Hotel Fresno (1912)
1241-1263 Broadway Plaza
Edward T. Foulkes, Architect
(Second Renaissance Revival/Beaux Arts)
The Hotel Fresno, the oldest extant hotel in Fresno, is a seven-story, plus partial basement concrete building. Constructed in 1912 by Edward T. Foulkes and rising almost 86' above the sidewalk, Hotel Fresno was considered a high-rise at the time of its construction. Stylistically, the hotel's design is a form of neoclassicism that reflects the Second Renaissance Revival of the late-19th century, as well as some of the principles of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, albeit without the flamboyant exuberance found in more elaborate constructions. The building's base includes the two ground floors; the shaft or piano noble consists of four floors (that provided guest rooms) with little or no exterior articulation; and the attic story - the seventh floor and cornice -provides the most highly decorated zone of the building, exhibiting Corinthian ornamentation typical of the Beaux Arts style. Character defining features include the elaborate cornice, balustraded balconettes and oval cartouches and swag panels.
The Hotel Fresno plan was reportedly adapted from that of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, known for its crystal-roofed garden court. Thus, the Hotel Fresno building wraps around a full, two-story foyer or court which was formerly glassed over; the structural remnants for this once elaborate skylight remain.
As described by architectural historian John Edward Powell, the hotel adopted the "caravansary" model, that is, a design around a centralized interior court or atrium lobby at first floor. The main or east entry hall of the building is a two-story volume space; retail and storage spaces, as well as the registration area are delineated to its north. To its immediate south is situated the main vertical circulation, consisting of two elevators and a somewhat hidden stair. Additional retail spaces and what was once known as the oak room bar are delineated further east, with the one-story south side extension at the east end (it served most recently as a coffee shop and mechanical rooms).
The east entry hall opens at the west into the atrium. The atrium is surrounded by a two-story arcade of fourteen piers of plaster and marble adorned with Doric style pilasters on the court side. The arcade is open on all sides at second level. Above the entablature of the ornamented piers rises a curved ceiling that once terminated in a row of iron grilled clerestories. The room's hipped roof concrete structure is supported by ten buttresses, which allow the roof to appear as if it floats above the clerestories. Four skylights (now gone) illuminated the floor below with sunlight. A fireplace is located in the center of the atrium's west wall. On the north side of the atrium is the north entry hall and the former dining room. The former ballroom is located on the south side of the atrium, with the kitchen and back-of-house spaces, including freight elevator, delineated along the first floor's west wall. The dining room and ballroom were both once two-story spaces. The dining room's ceiling was lowered in 1947, during the period of significance, creating a plenum space above the new ceiling. This treatment preserved the room's original crown molding on pilasters, which can be seen today, as the lowered ceiling has since been removed. Additionally, although pediments above the door openings in the dining room have been removed, evidence of swags, leafs, guttae, and egg and dart motifs accented in gold leaf remains.
The Hotel Fresno has suffered a recent history of neglect due the fact it has been vacant for over thirty years, from 1983. Inadequate mothballing at that time has contributed to the current state. Vandals and squatters have defaced the property, exterior and interior, and have removed some materials, fixtures and architectural elements, and moreover, exposed it to the elements.
The environment of downtown Fresno where the Hotel Fresno is situated has changed as a result of the loss of other buildings on or across from its block that dated to the early 20th century, as well as due to the realignment of the street pattern surrounding the building. Although the integrity of setting has therefore been compromised, several historic buildings do remain approximately a block away from the building.
The hotel retains integrity of materials: historic materials include the scored concrete, wrought iron balconettes and the elaborate metal cornice. Workmanship, or the physical evidence of the crafts of a particular people or culture during a given period in history also remains, although some of the applied work, in particular inside has suffered or been removed as a result of vandalism and unsafe conditions previously noted. Exterior workmanship that remains includes the character-defining features of the elaborate cornice, egg and dart moldings, classical cartouches, the building's fenestration pattern and the scored concrete skin. Inside, Doric pilasters and the center fireplace are featured in the atrium and elaborate crown moldings remain in the dining room and ballroom as does evidence of various ornamental motifs accented by gold leaf. A Moorish-style fresco remains in the main stair.
