Valley Voices

What were they thinking?

“Sculpted Pipes,” by Stanley C. Bitters, is wrapped in protective plastic before the move to Southern California for restoration and conservation, before being moved back and relocated.
“Sculpted Pipes,” by Stanley C. Bitters, is wrapped in protective plastic before the move to Southern California for restoration and conservation, before being moved back and relocated. jwalker@fresnobee.com

What is this insanity of intentionally destroying cultural history? I recently saw on the news, members of the Islamic State bombing, then bulldozing, a temple in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

Why? So they could replace artifacts from the past with hopes for the future? Dream on.

Historians look back and analyze how and why former civilizations evolve. Their accomplishments celebrated. Their failures lamented. Why don’t people recognize errors in judgment for what they are? Lessons learned long after it is too late. What possible value could there have been in the destruction of those priceless artifacts? Why does a civilized society allow this to occur?

We are sometimes indifferent because it does not directly affect us. We simply say, “Isn’t that awful?” Then we proceed to live our lives and forget about it.

I pose the question because I was shocked with the seeming indifference at what I saw happening. But I knew there was not a single thing I could or would do. I couldn’t effect any change. I was as guilty as they. I said to myself, “I have my personal challenges. Let those people on the other side of the planet solve their problems.”

Most modern societies and people in the West respect their cultural heritage, especially in America. Each historical period has a style reflected in literature, art, music and architecture. Period designs often are incorporated into buildings, and structural monuments reflect and define who we are. And we know who we are, don’t we?

Consider early Fresno, or perhaps not. There are those who continue to lament the destruction of the old Fresno Courthouse. And in a few years, they can look back and say, “I remember when Fresno had one of the first outdoor malls in the nation. It had creative sculptures, water fountains and places to sit in the shade.”

Oh, I, too, remember. I participated in the 1964 grand opening. A few selected thespians from the theater department at Fresno State donned costumes and entertained the enthusiastic shoppers. Brisk business occurred along the streets. People enjoyed the old buildings and relaxed at the sidewalk cafes.

Life was good, and people felt secure along the new mall. The future never looked so bright.

But many changes have occurred since that time. Some good. Some less fortunate. When the larger commercial stores moved out, the balance shifted. The economy slowed as shoppers left. The streets became less safe and secure. Older buildings began to deteriorate. Then, 50 years after the mall opened, the decision was made to tear it out and begin anew.

So the question remains, can we bring back the past once we destroy the present? Probably not. As it stands, the old mall is more of a problem than a benefit. So perhaps the mayor was correct. A new solution is needed.

New housing opportunities and cultural events are bringing renewal and life to the area. A new generation of people is experiencing downtown. I love to attend Art Hop and experience the rebirth of culture in Vintage Fresno. The community has given me a reason to go downtown once again.

So maybe we can work together, to make downtown more vibrant in a different sort of way than it was in the past.

I recently discovered the rationale the Islamic State leaders presented after being chastised by the world for its destruction. It was quite simple. They were offended that one of the ancient temples celebrated “devil worship.” Therefore, it was their obligation to destroy it completely, and so they did without remorse. I do not find that excuse justification for their actions.

I wonder if someone will look back at our actions and good intentions and say, “They destroyed our heritage when they tore down the lovely mall. What were they thinking?”

And so we don’t allow nostalgia and memories to keep us from our task. We move ahead. Even so, there are those of us who feel a sense of loss. We will always remember with fondness, those special moments with family and friends along the quaint Fulton Street Mall.

Larry W. Gamble of Clovis is a founding member and former president and board member of the Business Organization of Old Town Clovis. He and his wife of 52 years, Sylvia, moved to Clovis in 1963. A graduate of Fresno State, he is a former college professor and businessman. He can be reached at larrygamble@sti.net.

  Comments