“Don’t tell people your dreams. Show them.” – Cafe sign
And that is exactly what downtown Fresno’s true believers did this weekend during the celebratory reopening of the historic Fulton Street. Thousands turned out to applaud the completion of one big step forward in designing a signature street we can all be proud of. It happened! There has been more squawking and flapping around this project than a Chaffee Zoo bird exhibit.
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But here it is. The spectacular artwork and water features are amenities any city would envy on its downtown’s centerpiece street. After years of aggravating neglect, these million-dollar city treasures are shined up, polished, re-engineered and finally spotlighted at great expense. At last, they are once again being given the respect they deserve.
True believers understand that it is hard for many folks to imagine what “could be” on Fulton. They cannot see past their own past. Their minds are haunted by glorified ghosts of stores that decades ago abandoned Fulton for trendier addresses (and now are almost all dead).
Yet the heart of Fulton Street they deserted remains. It was kept alive by a brave band of hearty folks who would never let go. Gratitude to them. And this weekend, Fulton had a pulse like an Olympian’s, strengthened by a $20 million surgical renewal, ready to welcome a fresh generation of eager entrepreneurs who cannot wait to light up their neon signs that say “Open!”
We got a taste of that by organizers bringing in a host of “pop-up” businesses so we can see what could be.
There were three symbols at this party that to me represented the future of this new street so well.
First, a cavalry of volunteers in yellow shirts greeted me, prepared to answer any question about where to find what. It’s a great city we live in when people make connections with strangers ready and excited to guide you straight to all the fun.
Second was the diverse, high-spirited and friendly crowd: Old, young, millennial and every generation in the alphabet. It was multicultural, multilingual and respectful of all talents who wanted to contribute to the fun and success: culinary, musical, mechanical, technological, fine artistry, electronic, construction crafts, customer service, janitorial. Oh, and those car geniuses, what they do with four wheels.
I chatted up a motorcycle cop parked on the street, who grinned behind his helmet when I asked him how the night was going. No problems at all; it was a great crowd, he said.
I fumbled while paying for a hot dog at one point, and my credit cards and ID spilled out on the sidewalk. I panicked at the thought of someone quickly running off with them. A teenager stepped right in to help, scooped them all up and handed them to me with a smile.
Third was the Fresno Ideaworks maker spaces. These folks already have a home downtown in the Cultural Arts District, but they fit perfectly here as well. A clay potter drew a crowd in the entry. All were fascinated with what he could create out of mud on a potter’s wheel.
There was a line to get into the door of the space, watched by a security guard.
“The fire marshal said we had too many people in at a time; we are limited to 40,” he explained as he held me at the door for a few minutes. “That’s a nice problem!” Big grin.
Once inside there was the epitome of Fulton Street in human form. Artists were specialists at making something out of the most humble supplies: chalkboards made of frames discarded by others; wood crafters made beautiful creations and toys out of tree trunks; fiber artists spun yarn out of wool.
I bought a framed chalkboard created by Nicole Buck. She was also working as a bartender that night. When I asked about her experience as an artist, she described working with the creative community by reciting a quote from the Happy Man in the film “Pretty Woman.”
“What’s your dream? Everybody comes here … land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t. But keep on dreamin’.”
There was no bigger dreamer in the room than Claire Pettengill, who was selling little ant farm kits in plastic boxes. Behind her popular ant farm exhibit is this audacious idea: to rebuild the flagship Fresno Metropolitan Museum. Her plan is to begin with the gift shop and build a museum around it with the proceeds.
She invited me to to join the New Friends of the Met 3.0, who meet Fridays at 6 p.m. in the Tree of Life Cafe and Bakery, 2139 Kern St. The business plan is at www.FresnoMet3.com and a GoFundMe account was set up earlier this month.
After talking to them and walking for a few more blocks, I looked at all of this tribe. We all perhaps have an audacious idea of coming together to slowly upcycle and repurpose these humble storefronts into a super-street of dreams. Do we have their patience and imagination? Do we have respect for its history? Can we all hang together, oldtimers and newcomers, while the dreams slowly take shape and come true? I hope so.
A few blocks over from Fulton on M Street, the national tour of “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” begins its run Tuesday night at the Saroyan Theatre. It’s the life story of a famous songwriter whose work still is treasured from a time when Fulton was in its prime. She co-wrote these lyrics, which seemed to fit Fulton Street on its opening night:
Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?
Gail Marshall is the Acting Editorial Page Editor. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.