The Hotel Fresno also retains integrity of design. Although upper floor partitions have been removed, the historic circulation patterns remain evident through the extant stairwells and elevator shafts (vertical circulation), as well as through physical evidence in the flooring (horizontal circulation). More importantly, however, the building continues to feature its historic footprint and significantly, its "caravansary" design around a centralized· interior atrium at first floor surrounded by a two-story arcade of fourteen ornamented piers. With these features combined, the Hotel Fresno continues to convey the feeling and association of and its significance as an early classical revival hotel, a physical reminder to Fresno's budding 20th-century downtown.
Although the Hotel Fresno has lost integrity of setting, and some diminishment of interior workmanship, it still retains integrity of location, materials, exterior workmanship, some interior workmanship, as well as design, and feeling and association.
Statement of Significance
The Hotel Fresno, constructed in 1912 for a group of prominent Fresno businessmen is locally significant under National Register Criterion A in the area of Community Planning and Development as the oldest extant hotel in the city, having been the largest and most lavish at the time of its construction. As the oldest extant hotel, Hotel Fresno is representative of the early 20th-century hotels in Fresno, which were an important part of the city's framework as it became and thence maintained itself as a major distribution and transportation center. Additionally, as the initiator of the rising Fresno skyline in the 1910s, and as a popular location for conventions, citizen groups' meetings, weddings, the city's New Year's celebration and a choice locale for socializing after an evening at downtown theaters, the Hotel Fresno stands as a significant component of Fresno's early 20th-century social fabric. It is moreover a physical reminder as one of the trendsetters, if not the earliest extant, of Classical Revival commercial architecture in Fresno, reflecting the city's architectural transformation when it began modernizing architecturally, moving away from the "rambling asymmetrically-massed buildings of the high Victorian era of the late-19th century" and expressing instead the classically inspired tripartite commercial architecture which was emerging throughout the nation.
The Hotel Fresno is also locally significant under National Register Criterion C in the area Architecture as the work of prominent architect Edward T. Foulkes. Having trained under earlier students of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, as well as attended himself, Foulkes brought the rigorous classical training of the Ecole to his commissions. Likely most well-known for his later design of the 1922 landmark Oakland Tribune Tower, The Hotel Fresno was Foulkes' first commission in Fresno, which led to subsequent commissions in the city. More importantly, the hotel reflects Foulkes' architectural sophistication and knowledge of neoclassical traditions, evidencing such in a subdued manner, yet serving as the impetus of what became a successful career elsewhere in Northern California and in Portland.
A building permit was issued to the Fresno Hotel Company in 1910. In 1912, the Fresno Morning Republican noted the near completion of the hotel. On the evening of 8 January 1913, the Hotel Fresno held its formal opening. The following night, the Fresno Chamber of Commerce became the first event of its kind to be held in the hotel's banquet spaces, making it come alive with "boost" and "boosters." Claimed as "one of the most modern hotels in the west" and the "largest hotel between San Francisco and Los Angeles," "modem in every detail," featuring "all outside rooms," and an "elegant automobile bus [that] meets all trains," the Hotel Fresno and those who ran it, intended the community from both near and far to make the hotel their "headquarters."
Not only was the Hotel Fresno a social mecca for tourists and residents alike, but it contributed architecturally to the city of Fresno. It initiated the development of Fresno's downtown high-rise skyline. The Hotel Fresno's ornamental cornice could be seen for several blocks upon completion of the building's construction in 1913.
Adapted and abridged from the National Register of Historic Places nomination, originally prepared by Jennifer Hembree and Emily Vance (MacRostie Historic Advisors, LLC).