Ask Me

Two historic houses of worship grace downtown Fresno street

Q: As a youngster growing up in Fresno, I often passed by the columned building at Calaveras and N streets. What is the history of the beautiful, longtime structure in downtown Fresno?

Raymond F. Ensher, Fresno

A: The white, neoclassical building at 1615 N St. on the corner of Calaveras Street houses Power House Institutional Church of God in Christ. Built in 1916 for Church of Christ Scientist, the building is listed on Fresno’s Local Register of Historic Resources.

The register calls the church “an imposing local adaptation of the Boston Mother Church tradition.” The Romanesque Revival-style Mother Church of Christian Science in Boston was built in 1894. The six two-story columns that support a portico above Power House Church’s wide front steps echo that architectural style.

LaMont Perry Sr., grandson and son of the founders of Power House Church, said the church bought the building from First Church of Christ Scientist in 1989. His grandfather, Baby Perry, founded Power House Church of God in Christ in Stockton in 1940. The church name “went dormant,” Perry said, when his grandfather died in a plane crash in 1963.

Perry’s late father, J.D. Perry Sr., founded the local Power House Church in 1980 at Church and Fig streets. Fig Street was later renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The church added “Institutional” to its name around 1996.

A fire heavily damaged the front of the iconic downtown building in 2013. A celebration is planned for January to mark the completion of a nearly three-year restoration, Perry said.

Power House Church was designed by architect Robert Hotchkin, who was born in New York in 1859. He worked in Chicago before coming to Fresno in 1904, where he worked for the McDougall Bros. firm, with offices in San Francisco and Fresno. The firm closed its Fresno office in 1906 to concentrate on reconstruction efforts in San Francisco following the massive earthquake and ensuing fires. Before returning to Fresno, Hotchkin was in charge of the $1 million Standard Oil building project.

Hotchkin got his architect’s license in 1912. He joined the A.C. Swartz & Sons firm the following year and in 1915 opened his own office. Two of his projects included homes on Pine Avenue and at Floradora and Wishon avenues in what later became the Tower District.

In 1923 Hotchkin designed Temple Beth Israel with its richly detailed interior. The former temple at 2336 Calaveras St. faces the Power House Church and is also listed on the Local Register of Historic Resources. The building is today used as the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission Sanctuary Youth Center. Hotchkin died in 1929.

Q: I remember going to a little hamburger shop at Palm and Bullard called Tastee Freez as a boy. It was a treat to go there after Little League games. When did it open and how many years did it stay open?

Sean Ryan, Fresno

A: Tastee Freez opened at 6032 N. Palm Ave., on the northeast corner at Bullard Avenue, in 1965, according to Fresno city directories. It closed in 1967. The next year the address is recorded as the Don Miguel Drive-in, but by the following year the site was vacant. The Bullard Plaza Shopping Center opened on that corner in 1971.

According to the Tastee Freez website, inventor Leo Moranz and entrepreneur Harry Axene founded the company in 1950.

“The two men formed a partnership to market a revolutionary new soft-serve pump and freezer,” the company history says, and “allowed stands to use the Tastee Freez name in exchange for rent paid on the soft-serve pump needed to operate each freezer.”

Tastee Freez franchises eventually expanded the menus to offer typical fast-food items. The company history says the franchise is one of the longest-running in the country. Today there are Tastee Freez franchises around the country, including one in Atascadero. Tastee Freez soft serve is sold at Wienerschnitzel locations, including in Fresno.

Call for memories: John Rupp of Fresno sent in a question about Art’s Grubsteak, a drive-in he visited as a teenager in the 1960s. Fresno city directories list the drive-in at 38 E. Barstow Ave. on the northeast corner with Blackstone Avenue. It opened in 1966 but is not listed in the directories by 1968.

That’s all the information that could be found, so readers, if you remember Art’s Grubsteak, please share your stories for a future column.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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