Ask me: Fresno Community Theater had a 28-year run

Special to The Fresno BeeDecember 7, 2013 

The Fresno Community Theater, Fresno's first theater company, staged plays from 1955 to 1983, including the play in this undated photo. Its last play was "You Can't Take it With You."


Question: I recently saw the 1961 film version of "A Raisin in the Sun" and recall the Fresno Community Theater once staged the play. When did they perform it, and what is the history of the theater group?

— Raymond Ensher, Fresno


The Fresno Community Theater was formed in 1955 and staged its first play, "Born Yesterday," in Roosevelt High School's theater.

The company was Fresno's first live theater group, although the Fresno State theater department also staged plays.

In 1961, the theater company acquired a small theater at 4617 E. Lyell Ave. near Maple Avenue, where it staged "A Raisin in the Sun" in March 1962.

According to Fresno Bee archives, Fresno Community Theater presented at least two plays a year. From 1970 to 1983, the company leased the Fresno Memorial Auditorium from the city of Fresno.

A packet of publicity photos of the company's early plays and a program for the 1956 production of "Affairs of State" was recently sent to The Bee by former Fresno resident Hillary (Manchi) Kittleson of Eugene, Ore.

Kittleson said the pictures belonged to her late aunt, Bea Cuccarese of Fresno, who was a theater volunteer from 1955 until about 1960. Cuccarese was stage manager on "Affairs of State." The photos are all undated and have no identifications.

Fresno Community Theater put on its last production — ironically, "You Can't Take It With You" — in 1983. The company folded a few months later, citing growing expenses and dwindling revenue.

"Money was the basic problem," theater board president Dr. Steve Parks told The Bee at the time. Memorial Auditorium was costly to maintain, he said: "There was no money left over to put on the shows. We couldn't raise the ticket prices and still expect a crowd."

Question: I often see Fresno chili peppers called for in recipes. Who developed the variety?

— Brad Fischer, Fresno


Clarence Brown Hamlin, who had a farm near Clovis, developed the Fresno chili in 1952 and named it after his home county.

Hamlin, who went by "Brownie," owned the Clarence Brown Seed Co. Hamlin's self-taught experiments with plant varieties resulted in the Fresno variety, said his nephew, Casey Hamlin of Fresno County.

"He was looking for a different flavor" when he created the Fresno chili by accident, said Hamlin, who grows and markets Fresno chili peppers from original heirloom seeds. Hamlin said his uncle died in the late 1950s.

The Fresno chili is similar to a jalapeño pepper but has thinner walls, making it best suited for cooking. The chili is green in the summer and turns red as it matures in the fall.

Question: At the north edge of Kingsburg on Old Highway 99 there is a stone monument that until recently held a bronze plaque about an event at Mussel Slough. What happened there?

— Steve Wiest, Kingsburg


The Mussel Slough monument recalls a famous gunbattle between area wheat farmers and a United States marshal and others who came to evict them from their land in 1880.

According to late historian and author Catherine Rehart, the farmers and the Central Pacific Railroad Co. had agreed to a price for selling the land to the farmers, but they were enraged when the railroad increased the price and sold the land to other buyers.

On May 11, 1880, a marshal leading a small group of men began evicting some of the farmers when the gun battle broke out. Two farmers and one of the new landowners were killed.

Seven settlers were arrested and later five of them were convicted following a trial in San Francisco. The five — John D. Purcell, John J. Doyle, James N. Patterson, Wayman L. Pryor and William Braden — enjoyed support from local farmers and people worldwide. Their jailer allowed them to come and go at will during their eight-month sentence. Braden married the jailer's daughter.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number. "He was looking for a different flavor." — Casey Hamlin, nephew of Clovis farmer Clarence Brown Hamlin, who developed the Fresno chili in 1952

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