When demolition work began in early 2016 on the Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno, one of the chief concerns of critics was what would happen with the mall’s hallmark sculptures, fountains and other works of art in the conversion of the six-block stretch to a traffic-bearing Fulton Street.
Completion of the street – and the restoration and re-installation of the public art – was originally expected to be finished in May. That date has come and gone, and it seems the return of the art to a wide Fulton Street sidewalk promenade, and completion of the street construction itself, won’t be fully done until October.
Delays in construction from a wet winter and the contractor having to fill in previously undiscovered basements in buildings along the mall have pushed the schedule back. But restoration of the artwork and fountains has been progressing apace since last year, said Craig Scharton, interim CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership and a former Fulton Mall business owner.
It’s pretty remarkable.
Craig Scharton, interim CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership
About $5 million of the $20 million budget for the Fulton Street project was earmarked for removing, restoring and reinstalling the art. But don’t expect the art to make a return until the various chunks of the street are ready to open.
\“The city is going to open the first block and the third block as soon as they’re completed, toward the end of August,” Scharton said, referring to the northernmost section between Fresno and Tuolumne streets and the southern segment between Tulare and Inyo streets. “At the end of the process, when those are opened up, is when the art will go back in, when the blocks are ready to be handed over (by the contractor) to the city.”
One notable milestone is expected to come early next week, when a crane will pluck the mall’s signature clock tower, created by artist Jan de Swart in 1964 from wood and fiberglass, and move it about 60 feet directly south from its position near the center of the plaza formed by the intersection of the Fulton and Mariposa malls – just far enough to get it out of the path of the rebuilt Fulton Street. Scharton said the tower, which has been cocooned by a protective scaffolding, will probably be moved on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Other artwork from the mall includes bronze sculptures by artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Clement Renzi, James Lee Hansen, Bruno Groth and George Tstutakawa; sculpted clay pipes by Stanley C. Bitters; a granite sculpture by Gordon Newell; and others. Sculpture Conservation Studios in Los Angeles is handling the cleaning and conservation of most of the art, while the work of restoring the fountains falls to California Waters, a company in Yorba Linda.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Scharton said of the restoration of much of the art, which had been weathered for 50-plus years. “It’s amazing to see what’s happening to the pieces.” The various fountains on the mall, he added, are not only being moved, but getting rebuilt using the original blueprints.
Artist meeting set
Also next week, the city of Fresno will be hosting a meeting with Napa artist Gordon Huether, whose studio was awarded a $200,000 contract in May to develop, create and install a major public art installation for the Mariposa Plaza. The project is largely being paid for by a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The meeting is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at WorkSpace, in the third floor of the Pacific Southwest Building at the junction of the Mariposa and Fulton malls. The meeting is an opportunity for Huether to share his vision for a new design of the plaza as well as for the public to weigh in with ideas for the art.
Huether’s selection by a city screening committee was not without some concern from the Fresno City Council, however. Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria voted against the contract, expressing her preference that the city should have made a more concerted effort to recruit and involve local artists in the project instead of hiring an out-of-town artist.
Lupe Perez, project manager for the city’s planning department, said that local artists had the opportunity to offer proposals for the project, but none submitted bids. But because it involves a federal grant, the project had to be put out to bid on a national basis. A representative of the Fresno Arts Council said her organization heard from the local art community that the scope of the project was simply larger than they could manage.
Councilman Clint Olivier pondered why some of the restored Fulton Mall art shouldn’t be relocated to the Mariposa Plaza rather than commissioning new art. “All this art that we had to move – treasures, masterpieces, really, that have been moved off the mall – can’t we just move them back (to Mariposa Plaza) for people to enjoy,” Olivier asked.
“I’ve been to (Huether’s) website and I don’t mean to – I mean, art’s relative, right?” Olivier added. “If somebody looks at something and says it’s beautiful, and somebody (else) looks at it and doesn’t understand it … the guy who says it’s beautiful says, ‘Well, you just don’t understand art.’ ”
Then-City Manager Bruce Rudd told the council in May that plans are already in place for the restored Fulton Mall art pieces to return to the mall. The NEA grant, in the meantime, was specifically for new art on the Mariposa Plaza.