Fresno, California was founded by the Central Pacific Railroad Company in 1872. Initially, it could be said that the location for the town was uninviting at best, with barren sand plains in all directions. However, Leland J. Stanford, a Company Director for the railroad, was so impressed with a wheat field he saw in the distance that he decided this was the ideal place for the new station. Today, Fresno County is ranked as one of the top three for agricultural production in the world. Major crops include grapes, almonds, cotton, peaches and nectarines. For more information on the area’s history, see the City’s “Historic Preservation” page on the Fresno Historical Society website (valleyhistory.org).
THE FRESNO WATER TOWER
Built in 1894 at the corner of Fresno and O streets, the Fresno Water Tower is a striking historic landmark. Chicago architect George Washington Maher designed the Water Tower in the American Romanesque style. It stands 109 feet high, with a double round interior wall and brick dome that supports a storage tank which once held 250,000 gallons of water.
The Water Tower closed for water storage in 1963, when the structure could no longer adequately support the community’s increasing water needs. It was subsequently used for a variety of city offices, and remains a “signature” architectural fixture in Fresno. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was declared an American Water Landmark one year later. A partnership comprised of the Fresno Convention & Visitors Bureau, the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, Downtown Rotary Club and numerous private individuals, spent two years and more than $500,000 to renovate the structure in 1999.
The Water Tower is now home to the Fresno Visitors Information Center. For more information about the Water Tower and its projects, call HandsOn Central California at (559) 237-3101 or the Water Tower directly at (559) 477-6231.
THE MEUX HOME
A major landmark, the Meux Home Museum is a beautifully preserved 1888 Queen Anne Victorian home which is a time capsule of authentic turn-of-the-century living with original woodwork, lighting and furnishings. The home is open for tours with costumed docents every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon until the last tour at 3 p.m. For more information, visit meux.mus.ca.us/.
Completed in 1903 as headquarters for the 5,000-acre vineyard ranch of “Raisin King” M. Theo Kearney, Kearney Mansion Museum is a historic site that tells the story of this significant agricultural pioneer in Central California history. Featuring over 75 percent of its original furnishings, the Mansion is open to the public every Friday, Saturday and Sunday with guided tours at 1, 2 and 3 pm. For more information, visit the Fresno Historical Society’s website at valleyhistory.org.
THE FORESTIERE UNDERGROUND GARDENS
The Forestiere Underground Gardens are the vision and life-long devotion of Baldassare Forestiere (1879-1946), a Sicilian immigrant who came to America in 1901 to pursue his dreams. The Gardens are a subterranean complex of patios, grottos, and garden courtyards reminiscent of the ancient catacombs that interconnect with passageways and encircle the living quarters of the self-taught artist and builder who sought to escape the brutal heat of Fresno summers.
Incredibly, Forestiere planted multiple varieties of fruit-bearing plants at different underground levels, most of them still thriving today. Oranges, lemons, grapefruits – many on a single tree – can be easily plucked from the surface by simply bending down. Wine and table grapes also grace this sanctuary, and dangle lusciously in great clumps everywhere – truly an oasis in a modern-day desert of pavement. Tour times and admissions details may be found on the website at undergroundgardens.com.