Wilson Island Historic District
The "Wilson Island" is located with Fresno's Tower District and encompasses eighty properties within the larger Wilson's North Fresno Tract, which was first developed in 1908 by Rosanna C. Wilson and her son A. Polette Wilson. Homes in this six-block neighborhood date from 1910 to 1984, and represent some of the finest examples of Period Revival and Prairie architecture in the city. In addition, the Island was settled by many of Fresno's most influential families, with important ties to banking, architecture, and commerce. The neighborhood has been recognized as an area of architectural and historical note in both the Tower District Specific Plan of 1991 and Virginia & Lee McAlester's A Field Guide to America's Historic Neighborhoods and Museum Houses: The Western States. Five homes in the district are individually listed on Fresno's Local Register of Historic Resources. Of the eighty properties, all but two (nos. 69 & 70) are contributors to a Local Historic District.
This district is bounded by North Echo Avenue on the west, East Carmen Avenue on the north, the northern side of East Floradora Avenue on the south, and the back side of the commercial lots along North Wishon Avenue (View map of district boundaries).
The name "Wilson Island" is a local term that refers to the initial plan for the neighborhood. Although Wishon and Echo Avenues now connect to McKinley Avenue, both streets once were designed to dead-end at Carmen Avenue, thus forming a backward "P" shape, or "island." The district boundaries are concurrent with the residential buildings within the "P," and the neighborhood's long-term identity.
The Wilson Island is one of the architecturally distinct neighborhoods in Fresno, with a mix representing the major styles prevalent during the period 1910-1945. Several of the homes were designed by prominent local and regional architects or building firms, including Charles Butner, William D. Coates, Richard F. Felchlin, Fred Swartz, C. J. Ryland, Taylor-Wheeler Builders, Harrison B. Traver, and Manoog Manoogian. A few of these architects and builders also lived in the Island, although it is of interest that their homes are among the neighborhood's more modest. The elite of Fresno relocated to this neighborhood in significant numbers, and their access to Fresno's downtown business district was made easier by the extension of the street car line in 1908. Property owners included William Blasingame (banker), Lena Shaver (the widow of Charles Shaver, for whom Shaver Lake is named), Olin Everts (attorney and political leader), Frank Bradford (owner of the Valley's largest baking company), Barton Einstein (banker), Milo Rowell (manager of the largest produce firm in the San Joaquin Valley), William Eilert (owner of the Fresno Brewery), Dr. Frank Twining (founder of Twining Laboratories), Louis Gundelfinger (banker), and numerous others. Of interest are the numbers of individual women who purchased and developed homes in the Island (encouraged perhaps by the tract developer, Rosanna C. Wilson?) A sense of community was strengthened by the number of families with multiple homes in the neighborhood. From an earlier era when people lived in more socially mixed neighborhoods, the Wilson Island represents a move to a new "suburbia," based to some extent on social standing and education.
The district qualifies for Fresno's Local Register of Historic Resources pursuan to FMC 12-1607(b) under Criteria i, ii, iii, and iv. It also appears to be eligible to the National Register of Historic Places.
Information found here is adapted from the Wilson Island Historic Property Survey Report, by Karana Hattersley-Drayton and Jeannine Raymond.