Old Fresno bar is first building demolished to make way for high-speed rail

The Fresno BeeJuly 14, 2014 

Demolition crews made short work of the old Annie's Hollywood Inn bar on Fresno's Golden State Boulevard on Monday, marking the first demolition statewide to make way for California's proposed high-speed rail project.

Workers for J. Kroeker Inc. Demolition began using a large excavator to tear into the building, taking the first bite from the rear of the 66-year-old structure shortly after 8 a.m. Within 15 minutes, all of the walls were gone and the building was reduced to rubble and splintered lumber.

The long-closed bar at the corner of Golden State Boulevard, Pine and West avenues, between Olive and McKinley avenues, is part of the statewide rail line's first 29-mile construction segment that stretches from the northeast fringe of Madera to the southern edge of Fresno. It is the first of at least six central Fresno structures slated for demolition this week, said Diana Gomez, the Central Valley regional director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "We're going to be demolitioning throughout the week, several residences and a couple of businesses," Gomez said.

Three boarded-up homes on McKinley Avenue, between Golden State and West Avenue, are due to come down, as are the former Horn Photo building and a neighboring building on Belmont Avenue between Harrison and Farris avenues.

RELATED: See where demolition is being done

Either late this week or next week, Gomez added, crews are expected to start tearing down the old Del Monte packinghouse building at Tulare and G streets. The building, a vacant downtown eyesore at the edge of Fresno's Chinatown district, was heavily damaged by a fire in May.

Hollywood Inn memories

Former Valley journalist and musician Ruth Hill, who now lives in Nashville, remembers performing at Annie's Hollywood Inn with the band Pony Express off and on for about 10 years until about 2003. "When I started playing there, it was my first paid gig and I had to play bass on songs I'd never heard," Hill said.

When California's no-smoking law hit the bars, "Annie's ignored it for a couple of years but after a few citations was forced to comply," Hill said. "Most of the clientele had been regulars for 40 years or more and they all smoked, and the bartenders did, too.

"So when the band took its hourly 10-minute break, they closed the bar temporarily and everyone went outside to smoke."

According to property tax records, the Hollywood Inn was built in 1948. It and other buildings along Golden State Boulevard, as well as the Del Monte packinghouse and other buildings on the east side of G Street in downtown, sit in the path of the bullet-train right of way identified two years ago by the rail authority.

The buildings on McKinley and Belmont avenues are coming down to make way for overpasses to carry traffic over the existing Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks and the future high-speed line.

Boon for subcontractor

Jill Kroeker, owner of the Fresno demolition firm, said the prime contracting consortium Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons has subcontracted with her company for all of the demolition work in the Madera-Fresno construction segment. According to the rail authority, the contract is worth about $6.2 million -- and for Kroeker's 9-year-old company, that's a big deal.

""That's going to be a great advantage to us in the long-term," Kroeker said. "It's already enabled me to hire a project manager full-time, which is something I didn't have the luxury of, and we're moving offices.

"That's one of the best advantages, just being able to hire more people and keep them working," she added.

Kroeker's company represents one step toward a major goal of the rail authority: making sure that a sizable portion of work on the $68 billion rail project goes to local small businesses and firms owned by historically disadvantaged groups including women, minorities and disabled veterans. The agency has a 30% small-business hiring goal built into its agreements with its prime construction contractor as well as with consultants for other work throughout California.

The rail authority reported that as of mid-June, certified small businesses in Fresno County have subcontracts amounting to more than $56 million for the first construction segment. The overall contract with Tutor Perini Inc. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction of Texas and Parsons Corp. of Pasadena to design and build the 29-mile Madera-Fresno section amounts to just under $1 billion.

Start of something big

The demolition work comes on the heels of engineers building a large concrete test piling near Highway 145 and the Fresno River in Madera to conduct structural tests as they design an elevated bridge to carry high-speed rail tracks over the highway, the river and nearby Raymond Road -- a span of more than 1,000 feet.

Gomez said that kind of activity means it won't be long before demolition work is joined by construction of the rail line and associated structures like over- and underpasses.

"After they get all that data (from the test piling) and complete the design, we might start seeing construction of the actual columns and foundations and pilings up on the Fresno River Bridge," she said.

The rail authority and its contractors are also working through the city of Fresno's various permit processes. "We'll probably start seeing construction along Ventura or Tulare (streets) as we build those underpasses," Gomez added. "Probably within the next two months we'll start seeing something going up versus coming down."

The Madera-Fresno section and the recently approved Fresno-Bakersfield sections of the rail route are proposed to be the backbone of a 520-mile, $68 billion passenger rail system linking San Francisco and Los Angeles with electric trains capable of traveling at up to 220 mph. Future phases are proposed to extend routes to Sacramento and San Diego.

The Federal Railroad Administration has put up more than $3 billion in federal transportation and stimulus funds for construction in the San Joaquin Valley; the state is obligated to put up almost $3 billion in matching funds. That money was expected to come from the sale of bonds authorized by Proposition 1A, a 2008 bond measure approved by California voters in 2008.

The sale of those bonds, however, is tied up in court in Sacramento. The state Legislature recently approved a $250 million allocation in 2014-15 from California's cap-and-trade fund -- money generated by auctioning pollution credits to companies that are unable to reduce their own emissions -- for the high-speed rail project. Legislators also voted to earmark 25% of future cap-and-trade income -- potentially $3 billion to $5 billion each year -- for the bullet train.

Fresno County reversal?

Monday's demolition began on the eve of a potential vote Tuesday by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to reverse its seven-year history of support for high-speed rail and instead take a position opposing the project.

In a memo to her board colleagues, Supervisor Debbie Poochigian said multiple lawsuits against the project and myriad other concerns including "environmental issues, funding shortfalls, potential property rights violations, delays in property acquisition, stalled bond sales" suggest that "there is no telling if and when completion will occur."

"It is our duty to unambiguously express Fresno County's position on the high-speed rail project and consider a resolution in opposition," Poochigian wrote.

-- The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or on Twitter @TimSheehanNews.

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