Fresno is not known for maintaining and preserving its buildings and landmarks. Most of the early 1900 Fresno is gone. Torn down for freeways, street widenings, parking lots, and new buildings. Having worked for two weeks in an 1883 building that has been preserved, I got to thinking about this. I thought more about it on Saturday when I attended an event sponsored by another historical group in Fresno which is trying to preserve as much of the old buildings as possible.
In the late 1800s, early 1900s, Fresno had a thriving Armenian community in the south part of the city. It was called Armenia Town. There were approximately 200 homes, numerous businesses, a church, and the children attended Emerson School. This is the area in which William Saroyan, the writer, grew up and where he gleaned many of his stories. One was told at Saturday’s luncheon, sponsored by Heritage Fresno, of Saroyan, as a teenager, hanging out with the ‘hobos’ in that part of town so that he could hear their stories. Those stories later translated into “The Human Condition.”
The freeways were built through this part of town. The convention center was developed. New hotels were built. All of this development ate up Armenia Town. The old buildings came down for the newer ones. A few homes were saved, moved, boarded up, left to sit and rot for many years. Finally, Heritage Fresno stepped in and got the city redevelopment agency to do something with those five houses. A lot was found, right across the street from the Armenian Church which is still there. Also across the street from Valley Bakery, where peda and cracker bread have been baked for 91 years. The houses were dismantled, moved onto new foundations, rebuilt with as much authenticity as could be found.
The houses went from this:
I was not able to get good photos of all five houses as they are sitting behind chain length fence which we were not allowed beyond. Also, the interiors are gutted, awaiting further decisions on their use, whether they will be homes again or businesses. It seems that only the city knows what it will be doing, and it’s not sharing that information.
After looking at the houses and getting this update, we all went back across the street to the church for an Armenian lunch. My friend Shirley had accompanied me. We were joined at our table by a former teacher colleague and her friend.