of Old Fig
charm stems from the diverse styles of homes
May 13, 2007
||The Goldsmith home in Old Fig Garden will be one of
the houses featured in a historic homes tour presented
by the Fresno City and County Historical Society.
Eric Paul Zamora / The Fresno Bee
Families in Fresno's historic Old Fig Garden neighborhood
have never opened their houses for viewing, so that makes
an upcoming tour pretty special.
Five houses in Old Fig, constructed between 1920 and 1948,
are on the tour Friday night and Saturday.
include a 1920s home at 711 E. Ashlan Ave. built for Sen.
Morris B. Harris that still has original wallpaper depicting
a British hunting scene; a 1937 house on Wilson Avenue constructed
by Gareth Gillis of Sterling Laundry that contains an original
bar and poker table; and a 1933 Colonial Revival on Van Ness
Boulevard that has original windows and an "H" floor
plan that provided three-sided ventilation. It was built
for businessman Leon Levy and his wife, Elizabeth.
Also displayed will be a 1948 ranch-style house on Wishon
that has its roots in North American Spanish colonial architecture
of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the former Bert and Mary
M. Goldsmith house at 4341 Van Ness from 1920 that is the
site of a wine and hors d'oeuvres gathering from 6:30 to
9:30 p.m. Friday.
The neighborhood, defined by the Fig Garden Homeowners Association
as the area bounded by Shields, Shaw, Blackstone and Fruit
avenues, is one of Fresno's most unique communities. Lots
are large, trees offer shade, landscaping is lush and the
area is without curbs, gutters and sidewalks.
Houses often sell quickly.
"It's a wonderful neighborhood where they take care
of each other," said Paula Conner, a longtime real estate
Archivist and history professor Kevin Enns-Rempel attributes
part of Old Fig's charm to a diversity of housing built over
decades instead of months like today's suburban subdivisions.
The story of Old Fig Garden looms large in local history
books. The Old Fig story is also the story of J.C. Forkner,
a visionary one-time lawyer from Kansas who turned to real
Born in 1873, Forkner first developed property in Kansas
where he began settling people on foreclosed farms after
the panic of 1893. He moved to Los Angeles in 1900 and within
months made $8,000 on a land deal near Bakersfield. He moved
to Fresno 10 years later because he was convinced it would
become the largest city in the San Joaquin Valley, according
to information from the Fresno Historical Society.
In 1912, he started acquiring 12,000 acres of hardpan and
hog wallow north of downtown where he spent $8 million developing
home sites. A University of California professor also introduced
Forkner to local nurseryman George G. Roeding and Henry Markarian,
who grew figs where Manchester Center is now.
Twenty-five miles of canals and 135 miles of lateral ditches
were dug to carry water to the property that later became
Old Fig Garden. He bought 46 Fordson tractors to level the
land, a purchase that was so large it prompted Henry Ford
to hop in a Model T and drive to Fresno to investigate.
men used 660,000 pounds of dynamite to blast holes through
the hardpan so that 600,000 fig trees could be planted,
eventually becoming the world's largest fig orchard. They
also planted 60,000 deodar cedars, oleander and eucalyptus,
many of them along the nine-mile stretch of Van Ness Boulevard
from the city limits to the San Joaquin River. The Fresno
Chamber of Commerce condemned the project, claiming the land
was worthless. "The Chamber of Commerce accused him
of being a swindler," said Carole Lester, spokeswoman
for the Fresno Historical Society. "So he took out ads
saying he would give $1,000 to anyone who could not find
Chunks of that hardpan were used to build garden walls and
waiting stations for a street car line that ran along Wishon
Avenue from downtown to the river.
Forkner persuaded people to buy 10 acres to 40 acres, build
homes and grow figs for profit. As the area developed, people
built houses styled after the popular designs of the day.
"There is a wide variety of styles partly because they
[houses] weren't built simultaneously. Fig Garden took decades
to fill out," Enns-Rempel said.
Period revival, bungalows, adobe and ranch can be found
in Old Fig. Many of the houses have libraries, sitting rooms,
basements, leaded windows and other features common in those
days, said Louise Yenovkian, president of the Fig Garden
"You drive into that neighborhood and all of a sudden
you're in a very different place," Enns-Rempel said.
will highlight the role the sprawling single-story ranch-style
house played in the development of the neighborhood in
a lecture he'll give Saturday. A ranch-style house often
was oriented toward the backyard instead of the front. Large
picture windows looked into a backyard that was often enclosed
by the "L" or "U" shape of the home.
"The ranch home really took shape in the '30s," he
said. "It became the style of choice of developers in
post World War II."
the ranch-style houses in Old Fig were often kicked up
a notch from the typical suburban ranch. "A lot of
these are high-style examples on larger lots," Enns-Rempel
People who go on the home tour will view the insides and
outsides of the houses. The Friday night tour will be by
candlelight after wine and hors d'oeuvres, Lester said. The
Saturday tours start at the first house at 4341 N. Van Ness.
Proceeds go to the Fresno Historical Society.