Ask Me

Nearly century-old grand Clovis home stemmed from friendly rivalry

This stately two-story brick home on DeWitt Avenue in Clovis was built in 1920. Photographed Monday, April 4, 2016.
This stately two-story brick home on DeWitt Avenue in Clovis was built in 1920. Photographed Monday, April 4, 2016. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Q: I would like to know the history of the historic home on DeWitt Avenue in Clovis. I’ve always been intrigued by it.

Vonda Epperson, Fresno

A: The house near Shaw Avenue was built in 1920 by Gust and Rosa Spiropulos, according to Peg Bos of the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Museum.

Gerry Catanzarite, grandson of Gust and Rose, remembers visiting their home as a child. The two-story double-walled brick home had two bedrooms on the first floor and four bedrooms upstairs. It featured a long, wide stairway. “We liked to play on the stairs as kids,” he said.

The water tower, which the family called the tank house, had a pump to pull water up to the tank. “There was a room below the tank, and one of the farmworkers would sleep there,” Catanzarite said. His grandfather grew grapes and later produced raisins on 40 acres around the house. For some years, the Spiropulos family packed the fruit under its own brand.

A wooden extension connected the house with the tank house. The family called that room the porch, Catanzarite said, and it was a favorite place for the grandchildren to play. He remembers the ice man delivering big blocks to cool the ice box.

Realtor Ed Flores, who once lived in the home, said the tank house may be older than the house. “I’ve always wondered if it was part of an earlier structure,” he said.

The home’s address originally was listed on Shaw Avenue. The wrap-around porch has a crow’s nest on top that faces Shaw Avenue, Flores said.

Rosa Spiropulos’ brother, Anthony Andriotti, built a home nearby facing Clovis Avenue, also in the 1920s. In a 2012 Ask Me column, Angelina Spiropulos recalled that her father and Andriotti competed to see who could build the grander home.

Andriotti died in 1929. His lavish home with a pool in the basement and a ballroom later became a sanitarium and a Halloween haunted house. It was torn down in 2014.

Spiropulos, a native of Greece, died in 1967.

Q: I played in the Wawona Junior High band in the early 1960s when we performed for Storyland’s grand opening. I can’t remember exactly what year it opened, and I’d also like to know what year Playland opened.

Jerry McCracken, Fresno

A: The Storyland grand opening you played for was on May 19, 1962, seven years after Playland opened on May 30, 1955.

But it took many years to realize the opening of either attraction. An amusement park was proposed for Roeding Park in 1926, according to a clipping from the Fresno Morning Republican. The article appears to be either a letter to the editor or an editorial. Headlined “Keep the Hurdy-Gurdies out of Roeding Park,” the article opposed installing a merry-go-round in the park. “The park is intended for a restful place, not a jazz place,” it said.

The idea for Playland came from the North Fresno Rotary, but soon the Fresno Rotary and West Fresno Rotary clubs joined the effort to fund the amusement park.

A week before the official opening, about 5,000 parents and children attended a preview of Playland. The turnout “far exceeded anyone’s expectation, (and) most of those visiting the playland voted it a complete success,” a Bee story said.

On Playland’s official opening day, 13,000 tickets for rides were sold for 10 cents each. There was a merry-go-round, a child-sized train that broke down, a “junior roller coaster,” another ride called an “airplane gimmick” and a “baby auto ride,” according to The Bee. The concession stand almost sold out.

By August 1956, just 15 months after it opened, the one-millionth person walked through Playland’s gate.

While Playland featured fun rides, Storyland was a wonderland of exhibits inspired by children’s literature and fairy tales. The main feature is King Arthur’s castle.

Organizers saw a need for Storyland. Lucia P. Angelo, manager of the project, was thinking of her six grandchildren when she told The Bee, “Life for them would be unimportant without fantasy.”

Admission to Storyland was 15 cents for children and 25 cents for adults. During its first month of operation, 80,366 people visited.

Ask Me needs your help

I admit it, readers, I’m stumped. Michael Schiebelhut of Visalia wrote seeking information about the Fresno Christian Day School he attended from 1952 to 1954.

He recalls the elementary grades attending classes in different buildings not far from the Church of God at 3049 Nevada Ave. He recalls that the school closed in 1955.

But between The Bee’s clip files and Fresno city directories at the San Joaquin Valley Heritage and Genealogy Center in the downtown library, very little information could be found.

A brief 1952 Bee story says Fresno Christian Day School was then called Fresno Christian School.

City directories list Fresno Christian School at 3216 Grant Ave. in 1953 and 1955, but the address is listed as vacant in 1956.

If any readers recall memories about Fresno Christian Day School, please email or write to the address below.

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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