It’s evening, and Calvin Ross waits for customers. None are likely to arrive. He’s the shoeshine man of Hanford’s Civic Park. He’s as regal and dignified as the town square, surrounded by stately, ornate buildings. He’s been shining shoes for 23 years, “keeping it alive,” he says, referring to the nostalgia of this appealing place.
I almost can’t believe what I’m seeing as daylight fades and neon begins to glow, revealing a classic 1932, fully restored wooden carousel. It’s an Allan Herschell creation, one of 49 that still exist. It costs a dollar to ride. Across the street, an original Fox Theatre opened in 1929, one of 900 built across the country. It was restored in 1982, and now features movies and performers including Vince Gill and the Moscow Ballet. Nearby, Superior Dairy is famous for its handmade ice cream, 16-inch-tall sundaes and customers waiting in lines out the door.
In Civic Park, the Bastille reminds me of a jail from Colonial Spain. It housed prisoners from 1898 until 1964. Mike Bertaina would like to have his office in the now-vacant building, but his staff says no. It’s haunted, legend has it, by a woman named Mary who hanged herself there a long time ago. You might see her hanging inside the tower window at night.
Built on the site of a Chinese sheepherder’s camp, Hanford’s idyllic charm today belies some of its past conflicts. In a showdown over property rights and land prices in 1880, settlers shot it out with the powerful Southern Pacific Railroad in what became known as the Mussel Slough Tragedy. Seven people were killed.
Chinese immigrants who helped build the railroad created a thriving Chinatown. Now all that remains is China Alley, featuring a Taoist temple dating to 1893.
Hanford’s dynamic Civic Park exists today because preservationists anticipated the value of the city’s past and outstanding architecture.
Sometimes a “sense of place” doesn’t need to be created, just preserved.
Stephanie Taylor is a Sacramento artist. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at stephanietaylorart.com.