Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a multi-part series on the history of Old Town Clovis, as told by Larry W. Gamble, a member of the Central Clovis Steering Committee in the 1980s. The committee provided input to the City Council on what would eventually become Old Town Clovis.
Before the council authorized the central Clovis specific plan in 1983, city staff and elected officials provided a glimpse of hope for future improvements.
Leading this charge for invigorating downtown was Mayor Harry Armstrong.
He energized the effort to locate the Department of Motor Vehicles office in the former City Hall building on Pollasky. That gave focus and purpose to the area and brought people back into a once thriving place. The additional vehicles, however, did create some parking issues for merchants.
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So the Parking and Business Improvement Area (P.B.I.A.) was established to improve parking and support business. Money was generated through the additional cost of business licenses. Those funds were used to enhance the area. But that meager income was insufficient to achieve the far-reaching improvements that needed to occur.
One of the more controversial construction projects was the proposed parking lot behind the buildings in the center of town. It would ultimately be called “Parking Lot #1.” It was to be located between 4th and 5th streets and Clovis and Pollasky avenues.
There were both vocal supporters and loud detractors. But in the end, the city worked with everyone to amicably resolve concerns on both sides of the argument. A compromise was reached and agreement formalized. Senior planner Witte made the decision to begin, and away we went.
Completion of this first major work was followed immediately by the construction of the infrastructure and streetscapes. Parking Lot #1 stands as the first symbol of cooperation and rebirth in downtown Clovis.
The decision to build the new parking lot and the conversion of offices into the new DMV office provided hope for the property owners that something good was about to happen in the area. And indeed it did.
Some of the building owners decided to go it alone making changes to their buildings. Some chose to reflect an “old West theme.” Those buildings included Walker’s Café, the Rodeo Shop, the old pharmacy/Rodeo Café, and Dugger’s Shoe Shop. The architectural design later adopted was a mix of Western and turn-of-the-century appearance. Design guidelines had to be established.
During this particular transition, the city relaxed what is referred to as the “overhang rule.” Up to this time, most signs were flush-mount and attached to the front face or the top of the buildings. No objects could encroach into or above the sidewalk areas. Now, for the first time in many years, the city allowed some overhang intrusions above the sidewalk at the front of the buildings. That leniency encouraged covered walkways, colorful canvas awnings and signage.
Haphazard construction projects were unfortunately popping up with no continuity or clear idea what the ultimate effect might be. Should it be Western or turn-of-the-century?
Planning director Wright and senior planner Witte were committed to resolving the question. They worked with the council and business/property owners to develop a unified architectural design concept. About this time, Dwight Kroll, who possessed a very creative mind, joined the staff. Assistant planner Kroll almost single-handedly created visual impressions of how the city could look.
Two field trips were organized for interested citizens. Participating individuals who formed part of the official committee included Don Bremseth, Wayne Rhode, Bob Davis and senior planner Witte. They drove south to view the successful transformation of communities east of Los Angeles in the San Gabrial Valley. They visited the towns of Monrovia and Redlands.
Both cities had instituted “redevelopment plans” to alleviate blight and to be used as a vehicle to obtain financing. In this way, they could focus on appropriate architectural detail and functionality of commercial areas and streetscapes. In the process, cities would be able to fund the projects. It was recommended the design must evolve from what was originally there. Something that was not part of the building’s history should be precluded.
Consequently, the Western concept was superseded by the turn-of-the-century architecture. In most cases, the original design was just waiting to be rediscovered. The group was energized by what they saw.
The second field trip was taken a year later by a group of downtown business owners. As property owners, my wife Sylvia and I were included with this group. Our mission was to create worthwhile events to attract people to visit Old Town Clovis.
I had remembered of how Midwestern farmers would bring their families to town on Thursday nights to shop in a small community of Elkader, Iowa. The streets would come alive with excitement and energy. The best California example was the highly successful Thursday Night Farmers Market in San Luis Obispo.
The Clovis people who attended that trip were Bob and Gloria Burkheimer, Fred and Suzy Osterburg, Thurman and Robin Husler, Larry and Sylvia Gamble. We returned with many ideas concerning special events. The two primary events we subsequently implemented were a farmers market and an old fashioned Christmas event. But the streetscape of Clovis would have to be improved before our ideas for events could be tested.
Part Four of this series will highlight some of the individuals from the City of Clovis who worked diligently to bring this redevelopment project from concept to reality.