I was born in Clovis at the old Clovis Sanitarium on Pollasky Ave, serving double-duty in those days as the city’s hospital. Our family was made up of three girls and six boys. There was Linda, Jeanie, Helen, John, Larry, Jerry (my twin brother), Leon, Paul and Gary. With the exception of my youngest brother, Gary, we all attended Weldon Elementary and Clovis High School.
Our father came to Fresno from Canton, China when he was 2 years old. He traveled back to China and married my mother at the age of 16. After returning to the United States, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and during the war, would reach the rank of sergeant before being honorably discharged near the end of WWII.
After the war our dad worked in Chinese restaurants and card rooms in and around the Fresno Chinatown area. He would support my mother and older sisters by working 12 hours a day over the course of 10 years, saving every penny he could along the way. He finally saved enough money to start his own restaurant and in 1953 purchased the property at 520 Clovis Ave. My father, with help from the locals, converted the existing building and opened the Gay Way Chop Suey Restaurant. He and my mother ran the restaurant from 1953 to 1973 and all of us pitched in to help.
I still remember when the Clovis Police Department was located across the alley on Pollasky Ave. Officer Pishione and his boys used to come through the back door of the kitchen as they greeted my dad with, “Hey Louie – gimme a large order of tomato beef chow mein with extra crispy noodles!”, as they proceeded into the dining room to seat themselves.
Some of my fondest childhood memories were during weekdays as my brothers and I would walk to Weldon school, window shopping all the way down Pollasky Ave. First to Hillman’s Shoe Store, then to Rasco’s department store, on past what used to be the courthouse, which is now the city’s museum. All the way we would be looking for soda pop bottles, knowing we could cash them in at Valla’s Market for 4 cents apiece and purchase penny candy, before we went to school. Our last stop would be Clovis Bakery. There we would smell the donuts and fresh-baked bread. That in itself was truly a treat. If we had money, we would buy a breadstick for 3 cents. If we didn’t, the Fruguilettis, who owned the bakery, would make sure we never left empty-handed. We walked past the old Clovis Library, which is now our Chamber of Commerce, and on to school.
For some reason, our way home from school always seemed to be an adventure. We would take a different route each day as we explored the alleys and visited places such as Cornet’s department store, Gong’s Market, Sassano’s, Rhode’s shoe store, Central Market and A&W Drive-in. We would walk home with our classmates and one-by-one they would head toward their homes as we waved goodbye. Oh, yes, and how could I forget the church located at DeWitt Avenue and Fourth Street? One of our classmates told us that “Wolfman” lived in the basement. Sometimes the basement windows would be open and we would peek in hoping to get a glimpse of him. I remember one of my classmates saying, “Did you hear that? He just howled! He’s in there!” We would all scatter and take off running down DeWitt.
Another memory is the old pomegranate tree on Third Street just east of Weldon. I remember it so well because we had to explain to Mom why we had little red stains all over our new JC Penney T-shirts. As we were having our pomegranate seed fight, it never occurred to us that the stains wouldn’t come out. We sure looked silly wearing those shirts to school for the next few months. Clovis was so much fun as we interacted with the local proprietors of that era. There were so many boys in our family that we were simply referred to by the locals as “The Louie boys.” It’s funny, even after all these years, this area, which is now known as “Old Town”, hasn’t changed that much.
I am employed by the City of Clovis as the Department Support Manager, having worked for the city 23 years. I enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, golf, boating, working on motorcycles and spending time with my family.
My wife, Vivian, and I have been married for 28 years. Vivian is a system analyst with Community Medical Center of Central California. We have two sons, Cooper, 24, who is an health analyst with UC San Francisco Medical Center, and Hogan, 21, a student at Fresno State.
I’ve been fortunate to have been born in a hospital on Pollasky Avenue, raised in a house on Clovis Avenue, attended elementary school on DeWitt Avenue and been employed in a building on Fourth Street, all within a one-mile radius. I don’t know if that’s called leading a sheltered life or being just plain lucky.