In the News
The Wilson Theater Turns 90 in 2016
The Old Administration Building: A Regional Landmark Comes Back to Life
Fresno City College Campus
On January 28 public ceremonies celebrated the rebirth of the “Old Administration Building” on the campus of Fresno City College - a remarkable building with a preservation story that stretches over 33 years marked by community activism, much debate and community discussion, and a successful bond measure. Since the structure’s completion in 1916 until its closure in 1967 due to safety concerns, the OAB (as it came to be known) was home to thousands of college students. As the Spring semester of 2011 began, classrooms and offices are once again filled with academic activity.
What makes the OAB so significant?
The OAB was part of a campus that opened in 1916 as the first teacher-training institution in the San Joaquin Valley and is apparently one of the few buildings in the entire state still in use on a college campus that dates back to the pre-1921 Normal School period. Up to that time, the education of teachers in California took place in accredited normal schools in San Jose and Los Angeles, and it was difficult to secure and retain teachers who had graduated from these institutions for Valley schools. Over the decades, this imposing brick structure was part of Fresno State Teacher’s College (1921), Fresno State College (1935), and then Fresno City College (1956) when Fresno State College, the present California State University, Fresno, moved to a new campus several miles north.
Architecturally, the OAB is significant because it is one of the few remaining examples in California of the Spanish Renaissance style on a college campus. It’s 100,000 square feet, constructed of hand-made bricks and tile, and includes a remarkable auditorium, two classical inner courtyards, a library space, lecture halls, laboratories and offices. It was designed by State Architect, George McDougall who noted that the sunny features of the California climate were largely responsible for the remarkable open-air feature of the courtyards and materials reminiscent of Northern Italy and Spain. The OAB was recognized for its significance in 1974 when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Immediately after the building’s closure in 1976, the Fresno Historical Society, through its Preservation Committee led by then Director Mabelle Selland, Dr. Ephraim Smith (a CSUF history professor and long-time preservation activist), and committee chair David Wilkinson, began what resulted in a 33-year community dialogue and campaign to save and restore the OAB. The Historical Society hosted public tours of the structure in 2001 and 2002 that helped focus community attention on the importance of the building and the need to save it. The turning point came in 2002 when voters passed a bond measure for State Center Community College District that included OAB restoration funds.
Congratulations and kudos to the Board of Trustees of the State Center Community College District and to all those in our community who recognized the intrinsic value of this architectural treasure and persevered to save it! The restored OAB has opened its doors once again be part of the Valley’s educational life.
The Crest : Pre-1950 Theater
1160 Broadway Plaza
The Crest Theater located in downtown Fresno at 1160 Broadway Plaza was recently placed on the Local Register of Historic Resources. Built in 1949, the Crest is representative of Art Deco-retro design which was common in the late 1940s and includes a “spectacular” neon/argon tower. The original marquee and ticket booth as well as the fairly modest streamline moderne exterior all retain integrity to the period of significance. The neon-argon sign and marquee were the work of a master “tube bender”, Howard Lund of Kaden Signs. The theater served an important function in the social and cultural life of Fresno in the mid to late 20th century.
Many Fresno families enjoyed afternoons at the Crest watching films produced by Walt Disney Studios.
Alfred and Minnie Cherin Home: Mid-Century Modern Residence
233 E. Cornell Avenue
The single-family residence built in 1949 for clothier Alfred Cherin and his (first) wife Minnie was recently placed on the Local Register of Historic Resources. It is an excellent example of a mid-century modern residence and was designed by Robert Stevens, one of Fresno’s leading mid-century architects. Of particular interest is that the home was Stevens’ first commission, following the establishment of his firm in February 1949. Although the façade is quite modest, the interior and rear elevation marks the residence as distinctive.
Stevens was a 1942 graduate of the University of Southern California College of Architecture and moved to Fresno following World War II to work for architect Walter Wagner. Soon after he went to work in the offices of David Horn and M.D. Mortland. In February 1949 he left Horn and Mortland to start his own firm. Robert Stevens was highly influenced by the work of modernists Shindler, Johnson and Neutra and he transferred their aesthetic and design principles to the context of the San Joaquin Valley. Stevens is credited with pioneering the “Garden Office” property type, many of which were constructed out of Hans Sumpf stabilized adobe bricks along the Shaw Avenue corridor. Stevens and Associates (or with partner Gene Zellmer) also designed the Fresno Convention Center, Bulldog Stadium, the CSUF Art Building, St. Columba’s Church, Hoover High School and a score of residences throughout Fresno. Over his career he received a total of 14 regional AIA design awards and a fellowship from the AIA for his innovative work on the garden office.
Frank & May Driver Home: Neoclassical Cottage
129 N. College Avenue
The one-story neoclassical cottage of Frank & May Driver, constructed circa 1902 in the Elm Grove Addition, was recently designated as a Heritage Property. The home was included in the North Park Area Historic Context and Property Survey Report (2008) and is an excellent example of working class housing from the early 20th century. Of note is the articulation at the cornice.
The Frank and May Driver Home was built c1902 and is a one-story neoclassical cottage. In 1910 Frank Driver, a craftsman at a machine shop, was listed as living at the home along with his wife, May. By 1920 the Drivers owned the property and by 1932 Mrs. Driver, now a widow, still remained in the home. Neoclassical cottages were a standard vernacular housing type adopted by working and middle classes in late 19th and early 20th century Fresno. Character defining features include the one-story rectangular plan, a hipped roof often with a bellcast flair at the eaves and with a boxed cornice that is often highly articulated. A prominent central dormer and full width or inset porch with simple classical-inspired columns are also important stylistic features. Of interest is that the Volga Germans in Fresno’s Germantown had a strong preference for neoclassical cottages as stylistically and in plan these buildings were similar to the homes constructed by the Germans in Russia.
Note: Text for the Crest Theater, Cherin Home and the Driver Home is courtesy of the staff report to Fresno’s Historic Preservation Commission, produced by Karana Hattersley-Drayton, Historic Preservation Project Manager, the City of Fresno.