by Michelle Swift
Each year at the beginning of May, Fresno encourages Historical Preservation efforts with a week of special events and advocacy for its historical places. This year, the theme for the week was “Every Building has a Story.” Downtown Fresno is brimming with such places, and Warnors Center for the Performing Arts has an abundance of stories from within the large complex.
Warnors is comprised of three venues: Warnors Theatre, Frank’s Place, and Star Palace. All of these venues are operated by the 501c3 Community Benefit Organization (CBO), all of these spaces were part of the original 1928 complex, and they each have their own unique stories. The Warnors Complex makes up a considerable portion of the block at Fulton and Tuolumne in Fresno, and most people are unaware of just how large the building is. All of the storefronts on this block are part of the complex as well. From Modern Farm at 2021 Tuolumne Street, all the way around the corner to Franks Place at 1432 Fulton Street, and everything in between. Each space has its own story; a story that is continuously being written.
One venue that many people don’t know a lot about is Frank’s Place—an entertainment venue and rental space for special events. Throughout the years, this space has been used for many purposes. It has been renovated, remodeled, and repurposed various times. It has seen Downtown change drastically. From thriving urban center, to forgotten place, and on its way back again; Franks Place has been in the middle of it all.
When the complex opened in October of 1928, the space that is now known at Frank’s Place, was a storefront that was leased as a furniture store. Today, Star Palace rests above Frank’s Place. Star Palace is a large ballroom that can be rented for special events, such as weddings and other private events. However, at the time that the complex opened, Frank’s Place was connected to Star Palace by a staircase in the center of the venues. The furniture store used the upstairs space for storage. If you’re at an event in either of these venues, and would like to see where this staircase was, just ask a staff member and they would be happy to show you.
Over the years, the space at 1432 Fulton has been used as a sporting goods store, an office for Worldwide Ministries, and a plethora of other businesses and ventures. Since 2005, the space has been known as Frank’s Place, and has hosted many special events and local artists. The staff is often asked, “Who is Frank and why is this place named after him?” The answer is one of the many special stories that the Warnors complex has to tell.
In the early ’70s, the Warnors Complex ended up in the hands of the City of Fresno. Despite the rich history, and cultural importance of the spaces—the city was considering demolishing them in order to create a parking lot. Several philanthropists stepped forward to save the building, after a public outcry against the demolition. Mr. Frank Caglia was one of these philanthropists, and a lover of historical preservation of all kinds. He purchased Warnors in 1973 after he fell in love with the one of a kind Robert Morton pipe organ that had been installed in the theatre prior to it’s opening in 1928. Frank always used to say, “You see, I bought a pipe organ, and there just happened to be a theatre built around it.”
Frank Caglia was an entrepreneur who set out to make this one of a kind building a historical landmark and a success. He was a genuine man who was very kind and had a lot of spark! He was a man of his word, a man with a heart of gold, and a great philanthropist who gave much to his community. For example, Frank was responsible for restoring the lighting on the old “Welcome to Fresno” sign on South Van Ness Avenue… and added for good measure, “Best Little City in the U.S.A.”
In 2005, the venue at 1432 Fulton Street was renamed Frank’s Place, and a portrait of Frank hung in the establishment to honor his efforts—efforts that saved all of the historic spaces in the Warnors complex from ruin. Frank passed away in 2007 at the age of 95. In that same year, the Caglia family donated the building, and all it encompassed, back to the people of the San Joaquin Valley, turning the Family business 501 c3 Community Benefit Organization (CBO) and protecting it forever. Thus, Warnors Center for the Performing Arts was born. A team of board members was created to oversee the operation; a small staff runs the events, while volunteers fill in the gaps. Frank’s Place has a book of stories from patrons and performers alike, and it was all made possible by one man who could not allow these incredible spaces to go gently into that good night.
These days patrons can enjoy live music in this historic space, rent it out for private events, and even catch a burlesque show from time to time! For more information about events in Frank’s Place, and the other venues at Warnors, visit the Warnors website at www.warnors.org or call the office at 559-960-2279. The staff is always eager to answer any questions you might have, and to share these spaces with the community in any way they can. They believe that the most important part of the Warnors story is the patrons. It’s the patrons that continue to support their programs and events that ensure this story is continually being written, and it’s the patrons that keep the story interesting! What part will you play in this chapter of Warnors history?
Check out more local arts and entertainment articles in KRL’s A & E section.