Last year around this time I was asked to write some blog posts for Fresno Historical Society that would be published on their website. I wrote the posts but nothing was ever done with them. Since it’s been a year, I think they deserve the light of day so I am publishing them on my own blog.
The view from the porch
The screen door thwacks as I walk out onto the porch this late spring morning. The sun is already casting shadows through the trellised arches onto the painted wooden floor. Birds are calling. I saw a couple of hawks keeping watch in one of trees this morning as I drove along the winding road that leads from Kearney Boulevard to the office at the Historical Society which is housed in the servant’s quarters here at the park. Hawks that will swoop down on the squirrels I can see running across the wide span of lawn. A slight breeze blows across the front of the house, giving a bit of cool respite on what will be a hot day in the San Joaquin Valley. The kind of day that M. Theo Kearney would have experienced as he was planning this oasis in the desert. The trees, shrubs, and lawns all offer a visual treat, 112 years after the house was built.
M. Theo Kearney was a visionary. He arrived in the Valley to see flat fields of grain but envisioned rows of vines and trees producing a wealth of crops. He could see, where others couldn’t, a series of connected waterways, canals, bringing water to crops that would feed the world. He stood here, on this porch, looking out at his Fruit Vale Estate, and imagined a whole different scene than the dry and barren land he had originally purchased.
I look out on the fountain, with the tall palm tree in its center, and think of the photo in the archives that shows a short tree, just getting its start in the early 1900s. This palm tree has had a long life. Even the photo of the May Day party in the 1920s on the front lawn shows a shorter tree than is here now. The tree, ever keeping watch over the mansion. Kearney Mansion. The home Mr. Kearney planned and built for his farm superintendent. A home to store his treasures that he would collect for his chateau to be built north of this house. Two feet thick adobe walls to keep the cool in and the heat out on the hot summer days. This wide wrap-around porch to keep the sun at a distance.
Soon a school tour will be arriving and the students will excitedly line up on these steps to begin their tour through the house, the carriage house, the servant’s quarters. They are always so full of enthusiasm to see the mansion and to hear its stories. Then, this afternoon, the public tours will bring people from all walks of life to this porch. They will gather in small groups, chatting while the docent opens the door to welcome them, admiring the arches and looking out, as I do now, on the park, designed by Rudolph Ulrich. In a few months I will stand, with autumn light slanting through the trees, trees grown larger than Mr. Kearney could have ever imagined, and watch the Civil War battle of the Atlanta Campaign being enacted just yards from the house. The canon fire will rattle the window panes. The battle cries will rise up to the porch. Children will be running across the floor boards, excitement bubbling over as they experience a moment of history.
For now I must get the house ready for the school tour, turning on lights, checking the furnishings, setting the thermostat. Although Mr. Kearney never imagined any kind of cooling beyond the natural elements he built into the house, we now have air conditioning to keep us comfortable. I think Mr. Kearney would be very pleased with the addition