Ask Me

May 24, 2014

Ask Me: Goodwin was Fresno's first black attorney, judge

Question: What is the history of the Fresno judge who sentenced lawbreakers to church instead of jail?

-- Johnnie L. Thomas Sr., Fresno

Answer: Hugh Wesley Goodwin Sr., the first black lawyer and judge in Fresno County, drew both criticism and praise nationwide for sentencing some people convicted of misdemeanors to church or Bible study.

Goodwin was born in Pennsylvania in 1921. His father was a minister and steelworker, and Goodwin was a devote Christian. He graduated from Harvard Law School and practiced law in Los Angeles and Berkeley. He moved to Fresno and opened a law office at 1143 F St. in 1952.

Goodwin was Fresno County's assistant public defender from 1967 until 1976, when Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the Municipal Court bench.

During the two years he served as judge, Goodwin came under fire for making church or Bible study a condition of probation for those convicted of misdemeanors and for letting some convicts substitute church attendance for a jail sentence.

Goodwin defended his actions in a lengthy 1976 letter to the editor in The Bee: "We in government have powers and authority only because (God) has allowed us to have them," he said. "Whatever we do, people should know that it is being done to glorify (God) and this they should be able to see.

"Where should a person receive the most help, in church or in jail? I would hope that he would receive it in church," Goodwin said.

In 1978 Goodwin was censured by the state's Commission on Judicial Performance for blurring the separation of church and state. The misconduct charge was dropped after Goodwin was voted off the bench that year.

Goodwin continued to be active in his church and community and practiced law until 1996. He died in 2004 at age 83.

Q: What is the history of the railroad underpass on Wishon Avenue?

-- Lou Steck, Fresno

A: The Wishon Avenue underpass under the Santa Fe railroad tracks was completed in 1914 by the Fresno Traction Co.

The underpass became necessary when the "double-track Forthcamp Line began its march out Wishon Avenue, the furthest north any line had reached at that time," according to the book "When Fresno Rode the Rails," a history of the city's trolley and bus system.

The Forthcamp Line was one of the first three trolley lines in Fresno and the last surviving line when trolley transportation was abandoned in May 1939.

Judging from a 1939 photo of the underpass, the concrete walls still look much as they did when first built.

As a side note, Forthcamp Street was named for John C. Forthcamp, who developed the exclusive North Park neighborhood just north of Divisadero Street. Forthcamp Street was renamed Fulton Street.

Forthcamp built a large Queen Anne-style home on Fulton in 1911, where he lived until his death in 1925. The home was later owned by John W. Proffitt. In 1989 the Proffitt House, as it became known, was moved from Fulton to Fresno State by the Sigma Nu fraternity.

Q: While living in Tollhouse years ago, I used to play golf at the Serena Vista course on Shaw. I now live at Quail Lake, which I believe is on the former golf course. What happened to Serena Vista?

-- Cliff Sparrow, Clovis

A: The northern half of the Quail Lake community covers the former Serena Vista Golf Course and Country Club, according to Mitch Meyer, president and chief executive officer of Quail Lake. "It was long defunct by the time we purchased it in 1990," he said. "That land is now part of the Quail Lake master planned community."

The original golf course at 10525 E. Shaw Ave. opened in 1962 as the nine-hole Terrace Green.

According to a 1964 advertisement in The Bee, new owners renamed the course Hills View. Al Huber was the pro and manager. The course had a pro shop, coffee shop and putting green. A round of golf cost $1.50 on weekdays and $2 on the weekend. A month card was $9 for one person and $12 for a family.

Hills View became a semi-private course in 1968 and the monthly fees went up to $14 single and $20 family.

By 1969 the course was called Serena Vista and Huber was listed as a partner. Greens fees were $2.50 on weekdays and $3.50 on weekends. The course was open to the public and a men's club was formed in 1969, with a $150 membership fee.

The second nine holes were added in 1970. Jim Moore took over from Huber as club pro in 1973.

Moore, then 46, praised the benefits of a good round of golf: "Golf relaxes you mentally and physically, and I believe if more elderly people spent more time playing golf it would reduce their health problems."

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About Paula Lloyd

Paula Lloyd

Got historical questions? Paula Lloyd has the answers. Lloyd was a Bee reporter and Ask Me columnist -- her "favorite job ever" -- until she retired in 2012. But Ask Me's siren call could not be denied, and she resumed the column in 2013. Contact her at

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