Ask Me

Tiny park named for former Fresno mayor

Z.S. Leymel Park is located along Divisadero Street and bordered in a triangular shape by Broadway and El Dorado streets. A plaque commemorating the railroad’s arrival in Fresno stands in Leymel Park in downtown Fresno, named for the former mayor.
Z.S. Leymel Park is located along Divisadero Street and bordered in a triangular shape by Broadway and El Dorado streets. A plaque commemorating the railroad’s arrival in Fresno stands in Leymel Park in downtown Fresno, named for the former mayor. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Question: Who was Z.S. Leymel, and where is his park located in Fresno?

— Phil Tavlian, Fresno

Answer: Zygmunt “Zeke” S. Leymel was elected mayor of Fresno four times and died in office in 1947.

Leymel Park is a small triangular area at Divisadero Street and Broadway. Although the parcel is owned and maintained by the city of Fresno, it is not listed on the city’s park inventory.

The park’s prominent feature is a large bronze plaque mounted on a granite slab that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Central Pacific Railroad coming to Fresno in 1872. When Fresno was founded, city streets were laid out parallel or perpendicular to the southeast-to-northwest railroad line. The park stands at a point where city streets turn to a north-south, east-west orientation.

According to a biography written by local historian Ben Walker, Leymel had “a wide and adventurous career.”

Leymel was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1883 and was a mule skinner by the age of 7, according to the late author and historian Catherine M. Rehart. He ran away from home at 15 to join Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Leymel was too young to enlist, but he became Roosevelt’s personal orderly. He was wounded twice and was cited for bravery.

Leymel graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907 with a bachelor of science degree and worked as a teacher in the East before coming to Fresno. He was hired to teach civics and history at Fresno High School in 1915.

15Z.S. Leymel’s age when he left home to join Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, Leymel returned to his Fresno High teaching post and eventually became the school’s vice principal.

He was elected to the California State Assembly in 1926 and 1928. He was elected to his first term as Fresno’s mayor in 1929. During his first year in office, Leymel survived two assassination attempts when someone fired shots at him.

The first attempt was in September 1929. Then on the night of Oct. 28, 1929, Leymel was stepping out of his car when a bullet “whipped past his head” and lodged in a tree beside him, according to a newspaper account. “I prefer to say nothing about the matter,” Leymel said after the close call. No one was ever arrested.

According to Walker, Leymel was the first person ever re-elected as mayor, in 1933, 1941 and 1945.

During World War II, Leymel was chairman of the Fresno City Defense Council. He also served on the Fresno City Board of Education from 1939 to 1941.

During his fourth term as mayor, Leymel had surgery for cancer in March and April, 1947. He died on May 9, 1947, at the former Saint Agnes Hospital at Fruit and Floradora avenues. He was 63.

I prefer to say nothing about the matter.

Then-Fresno Mayor Z.S. Leymel after a second unsuccessful assassination attempt

Fresno American Legion Post 4 conducted a military service for Leymel at the Memorial Auditorium downtown. He was buried at Belmont Memorial Park beside the grave of his wife, Marie Juanita, who died in 1941. They were married in 1915 and had no children.

Q: My grandfather, John Suglian, was a dairy farmer in west Fresno. His ranch was called Fresno Guernsey Rancho. Can you provide more background on my grandfather and his operation?

— Carol Hansen, Fresno

A: John Suglian was born in Austria on Oct. 28, 1873, the youngest of six children. His father, Marin Suglian, was a sailor who died when John was 3 months old. His mother died in 1912.

Suglian grew up in Dalmatia on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. In 1891, when he turned 18, his mother gave him $250 and he sailed to New York, according to local historian and biographer Paul Vandor. Suglian traveled on to Fresno, where his older brother, Vincent, lived, and he went to work in his brother’s restaurant in the Mattei Building at Fulton and Fresno streets.

The restaurant folded, and the brothers moved to San Francisco, where Vincent worked in a restaurant and John worked as a barber. Returning to Fresno the next year, John Suglian opened the Oak Barber Shop at 1055 I St., now Broadway. “It became the center for the horse lovers of Fresno, the walls lined with photographs of horsemen and their mounts,” according to a 1953 story in The Bee.

On his birthday in 1897, Suglian married Bertha Bernhauer. They had seven children: Eva, Jack, Fred, Francis, George, Floyd and Florian Virginia.

Suglian bought 80 acres, planted alfalfa and grapes and rented out the land. In 1913, he bought a 125-acre parcel on Orange Avenue, where he established a home at 2918 S. Orange and ran a ranch raising dairy cattle, hogs, chickens and horses. Suglian continued to own the downtown barber shop. “He loves his stock and fully enjoys rural life,” Vandor wrote.

In the 1953 Bee story, Suglian said, “Always I was crazy about horses. When I was a boy in the old country, I used to watch the noblemen and the doctors and the lawyers riding their shiny horses through the streets and wish I could do the same thing.

“And when I could, I started raising them on this farm. I wish you could have seen those races we used to have. Oh boy, we had some times here then.”

Suglian was best known for pioneering the Guernsey breed in the San Joaquin Valley on the ranch he ran with his sons, George and Floyd. In 1941, their herd became the only one between Stockton and Los Angeles to receive the prestigious Golden Guernsey award, signifying that a majority of their herd was registered to the breed.

Some of Suglian’s dairy cattle were famous. In 1953, his cow named Fresno Kings Levity Zita was the sixth-highest producing Guernsey in the nation.

Suglian was also involved in civic affairs, serving on the city board of trustees under Mayor Parker Lyon. He was a member of the chamber of commerce. Vandor called Suglian “a genial man and justly popular” who was also a member of the Eagles, Foresters and Knights of Columbus.

Floyd Suglian took over operation of the ranch in 1949, but his father continued to work at the ranch daily. John Suglian died in 1954 at the age of 80. His survivors included 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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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