Ask Me

This iconic toy store opened in 1944 and made toy dreams come true for a half century

The two-story brick and steel frame building was built at 3033 N. Blackstone Ave. in 1955 to house the second Arthur’s Toy Store. The original store at 915 Broadway opened in 1944.
The two-story brick and steel frame building was built at 3033 N. Blackstone Ave. in 1955 to house the second Arthur’s Toy Store. The original store at 915 Broadway opened in 1944. Fresno Bee file

Q: I would love to know more about Arthur’s Toys. I think there was more than one location. For some reason as a kid I always preferred Arthur’s to chain toy stores. I miss toy stores like Arthur’s. It didn’t have that big business feel.

Aaron McQuay, Fresno

A: Arthur A. Arthur and his wife opened the original Arthur’s Toys at 915 Broadway in 1944. In 1950 they tripled the size of the store by expanding into a storefront next door.

Arthur told The Fresno Bee his store “now is the largest individual toy outlet in California.” In addition to toys, “a sporting goods department is maintained to help take up the slack during the summer months when the toy business is normally slow,” the story said.

Arthur sold his toy store in April 1955 to former Sacramento businessman C. Roy Holmstrom for $130,000. Holmstrom appointed his nephew, Howard Leach, as store manager. Holmstrom’s wife, Gladys, also helped run the store.

In May 1955 Arthur announced construction of a two-story brick and steel building at 3033 N. Blackstone Ave. south of Shields Avenue for $100,000. He leased the building to Holmstrom for the second Arthur’s Toys. The 9,600-square-foot store was designed by Fresno architect Allen Y. Lew and built by the Harris Construction Co.

In 1958 Ellen M. Lally of Visalia and her sons Jack and Mike Lally bought Arthur’s two stores from Holmstrom. Leach, a partner in the purchase, continued to manage both stores. The new owners filed for bankruptcy in 1960. Holmstrom purchased the stock and fixtures at auction, reopened the shuttered Blackstone Avenue store and closed the original store on Broadway.

Arthur also got back in the toy business in 1960 as the manager of Grand Central Toys, a new store at 1001 Broadway. During the five years after he sold his first store, he had been “living in semi-retirement in Oakhurst,” according to The Bee.

30,000The number of toys that Arthur’s Toys carried at the Tulare-Chestnut store

By 1970 Arthur’s was owned by Al Ormsbee and William Sethre, who opened another Arthur’s at 5212 N. Blackstone Ave. south of Barstow Avenue, replacing the Blackstone and Shields location. A photo in the Oct. 25, 1970, Fresno Bee shows several men in business suits riding child-sized tricycles into the newly-opened store. The photo caption says, “Discarding the traditional ribbon-cutting scissors in favor of more appropriate equipment, the representatives of major toy manufacturers join with city officials in an unusual opening ceremony at Arthur’s Toys.”

In the early 1970s Ormsbee acquired Cameron’s Toys on the Fulton Mall and renamed it Arthur’s Toys. In 1979 he opened a new Arthur’s Toys in a former Safeway grocery store at Tulare and Chestnut avenues.

Ormsbee told The Bee in November 1979 that the store would carry nearly 30,000 toys, “including a huge plush monkey for $1,000 and a hand-carved hobby horse which cost $2,000.”

Ormsbee had also “secured a special allotment of Madame Alexander dolls” that he expected would sell out before they arrived. Elecronic games were expected to be the hottest item that Christmas, he said.

Ormsbee sold Arthur’s to Woody Bryant in 1982 but remained “involved in Arthur’s management,” according to The Bee. Bryant closed the Fulton Mall store in 1986 due to lack of foot traffic and poor sales.

In 1995 Arthur’s new owners, New West Toys of Newport, moved operations to Shields and Cedar avenues and later to the Mayfair shopping center at First Street and McKinley Avenue. There is no listing for Arthur’s Toys in Fresno city directories after 2002.

Q: One thing that has always made me wonder is the spelling of Ashlan Avenue. It is often misspelled as Ashland. Was it named after someone from Fresno’s past or is the name a misspelling?

Tricia Martinez, Fresno

A: After checking several sources – the late Catherine Rehart’s six-volume “Legends and Legacies” set, the Fresno Historical Society’s two books, “Fresno County in the Pioneer Years” and “Fresno County in the 20th Century,” Paul Vandor’s two-volume local history and biographies, a 1986 Fresno Bee story on street names, U.S. Census Bureau records and other documents – there’s still little to tell about the naming of Ashlan Avenue.

According to The Bee, “Ashlan Avenue, one of Fresno’s important east-west routes, got its start as a country road way out in the boonies north of Kerman. Records show a J.C. Ashlan petitioned the county for a road along Ashlan’s present alignment between Goldenrod and Siskiyou avenues. The county obliged and named the road after its petitioner.”

Ashlan Avenue was originally named Virginia Way.

The roadway was originally named Virginia Way, according to the Fresno County Library’s San Joaquin Valley Heritage and Genealogy Center.

The Bee story doesn’t say when the road was named Ashlan, but a 1927 Fresno city directory seems to misspell the name as Ashland.

U.S. Census Bureau records only deepen the mystery about the street name. The 1910 census lists a John C. Ashland, 52, living in Fresno. Others in the household include his wife, Nora Ashland, 42, Roy Ashland, 18, and Elizabeth Ashland, 80. John and Nora were born in Virginia.

John Ashland’s voter registration lists him as a “Socialist farmer.” No one with the last name of Ashlan is listed in Fresno city directories. He died in San Luis Obispo in 1950 but his death records further confuse the question: his last name is spelled Ashlin.

More about: In response to an item about Cedar Lanes that was published on Nov. 12, several readers shared their memories of the popular bowling alley that closed in 2012.

Jim Porter of Placerville emailed, “I worked there in catering as a busboy during the summer of 1960 through the early summer of 1961. I then worked on the concourse as a busboy until I started at Fresno City College in September 1961.

“I have lots of great memories of working for Al Pardini and being one of his original catering busboys. Oh, to be young again, working the concourse until 11 p.m. and then bowling three games when the lanes were almost empty, for 35 cents a game since I was an employee.”

The waitresses were named Flo and Glo. Good times.

Andrew Milne, Cedar Lanes breakfast customer

Other readers posted memories on The Fresno Bee’s Facebook page. Amy Wilson of Fresno posted that one of the founders, Marion Hansard, was her grandfather. “He passed away in 1997,” she wrote. The day the Ask Me column ran “was my grandmother Betty Hansard’s 90th birthday. She couldn’t get over the story just happening to run on her big day. It was a crazy, beautiful coincidence.”

Reader Andrew Milne of Madera wrote, “In the 1980s I ate breakfast at Cedar Lanes every Sunday morning with my best friend, Gary. Bacon and cheddar omelet with extra cheese, crispy hash browns and hot sauce. Oh, and coffee. A lot of coffee. The waitresses were named Flo and Glo. Good times.”

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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