Huntington Boulevard Historic District
Huntington Boulevard, located on the east side of Fresno's original parent grid, is the heart of one of Fresno's most architecturally distinct neighborhoods. Grand homes, in a variety of styles, stand side-by-side with more modest bungalows, all facing onto a wide boulevard bisected by a grassy median. Roosevelt High School, first constructed in 1928, is located at the east end of the boulevard at the intersection of E. Huntington Boulevard and Cedar. The Boulevard is the center of the "Alta Vista Tract" which was first platted in 1911. The street was marketed to Fresno's leading citizens and has been a preferred residence for business, education, and political leaders for the last 100 years.
This grassy median down the middle of Huntington Boulevard is a reminder of why the Alta Vista Tract was developed. Although local historians have assumed that the residential subdivision came first followed by the street car line down the middle of age I the street in fact the inverse is the case. In 1902 local entrepreneur Albert Graves Wishon convinced three Los Angeles investors A. C. Balch, W. G. Kerckhoff, and Henry E. Huntington to purchase the faltering San Joaquin Power Company. In 1903 the new company was renamed San Joaquin Light and Power Corporation and included in its holdings the Fresno City Water Company and the Fresno City Railway. Wishon was appointed General Manager. The Railway was renamed the Fresno Traction Company and it controlled all the streetcar systems in Fresno.
Wishon purchased and improved Recreation Park, which was located near the present day University Medical Center at Cedar Avenue and Ventura Street. His plans included a bandstand, merry-go-round, dance hall, saloon, dog race track, and a professional baseball team. In order to increase visitation to the park he needed a double track street car line but the business owners along Ventura were opposed as they feared a second track would hurt business due to the additional noise and potential danger to foot traffic. Wishon then struck a deal with the Pacific Improvement Company, which owned a 190-acre alfalfa field immediately east of downtown Fresno and north of Ventura Street. The agreement specified that the Fresno Traction Company was to lay a double track from downtown to First Street, then from First to Recreation Park by way of Mariposa Street. Mariposa was renamed "Huntington Boulevard." The Sunnyside and Recreation Line adopted the new route down Huntington Boulevard and service began after 1907. Passenger service was discontinued on July 10, 1929, although freight trains ran down the street until 1939.
As with other streetcar suburbs around the United States, the land adjacent to the line became increasingly desirable for residential use; the option for a subdivision was clearly part of Wishon's vision. The "Alta Vista Tract" was mapped by William Stranahan for the Pacific Improvement Corporation, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, and officially platted in 1911. The tract (advertised as the "Bon Ton Residence District'') was annexed to the City on January 23, 1912. The tract extended from First Street on the west to Twelfth Street (now Cedar Avenue) on the east, the north side of Balch Avenue and the south side of Platt Avenue east of Fifth Street and both sides of Platt Avenue to Twelfth Street. Residential parcels on the south side of Verrue Avenue were also included from Sixth to Twelfth. James J. Murray Incorporated, a real estate and insurance corporation, announced that land had been subdivided and was immediately available for sale. Advertisements in the newspaper announced that all improvements would be installed for free, including cement sidewalks and curbs, graded streets, city water, gas, electricity, and landscaping. In 1914 Billings and Meyering acquired the tract, completed the infrastructure and began to market the subdivision.
Albert Wishon purchased the first parcels in the new subdivision in 1912, a day after the official annexation, and he completed a beautiful Arts and Crafts-inspired residence at the corner of Huntington Boulevard and Sixth Street in 1916. He envisioned an upscale, exclusive community. Livestock was limited to Platt Avenue, which also was the only street zoned for commercial uses. The tract had building and racial covenants, including "No Asiatics." These covenants were included in deeds granted in 1919 and Page Ill revised in 1923 and 1926, with threats of reversion of ownership to either the Pacific Improvement Company or directly to Wishon and his wife if any of the conditions or restrictions were broken or ignored . By 1920 the Alta Vista Tract included 267 homes. A new grammar school was added on Kerckhoff Avenue in 1920, designed by Ernest J. Kump, Sr. The Spanish Renaissance style school was later demolished and replaced with a modern facility. The side streets of the tract (Balch, Kerckhoff, Platt, and Verrue Avenues) filled in more quickly, as clearly depicted on the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of 1918. Huntington Boulevard, with its larger lots, developed more slowly, allowing for the greater architectural mix that one sees to this day. Original lots on Huntington accommodated only two houses per block, providing sufficient room for tennis courts and other amenities. These lots have since been subdivided; Wishon's property, as an example has been subdivided twice, both times to build homes for family members.
