If the walls of Frank and Roxie Moradian’s house could talk, what might they say?
It’s a little cliché, I know. But some of us want to know if silent film star Charlie Chaplin or Soviet ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev ever visited the unique Japanese-style house on the bluffs in northwest Fresno. Their photos once were on display inside, but were the pictures taken there?
The Moradians had famous friends, and they liked to entertain in their home – the first house built on the bluffs and considered by many to have the best view of the San Joaquin River. Notable guests have included pianist Van Cliburn, Russian-American ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, “Vintage” author Anita Clay Kornfeld and actress Carol Channing.
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No doubt, there are others.
“The Moradians had something magical about them, and that’s how they got to know people,” said Mike Nicoletti, who is representing the Frank and Roxie Moradian trusts that own the house. “They spent a lot of time in San Francisco. They got very much involved in San Francisco society and met interesting people.”
Fresno author William Saroyan, Frank Moradian’s childhood friend and neighbor, also introduced the couple to famous people he knew.
Roxie Moradian inherited her wealth from her Armenian father who invented a grape-bleaching machine to make the first “golden raisin.” She shared her fortune with her husband, helping him purchase the Penny Newman Grain Co. in Fresno now led by Nicoletti. Over the years, the couple gave generously to hospitals, schools and humanitarian groups.
Roxie Moradian died last year at 103. Her husband died in 1987. They had no children. The house was left in their trusts. Danyelle Conner of London Properties is marketing the property for sale. The new buyer can restore the home or demolish it and build new, she said. All proceeds from the sale will go to Fresno State and the University of California, San Francisco.
In its day, the Charles Avenue house, built in 1967, was quite a showplace, Nicoletti said. Its curved roof and outdoor lanterns reflect the couple’s love of Japanese architecture. The Moradians loved to travel, and Roxie Moradian’s favorite destinations included Paris, Portugal and Japan.
The large living room with floor-to-ceiling windows and the garden just below the house are the focal points of the property overlooking the golf course and the river, where we spotted two large coyotes on a recent afternoon tour. The house only has two bedrooms but has 3 1/2 bathrooms, including one in the hallway with a built-in closet.
Nicoletti remembers the Moradians asking him to bartend a book-signing party for Kornfeld at the house in 1975. It was a big event with about 100 people, he said. Then, there was a breakfast one morning for historian and California State Librarian Kevin Starr who had asked to meet Saroyan there.
On their down time, the Moradians liked to paint. A downstairs room, which could be used as a third bedroom, served as the couple’s art studio and wine cellar. That’s where Fresno State College professor and nationally acclaimed artist Darwin Musselman once tutored the couple in painting. They were art lovers and collectors, and both were founding members of the Fresno Arts Center (forerunner of the Fresno Art Museum) and served on its board of directors.
“We’d paint together in the room … sometimes we’d get so absorbed in what we were doing that we stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning, painting,” Roxie Moradian told a Bee reporter in 1993.
Even Saroyan adored the property. On Sundays, Fresno’s favorite son would ride his bicycle to the house for lunch and would run along the river below.
He would say to the Moradians, “Why do you want to go on vacation? Best view in the world is right here.”
Address: 7667 N. Charles Ave., Fresno
Size: 2,620-square-foot home
Details: Two bedroom, 3 1/2 bathrooms, Palos Verdes stone fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows in living room, large master bathroom and walk-in closet, outdoor patio and porch, concrete stairs lead down to Japanese garden in the rear, extra room below the house, outdoor kitchen, pool with bridge in front of house, three-car garage.