I was young when I heard about him. Community members would talk as though he was a legend, a strong fighter who had a bigger sword and a faster horse than his enemies. He was always outnumbered in battle but crushed those who invaded. I am referring to David of Sassoon, the Armenian folk hero whose stories have been told for centuries. We in Fresno have a piece of him in Courthouse Park. Actually, if you look, our Courthouse Park is full of monuments that are special to many folks. But, until taking lunchtime walks, I didn't know how many diverse monuments we have.
One day I decided to walk around looking at the monuments and spent some time thinking about them. My quest started at David of Sassoon and I headed east along Tulare Street. My journey stopped near the friendly operator of the catering truck, where a lunchtime crowd was waiting for their orders. It was there I discovered a tall sculpture similar to the one I had read about back in high school. In reviewing the description, I learned that the sculpture was actually a gift from the Mexican state of Hidalgo replicating the 900 A.D. sculpture of the Toltec god Tula. Impressive — this was a gift from a state in another country and placed in our very own Courthouse Park.
As I glanced northeast, I found a domed monument with pillars. As I got closer, I was impressed with its design. It reminded me of something that would appear in an ancient European or Mediterranean city. A quick search and I found out that it was built by a husband as a memorial for his wife and was designed by their granddaughter.
From there I walked over to the Fresno County Peace Officers' Memorial and was touched by the names on the wall. Although I didn't recognize any of them, I knew that these were people who gave their lives protecting families like mine. Like many people, I imagine, I had walked past it numerous times. Although I knew what it signified, I never felt it until I took the time to think about it.
As I looked west, another large monument caught my eye. It was of a nicely dressed gentleman on a large concrete base — Dr. Chester Rowell. I had seen his name on a street sign and heard of the elementary school named after him, but I had no idea that he was a humanitarian and the editor-publisher of The Fresno Republican newspaper, as well as our city's fourth mayor. It was interesting to find out that at his death, the community rallied and collected funds to build the monument.
I was also fascinated to learn that many of the contributors for this memorial and his urn were from Fresno's Armenian-American community. The story goes that when they arrived in Fresno Dr. Rowell treated them when they were ill without expecting payment in return. He also supported the community's effort to start its own newspaper and directed his publishing staff to assist in any way possible.
My journey that day ended in front of the monument dedicated to William Saroyan. Although there were at least 16 more monuments I could have visited, my lunch break was coming to an end. Saroyan always fascinated me because of his lack of desire to be the center of attention. His writing was read all around the world. People liked his style, which led to him becoming a worldwide icon, yet friends of his claim he didn't even like his picture taken. Upon doing some research, I found that the monument was on granite imported from India and faced one of the streets where he sold newspapers as a young boy. As I turned around to look across the street I could imagine him with a stack of newspapers selling to people walking around downtown.
After being more observant on my lunchtime walks at Courthouse Park, I can say I am more educated on the history of Fresno and encourage you to spend time there as well.
Sevag Tateosian is host and producer of San Joaquin Spotlight on CMAC Television and 90.7 FM KFSR Fresno.