I'd like to think most Fresnans know better. Those who don't are missing out on an amazing amount of art, music, theater and culture — things they might actually enjoy.

Like Euston, I'm beginning to think that's OK.

I just feel sorry for them.


The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6759, or @joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at

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