Q: We recently purchased a house in Fresno’s Wilson Island neighborhood. We’ve heard much of the wonderful history of the home, but are missing some details about the giant metal giraffe and its “baby” in the front yard. We would love to find out their history.
Jeff and Amelia Bennett, Fresno
A: Former Fresnan Gay Amend of Vermont, who lived in the house for many years until 2012, said the story of the two giraffes involves a trip to Kenya, a large deodar cedar and a neighbor’s gift.
Amend and her husband, Alan, traveled to Kenya in the late 1980s and saw giraffes there “from a distance and kissing-close at the Nairobi Tree House,” Amend said.
Years later, back home in Fresno, a large deodar cedar tree in their yard died and had to be removed.
“The tree (branches) reached from the front walk to the back end of the house and made our shade garden,” Amend said. The tree was removed in the peak of the summer heat, she said, and all of their shade plants died, including 7-foot camellia bushes.
That’s when the 18-foot metal giraffe came in.
“We were in mourning, saw the giraffe and bought her to console ourselves,” Amend said. They bought the giraffe at a local nursery and had it installed in the backyard.
The 3-foot “baby” giraffe was a gift from a neighbor sometime later and used to reside in the couple’s living room. Amend said the neighbor bought the little giraffe to thank them for letting her rest on their porch during her walks.
Both giraffes are made from steel drums and are decorated with a similar pattern on their “skin.”
In 2011 Amend had the two giraffes moved to the front yard. Both are bolted to concrete pads.
“Good thing, because the morning after putting (the baby) in the front yard there were big boot prints next to her. A would-be abductor foiled,” Amend said.
Her husband died in 2005, “so he never saw them out front.”
Amend’s former home was built in 1933 by Henry and Amalia Dermer. The Tudor Revival house is in the Wilson Island Historic District. For years the home has been known for the lush front yard the Amends planted with more than 1,000 flowering plants.
Q: When I was a youngster, Conejo was a bustling little community with packinghouses and small businesses. There is very little left of it now. What can you tell me about Conejo?
Wes Parker, Kingsburg
A: Conejo, a little over 7 miles west-southwest of Selma, was still a “flourishing agricultural district” in 1956, according to a Fresno Bee story. But by then little was left of the town except four grocery stores in the area, on Conejo Avenue at Peach and Clovis avenues and two at Fowler and Clarkson avenues.
In 1976 Bee columnist Woody Laughnan wrote about the Home Grocery in Conejo, “far out in the country where raucous, boss Clovis Avenue narrows.” Run by Frank Jones, 87, the store was a “charge-it grocery … with two gasoline pumps, crank-type oil dispensers and an old early-morning bread delivery box outside” that “served this rural area for exactly 40 years.”
Settlers came to the area in the 1870s. The town of Conejo – which means “rabbit” in Spanish – was established in 1896 when the San Francisco-Conejo Railroad built a station there, the story said.
A post office was established at Conejo in 1898 but was closed in 1920, according to “California’s Geographical Names” by David L. Durham.
One of the earliest settlers in the area was Oscar Duke of Mississippi. He came to Fresno County in 1881 and worked on his father’s ranch “near Selma,” according to the 1905 book “History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley” by J.M. Quinn. The elder Duke arrived in California in 1875. The Duke Settlement near Conejo was formed in 1876, and the Duke School District began in 1877.
In 1895 Oscar Duke bought 20 acres west of Conejo and gradually expanded his land holdings to 520 acres. Quinn described him as a “prominent and successful rancher” who raised cattle and dairy cows.
A.B. Atwell was a trustee in the Duke School District, according to the 1892 book “Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Fresno, Tulare and Kern, California.”
Atwell was a native of New York state who came to California during the 1849 Gold Rush. He came to the Valley about 1858 and by 1879 was farming 200 acres in the Conejo area.
The Duke School was later renamed Wildflower. It was replaced by the Conejo School built on Conejo Avenue in 1926.
Another Conejo pioneer was Joseph Minghetti, a native of Switzerland who had a 500-acre ranch with cattle and dairy cows 2 miles south of Conejo by 1885. Quinn’s book describes Minghetti as “one of the leading agriculturalists of Fresno County and an influential citizen.”
More about – After the answer to a question about fingertip impressions in bricks at the Fresno City College Old Administration Building was published on Feb. 12, Dan Mosier of Fremont wrote to share where the bricks were made.
Mosier, who owns the California Bricks website, said the bricks came from the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Co. that had plants in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Point Richmond.
He sent a copy of a May 2, 1915, article about the brick shipments published in the trade journal “Architect and Engineer.” Construction of the administration building of the then-Fresno State Normal School began on the building in 1915 and was completed in 1916.
“A contract for over 125 carloads of clay products for the Fresno State Normal School … has been awarded by the Winget Construction Co., contractors, to the Los Angeles Press Brick Co.,” the story said. “The contract involved one of the largest shipments of clay products ever secured by California manufacturers.”
Different types of bricks used in the Old Administration Building were shipped from each of the company’s three plants. About 100 carloads of 12-inch red “ruffled brick” came from the Santa Monica factory. About 10 carloads of paving brick came from Point Richmond and another 10 carloads of roofing tile were shipped from Los Angeles. The Los Angeles plant also supplied more pressed brick, fire brick, fireproofing and quarry tile, the story said.
Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to email@example.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.