A renaissance for Fresno's Tower District.
It's a chorus girl of a building: leggy and brassy and spangled with pink neon that would have done Busby Berkeley proud. Fifty-plus years after its house lights first went up, Fresno's Tower Theater is glowing again. Meanwhile, the surrounding neighborhood has undergone a similar renaissance. Quirky and urbane, the Tower District is loved by residents, little known by visitors, and worth sampling-for theater, dining, and Christmas shopping. You can start your visit by picking up the new Guide to Historic ArchitectureTower District, published by the Fresno City and County Historical Society. It's available free at the city and county convention and visitors' bureau, 808 M Street; (209) 233-0836. Lana and Leda in ultraviolet light Dancing Coed was the premiere attraction when the Tower opened on December 15, 1939. But even star Lana Turner may have had a difficult time competing with the theater itself. Designed by S. Charles Lee for the Fox West Coast theater chain, the Tower boasted a sumptuous glass bas-relief, The Huntsman, and murals of Leda and the swan. It was also one of the first theaters in the nation to use ultraviolet lighting (black light) as decoration. Today, a 1.2-million restoration has turned the Tower into an auditorium for concerts and live theater. Its first fall season ends this month with a showing of Hometown Christmas at 2 and 7 on December 9; tickets are $22.50. The spring season begins in February. For ticket information, write or call Tower Theater for the Performing Arts, 815 E. Olive St., Fresno 93728; 485-9050. Good shopping and grand old houses in "a city within a city" As a neighborhood, the Tower District-which clusters around Olive Avenue, just north of downtown-actually predates the theater that later gave it its name. It grew in the 1910s and 20s as residents built handsome Norman and Spanish revival houses within walking distance of the shopping district along Olive. Today, the southernmost blocks are about to make way for a freeway. But most of the Tower District is thriving. Says city councilman Craig Scharton, who represents the area, "It's unique, a city within a city, with very little of it ever lost." Fresno is now considering preserving the district through architectural controls. Olive Avenue holds a number of interesting shops. If your Christmas list includes a bibliophile, try Monroe Books, 809 E. Olive. Antique lovers can hit Fulton's Folly Antique Mall, at 920 E. Olive, and Tower Antique Mall, at 1040 N. Fulton Street. A block east, at 953 N. Van Ness Avenue, We Three Unlimited specializes in men's and women's clothing dating from the 30s through the 60s. Hungry Fresnans carbo-load at Lauck's Bakery, at 935 E. Olive; it's open from 6:45 to 6 Tuesdays through Fridays, to 5 Saturdays. In the Tower Theater building, The Daily Planet proffers stylish food in an art deco setting. The restaurant is open 2 Pm. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays, to 1 A.M. Fridays and Saturdays; call 266-4259 for reservations. At 777 E. Olive, the Butterfield Brewing Co. serves lunches and dinners accompanied by beer and ale brewed on the premises. Also popular are lunch and dinner at Livingston's, 831 E. Fern. The Tower Theater is not the only entertainment option. At 1226 N. Wishon Avenue, Roger Rocka's Good Company Music Hall puts on creditable dinner-theater productions of Broadway shows. Promises, Promises runs from November 29 through January 20; for tickets ($22.50 and $26.50, including dinner), call the theater at 266-9494. The same company's 2nd Space Theater, at 928 E. Olive, is showing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever through December 23; tickets ($9) can be reserved by calling 266-0660. Before leaving the Tower District, stroll down the residential streets that are its pride. The historic architecture guide describes styles and dates of construction for the impressive houses north of Olive Avenue, mainly along Carmen, Home, Pine, and Floradora avenues. Getting there. From State Highway 99, take Olive Avenue east about I 1/2 miles. You'll find free 2-hour parking along Olive and nearby cross streets.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 1990|
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