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'Maker' Re-Creates Victorian Era Downtown Fresno With Cardboard

John Rupe doesn't have a time machine. But he does have laminated cardboard, glue and thin sheets of copper - just enough to take a trip back in time to a Fresno that hasn't existed for over nearly a century. That year is 1900. 

Rupe has always loved Downtown Fresno. 

"I explored," Rupe said. "I was in Hotel Fresno in the 80's and it was vacant back then... I was in the Sun-Maid Raisin plant before it was demolished and the Republican Newspaper building, which has been demolished too."

"I'm hoping that this will help people save what we have before it's slated for demolition," John Rupe.

Years later Rupe's admiration for the area developed even further when he saw a set of old photos of Victorian era Fresno. Rupe spends his free time carefully re-constructing buildings that long ago met the wrecking ball, like the old Fresno County Courthouse. His scale model of the stately white building is remarkably detailed, down to the Corinthian capitals atop the building's columns and the statues that line the top of the building. He carefully stamps thin sheets of copper to create some of the more intricate architectural details. 

Rupe made his first model when he was 16, but when he decided to pick the hobby up again this past fall he got addicted.

"Sometimes I feel like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters where he is shoveling all the dirt through the windows and he doesn't know why he is making it - but then he has the aha moment," Rupe said. 

Rupe admits that several of his replicas are still works in progress, but he displayed his creations at Fresno's Chukchansi Park last Sunday for an event called the Mini Maker Faire.

For Rupe the creative process is both therapeutic and a mode for his artistic talents. He hopes his models spark creative conversation about revitalization in Downtown Fresno. 

"I'm hoping that this will help people save what we have before it's slated for demolition," Rupe said. "So we're not in 50 years looking at the Bank of Italy building saying, 'Why did we ever tear that down.'"

In addition to the courthouse and the iconic Fresno Water Tower, Rupe has also replicated in miniature the Grand Central Hotel, the Farmer's National Bank and several other buildings that used to line Mariposa Street. He plans to complete the rest of the buildings along Mariposa and Fulton Streets as they would have existed around 1900.

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of Valley Public Radio. During his tenure, he's helped lead the station through major programming changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining the station's financial health. From 2010-2018 he served as the station's Director of Program Content. In that role, he also served as the host of Valley Edition, and helped launch and grow the station's award-winning local news department. He is a Fresno native and a graduate of California State University, Fresno.
Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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