Valley Voices

Before I forget, let’s celebrate Fresno’s good ol’ days

The Hardy’s theater on Van Ness in downtown Fresno.
The Hardy’s theater on Van Ness in downtown Fresno. Fresno Bee

There are places I’ll remember

All my life, though some have changed…

– John Lennon,

“In My Life”

I entered this world 68 years ago this week in the old Saint Agnes Hospital at Fruit and Floradora Avenues. A lot has happened in the space and time that has come and gone since then, and I would like to think I’ll remember most of it, good and bad.

As an infant and toddler, I lived in San Francisco, where Dad had a job with a large hotel and restaurant supply company. We moved back to Fresno in 1954 when Grandma Vagim was ill, and then my brother was born at the old Community Hospital on Fresno Street.

Except for the time in San Francisco, and a couple years working for Uncle Sam, over 60 years of my life has been spent living within a four-mile radius of the home where I grew up, on Wishon Avenue, across the street from Saint Therese Church and school.

The old school, a sand-colored stucco building with an arched entrance faced Pine Avenue and was torn down in the late 1950s, and was staffed by some fierce looking nuns who enforced good order and discipline. It was replaced by a building that looks like a foldout in Corners and Right Angles magazine, and staffed by lay people, the going trend of the era.

Fresno State College was just north of McKinley and Van Ness Avenues, where Fresno City College is now. The fraternity and sorority houses were strung up and down Van Ness and Maroa avenues. Sigma Nu was on Van Ness, north of McKinley, and Theta Chi occupied a beautiful American Foursquare style house on Maroa and Home, across the street from a large dormitory-style building that housed a sorority.

The proximity of the two houses sparked panty raids, and float-building parties for Homecoming.

When the college moved to Cedar and Shaw avenues, the Theta Chi guys gave me the stuffed and mounted head of an eight-point buck that had graced the parlor of their house. I remember lugging it home and the not quite warm reception from Mom and Dad.

T.L. Heaton School was red brick and faced north on McKinley across from what is now the FCC parking lot. Chiseled into the granite lintel above the school front door was the dictum, “Knowledge is Power.” Single-family homes once fronted McKinley from the Santa Fe tracks to Maroa, where those parking lots are now.

Wishon and Van Ness avenues were two-way streets, and buses ran frequently with stops conveniently located in the Tower, FSC/FCC neighborhood. Dad worked downtown, at McMahan’s Furniture at Tulare and Van Ness avenues, across from what is now Club One.

Back in the day, Tony’s Fruit Stand occupied that corner, then Bank of America. B of A had at least two branches downtown, both on Fulton Street.

Fulton Street on Friday nights was the local cast of “American Graffiti.” Highly polished, highly powered, high-concept custom cars and hot rods filled with highly charged teenagers cruised up and down Fulton in both directions. Chuck Berry, Dion and The Belmonts, the Four Seasons, and Bill Haley sounded the rock ‘n’ roll call to arms and they lined up to enlist.

At Christmas, Fulton was festooned with beautiful gold foil garlands stretched across the street, secured to facades of the buildings along the route from Merced Street south to Inyo. All the stores were decorated and reflected a healthy economy and faith in our institutions. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House. What could go wrong?

The Carnegie Library was across the street from the Fresno Police headquarters on Mariposa Street, between Fulton and Broadway, when they were all real streets. These two architectural beauties were just a few steps from the White Theater, itself a few steps from the Hotel Fresno.

The old Sequoia Hotel on Van Ness was where the old, old Fresno Giants camped during the season. It was across the street from Hardy’s Theater and next door to the original Fresno Guarantee Savings, a sliver of a building that is now home to the Breakfast Hut.

Prior to Opening Day at John Euless Park, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers would play exhibition games. You could buy tickets at the ballpark or at Hockett-Cowan Box Office on Fulton downtown. Tickets would be sold out in hours, and they even sold sitting-room-only space in the outfield, cordoned off from access to Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo by a flimsy yellow rope and several very large Fresno Police officers.

Old Saint Agnes hospital is now Glen Agnes elderly housing. They could attend to me coming and going.

There are places I’ll remember

All my life, though some have changed…

Some forever, not for better…