Ask me: Hill-top mausoleum built for pioneer ranch family

The Fresno BeeMarch 8, 2014 

Question: There is a large mausoleum on a hill above Interstate 5 near Vernalis Road that I see as I drive between San Francisco and Fresno. Who is buried there?

— John Bissell, San Francisco


The granite and marble mausoleum built in the Doric style of Grecian architecture is known as the Brichetto Tomb after its builder, pioneer rancher and merchant G. Joseph Brichetto. He and five other family members are buried there.

Brichetto, a native of Italy, settled in San Joaquin County in 1867 with his wife, Luicia Canale. He helped build tunnels for Southern Pacific Railroad and sold vegetables he grew in his garden.

In 1872, Brichetto opened a general store in Banta, near Tracy. He went into farming and at the time of his death owned 9,000 acres on the county's west side.

Brichetto and his wife had seven children, including Edward and Henery who died in 1883 and 1885, respectively, each before their first birthday.

Their sons, John and Joseph, formed the Brichetto Bros. grain farming business. John died in 1934.

In the mid-1950s, Joseph donated 130 acres that became the Tracy Golf and Country Club, which the mausoleum overlooks. He died in 1976.

Daughter Mollie Brichetto married Joseph Raspo in 1911, who later bought her father's general store. She died in 1965.

Daughters Minnie, who died in 1989 at 100, and Irene, who died in 1945, did not marry.

In 1917, the year after G. John Brichetto's death, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper said he came to California with $40, and when he died his estate exceeded $330,000.

Brichetto left instructions in his will to build the mausoleum, which has 12 crypts. He is buried alongside Luicia, who died in 1956, Irene, son John and the two babies. Their names are carved on the front of the tomb.

Q: How did Van Ness end up named as an avenue, boulevard and extension?

— Claude Laval, Fresno


Van Ness Avenue first appears on Fresno maps around 1885 when new streets opened north of Divisadero Street to accommodate the city's burgeoning growth. In the early 1880s Fresno's population tripled from 1,112 to 3,464.

The name was borrowed from Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, which was named for that city's seventh mayor, James Van Ness. The city of Fresno was laid out in 1873, the year after it was founded.

It's not clear when street names were assigned, but The Heritage Center in the downtown Fresno County Library has the "Grade & Contour Map of the City of Fresno" drawn in 1888 showing Fresno's original streets, all south of Divisadero. (Encased in a flexible plastic sleeve, the large map handles more like a linen tablecloth than a sheet of paper.) Like other American cities, early-day Fresno was laid out at an angle along the alignment of the Central Pacific Railroad lines. Streets running southwest to northeast were named for California counties, while cross streets were given alphabetical letter names.

The north-south Van Ness aligns about with the angled K Street south of Divisadero. In 1915, K Street was renamed Van Ness Street, later changed to avenue.

Van Ness continued northward as the city grew. The street stops at the southern border of Fresno City College at McKinley Avenue, but picks up again at Weldon Avenue, where it becomes Van Ness Boulevard.

Today that segment of Van Ness south of Shaw is in the Old Fig Garden area, where the tree-lined boulevard of exclusive homes becomes Christmas Tree Lane during December.

In the early 1900s a tract map was filed for Van Ness Boulevard north of Shaw to Herndon Avenue.

According to Chris Motta, principal planner with the Fresno County Planning Department, the northern portion of Van Ness is officially designated a boulevard even though it is popularly called "extension."

Q: I lived in Fresno from 1941 to 1964 and I remember Hall's restaurant on Highway 99. What is the history of the business?

— June Anna Banta, Bishop


Hall's Drive In Restaurant was opened at Golden State Highway and Cherry Avenue in 1946 by Vernon Hall and C.C. Hershberger, according to a Fresno Bee story.

The restaurant was open 24 hours and had table and car service. Hall had been in the restaurant business for 26 years and operated 15 other restaurants in San Francisco, San Jose and Long Beach.

In 1947, Hall's relocated to 2120 S. Railroad Ave. and by 1949 moved to 2483 S. G St. By 1959, Hall's moved again to 2395 S. G St., along Golden State Boulevard, the old Highway 99, and just north of East Church Avenue.

A 1948 advertisement says Hall's featured "Hall's style ham and eggs — they're different and delicious." The advertisement also boasts that Hall's was "generating all of our own electricity."

Hershberger was last listed in Fresno city directories as a restaurant partner in 1949. Jack Jenkins became a partner in Hall's by 1962 and is listed as its owner in the 1966 directory.

A 1969 advertisement called Hall's "a Fresno landmark of fine food" featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet including drink and dessert for 90 cents for "kids" and $1.75 for adults. In 1973, Hall's offered "family night" dining for $2. Jenkins and his wife, Audrey, ran Hall's for about 20 years. Audrey Jenkins died in 1991 and Jack Jenkins died in 1992. Today the former Hall's houses Café 309.

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.

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