Fresno

California was beautiful today. Drove 152 E, enjoyed Fresno and then up to here. All the oaks, the golden grasses- even the impossible blue canals and reservoirs. For some literary accompaniment my trip, I am reading Highway 99, a literary collection of the Central Valley. This is a wonderful, thoughtful collection of stories and a great introduction to central California. The weather here is beautiful. June in California is perfect.

The crickets are chirping almost louder than the noisy teenagers camping nearby. Well, almost. I am sitting at the picnic table in Fresno’s Millerton campground trying to write in the dark. For some reason all the beautiful and wise things fell out of my head again. I used to think that the moment a thoughtful conversation was had, I would forget to write what I wanted to reflect upon. Now I think I just forget. H has joined me for this trip and it is great to have the company. We found Chicago style pizza for dinner in a miscellaneous suburban shopping mall! It was a hunt to find it, but thanks to Yelp we had a delicious dinner. The restaurant is family owned- the story is that they literally picked up their pizza joint in Chicago and moved it out here.

The hall hunting wasn’t very good today. Researching in the city directories here was incredibly frustrating. When I was in LA I hadn’t been able to get data for Fresno in 1920, and so I tried in the Fresno Public library instead. I labore through the 1918 to 1924 city directories on Microfilm; but none had any civic information that I could find. And all the pages scrolling by on the screen made me feel nauseous. A lot of the halls I do have listings for were located along the strip in the center of town, which was famously redeveloped in the 1960’s into a sort of outdoor shopping mall. The key office buildings downtown (including a meticulously decorated Bank of America tower!) apparently also used to rent out meeting rooms. But I found no indication that there are any other social organizations between 1900-1940 whose building might still be standing.

However, Fresno is very interesting. There are dozens of high-style banks, huge public buildings and extremely wide streets. Fresno was once a rich town and may well still be! There is also so much more than expected to enjoy in the downtown core on Fulton Street. Between the tacos and the sunset, it was wonderful to walk around. Berkeley landscape architect Garrett Eckbo was on the redevelopment team in 1963! This explains all the funky shapes! Think liver. Think ultra-mod. Imagine abstract statues… The whole outdoor mall still feels very alive and pleasant, although it serves a lower-end retail today. To my mind though, the suburbs were just a lot of the same, even though they were vibrant with business in comparison to the smattering of dollar-stores downtown.

UPDATE: Very much enjoyed the Forestiere Underground Gardens, dug by a Sicilian Immigrant to Fresno between 1900 and 1940. His underground home was to eventually be a resort- in the meantime, it provided completely sustainable highly energy efficient housing…

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