Q: I have seen references in some old advertisements to the Temple Bar building. What can you tell me about the building?
Richard Frey, Fresno
A: In 1887 and 1888, S.N. Griffith and R.B. Johnson bought two parcels of land at the northwest corner of Mariposa and K streets for a combined price of $41,000. In 1889 they built the ornate three-story Temple Bar building there.
An elaborate cupola topped the corner of the brick and plaster building. On the roof above the K Street (later Van Ness Avenue) and Mariposa Street sides were identical signs featuring an arch bearing the words “Temple Bar.” Each sign was topped by a Goddess of Justice statue. Flanking the arch were the names of the owners, Griffith and Johnson.
The arch design in the signs is reminiscent of the original Temple Bar, the only surviving gateway to old London. According to a history of London’s Temple Bar, “The bar is first mentioned in 1293 (when) it was probably no more than a chain or bar between wooden posts.” Since the gateway was near the Temple, the area “where guilds of lawyers organized what would become the Inns of Court,” it was commonly referred to as Temple Bar. The current stone gateway was built in 1672.
London’s Temple Bar was moved twice, now stands in Paternoster Square.
Fresno’s Temple Bar building was across the street from the old courthouse and its second floor housed lawyers’ and judges’ offices. According to a 1948 Fresno Bee story, the building “was modeled after a famed London structure which was also tenanted by legal lights of the day.”
The third floor of the building became a rooming house and the ground floor housed stores, mainly Webster Bros. Drug Store.
An April 10, 1889, Fresno Morning Republican story described the interior of the newly opened building. “The wide stairway leading from the street opens on the second floor into a wider hall which extends clear around the building,” the story said. An “immense skylight” was above stairs to the third floor.
In the “center of the building there is an immense open court which acts as a chimney and keeps a current of air always in circulation,” the story said. “In each suite is a fireplace surmounted by a handsomely-tiled mantel and a stationary marble wash stand.” The rooms varied in size, but all had 16-feet-tall ceilings.
One of the best-known Temple Bar tenants was Justice of the Peace George Washington Smith, the “marrying judge” who had a courtroom on the second floor. According to historian and author Catherine M. Rehart, Smith “performed so many marriages that he was called often to provide the latest total for the newspapers.”
In “Vintage Fresno,” Edwin Eaton wrote that Smith kissed the bride after every ceremony. Smith kept a cuspidor in his courtroom with a sign above it – “Gentlemen do not; men should not” – to “keep inaccurate spitters from hitting the wall.”
Around 1896 Griffith and Johnson sold the Temple Bar building to O.J. Woodward. By 1941, when the building was renovated, it belonged to his son, Ralph W. Woodward, and daughter, Abbie Woodward Parker.
In 1948 the long-vacant upper two stories were removed to eliminate a fire hazard, according to The Bee. The remaining ground floor of the 75-year-old Temple Bar building was demolished in 1964 for a parking lot. The Fresno County Office of Education stands on the site today.
Q: In the older part of Selma where my husband and I live, the words “The Berry Home 1888” are stamped into the sidewalk in front of our home. But we have not been able to connect the Berry family to our home, which is not the original house.
Annette Presley, Selma
A: A biography of William Jackson Berry in the 1919 two-volume work “History of Fresno County” by Paul Vandor gives a strong clue to the history of the property.
“In 1888 Mr. Berry moved into Selma where he erected a good residence and started in the real estate business,” Vandor wrote. The year he built his home matches that stamped in your sidewalk. Also the 1900 U.S. Census shows W.J. Berry living on the same street where your house stands, although the street number is not provided. So it seems possible that the Berry family’s home was built where your house now stands.
Berry was born in Missouri in 1840 and came to California as a boy. As a young man he was a miner in El Dorado County and later hauled freight with a team of oxen. He was a farmer in Mendocino County for many years before moving to Selma, where he was one of the area’s first settlers. Berry farmed around Selma and later owned oil fields in Kern County.
Berry died in July 1919 in Ocean Park, where he and his wife, Anna, moved several months before, seeking a better climate for his failing health. He was 79 years old.
Q: For many years my parents owned a farm in the Washington Irrigated Colony south of Fresno. I understand the nearby Central California Colony is an even older agricultural settlement in Fresno County. Can you tell me more about the Central Colony?
Elaine Rubio, Visalia
A: The Central California Colony, established in 1875, was the first colony formed in Fresno County. It was bounded by North, South, East and West avenues and included within it Fruit, Walnut, Fig, Elm and Cherry avenues.
Established by Bernard Marks – the “Father of the Colony System” for whom Marks Avenue is named – and William Chapman, the colony was planned as an investment for buyers who wanted land that included water rights.
It wasn’t an easy sell. In the first year some of the investors pulled out. But by the second year all the land had been sold and vineyards were growing.
One of the earliest ranches was started in 1876 by four women, all teachers from San Francisco, who named their farm Hedge Row Vineyard, after the hedges of pomegranates, oranges and cypress bordering its 100 acres.
The women – Minnie Austin, E.A. Cleveland, Lucy Hatch and Julia Short – grew mostly grapes for raisins, but also grew fruit trees. The first raisin harvest in 1878 was small, just 30 boxes. The next year they shipped 300 boxes, which was the first time packaged raisins were shipped from Fresno County. By 1885 their annual harvest filled 20,000 boxes.
A grange hall was built to serve the colony, and in the summer of 1880 it was used for services by the newly formed First Congregational Church.
During the 1880s the colony’s Raisina Vineyard built a packinghouse, thought to have been one of the first in California.
Another early colony landowner was Danish immigrant Jens Hansen, who built the first house in the colony for his wife, Christiana.
Hansen farmed 120 acres, growing peaches, nectarines, pears, grapes and quinces. He also had a dairy and was one of the founders of the Danish Creamery Association.
Hansen and his wife died within one day of each other in 1915.
By 1889 the Central California Colony was prospering and schools were built. Washington Union High School was established in 1892 for students from the Central California Colony, Washington Irrigated Colony, American Colony and others.
Marks went on to develop other colonies, including the West Park and Dos Palos colonies and smaller colonies in Merced and Kern counties.
Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.