This abandoned historic building in downtown Fresno soon will be home for 79 families

Construction to renovate and restore Hotel Fresno will begin later this month to transform the historic, dilapidated building into apartments for 79 families and further revitalize downtown.

Escrow on the $26.5 million project closed last week, and Los Angeles developers Eugene Kim and Lefeba Gougis with APEC International said they hope the project will be complete and ready for families to move in by the end of 2020.

City Councilmember Miguel Arias, whose district includes downtown, said the housing project will help further revitalize downtown and help attract more businesses.

“This is a huge deal for Fresno because it’s an example that we can save our history while revitalizing our inner core of our downtown,” he said.

The apartments will serve mixed income levels and range from one-, two- and three-bedroom units from 500 square feet to about 1,200 square feet. The ground level of the hotel will include some retail as well as a common area for community events. The second floor to the seventh floor will be residential.

Many of the historical features in the building, such as the lobby tile featuring a grapevine mosaic, a fireplace and atrium, will be fully restored to federal standards, Gougis said. The developers also hired top historical consultants to work on the project, and plans already have been approved at the state and federal levels.

“All of that will be rehabbed as close as possible to what it looked like before,” he said.

The project was made possible after downtown this year was marked an “opportunity zone” so investors could reinvest in areas of need and defer taxes on their profits. The Hotel Fresno investors also received tax credits since the building is historically designated both locally and nationally.

Hotel Fresno, designed by San Francisco architect Edward Foulkes, was built in 1912. In its heyday, it was considered the most luxurious hotel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Among the famous names to stay at Hotel Fresno were Richard Nixon, silver-screen icons Gary Cooper and Victor McLaglen, and Hall of Fame boxers Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, the hotel and its immediate area underwent renovations, street realignments and multiple ownerships. By 1969, the hotel was a home for senior citizens, and the owners were losing tens of thousands of dollars each month on repairs. The senior citizens were evicted in 1983, and the building has been vacant ever since, falling victim to vandals and break-ins.

In recent years, a grassroots group called Saving Hotel Fresno advocated and succeeded in helping the building land a spot on the National Register. The effort is led by Christopher Rocha, who also works for the Fresno Downtown Partnership and collects Hotel Fresno memorabilia and artifacts.

“We are excited for this huge milestone in downtown Fresno’s revitalization,” Rocha said. “Adaptive reuse of a historic building that has sat vacant for 36 years will breathe new life and light up the downtown skyline once again.”

Arias said the project will reverse Fresno’s trend of abandoning its history.

“Hotel Fresno is a perfect example of a historical jewel that for decades has sat vacant and deteriorated,” he said. “For us, saving Hotel Fresno and bringing it back to life is just one more right that we’re doing in historical wrongs when it comes to our history and the preservation of these buildings.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.