The small southeast Fresno bungalow that was home to famed Armenian-American writer William Saroyan during his teenage years is for sale.
Michael Basmajian’s family has owned the 1,448-square-foot home at 3204 E. El Monte Way, just south of Ventura Avenue, since 1945. Saroyan’s mother, Takoohi, bought the house in 1921 and the family lived in it until 1927.
“It was just a house, before Saroyan was famous,” said Basmajian who inherited the property from his uncle, George, who died in 2002. The house is listed for $150,000.
Don’t confuse this little Craftsman gem with original woodwork near downtown for the simple stucco tract home in central Fresno where Saroyan spent the last 17 years of his life. That house, at 2729 Griffith Way, was a rental home for years before it fell into foreclosure. It was rescued from the auction block in summer 2015 by a Fresno couple then sold to the Intellectual Renaissance Foundation based in Yerevan, Armenia. The group plans to turn the house into a museum honoring Saroyan.
Back on El Monte, George Basmajian would often sit on the front porch, behind a plaque bolted to a pillar dedicating the home as a “Saroyan Historical House,” watching traffic and walkers go by. The cream-colored, red-trimmed house is on the Local Register of Historic Resources.
Japanese tourists would occasionally show up to the house by the bus load to see where the Pulitzer-Prize winning author grew up. George Basmajian once turned down an Armenian woman from Los Angeles who offered to write a $200,000 check for the house on the spot, he told a Bee reporter in 2001.
Since George Basmajian’s death, friends have lived in the house off and on over the years while Michael Basmajian has tried fixing it up. But “it’s become a drain,” he said.
The walls are cracking and the house needs a new foundation. But much of the wood trim (which has been painted over in white), the fireplace, the hardwood floor, the glass doorknobs, the decorative windows and a large dining room buffet is original.
“It would be a shame to have something happen to this place,” said Robert Wiser, Realtor with Guarantee Real Estate, selling the home.
Built in 1914, the house sits on the corner of El Monte Way and 2nd Street. Enter through the front door and into a small living room with hardwood floors, brick fireplace and large beams on the ceiling. One of the front bedrooms has the framework for a Murphy wall bed attached to a revolving door that when swung open leads into the bright kitchen.
The hickory kitchen counter tops are relatively new, but the pantry still has pallet-like shelves allowing air to circulate through the produce that might have once been stored there. The dining room walls have tall wood panels and a small ledge that is wide enough to hold a picture. A large built-in buffet to hold china is the highlight of the room. French doors lead to a back sleeping porch.
Two of the bedrooms are connected by a Jack and Jill bathroom. The original pull string toilet, with tank high on the wall, has been replaced with a modern toilet, but the original medicine cabinet is still intact and there is a claw foot tub.
To Michael Basmajian, the house meant much more than just the childhood home of a famous Fresnan. It’s where he had many family holiday get-togethers, packed into the small dining room with tables extended past the pocket doors into the living room.
“That kind of memory I hang onto,” Basmajian said.
Saroyan Historical House
Address: 3204 El Monte Way, Fresno
Size: 1,448-square-foot , three bedroom, one bath
Details: Original woodwork, wood floors, windows and built-in dining room buffet, hardware for Murphy bed on a revolving door in front bedroom, back porch, Jack and Jill bathroom.