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Ask Me: Ornate Fresno County Hall of Records built in Depression era

An example of the sculpted terra cotta craftmanship of the Gladding, McBean & Co. artisans especially can be seen over an entrance of the Fresno County Hall of Records, in this panel, finished in a granite-style glaze, depicting industrious ancients, bearing fruits and grains and a counting device, perhaps conveying voting or taxation. This ornamentation helps give the structure a sense of permanence.
An example of the sculpted terra cotta craftmanship of the Gladding, McBean & Co. artisans especially can be seen over an entrance of the Fresno County Hall of Records, in this panel, finished in a granite-style glaze, depicting industrious ancients, bearing fruits and grains and a counting device, perhaps conveying voting or taxation. This ornamentation helps give the structure a sense of permanence. Fresno Bee file

Q: What year was the Fresno County Hall of Records built and what is the significance of its design?

Jeannie Johnson, Fresno

Historic Hall of Records is a masterful example of 1930s Deco Moderne style.

A: In the mid-1930s Fresno County voters approved a $280,000 bond measure that was combined with a $115,000 grant from the federal Public Works Administration to build the Hall of Records, according to “Fresno County in the 20th Century.”

Construction at 2281 Tulare St. of the three-story Hall of Records building, complete with a full basement, began in 1935 and provided desperately needed jobs during the Depression era. The building was completed in 1937.

The Hall of Records is “a masterly example of PWA Deco Moderne architecture” that “exemplifies superior quality in aesthetics and workmanship,” according to the narrative on the building’s National Register of Historic Places listing. The Hall of Records is also on the Local Register of Historic Resources.

The Hall of Records was built of reinforced concrete. “Its massive, linear elevations consist of both Art Deco and stylized Neoclassical details,” according to the National Register.

Exterior details also include International-style aluminum guardrails on outside staircases, aluminum-framed windows and decorative aluminum panels.

Inside, “while the working spaces have been reconfigured over the years, the public spaces remain virtually unchanged,” according to the National Register. An annex was added in 1955. Interior remodeling in 1962 created the Board of Supervisors’ chamber.

The Art Deco designs inside the building echo its exterior design. Corridor floors are covered with terrazzo in diamond, triangle and starburst patterns.

Corridor walls “have black marble baseboards, two-toned beige marble veneers framed with aluminum,” according to the National Register. Elevator and office entrances on the first floor are “flanked by fluted pilasters of burnt orange-colored marble.”

Details throughout the public spaces – ceiling lights, engraved elevator doors, aluminum handrails on stairs – continue the Art Deco theme.

While the then-new firm of Allied Architects of Fresno gets credit for the building, the Hall of Records was designed by Henry P. Villalon, a master designer and draftsman on its staff.

The embellished bas-reliefs on the building were made by internationally renowned terra cotta firm Gladding, McBean & Co. of San Francisco, which was founded in 1875.

“Carved and molded to Villalon’s inventively-drawn specifications, these terra cotta features were crafted under the personal supervision of renowned sculptor and modeler Ernest Kade,” according to the National Register.

Cast stone artisan Lorenzo Cardini of San Francisco created other decorations for the Hall of Records. He is also known for crafting the Standing Swan lampposts at the Neptune Terrace of Hearst Castle.

Q: I am trying to research my grandfather, Frank E. Ochinero, but have had no luck on the Internet. I know a few details, but can you help me find more about him?

Jennifer Bader, Coarsegold

A: Frank E. Ochinero was a native Fresnan, born here in 1914. He died in 2000 at the age of 86.

Ochinero’s occupation was listed as farmer and he had a home near Blackstone and Ashlan avenues, according to Fresno city directories of 1933 and 1935. In 1940 he was the assistant service manager at LeMoss-Smith Tire Co.

No city directories are available from 1948 to 1950, but in 1951 Blackstone Drying Yard was listed at 4700 N. Blackstone Ave., on the east side of the street between Saginaw and Ashlan avenues. Frank, James and Tony Ochinero were connected to the business, which is also listed as Ochinero Bros. and Tony Ochinero and Sons.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Frank Ochinero diversified his business ventures. By 1957 he and James owned two subdivisions, near Van Ness Boulevard and Barstow Avenue and near Brawley and Shields avenues.

In 1964, Ochinero was listed as manager of Ashlan Terrace Apartments at 4160 College Ave. Also that year the drying yard address changes to 4138 Blackstone Ave. but the location remained the same.

The drying yard and wholesale fruit business is not listed after 1964. Construction began in November 1964 on the $1.5 million White Front discount store on 13 acres owned by Frank and James Ochinero on the southeast corner of Blackstone and Ashlan avenues, according to The Bee.

The White Front store opened with a star-studded ceremony in May 1965 but the company went bankrupt in 1974. The property was later occupied by Mervyn’s and is now home to a Walmart store.

Frank Ochinero was a lifelong member of the Dante Club and St. Elid’s Federation, according to his obituary in The Bee.

Q: There is a Rockwell Pond on the north side of Selma between Selma Airport and Highway 99. My great-great uncle was Lester Leroy Rockwell of Selma. His father was Luther A. Rockwell. I’ve always wondered how the pond got its name and if there is a connection.

Mark Steinhauer, Fresno

A: An account in “Centennial Selma” about Selma’s first drowning provides a good clue that Rockwell’s Pond took its name from your great-great uncle’s father.

On a warm summer day in July 1894, Julius Deur, 35, “had been fishing with L.A. Rockwell on (Rockwell’s) pond northwest of Selma,” the book says. Deur went for a swim but he unfortunately became Selma’s first drowning victim.

Rockwell Pond is the largest of several area lakes and ponds used as recharge basins to hold surplus water from the Kings River.

The pond remained popular with fishermen. Rockwell Pond “frequently made the news with its excellent fishing … and because of easy overlimits,” according to a 1948 Fresno Bee story. “As many as 100 automobiles have been parked around the pond and a forest of fishing poles waving over the water.”

Fishing in 1948 was hampered by a two-year drought, but fishing enthusiasts remained hopeful. “When the water level comes up again in a few years these ponds will be restocked and will provide good fishing again,” The Bee story said, quoting Ralph Aten, president of the Fresno County Sportsmen’s Club’s bass committee.

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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