Special Reports

Historical Perspective: Temple Bar Building

A pair of enterprising developers saw an opportunity in Fresno's early downtown and seized it.

S.N. Griffith and R.B. Johnson paid $41,000 for a site facing the courthouse, and built what would become one of Fresno's crown jewels, a veritable temple of law called the Temple Bar Building.

Finished in 1889, the three-story brick and plaster Modern Renaissance Revival structure at the northwest corner of Mariposa and K (now Van Ness) streets was crowned with a towering cupola.

To complete the picture, a pair of matching "Goddess of Justice" statues gazed out from atop elaborate cornices, emulating those crowning the courthouse.

The building was designed to attract lawyers, and it did. Soon the second-floor offices filled with many of Fresno's most prominent attorneys. The first floor housed a drugstore, a restaurant, a saloon and small stores. Some who worked in the building lived on the third floor.

One occupant was Justice of the Peace George Washington Smith, who ran his court in his Temple Bar office. He was known as the "marrying judge" because of the weddings he conducted. He kept a tally, which he reported to the Fresno Republican newspaper. He always kissed the bride at the end of the ceremony.

Another colorful character, and one of the rare tenants who wasn't a lawyer, was Dr. Henry St. George L. Hopkins. A Confederate in the Civil War, he was promoted to major in the medical department by Gen. Robert E. Lee. He was a friend of Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and was standing with him when Jackson was fatally shot. Another bullet hit Hopkins, striking his pocket- watch in his vest. Afterward, he always carried the watch, and was buried with it.

The building was remodeled with most of the ornamental features stripped away and the upper two floors removed in 1948, according to The Bee, to "confine its use to ground floor business."

It was demolished in 1964 to make way for urban renewal and the site became a parking lot. The space is occupied today by a contemporary building housing the Fresno County Office of Education.

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