The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1918] Character conflict

United States

It was only later that I came to see from the perspective of faraway cities some of the charm and some of the depth, dimension, and potential meaning of Fresno, all of which has to be created by each member of that Fresno family. The immediate family and then the local family -- visitors to the city itself. We are all visitors to whatever city we are in. There isnt a great deal that can be said about any proximity of Fresno to culture in the sophisticated sense of that word. Culture is actually nothing more than how people say hello to one another and how they feel about one another, and whether or not they have a certain compulsion to be courteous with one another. William Saroyan

It is Fresnos familiarity that pulls my thoughts back. It is the small town feel that certain neighborhoods maintain within a sprawl of sub-urbanity. There is a depth to this six square block area known as the Tower District that is only discovered in decades of visits to Olive Avenue.

In the 1930s, Tower was planned as the 1st suburb of Fresno. Ironically this district is now at the center of what is the sprawling organism I call my home. There was a distinct strategy used in the planning of this district. Olive Avenue is the main axis of Tower. Between Palm to the west and Blackstone to the east only two streets penetrate through the Avenue. They are Wishon and Van Ness, both one way, Wishon south to downtown, Van Ness North passed Fresno City College to Old Fig Garden (Then completely orchards, now valuable housing and a ritzy shopping center). These are the artery and vein of Tower. All the residential streets stop at Olive and are offset half a block to the east. The effect is that when we leave to work or return home, we travel Olive. When we take a walk we are turned at Olive. North-south streets have a clear view of a Tower business. An eighty foot column fluted with neon lights and topped with a vibrant globe seems to hold up the sky. It peaks through the trees at you. A landmark that creates a place name and links experiences in this scene.

The Tower District, like many other post suburban communities of the inner city, is on the cusp of change. What is the potential? What are the dangers? Gentrification is a real worry of mine. By rising property values and the increasingly commercialization of the public domain, where will we find our place? Displaced from the community we helped build. We built the nightlife, the artistic culture, the beautiful homes and thriving neighborhoods that feed the district. Who will replace us? The blue collars become bleached white and well find our homes elsewhere.

But stronger is the potential of a neighborhood renaissance. It is called home by the gay community; artists with a spread of galleries; it is a liberal strong hold; and a vibrant community of 4th generation Mexican-Americans. If these communities would unite, the district would remain diverse, vibrant, and real. We are fighting for this place. Each conflict reinforces our ties to it.

The truly public space in this landscape is the parking lots that fill all the ground not occupied by buildings, streets, or sidewalks. There are two primary lots: behind the Tower Theatre and in front of the Tower Market. And there are eight secondary lots spread from Drug Faire at Van Ness to the Revue at Broadway. These negative shapes create variable and dynamic spaces depending on the time of day and location of parked cars. A full parking lot gives couples the anonymity to be intimate as they leave a romantic dinner. After the diner rush they offer privacy to restaurant cooks who take out the garbage and pause for a smoke. Corridors are created by rows of cars for groups of friends to converse loudly as they hop from bar to bar. At lunch the heavy professional traffic give the homeless opportunities to panhandle from the business conversations outside restaurants. In the afternoon, with few cars, the lots open up for urban sports like skateboarding:

The gritty sounds of skateboard bearings echo off the white walls of Butterfields Brewery and Java Caf

If you would like to contact this author, please send a request to

« Back to The Reserve

Copyright © 1998-2024 Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Privacy Policy Cookie Policy
For permission for any form of re-use of any of the contents, please contact
The BERKELEY PRIZE is endorsed by the Department of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley.