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Long-abandoned brick building reborn as Fresno charter school

New use for an old 1913 Fresno building

Downtown Fresno's Parker Nash Building at Broadway and Stanislaus at one time housed a car dealership. Now, it's home to Kepler Neighborhood School. Built in 1913, the building is located in what has become the downtown mural district.
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Downtown Fresno's Parker Nash Building at Broadway and Stanislaus at one time housed a car dealership. Now, it's home to Kepler Neighborhood School. Built in 1913, the building is located in what has become the downtown mural district.

Downtown Fresno’s revitalization renaissance can add one more project to the list.

A long vacant brick building that was once home to an automobile dealership in the Mural District is undergoing renovations to become the new home for Kepler Neighborhood School.

Construction started two weeks ago to remove wood boards and secure the brick facade of the 24,000-square-foot Parker-Nash building at Broadway and Stanislaus Street. Tutelian & Co., led by developer Cliff Tutelian, owns the property and is renovating the building.

“It’s nice to turn this into something that is worthwhile for the community,” said Alex Mellor, Tutelian marketing director.

It’s nice to turn this into something that is worthwhile for the community.

Alex Mellor, Tutelian marketing director

The original skin of the building will remain, including its arched windows, hand-carved columns, wood beams and the terra-cotta roof tiles, Mellor said. A state-of-the-art facility will be built within the walls.

Half of the roof, the trusses weaved together in a dome shape, will be removed and raised to build second-floor classrooms. When finished, the building will have 37,000 square feet of usable space – double the amount Kepler currently occupies in the education complex for Cornerstone Church on Fulton Street. A grassy play area also will be built across the street on Broadway.

“It’s like buying a house and getting a huge upgrade,” Principal Christine Montanez said.

The school’s search for a larger, more permanent location started two years ago. The board of directors looked at 38 possible sites and narrowed it down from there. “We had a difficult time finding space,” Montanez said.

Kepler was created to serve students in the cultural/mural arts district and its charter requires it to be within a 10-minute walk from the Lowell Neighborhood just north of downtown, Montanez said.

The board decided to pursue the Parker-Nash site in September after a “build to suit” sign went up. The school will lease the property and has an option to purchase it, Montanez said.

The building was constructed in 1913 as the Case Garage, a local dealership for Case automobiles and Adams trucks. It served as a car dealership under several owners for years. R.J. “Dick” Parker opened his Nash dealership on the property in the early 1950s. It closed in 1969 after his death.

The old weathered Parker-Nash building, which is on the Local Register of Historic Resources, was constructed in 1913 as the Case Garage, a local dealership for Case automobiles and Adams trucks, according to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. The masonry building was altered several times with a major addition in 1919. The Spanish Revival facade was added in 1934 during a city street widening and beautification project.

The building’s namesake came from R.J. “Dick” Parker who opened his Nash dealership on the property in the early 1950s. The business closed in 1969 after Parker died. The last major tenant was Clark’s Fixtures, a restaurant equipment business whose name is still painted on the building.

Tutelian bought the property in 2007 and hung onto it “waiting for the right time to make a financial commitment,” said Mellor, who declined to say how much the renovation will cost.

The project comes at a good time, Tutelian officials said, as the excitement about downtown revitalization continues to grow with housing development and the new project to restore traffic to Fulton Street just a few blocks from the new Kepler school.

“We could have used it as a money-making” property, Mellor said. “That was not our focus. We’re looking to bring more people downtown.”

We can’t wait to see the positive impact the move will have on everybody.

Christine Montanez, Kepler Neighborhood School principal

The project is expected to finish by November. Montanez hopes to start classes in the new building Dec. 1. The school will have a library, an on-site garden, a multipurpose room and space for a transitional kindergarten or preschool program planned for 2017, all of which do not exist at the current site, Montanez said.

About 600 students pre-enrolled for the 2016-17 school year, but the school could only accommodate up to 396. The Parker-Nash building will allow the school to serve up to 440 students.

“We’re excited,” Montanez said. “We can’t wait to see the positive impact the move will have on everybody.”

BoNhia Lee: 559-441-6495, @bonhialee

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