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Ask me: Coffee pot water tower is Kingsburg landmark

Question: What is the history of the coffee pot water tower in Kingsburg?

— Ali Ford, Clovis

Answer: Kingsburg’s 1911 water tower was converted to resemble a Swedish coffee pot in the mid-1980s.

A story in the Fresno Bee on May 25, 1983 said plans were “brewing” to “perk up” the plain water tower with 7- to 8-foot spout and handle made of steel, an aluminum lid and a paint job in the town’s Swedish theme.

The Beautification Committee of the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce won approval from the Kingsburg City Council to transform the water tower and raised about $4,000 in donations.

“It kind of depicts the culture of the community, being Swedish, and it is a friendly gesture: go to Kingsburg and have coffee. Coffee and Swedish go together,” said Ken Olson, who spearheaded the project and designed the coffee pot additions.

If the water tower were filled with coffee instead, it could serve 1.28 million cups of steaming brew, the story noted.

An unnamed Kingsburg resident is said to have borrowed the decorative idea from Stanton, Iowa, after a visit there in about 1971, the same year that city remodeled its water tower into a coffee pot. Stanton’s coffee pot water tower honors city native and actress Virginia Christine, who played Swedish-born Mrs. Olson in Folgers Coffee commercials, according to the Des Moines Register.

The coffee pot water tower idea simmered in Kingsburg for about 12 years, Ken Olson recalled.

The Bee story said New England Sheet Metal Works of Fresno made the oversized coffee pot parts. The plan was to begin the transformation in the summer of 1983 when the city did scheduled maintenance to the inside of the tank.

Ronald Bergman with the Kingsburg Historical Society said the coffee pot remodel was dedicated in September 1985.

Kingsburg’s water tower continues as a landmark visible from Highway 99. In Stanton, a larger water tower shaped like a coffee cup was installed in 2000. Its coffee pot water tower is scheduled to be taken down and moved to the city’s historical center this summer, the Register said.

Both the Kingsburg and Stanton coffee pot water towers were featured in a two-hour 2010 documentary, “World’s Largest,” about 60 giant roadside attractions.

Q: I recall in the early 1960s the improbable sight of old-fashioned motel buildings amid tall pine trees along a barren stretch of Highway 99 near Ashlan Avenue. It was called Pine Lake Lodge. What is its history?

— Jeff Hanna, Fresno

A: A 1939 Fresno Bee story outlined grand plans for the Pine Lake Lodge by owner Bernie O. Thomas of Fresno.

The “motor inn, cottages and campground about five miles north of Fresno” would be built at the Ashlan Avenue intersection of what was then called the Golden State Highway.

Thomas had operated a service station and trucking business there for several years, the story said, and had installed several small lakes covering about 16 acres that he stocked with “game fish.”

Thomas said he would build several more lakes covering an additional 15 acres for boating and swimming and would build tennis and badminton courts. “Small creeks, waterfalls and other scenic arrangements” would be part of the campground.

There would also be a trailer camp and several cottages, all “with baths and other modern conveniences.”

The inn would house the office, lobby, coffee shop and a dining room, which would feature “a stream, interrupted by a small water fall.”

In 1940, Thomas added plans for a year-round ice skating arena with a 4,000-seat grandstand, which apparently was never realized.

The Pine Lake Lodge was in operation by July 1941, when an advertisement in The Bee touted the opening of the lodge’s “smart new addition,” the Cove Room, a cocktail lounge and outdoor terrace, with dancing to the Wally Johnson Orchestra.

The advertisement called Pine Lake Lodge “truly a mountain retreat in a metropolitan city, beautifully realistic with tall pines, lakes, babbling brooks, falls, spacious lawns and swimming pool.”

The Cove Room, however, was described as “refreshing as an ocean breeze, completely air conditioned to enhance your comfort.”

The lodge’s “rustic, wooded” dining room featured a “cobbled brook.”

By 1945, the Pine Lake Lodge was operated by Goody Bloom of Hollywood, who leased the property from M. Friis-Hansen of Fresno.

In 1952, a fire caused $25,000 damage to the “main building” of the lodge. Firefighters pumped water from the lodge’s swimming pool to fight the blaze.

Another fire in 1969 “destroyed the old Pine Lake Lodge building at 4135 Motel Drive,” which had been converted to the Cloak and Dagger Leather Shop, according to The Bee. However, the story also noted that Fran’s Pine Lake Lodge was still in operation.

Thomas died in 1975 at age 93, two years after the motel he started ceased to operate. He was born in Indiana and came to Fresno at age 4 in 1886. His obituary noted that the lodge went bankrupt in 1942.

More about: After an answer about tunnels under Fulton Street was published on March 7, two readers shared recollections about possible tunnel sightings in downtown Fresno.

Brian Bobbitt of Fresno wrote, “I am an electrician and in about 1983 we were building law offices at the north end of Fulton Mall across from (then) Long’s Drug (store).

“We were digging with a backhoe,” he said, when the “bucket of the backhoe broke through into a tunnel that we thought went between whatever buildings used to be there. It did not go anywhere, but did look like it connected to their basements at one time.

“Because it was under the landscaping and the sidewalk, it was just covered over with wood and filled back in with dirt and cement,” Bobbitt wrote.

Joseph Lemon of Clovis wrote, “I sold the Guarantee Building when I was working for the bank that owned it in 1997. When that building was built it contained oil tanks, generators and a two-story tall boiler in the basement” to provide electricity and steam heat to Fulton Street businesses.

“If you were to enter the (Guarantee) building through the alley door and go down two floors and then look up, you could see an entry that had been covered with a panel.

“Other than the things I could see when we owned the building, I can’t verify anything. This information was passed on to me at the time. The oil tanks were filled with cement and the boiler was massive.”