by Jim Bulls
Back in 1976, the year our nation celebrated its bicentennial, we looked around locally and realized that many of Reedley’s historic building landmarks had slipped away.
Gone was the headquarters ranch house of the town’s namesake, T.L. Reed, along with the bunkhouse and barn that once housed harness and tack for hundreds of draft animals needed for a farm operation of close to 30,000 acres. These buildings were demolished in the name of progress–to make way for the expansion of Reedley College.
Washington School, built in the 1890s, and Lincoln School, built in 1911, met the fate of the wrecking ball after California revised earthquake safety standards for school buildings. General Grant School, built in 1922, was considered safe for use as a church and was saved—the Full Gospel Church meets there today.
Reedley High School’s main hall was also condemned, but half of the school board wanted a second opinion to see if the building could be retrofitted to meet earthquake safety standards. Mysteriously the building caught fire and burned down before a second structural engineer could make a recommendation. The building had so much structural steel, that demolition took much longer than expected.
The decline in rail travel sealed the fate of the Southern Pacific Depot, built in the late 1880s. Where there was once a beautiful Victorian-style building, nothing sits on the site now. The craftsman style Santa Fe Depot lasted a bit longer because the Fresno Bee leased the building for local newspaper distribution. As soon as The Bee stopped using paperboys for newspaper delivery, they moved out of the depot. Santa Fe wanted it removed from their property, and offered the building for sale for one dollar. There were no buyers and the building was demolished. Now only one of the original palm trees still stands on the building site.
Since 1928, the Methodist Church carillon chimes filled the town on Sunday mornings and just after the noon whistle on weekdays with familiar hymns. Sadly, the imposing building was condemned and the chimes fell silent.
In 1976, after witnessing all this carnage, a group of educators, businessmen, local historians, and ordinary citizens came together to form the Reedley Historical Society. One of the main functions of the Society was to preserve Reedley’s history and its historic resources. Not long after this, preservation was started on the Opera House and the Turn-of-the-Century Corner block; the historical turn-of-the-century downtown district was formed.
After the new fire station was built, the Historical Society leased the former City Hall for use as a museum. Historic revitalization was running strong and the unique, turn-of-the-century buildings in downtown made Reedley different from other surrounding cities. Downtown Reedley was going strong. The I Street Corridor Project was meant to lead visitors to historic downtown. The architects on the project raved about the Granger and Peloian buildings as being potential cornerstones for downtown renovation. Both buildings were found to be structurally suited for retrofitting and renovation.
Currently, the Peloian building is privately owned and has reverted back to small industry. Under current building codes, the Granger building could also be used for small industry, but unfortunately it is tied up in redevelopment agency problems. When redevelopment agency funded projects were discontinued, the building became the property of California. Supposedly it can be sold to a government agency for as little as one dollar.
But, even before the redevelopment agency fiasco, the City considered demolition as the solution for what to do with the Granger. In the Rocky Rogers era of Reedley’s city management, an independent contractor was contacted by Rogers to demolish the Granger. Fortunately, the contractor did not see enough of a profit margin to make the demolition project worth his while. Now the answer is for the school district to step in, raze the building, and build something new with some of the old bricks.
The City would like us to believe that it would be better to have the building demolished by someone local, who “cares”, rather than by someone from out of town. Personally, if I were the Granger, I would say ‘What’s the difference, especially if I am going to be demolished anyway,’ at least with outside investors, the building has a 50-50 chance of still standing.
The Granger, Peloian building, and the Hotel Grand, are the only buildings left in downtown Reedley that date from before the turn of the century. If the Historical Society is successful in saving the Granger from demolition, the building will need a purpose. What better use could it have than as an agricultural museum? Fresno County is the richest agricultural county in the United States and Reedley is considered to be the fruit basket of the world. The Granger dates back to the beginnings of California’s agricultural industry. We know the building can’t just be filled up with a bunch of old plows; it will have to tell a story, from the beginning of the wheat era to the agricultural diversity of the 21st century—over one hundred years of local agricultural heritage.
It can be done. The basic research has already been completed and published in the Historical Society’s book The Fruited Plain. Now we just need to get the building recognized as the local treasure it truly is, either through Fresno County or the State of California. Even that, can be done.
In the meantime, I am going to appoint myself as the “voice” of the Granger. So, on behalf of the Granger, currently owned by the State of California, I make this plea: I need a stay of execution. Please, Governor Brown, don’t let them tear me down.
Learn more about the history of the Granger building in a preview article by Jim called “The Granger Twins.”
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.