Wednesday’s walk: Civil War in 21st Century Fresno; Sparkling P Street; A Good Place to Read; Pressure on Henry Beer; Civil War in Ancient Rome.
* I headed to City Hall before noon for research at the City Clerk’s Office. There was time while sitting in the second-floor lobby to call a council member. His prediction: The residential trash outsourcing ordinance might be repealed should it return to the City Council prior to a citywide election on its merits. He said a council majority might see service cuts and layoffs as better for civic stability than an all-out political war over who picks up your trash.
* Next, I walked south on P Street to Jeffrey Scott Advertising, near Ventura Avenue. I like to walk on the east side of P, between Tulare and Ventura. There are no trees, the sidewalk is far from perfect and the scenery is mostly old warehouses. But the “feel” is old-time Fresno and that’s good enough for me.
This half-mile stretch was spotless, except for a near-empty juice box on the concrete. Somebody apparently decided he’d had enough and it wasn’t his job to toss the box into a trash can.
That lone blemish on the east side of P Street bothered me. I picked up the box and detoured west on Capitol Street. I had to find a trash can and figured the closest was by the New Exhibit Hall.
I’d gone about 25 yards west on Capitol when I bumped into Steven.
Steven is a homeless guy who’s always riding his bicycle on or near the mall. We had talked on Tuesday at Inyo and Fulton. I had given him a couple of bucks in change.
“Hey, Steven, how ya doing?” I said on Wednesday.
He pulled to a stop on his bike. “Just tryin’ to hang in there. What are you up to?”
I showed him the juice box in my right hand. “Just picking up litter.”
Steven thought about it for a second or two. “Somethin’ to do.”
* I stopped at the Subway sandwich shop on M Street, across the street from the New Exhibit Hall, for a soft drink and a brief rest. I pulled my latest reading material from my briefcase — “The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver.”
I’m about two-thirds through the book. This is my first taste of Weaver, who died in 1963 at age 53. He was an English professor at the University of Chicago.
Among the book’s essays: “Agrarianism In Exile,” “Southern Chivalry and Total War” and “The South and the American Union.”
Weaver is a harsh critic of a progressive politics that thinks man is perfectible if only a central government is given enough power. More than a half-century ago he saw America speeding in that direction. He thought the South, in part due to its unique experience with defeat, would someday save American liberty.
The South, Weaver wrote, “will stand in the forefront of those who oppose the degrading of man to a purely material being, and it will continue to fight those who presume to direct the individual ‘for his own good’ from some central seat of authority.”
The book is published by Liberty Fund out of Indiana. Weaver doesn’t seem like an author to get much notice from New York City or big university publishers. But maybe we in the “Appalachia of the West,” so dependent on debt-heavy bounty from that central seat of authority, might learn something from him.
* I finished my soft drink, then headed west on Kern Street to Fulton Mall. I walked north, past the clock tower next to the Pacific Southwest Building.
The Pacific Southwest Building is site of next Tuesday’s State of Downtown breakfast. I’m sure Mayor Ashley Swearengin will have a few words to say. But the keynote speaker is Henry Beer, an urban planner out of Colorado.
Thanks to the help of City Hall’s Craig Scharton, I was able to interview Henry by phone several months ago. We discussed urban revitalization in general and the future of Fulton Mall in particular.
I don’t know what Henry will talk about next Tuesday. But I wish he’d touch on something we discussed over the phone: The collision in the late 1950s and early 1960s between Victor Gruen and his intellectual world and Fresno and its intellectual world.
The Bee over the past 40 years has written many restrospectives of Fulton Mall. We all know the received wisdom: World War II ended, Fresno’s soldiers and sailors came home, everyone moved to the suburbs (lured by that maverick Manchester Center), downtown Fresno’s retail center (Fulton Street between Inyo and Tuolumne) declined, city and civic leaders hired Gruen to design a one-of-a-kind pedestrian mall, the mall was built thanks to JFK, but developers sabotaged the mall and its egalitarian possibilities by corrupting City Hall into subsidizing sprawl.
I don’t buy it. Since that phone interview with Henry Beer, I’ve spent hours digging through The Bee’s archives from as far back as the 1920s.
My motivating question is simple: What really caused the mall?
How was it possible that dozens — no, make that hundreds — of shrewd, ambitious, smart, skeptical, world-weary, experienced men and women in the city of Fresno in the 1950s and early 1960s decided to gamble the future (for perhaps centuries) of the city’s center on the urban theories of a man who had never set foot in the Valley until 1959?
That makes absolutely no sense. Something happened other than the standard media tale. I’ve got my theories based on The Bee’s archives. I’ll save them for another blog.
Henry Beer probably doesn’t know much about the workings of Fresno City Hall more than 60 years ago. But he clearly knows a lot about the intellectual world of Gruen and his ilk. I hope Henry gives Tuesday’s breakfast crowd a taste of what he gave me over the phone last fall.
* I returned to the newsroom — walked about three miles. I’m now headed home (by car). I must pick up my younger daughter at the airport.
She spent most of the past month in Great Britain. She loves the theater. Among the plays she saw in London was Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” with an all-female cast.
She said in an email that Shakespeare’s message remains unchanged — beware the chaos of Civil War.