Question: What is the history of the First Methodist Church that was in downtown Fresno? The church closed decades ago.
— Jim Gregory, Hanford
Answer: According to a booklet commemorating the 1922 dedication of a new church building at M and Tuolumne streets, the First United Methodist Church traced its beginning to a meeting of Methodist leaders in the fall of 1881. A report of that meeting noted that “the entire county [of Fresno] has been neglected by our church until this year.”
In December 1881, First Episcopal Methodist Church was organized with 23 members who met in the Hawthorne School on Fresno Street between N and O streets. Rev. Martin Miller was its first preacher. Sunday school classes began the following year. The church’s second pastor is listed as a “Rev. Mr. Pickles.”
The congregation soon bought some lots — the history doesn’t say how many — at the southeast corner of K Street (later Van Ness Avenue) and Merced Street, and built its first church at a cost of about $2,800. It was completed in 1883.
By 1887, First Episcopal Methodist Church “had become the largest church in the Valley,” the history says. In 1894 a parsonage was built and the church building was expanded.
George A. Miller, the son of the first pastor, served as pastor from 1900 to 1904. “He came with a pleasing personality and a winning spiritual life and an uncommon business sense,” the history says.
In 1900 a $3,000 pipe organ was installed, but it was lost when the church was destroyed by fire in 1902. The congregation sold the K Street property and purchased land at M and Tuolumne streets, where a new church was built.
Until 1902, the church was “popularly known as the K Street Methodist Episcopal Church,” the history notes, but after the new building on M Street was dedicated in 1904 the church was called First Methodist Episcopal Church.
George Miller and his father, Martin, the first pastor, preached at the dedication service on Feb. 4, 1904. By then the church had 400 members.
A new pipe organ was installed sometime between 1907 and 1909, but it too was lost when the church was gutted by fire in 1919.
The burned-out building was razed the following year and a new church was constructed on the same site. “The completed church, aside from the exterior plaster,” was dedicated on Jan. 15, 1922, according to the dedication booklet.
The new two-story church included a sanctuary, organ, choir room, office, social hall, library and classrooms on the ground floor and balconies above the sanctuary and social hall and several more classrooms on the second floor.
According to a 1970 Fresno Bee story, First United Methodist Church, as it was known by then, merged with Wesley United Methodist Church.
A 1975 article in the Interchurch publication said lack of parking and room to expand, plus a building deemed not earthquake-proof by the city, led to the merger.
“When it happened many were deeply hurt and alienated,” a former downtown church member was quoted as saying. About 300 members left First United Methodist after the merger. “Then it became less of a death and more of a marriage,” the member said.
Q: I recently saw an old photo of downtown Fresno showing Goodfellow’s Grill. I had never heard of that restaurant. What’s its history?
— Hector Monreal, Fresno
A: Goodfellow’s Grill was opened in 1912 by George J. Voenes, a native of Greece who came to Fresno that year.
The café was originally an oyster bar at 1034 Broadway, serving up to six sacks of oysters a day, prepared in more than 40 ways.
Voenes later moved the restaurant to 1026 Broadway and expanded the menu. It became a popular destination. According to a 1955 Bee story, “Until the middle 1920s, the restaurant was a popular retreat for fight fans and followers of other sports events. During the days when the Orpheum Circuit was playing in the White Theater, the café was booked for days ahead with reservations for theatergoers.”
Goodfellow’s was known for its steaks and seafood. Many years after the cafe closed, a reader sent The Bee a copy of a 1932 menu featuring T-bone steaks for 85 cents, half a broiled lobster for 65 cents, a plate of raw oysters for 50 cents, liver and onions for 40 cents and a ham and egg sandwich for “two bits,” or 25 cents.
The restaurant displayed autographed pictures of famous boxers, politicians and actors, including Bing Crosby, who ate there.
Voenes died in May 1950. A Bee story said he died “after being stricken by a heart attack in the vestibule of Borden’s Dairy at 1820 Tuolumne St.”
His son, John Voenes, closed the restaurant for several weeks for remodeling, reopening Goodfellow’s in July 1950.
Goodfellow’s Grill was Fresno’s oldest restaurant when it closed in May 1955. John Voenes cited rising food costs, customers being drawn away to north Fresno eateries and ill health for the closure.
Q: What is the history of the Scandinavian School District and Leif Ericson School?
— Mark Ward, Clovis
A: Histories on the Scandinavian School District and Leif Ericson School were difficult to uncover, so perhaps our readers can fill in some blanks. According to the book “History of Public School Organization and Administration in Fresno County, California,” the Scandinavian School District was organized in 1883 and a school was built on Central Street.
The district was formed to serve children living in the Scandinavian Colony, an area of farms and ranches owned primarily by people of Scandinavian descent. The colony began in 1879.
In 1960, voters in the Scandinavian district agreed to join the Fresno City Unified School District. At that time the Scandinavian district contained four schools: Scandinavian at 3232 N. Sierra Vista Ave., Viking School at 4251 N. Winery Ave., Vinland School at 4666 N. Maple Ave. and Leif Ericson School at 4774 Yale Ave.
A brief school history at the San Joaquin Valley Heritage and Genealogy Center in the downtown Fresno County Library says all the schools in the Scandinavian district were named for Scandinavian people or places.
Leif Ericson school’s namesake is “credited with being the first European to set foot on North American soil,” the history says. “Like his father, Eric the Red, Leif Ericson was exiled from his native land.” Ericson landed in Labrador after becoming lost sailing from Scandinavia to Iceland.