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Historic Fresno Arch May Move For High Speed Rail

Up and down the valley, many cities have historic signs or archways which welcome visitors to town. Modesto's arch promotes a city filled with "Water Wealth Contentment and Health." Clovis proudly proclaims itself as the "Gateway to the Sierras," and Bakersfield makes a bold statement with its arch off of Buck Owens Boulevard. Fresno has its own historic archway, but as FM89's Joe Moore reports, it may soon need a new home.

After 84 years of spanning Fresno's South Van Ness Avenue, the concrete and steel archway that welcomes visitors to "the best little city in the USA" is about to get a new neighbor - high speed rail. And while the arch doesn't stand directly in the path of the rails, there is one problem: 

"The high speed rail track that goes in will block the entrance to South Van Ness, so it will be an arch facing on to a cul-de-sac," says Elliot Balch, the downtown revitalization manager for the City of Fresno. He's working with the California High Speed Rail Authority to find a new more visible home for the Fresno landmark. He says leaving the archway standing over a dead end street and facing a fence that will wall off the high speed rail tracks isn't a good idea. 

"The original intent of the arch was to serve as an entry way, something that a lot of people would see as they're coming into Fresno, something prominent. So we want to find a way that great structure can serve that purpose in the present day. So we think that with the street blocked there at the railroad that it would make more sense to find a different place that is some kind of passageway or a gateway," says Balch. 

"If it's going to be abandoned here on a dead-end street, it [should] be moved to some place of prominence, downtown somewhere," - Sally Caglia

  So where should the arch that used to welcome travelers off of Highway 99 go? Sally Caglia's late father Frank led the effort to restore the sign.

"I'd like to see this, if it's going to be abandoned here on a dead-end street, that it be moved to some place of prominence, downtown somewhere. And of course the place that I'd like to see it, and the [Caglia] family would like to see it is at the entrance of the Fulton Mall, to show that that's the gateway to the heart of our city downtown," says Caglia.

The Caglia family has a long connection to the arch. It currently sits outside the family business, Electric Motor Shop. Years ago, the company essentially adopted the city-owned sign, repairing the broken neon, painting it, and paying the monthly electricity bill to this day. And if the arch moves downtown, it could also make for something of a family reunion. That's because the site Sally favors, at intersection of Fulton and Tuolumne, is next to another Fresno landmark her dad saved from the wrecking ball - the historic Warnors Theatre. 

"It was a lot of pride for him, to be able to take care of some of the historic treasures of this city that he felt had been so good to him in the business," says Caglia.

As for the city, officials says they haven't settled on any one site just yet but they've looked at a number locations downtown, including at the entrance to the Fulton Mall. Balch says the Fulton site makes sense not only as an important entryway, but also for another reason - it fits. 

"If you look at the north side of Tuolumne and you measure the distance from one light pole to the other, it is exactly the distance between the interiors of the columns of the Van Ness archway," says Balch.

Balch says any decision on moving the sign is independent from the on-going planning the city is doing to re-open the Fulton Mall to vehicle traffic. And he says the rail authority would be responsible for the cost of relocating the sign. The city's Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled to hear input from the public on new locations for the arch on Monday night at city hall. 

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of KVPR / Valley Public Radio. He has led the station through major programming changes, the launch of KVPR Classical and the COVID-19 pandemic. Under his leadership the station was named California Non-Profit of the Year by Senator Melissa Hurtado (2019), and won a National Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting (2022).
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