FRESNO – Fulton Street is open for business. This was the message from Fresno Mayor Lee Brand during Saturday's mega multi-block party celebrating the reopening of the street. The six block stretch of Fulton Street between Tuolumne and Inyo streets in the center of Downtown Fresno had been closed off to traffic since 1964 with the creation of the area once known as the jewel of the city, Fresno's Fulton Mall. Saturday the street was reopened to traffic and the area reopened to business.
Saturday's party included indoor and outdoor art galore; an abundance of pop-up shops and craft fairs; food trucks, bars, and coffee shops; beer and wine gardens; food sampling from local restaurants; three stages of live music; a parade of classic cars; and even California’s first indoor ninja-themed restaurant and throwing-star range, there was enough distinctive fun on the schedule to awaken even the most jaded Fresnan’s sense of wonderment and possibility.
The Fulton Street project was a compromise displaying the best of both worlds; old and new. While the local business's needed street access for their customers in order to stay profitable, the two lanes of opposing traffic left plenty of room to maintain the mall atmosphere providing extra-wide sidewalks for walking space, outdoor dining, art installations, and inspiring fountains that characterized the 53 year-old Fulton Mall.
The party was kicked off with the Gaston Middle School's choir, band and folklore dancers performed for the crowds. Th kids from We Got The Beat Youth Percussion Band entertained before city's officials past and present took to the stage for the re-dedication of the street. While the city had only expected a few hundred folks to show up for the party, thousands packed the old Mariposa portion of the mall near the newly refurbished wooden clock tower, including the 'Fire Squad' a group of supporters of the Fresno Fuego and the new Fresno Soccer Club.
Once the dignitaries took their seats, the speeches began. Those on the podium included current mayor Lee Brand and former mayor Ashley Swearengin, Congressman Jim Costa, interim-director of the Downtown Fresno Partnership Craig Scharton, the Fresno City Council and members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Representatives from both U.S. Senators sent representatives who delivered proclamations from Washington DC. The Fresno Chamber of Commerce cut the green ribbon with the over-sized scissors and with that, the party which stretched far into the evening, began.
A rolling car show of over 100 classic and high end cars began the six block drag of the main from Chukchansi Baseball Stadium to the Warnor's Theater. As a nod to the 1950's and 60's cruising spot the Fulton Street used to be, the pageant of cars slowly made it's way down Fulton Street American Graffiti style. The parade of cars was led off by legendary local radio personality Ray Appleton.
During the car parade a lineup of some 20 musical acts played on three different stages at the Mariposa Plaza, Kern Plaza and on Merced Street. Bands that were scheduled to play included 40 Watt Hype, Stoneshiver, The John Clifton Blues Band and Blake Jones and the Trike Shop and there was even a poetry reading by Fresno’s poet laureate Bryan Medina. Later in the evening local developer Terance Frazier hosted a $25 a person party of the roof top of the Spiral Parking Garage in Inyo Street that went on all night long.
There was a touch of irony in the celebration of the reopening of Fulton Street. It took millions of dollars to open the street to vehicular traffic and yet it's celebration brought more pedestrian traffic to the Fulton District that it has seen in years. Mayor Lee Brand said this is not the completion of the district but just a beginning of what is to come. Can the city and it's partners do what a baseball stadium could not? Only time will tell but as someone who grew up on the Fulton Mall in the 60's and 70's, this is a good start.
All Photos by Jack W Porter, Jr.