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Ask Me: Renzi statue of family stands at Bigby Villa

“The Family,” a statue of a family of five by the late famed Fresno sculptor Clement Renzi, has stood at Bigby Villa apartments for more than 40 years.
“The Family,” a statue of a family of five by the late famed Fresno sculptor Clement Renzi, has stood at Bigby Villa apartments for more than 40 years. sflores@fresnobee.com

Question: On a recent Fresno Mindfulness Walk in west Fresno, we were thrilled to see a tall Clement Renzi statue of a family of five. What is the story behind this statue?

– Kathryn Johnsen, Fresno

Answer: The statue by the late famed artist and sculptor Clement Renzi of Fresno was installed in about 1971 at the new Bigby Villa housing project at 1329 E. Rev. Chester Riggins Ave.

Called “The Family,” the bronze statue stands nearly 13 feet tall. It features a mother and father standing together with a small child perched on the father’s shoulder. A boy and girl stand in front of the mother, holding onto the parents. All their faces are turned to the sky, seemingly in a hopeful gaze.

The back of the statue’s base is inscribed with “Renzi” and “1971.” The work was commissioned by the Fresno Diocese’s Catholic Charities Inc., which built the complex, to provide “an artistic focal point,” according to a news story in The Bee.

But the statue apparently had a different design in the planning phase. A 1970 Bee story announcing construction of the 20-acre, $3.3 million low-income housing project carried a photo of Renzi’s model for a statue. The model featured a father lifting up a mother, who in turn was lifting a child toward the sky. The design would be 18 feet tall, the story said.

Renzi’s daughter, Jennifer Renzi of Fresno, called the difference in design interesting but had no information about the apparent change. She said it’s likely “The Family” was cast in Italy in 1971 among a group of her father’s other sculptures.

Some sources date the installation of the statue to 1972, but a December 1971 Bee story refers to the Bigby Villa statue as one of Renzi’s public art pieces already on display.

Q: In preparing for painting the Valley Public Television building at 1544 Van Ness Ave., power washing uncovered the words “broadloom carpets” on the side of the building. What is the history of this building?

– Phil Meyer, President and CEO, ValleyPBS

A: According to old Fresno telephone books and Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. maps, the address of the Valley Public Broadcasting Service television station seems to have switched back and forth over the years between 1544 and 1550 Van Ness Ave.

From 1919 through the late 1930s, a house was located at 1544 Van Ness Ave. Furnished rooms were listed at the address from 1931 to at least 1936, operated first by W.D. Boger and later by Mrs. E. Campbell.

The commercial building that replaced the residence has housed a variety of businesses since then, including AM Floor Covering in at least 1955.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s the building also housed Goodyear Service Tire and Rubber Co., King Cole Motor Co., Packard Motor Cars, the U.S. Office of Price Stabilization and Whitie’s Brake and Wheel Service.

No telephone book was in print in 1954 and from 1956 to 1958 the building was apparently vacant.

The KMJ Channel 24 television station occupied the building from 1959 to 1987. The building is listed as vacant in 1988 and Channel 18 ValleyPBS moved into the building in 1990.

More about: After a question and answer about 4C’s business college appeared on May 23, David Davenport of Fresno wrote with more information about an early-day business school in Fresno.

Davenport sent a copy of an article from the Feb. 25, 1887, Fresno Morning Republican noting that Fresno Commercial College had been in existence for at least five weeks. The school was founded by a Professor Everts.

The article included a letter written the day before and signed by 35 of the school’s 40 students extolling the virtues of the school.

The undersigned students wrote that they “highly appreciate the effort to make your school room both comfortable and attractive in the way of furniture and fixtures.” They also said, “We are well pleased with your system of teaching in the various departments.”

The students closed the letter by saying they “would gladly recommend your institute to any person desiring a business education.”

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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