The first residents on the boulevard were Dr. Oliver and Grace Howard (3263 E. Huntington, Block 20) who moved into a beautifully articulated Craftsman bungalow in 1914. The home included a carriage house (still extant). Dr. Howard was a dentist who began his practice in Fresno in 1901. From 1915 until his death in 1937 he maintained his dental office in the Bank of Italy Building on Fulton Street. Howard family members owned this home until 1978. David and Neva Newman appear to be the second residents on the block; a building permit was issued for their Italian Renaissance Revival home in 1914 but the home was not completed prior to the Dr. Howard home down the street. David Newman was the Manager of the Dry Good Department of the Kutner Goldstein Department Store; Neva was the owner of Maderin Studios in Fresno and Sacramento.
The Gottschalks Department Store was also well represented on the boulevard. Abraham Blum, the President of this Fresno mercantile and his wife Mildred patterned their rambling Spanish Revival home at 3870 E. Huntington after properties they admired in Pasadena. Julian Oestreicher, brother-in-law to founder Emil Gottschalk, was the Vice President of the store and lived with his wife Tillie in an Italian Renaissance Revival home at 3401 E. Huntington. William Blayney, a display manager for Gottschalks and his wife Bess, also lived on the street.
Several property owners were involved with the lumber business including Aaron Maisler (3606), F. Rex Sporleder (3702), Harold Manselian (3821), C. M. Prescott (3707), and Clarence Bernhauer (3428). Not surprisingly, the interiors of these homes are richly finished with exotic woods and superb craftsmanship. Ranchers, vintners, attorneys, teachers, and newspaper employees also were well represented. Additionally, several architects or employees of major architectural firms as well as developers chose Huntington Boulevard for their residences, including former State Architect William D. Coates, Fred Swartz, Henry Shields, and Robert Fisher.
Huntington Boulevard has been described as one of the great boulevards in the world by University of California Berkeley Professor and San Francisco architect Daniel Solomon. As with other landscaped streets throughout early Fresno, the original developers played a keen role in the street's design: "These trees, flowering acacias, camphor trees, and oleanders, the last alternating red, white and pink, will make the boulevard have an almost tropical appearance . . . [and] are in accordance with a plan formulated by Mr. (A. G.) Wishon, in order that the beauty of the thoroughfare will be insured" (Fresno Morning Republican, 22 August 1910).
The boulevard was planted with three primary trees: Cinnamomum camphora (Camphor Tree), Washingtonia robusta (Mexican Fan Palm), and Nerium oleander (Oleander Trees). In subsequent years a few species were added including: Liquidambar styracifllua (American Sweetgum), Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia), Lagerstroemia indica (Crape Myrtle), Pyrus callyriana 'Bradfordii' (Bradford Pear), and Cedrus atlantica glauca (Blue Atlas Cedar). Unlike other neighborhoods, the broad parkstrip has allowed the original street trees to survive with enough room for the roots and trunks to expand between the curb and sidewalks. After the streetcar tracks were abandoned in 1939, the median became a gracious lawn that gives the park-like character to the entire neighborhood. Huntington Boulevard functions as an urban park and is used morning and evenings for recreational walking and biking.
The 121 residential properties were evaluated for their potential as contributors to the proposed Local Register Historic District with a period of significance of 1914-1977. Of the 121 properties, five were found to have lost integrity due to inappropriate alterations. The District meets the Designation Criteria of Section 12-1607(b) of the Page 128 Ordinance under Criteria 1 ), 2) and 4). Huntington Boulevard was the first subdivision on the eastern edge of Fresno's parent grid and was platted in 1911 as a street car suburb as part of the Alta Vista Tract. The Sunnyside-S.P. Depot line ran down the middle of the boulevard beginning in 1907 and was a component of the street car system that was financed by Henry E. Huntington, for whom the new boulevard was named (criterion 1). By the 1920s the boulevard was the address of many of the City's leading professionals, including Albert Wishon (Criterion 2). Huntington Boulevard is an eclectic mix of architectural styles that were popular from 1911 through the 1960s, including Craftsman bungalows and period revival buildings. Of interest as well is the economic mix of buildings from upscale mansions to more modest residences for the middle class and even working class (Criteria 3 & 4). Huntington Boulevard is one of the few Fresno neighborhoods that is included in A Field Guide to America's Historic Neighborhoods and Museum Houses: The Western States by Virginia and Lee McAlester.
Information found here is adapted from the Historic Architecture Survey Report Huntington Boulevard, Fresno CA, by Karana Hattersley-Drayton.