Fresno’s historic Craycroft home is a mess.
Walls are smothered in graffiti of every shade. The house needs a new roof and new plumbing and electrical systems – even new ceilings in several rooms. Years of people breaking in to party or looking for something to steal have done their damage.
Despite all that, the house has a new owner who has big plans to bring it back to life.
Developer Reza Assemi, who bought the 1927 house, said the home’s basic structure is sound. The house, which is on the Local Register of Historic Resources, is on Palm Avenue, just north of Sierra Avenue.
He plans to spend the next year bringing it back to a solid shell of a building, paving the way for someone to lease it. He wants it to be a place the public can come see in some form or another.
“I don’t see it as office space,” he said. “I see it more as a public space, whether that’s a restaurant or something else.”
There’s a chance the Craycroft house could follow the path that the School House Restaurant & Tavern took in Sanger. The more than 90-year-old school was a restaurant, then empty for a decade before new owners bought it. After a remodel that honored the history of the building, it’s now a place where people go out of their way to dine.
Last month, a Facebook post exploded with worry after a demolition company showed up the Craycroft house. Demolition of the main house was discussed as an option when the previous owner spoke to The Bee in 2014. The owner would have to show that the property is no longer economically viable.
The city approved a permit to demolish the carriage house because it was unsafe, Assemi said. Its roof had started to collapse.
“The carriage doors were basically holding up the roof,” he said.
He saved the bricks and the roof tiles to use on the rest of the property. But demolition of the main house is the last thing Assemi wants to do.
“It’s a passion project,” he said, adding that he and his 9-year-old daughter have had an eye on the home for a while.
“I’ve driven past this for years and years,” he said. “We’d always joke with each other, ‘One day, one day,’” they would buy it, he said.
He finally bought it for $410,000 and will spend even more to get it into shape.
Assemi – a second cousin to Darius Assemi of Granville Urban Development – is known for jump-starting development of living and artist spaces in downtown Fresno. He transformed old buildings into Broadway Lofts and Broadway Studios, had a hand in the creation of Iron Bird Lofts and turned the long-empty Theatre 3 into offices.
The Craycroft home was built for Frank J. and June Craycroft using bricks from their family’s brick-making plant. Designed by architect W.D. Coates, the house once sat on 80 acres of fig trees. Today, it’s surrounded by offices and rental homes.
Judging by the number of people who stop by to chat or who have expressed concern on that Facebook post, the house is beloved by Fresnans.
“It’s nice to see that passion,” Assemi said. “It’s the same way I feel.”
Despite the mess inside, the house itself is in remarkably good shape to be restored, Assemi says. Brushing away dust from the hardwood floor, it’s easy to see it’s mostly unharmed.
The molding around the doors and windows is still intact. The multipane curved window at the tip-top of the roof is missing its glass, but the wooden frame is still there. And all the details on the outside of the house – from designs in brick to decorative jagged ones that jut out from the walls – have survived.
In back of the house, a sprawling brick barbecue with ovens below it is still intact.
The house is on three-quarters of an acre and Assemi wants to build some multifamily housing in the backyard. How much and what that will look like is still to be determined.
But it’s the main house that most Fresnans seem to care about.
“This is really the gem of the site, but it’s got to be the right use,” he said.